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The Revenant: History vs. Hollywood

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson | based on the novel 'The Revenant' by Michael Punke

Leonardo DiCaprio
Born: November 11, 1974
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Hugh Glass
Born: circa 1780
Birthplace: Pennsylvania
Death: 1833, Yellowstone River, Missouri
Will Poulter
Born: January 28, 1993
England, UK
Jim Bridger
Born: March 17, 1804
Birthplace: Richmond, Virginia, USA
Death: July 17, 1881, Missouri, USA
...the filmmakers have wandered freely from the facts, which in a way does capture the spirit of the Hugh Glass story. A whole lot of creative remembering went into the production of the man who died and came back. -Jon T. Coleman, Notre Dame Historian,, 2015

Questioning the Story:

Was the real Hugh Glass a fur trapper?

Yes. The Revenant true story confirms that this is one of the few facts about Hugh Glass that we do know for sure. He was a frontiersman and fur trapper. In 1823, he signed up for an expedition backed by General William Henry Ashley and Major Andrew Henry, who together founded the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1822 (Henry is portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson in The Revenant). Ashley had placed an ad in the Missouri Gazette & Public Advertiser in search of "enterprising young men." It was during this fur-trapping expedition that Hugh Glass was attacked by a grizzly bear, an event that turned Glass's story into Frontier legend. How much of the legend is true is uncertain, as the story was often embellished with each retelling.

Like in the movie, Hugh Glass was a skilled fur trapper and frontiersman. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Glass in The Revenant.

Did Hugh Glass order the trappers to leave their boats and head into the mountains after the Arikara fight?

No. Following the fight with the Arikara tribe, the expedition's backers, William Ashley and Andrew Henry, not Hugh Glass, ordered the fur trappers to leave their boats and go by foot/horse into the mountains.

Did Hugh Glass really have a Native-American wife?

Little is known about the life of the real Hugh Glass prior to the 1823 bear attack. Most is conjecture, including his marriage to a Native American woman, with whom he supposedly fell in love after being captured by and living with Pawnee Indians for several years. As his legend grew, so did his elaborate backstory, which also included him being kidnapped by French-American pirate Jean Lafitte, a fate he allegedly escaped after a couple years by jumping ship and swimming ashore near what is now Galveston, Texas. We do know that Glass was an experienced frontiersman and a skilled hunter, but where and how he acquired those talents is anyone's guess.

Though Hugh Glass's marriage to a Pawnee Indian is often retold with the legend, no public or private documents exist to confirm the marriage. The reality is that very little is known about Glass's life prior to the bear attack.

Was the real Hugh Glass attacked by a bear?

Yes, although no eyewitness account exists, The Revenant true story reveals that it happened in the summer of 1823, five months after Glass joined a South Dakota fur-trapping expedition funded by Major Andrew Henry and William Henry Ashley. The mauling took place near the banks of the Grand River when Glass unexpectedly came upon a grizzly bear and her two cubs. The mother bear ripped his scalp, punctured his throat, broke his leg, and left him with numerous gashes. His fellow hunters heard his cries and rushed to help, using more than one bullet to drop the bear.

The real Hugh Glass was attacked by a bear in August of 1823.

Did Hugh Glass leave behind a documented account of the bear attack?

No, at least none have been found. We do know that Hugh Glass was literate from a surviving letter he wrote to the parents of fellow fur trapper John Gardner, who was killed during an 1823 encounter with the hostile Arikara tribe (History Net). The papers of some of his bosses document him as being a difficult employee to rein in. However, he left little else behind to accurately document his life, and no direct eyewitness account of the bear attack exists.

The story of the attack first appeared publicly in an 1825 Philadelphia literary journal, written by a local lawyer in search of literary success. It spread across the United States in newspapers and other journals, quickly becoming Frontier legend. Glass's story became the subject of the 1915 poem "The Song of Hugh Glass" by John Neihardt and at least a half dozen books. Irish actor Richard Harris portrayed Glass in the trippy 1970 film Man in the Wilderness, which also starred John Huston.

This drawing of a grizzly bear attacking Hugh Glass appeared in the July 2, 1922 edition of The Milwaukee Journal. It accompanied an article about the "frontier adventures of Hugh Glass" that unfolded a century earlier.

I heard that Leonardo DiCaprio's character is raped by a bear in the movie, is that true?

Fox, the studio behind The Revenant, has strongly denied that there was ever a graphic rape scene involving DiCaprio's character and a bear. The controversial story, titled "DiCaprio Raped by Bear in Fox Movie," first appeared on the Drudge Report several weeks before the film's release. However, it appears that the news report was possibly sensationalized a bit. The source, an article on Showbiz 411, states the following, "The bear flips Glass over on his belly and molests him- dry humps him actually- as he nearly devours him." This doesn't seem to make sense since the bear was understood to have been a she, not a he.

Was Hugh Glass really left for dead by members of his hunting team?

Yes. Believing that Hugh Glass had received mortal wounds during his encounter with the bear, the expedition's leaders paid two men to stay behind until Glass died. This was done in order to give him a Christian burial. These men were John Fitzgerald and the younger Jim Bridger, portrayed in the movie by Tom Hardy and Will Poulter. They stayed with Glass for several days (the exact number varies). After seeing that his body was refusing to die, The Revenant true story confirms that they placed him in a shallow grave, collected his weapons, and headed off to rejoin the expedition.

Like in The Revenant movie, the real Hugh Glass was left for dead by John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger.

Did the real story take place in the winter?

No, at least not all of it. Despite the entire film appearing to unfold in the winter, the bear attack actually happened in the summer.

Was CGI used or did they really film in the harsh environments?

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu made it clear from the beginning that computer-generated imagery would not be used as a stand in for remote locations. He also insisted on shooting in natural light. "If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of sh*t," he told The Hollywood Reporter. As a result, some members of the crew left the filming, unable to handle the harsh environments, which included temperatures of -13F (-25C) ( Filming took place in British Columbia, Alberta, Montana and southern Argentina.

Did they really kill Hugh Glass's son?

No. In The Revenant movie, the murder of Glass's mixed-race son by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) prompts him to embark on a journey for revenge. This part of the movie is pure fiction, as there is no evidence that Glass had any children at all, much less a son who was slain before his eyes.

John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) killing Hugh Glass's son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) in the movie is pure fiction. The real Glass did not have any children.

Did Hugh Glass really sleep in animal carcasses?

Prior to the film's release, actor Leonardo DiCaprio made headlines when he said that he slept in an animal carcass and ate raw bison liver to help embody the character. While sleeping in an animal carcass is not an entirely uncommon survival tactic (adventurer Bear Grylls slept in a deer carcass and crawled inside a camel carcass on his show Man vs. Wild), whether the real Hugh Glass did this or not is not known, but it certainly adds to the legend (most versions of the story mention Glass eating animal carcasses, which is more likely).

Other more outrageous details surrounding Glass's journey to survive have appeared in various tellings of his story. They include a grizzly bear licking maggots from Glass's wounds and Glass killing and eating a rattlesnake. The latter is certainly possible, but there's little doubt the other is the result of Glass's story being spun a few too many times.

How far did the real Hugh Glass crawl after being left for dead?

As the legend surrounding Hugh Glass grew, so did the distance of his six-week-long crawl, jumping from 80 miles to 100 miles to 200 miles. Most tellings of his story embrace the latter, no doubt because it makes for a better tale.

Did the real Hugh Glass get his vengeance?

No. In researching The Revenant true story, we learned that Hugh Glass did catch up to John Fitzgerald and Jim Bridger, the men who abandoned him, but he forgave them instead of exacting violent revenge. It should be noted again that in real life these men never killed Glass's son, so forgiveness would have come more easily.

The real Hugh Glass forgave John Fitzgerald instead of unleashing violent revenge. Tom Hardy (pictured) portrays Fitzgerald in The Revenant movie.

What exactly is a "revenant?"

In the simplest terms, a "revenant" is a dead spirit that comes back to life to terrorize the living. In terms of the movie, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) survives the bear attack, crawls from the shallow grave he was left in, and metaphorically comes back to life to terrorize those who betrayed him, later stating, "I ain't afraid to die anymore. I done it already."

What was Hugh Glass's life like in the years following the bear attack?

Little is known about Hugh Glass's later years, but we do know that he worked as a hunter at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, employed by Fort Union. -Daily Mail Online

Other than fictionalized accounts, we know little about the real Hugh Glass's life prior to the 1823 bear attack that made him famous. His later years are equally ambiguous. Leonardo DiCaprio (left) and Hugh Glass (right).

Was Hugh Glass really killed by indians?

Yes. According to a report in The Milwaukee Journal, a visitor at Fort Union shared such an account of Hugh Glass's death. "Old Glass with two companions had gone to Fort Cass to hunt bear on the Yellowstone, and as they were crossing the river on the ice, all three were shot and scalped by a war party of 30 Aricaras." -Daily Mail Online

The Revenant Interviews & Movie Trailers

The Revenant interview below features Leonardo DiCaprio discussing the film's grueling shoot.

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