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The Revenant

The Revenant

  • A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team.
  • While exploring uncharted wilderness in 1823, legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass sustains injuries from a brutal bear attack. When his hunting team leaves him for dead, Glass must utilize his survival skills to find a way back home while avoiding natives on their own hunt. Grief-stricken and fueled by vengeance, Glass treks through the wintry terrain to track down John Fitzgerald, the former confidant who betrayed and abandoned him. — Jwelch5742
  • Set in 1820s America, fur trapper and Frontiersman Hugh Glass struggles to survive the harsh winter after an oppressive Ree Indian attack and a mauling from a hostile maternal bear. Abandoned by his crew, Glass attempts to cross the bleak wasteland with only a single notion set in his mind; Revenge.
  • In the untamed and unforgiving wilderness of mid-winter snow-capped Missouri, the experienced nineteenth-century tracker, Hugh Glass, and his son, Hawk, lead a hunting and trapping expedition in the uncharted territory of the fierce Indian tribe, Arikara. As the party of trappers struggle to navigate back to the distant Fort Kiowa, a swift and devastating attack by a formidable grizzly bear leaves a brutally mauled Glass on the brink of death, double-crossed and abandoned by his men. Now, only Hugh's rabid desire to live can help him survive the piercing cold and the grave dangers in one of the world's most inhospitable environments, giving him the strength to drag his unrecognisable carcass and exact his revenge. However, will the man who has returned from the dead taste the ambrosial fruit of retribution? — Nick Riganas
  • 1823, half-blood Hugh Glass guides Captain Andrew Henry's company trappers party through the present-day Dakotas. While he and his half-Pawnee son, Hawk hunt, the company's camp is attacked and decimated by an Arikara war party which seeks its Chief's abducted daughter, Powaqa. The surviving trappers escape onto a boat. Guided by Glass, who is questioned by some trappers, they next reach on foot Fort Kiowa, as traveling downriver would make them vulnerable. After docking, they stashes the pelts. While scouting game, Glass is mauled by a grizzly bear and left presumably dying. Trapper John Fitzgerald fears another Arikara attack, argues they must mercy-kill Glass and keep moving. Henry offers money for two men to stay with Glass and bury him after he dies: the only volunteers are Hawk and the young Jim Bridger, yet Fitzgerald agrees to stay for money, to recoup his losses from the abandoned pelts. After the others leave, Fitzgerald attempts to smother Glass but is discovered by Hawk, whom he soon after fatally steps while Bridger is gathering water, stabs Hawk to death . Fitzgerald convinces unsuspecting Bridger that the Arikara are approaching, so they must abandon Glass. Bridger ultimately follows Fitzgerald after the latter leaves Glass half-buried alive in a makeshift grave, leaving his canteen. Later Fitzgerald admits the lie. When they meet Henry at the fort, Fitzgerald tells Henry that Glass died and Hawk vanished. Glass begins his arduous journey through the wilderness. He performs crude cauterization of his wounds, eludes the pursuing Arikara by jumping into rapids and teams up with Pawnee refugee Hikuc, sharing bison meat. As a storm approaches, Hikuc constructs a makeshift sweat lodge for a feverish Glass to shelter in. After a hallucinogenic experience in it, Glass emerges as his wounds are healing but Hikuc has been hanged by French hunters. He infiltrates their camp and frees raped Powaqa, kills several hunters and recovers Hikuc's horse. The next morning, Glass is ambushed by the Arikara and driven over a cliff on his horse. He survives by eviscerating the horse to shelter in its carcass. A French survivor staggers into Fort Kiowa, and Bridger recognizes his spiral engraved canteen as Glass's, Henry organizes a search party. Fitzgerald empties the outpost's safe and flees. The search party finds the exhausted Glass. Furious, Henry orders the arrest of Bridger, but Glass vouches that he was not present when Fitzgerald murdered Hawk and was later deceived and threatened by the higher-ranking Fitzgerald. After Glass and Henry split up, Fitzgerald ambushes, kills and scalps Henry. Glass finds Henry's corpse, places it on his horse as a decoy, shoots Fitzgerald in the arm and pursues him Fitzgerald to a riverbank where Glass is about to kill Fitzgerald, but he spots a band of Arikara downstream and pushes Fitzgerald downstream into the hands of the Arikara. Elk Dog kills and scalps Fitzgerald and the Arikara (who found Powaqa) spare Glass. Glass retreats into the mountains. — KGF Vissers
  • Set in an indeterminate year of the 1820s, the opening scene shows Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) speaking to his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) in an Indian language (Pawnee), telling him that even though he is scared and wants his trouble to be over, he must fight as long as he can grab a breath. As we hear Glass' voice, we see images of Glass with his Pawnee wife and son, his home being set on fire, and him holding his wife in his arms. Glass and Hawk are walking through a river with other men from their hunting party as they stalk elk. They are camped by a river in rural Missouri with other fur-trappers. They are led by their captain, Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). A naked missing man from their party walks into the settlement and collapses forward with an arrow in his back. Another man is shot in the neck with an arrow and falls into the campfire. The hunting party is attacked by a tribe of local natives who are Arikara Indians, also known as 'Ree'. The men fire back with their rifles. Glass is attacked and nearly choked to death, but one of his men rescues him. A few men gather their furs and materials toward a boat to make their escape. The Arikaras themselves are looking for the chief's daughter, Powaqa, stolen by unknown white men. The men abandon their boat and start to hike overland to Fort Kiowa. Hawk is antagonized by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) for his race (Hawk is half-Indian on his mother's side), but Glass quickly defends his son and tells him not to retaliate against Fitzgerald. While hunting in the woods, Glass comes across a grizzly bear and her cubs, and he is quickly attacked by the larger bear. The bear claws and bites Glass, throwing him around as Glass tries to defend himself. He manages to shoot the bear, but it doesn't kill her. She attacks again and Glass gets his knife, stabbing it several times as they both tumble down a hill. Glass lands in a gully and the dead bear lands on top of him. The men later find Glass and try to tend to his deep wounds. Meanwhile, the Arikara warriors continue their search for Powaqa. They come across French fur traders and trade the riverside furs for five horses. The men in the hunting party carry Glass on a makeshift stretcher, but he only slows them down. They attempt to carry him up a hill, only for him to slide and bring the other men down. Fitzgerald suggests they need to just kill Glass and put him out of his misery. Henry covers Glass' eyes and almost shoots him in the head, but he cannot bring himself to do it. Henry offers payment of $75 to anyone who will stay behind with Glass. Hawk and Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) volunteer, though Fitzgerald points out that they and Glass will be likely to die. Henry raises the payment offer to $100 so that even Fitzgerald decides to stay with them until Glass expires. Glass is still in great pain and continues to have visions of his wife and the day his home was burnt down. Fitzgerald gets a moment alone with Glass and tries to convince him to let him put him out of his misery so that no one else is slowed down or left waiting to die, including Hawk. As Glass is unable to talk, Fitzgerald suggests Glass should blink if he agrees, knowing that Glass would eventually have to blink, with or without intention to agree to Fitzgerald's offer. Glass holds his eyes open for a long time before closing them, instead of blinking. Fitzgerald intentionally interprets this as blinking and starts to smother Glass. Hawk shows up, seeing Fitzgerald smothering his father. Hawk starts to call Bridger for help, leading to a struggle with Fitzgerald in which the man stabs Hawk in the abdomen, then letting him bleed out as Glass watches helplessly. Fitzgerald gets rid of Hawk's body and tells Bridger he doesn't know where he went. Later that night, Fitzgerald urges Bridger to move on with him, claiming to have seen Ree Indians by the creek. Already having dug a grave for Glass, Fitzgerald forcefully drags him into the hole and partially buries him alive under a pile of dirt as Bridger reluctantly lets him do so. Meanwhile, Henry and the rest of the hunting party have a difficult march by as they head towards Fort Kiowa. As Fitzgerald and Bridger head to meet them, Bridger realizes Fitzgerald was lying about having seen the Ree by the creek. He turns his rifle on Fitzgerald, who takes it from Bridger and turns it on him. He pulls the trigger, but the unloaded rifle clicks on an empty chamber. They continue to move. Glass awakens and weakly struggles to rise from out of the dirt. He starts crawling his way through the woods to find food and warmth. He finds Hawk's body freezing up from the cold. Glass vows to stay by his son's side. He finds a thick bear pelt to take with him to keep warm. As he continues to move through the woods, he feeds off of roots and old bone marrow. He attempts to build a fire for added warmth and uses some of his leftover gunpowder to seal the wound in his throat. Nearby, the Indians are getting closer, so Glass rides down the rapids to escape them. Fitzgerald and Bridger are still walking. They come across a burnt-down settlement with bodies sprawled across the ground. One woman emerges from her burnt hut and sees the men. Bridger quietly leaves some food for her. Glass is getting colder and hungrier. He walks into the river and eats a live fish. He walks up a hill and sees a Pawnee Indian feeding off the carcass of a bison. Glass approaches him cautiously and gestures for food. The Indian throws him an organ, which Glass eats ravenously. In the morning, the Indian observes the bear wounds on Glass' body, which are starting to rot. Glass says his men left him for dead and killed his son. The Indian states that his own family was killed by a rival Sioux tribe. He is seeking out more Pawnee. Fitzgerald and Bridger reach the outpost and rejoin their party. Fitzgerald tells Henry that they couldn't save Glass or Hawk, and he collects his payment. Bridger remains quiet but is upset and refuses a bonus pay. Glass and the Indian move forward. They spend the evening sitting and catching snow in their mouths, the first time Glass has looked peaceful in a while. The Indian gathers materials for a quick sweat lodge and places a feverish Glass inside. Glass starts hearing his wife's voice, and then sees himself walking toward Hawk before they embrace in an old church. The Pawnee performs a healing ritual for Glass' wounds. When Glass wakes up, the Pawnee is gone. A short time later he sees that the Indian has been hanged by the French fur trappers. He infiltrates their camp and witnesses one of the men raping a woman. It is Powaqa (Melaw Nakehk'o). Glass holds the rapist at gunpoint and frees Powaqa. Glass then takes a horse, letting the other horses loose. He rides to a spot in the woods where he builds himself a fire. In the morning, the tribe searching for Powaqa starts to attack. Glass holds them off with his rifle before he mounts his horse and rides away. The tribe follows him on their horses up to a cliff where Glass and his horse fall over the edge. The horse dies, and Glass is injured again. As the night falls and the cold intensifies, he cuts the horse open, removes its organs, and bunks inside its carcass for warmth. When he wakes up, he gets out of the carcass and moves to a snow cave. In there, he carves "Fitzgerald killed my son." Sometime later at the outpost, one of the French hunters arrives with Glass' canteen, which Bridger left on the dirt pile after Fitzgerald buried him. Thinking he took it from Hawk, Henry leads a search party through the woods. There, they find Glass, limping towards them. They bring him back to the outpost. Henry finds that Fitzgerald is gone. The French hunter tells him that he heard Fitzgerald was headed to Texas. What's more is that Fitzgerald cleaned out the party's payroll safe. Henry then confronts Bridger with his rifle and beats the young man to the ground and puts him in the stockade. Glass vouches for Bridger's innocence to Henry, stating that he was only following orders. He also tells Henry how he saw Fitzgerald kill his son. Hearing that Fitzgerald is heading for Texas, Glass requests that he seek the man out himself. Henry reluctantly agrees to have Glass join him in the hunt. The two encounter Fitzgerald and split up to get him from opposite sides. Henry finds Fitzgerald first and plans to bring him back to be tried for murder. The two men draw their guns on each other, with Fitzgerald killing Henry. Glass finds Henry's body and puts him back on top of his horse using a branch as a prop. They ride on in view of Fitzgerald, who fires his rifle from a distance. He thinks he's killed Glass, but he just shot Henry's body. Glass gets a shot off and wounds Fitzgerald who runs while Glass pursues. They corner each other in the woods, and Fitzgerald shoots at Glass. Fitzgerald runs down by the creek where Glass finds him and they begin to fight. Fitzgerald nearly stabs Glass, but Glass turns the knife on him. Fitzgerald impales Glass' hand, but Glass overpowers him and nearly finishes him off until Fitzgerald states that killing him won't bring his boy back. On the other side of the creek, Glass sees the Indians that have been pursuing him, now with Powaqa. He decides that revenge is in God's hands, so he pushes Fitzgerald into the water and lets him float over to the Indians. The chief grabs Fitzgerald and kills him with his knife. They spare Glass since Powaqa tells them that Glass freed her. Although he has gotten his revenge, Glass is alone once again, wandering through the cold land. He falls on his knees and sees a vision of his wife once again walking into the light. The final shot is of Glass' eyes filling up with tears.

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The Real Story of 'The Revenant' Is Far Weirder (and Bloodier) Than the Movie

The Real Story of ‘The Revenant’ Is Far Weirder (and Bloodier) Than the Movie

Hugh Glass, the protagonist of the story, never was chased off a cliff, cut a dead horse open for warmth or had a half-Pawnee son. But the frontiersman played by DiCaprio lived a life even more fantastical than any film.

By Steve Friedman

Steve Friedman

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This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe .

Before a grizzly tore a hunk of meat from his rump and lobbed it to her squalling cubs, Hugh Glass was just a middle-aged pirate who had abandoned ship, then dodged two tribes of cannibals only to witness his friend being roasted alive. And then things turned really nasty.

That’s the story, anyway. But it’s not the one told in The Revenant , the Alejandro G. Inarritu-directed Oscar favorite, in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s Glass is chased off a cliff, recalls his Pawnee wife, eats raw buffalo liver — and mainly, drags his grizzly-ravaged body hundreds of miles through a wintry frontier, driven by bloodlust for the men who had left him to die.

The real Glass, however, made much of his journey in late summer. And he had no Pawnee wife. Even the liver is not a sure thing.

To separate mythology from biography, it helps to remember that the film is based in part on a 2002 work of fiction, which itself is based in part on the three earliest written and largely forgotten accounts of Glass’ adventures. None of those authors knew Glass, and one of them, a novelist, wrote the forgettable sequel Monte Cristo’s Daughter . Thucydides , these guys were not. But their accounts, as well as letters, testimony, trapper memoirs and a rich oral history, are what is left regarding Glass’ life.

Based on those sources, this much is certain: Glass was alive, he survived a grizzly attack and he died. There is no evidence he had a Native American wife or girlfriend, or that he had a son by a Native American woman, or that he plunged off a cliff on a horse, or that he gutted and climbed into a dead horse to stay warm or for any other reason.

Glass lived in Pennsylvania, where he might have had a wife and two sons whom he abandoned. He was a sea captain already in his 30s when pirates attacked his ship off the coast of what is now Texas in 1819. The pirate captain offered Glass a choice: Join their crew, or join the scores of bleeding, gutted, naked, screaming and drowning men, women and children bobbing in the choppy waters below. Glass joined.

After a year of pillaging, kidnapping, killing and the like, Glass and another pirate jumped overboard and swam toward Campeche (now Galveston), the primitive headquarters of Jean Lafitte , who, it turned out, was Glass’ pirate boss’ boss. The two deserters slunk north toward St. Louis, the westernmost locus of American civilization. They took special care to avoid, to the east, the Karankawa , notorious for eating settlers (tribesmen called the dish “long pig”). The duo couldn’t stray too far west, though, because there dwelled the slightly pickier Tonkawas , who included only severed human hands and feet in their diet (to ingest extra strength and speed).

On they pressed, away from these man-eating tribes and Lafitte’s band of murderers and toward Comanche, Kiowa and Osage, the former two scary, the latter really scary (the Osage eschewed scalping in favor of decapitation). When Glass and his pal ultimately were captured, 1,000 miles after emerging from the water, it was by Pawnee, which should have provided a measure of relief. Alas, the Loup branch of the Pawnee regularly offered human sacrifices to the god of the morning star — usually young girls from the village. But an exception was made for a couple guys who represented the vanguard of an invading, land-grabbing, genocidal force.

A gang of Pawnee stripped and tied Glass’ friend to a stake. As Glass watched, they stuck slivers of resinous pine into his friend’s flesh, then lit them. When it was Glass’ turn, he bowed before the chief, then reached into his pocket and produced a vial of cinnabar, the flaky red mineral then found in Texas and used around the world for makeup and pottery. War paint, too. The chief was impressed by the gift, as well as the sangfroid with which the white man presented it. Somehow, the pirate turned mutineer turned fugitive escaped the flaming porcupine treatment and became an honorary Pawnee.

what is revenant story about

Other than omitting a futile attempt by Glass to climb a tree and an early on-target gunshot, the grizzly attack depicted in ‘The Revenant’ largely is accurate.

He learned lance throwing, tomahawk chopping, and how to break and suck the marrow from buffalo bones. He ate his share of dog (don’t judge). It was during this period that he likely procured his legendary and beloved rifle, the mighty and thunderous .54 caliber Hawken to which Glass grew profoundly attached and that later would cause him so much trouble.

After two years, in January 1823, Glass headed east with the chief to meet with the U.S. Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis. Afterward, the chief returned to lead his tribe while Glass stayed in town. He answered an ad placed in the Missouri Republican by the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, which was seeking 100 men to pack up and leave fancy duds, womenfolk and saloons behind to head into the Rocky Mountains. There, for $200 annually, they would trap beaver.

Men who didn’t respond to the ad were enlisted from “grog shops and other sinks of degradation,” according to a recruiter. Many would go on to form the sweaty, calloused core of the country’s mid-19th century trapping force. It was risky, hard labor that favored the ornery. So maybe it’s unsurprising that the trappers tended to be some of the more profane, violent, nature-despoiling, aboriginal land-trespassing, wildlife-poaching, gun-toting cusses ever to range the Rockies.

The party, led by Gen. William Ashley, set out on the Missouri River in early March, and except for one man falling overboard and drowning the first day, and three others being blown to bits when someone lit a pipe too close to a pile of explosives, the trip began smoothly. At least until Ashley went ashore to talk business with the Arikara (aka the Rees). Could Chief Grey Eyes and his warriors, by reputation suspicious and at times murderous regarding trespassers, spare 50 horses? Why yes, Chief Grey Eyes replied, as long as Ashley could spare a few kegs of gunpowder. A deal was struck, goods exchanged and most of the crew set up camp on a sandbar near the Arikara village. They would continue downriver in the morning.

All went without incident that evening, notwithstanding the throat-slitting of young Aaron Stephens, one of the many trappers who had visited the Ree village to celebrate the procurement of horses by fornicating with a village maiden.

The Rees attacked in the morning, wounding Glass and killing 15 of his companions. Which brings us to the film’s first scene, with Leo dodging arrows and barely making it to the boat that took the trappers downriver to safety.

The film skips over the counterattack and subsequent siege of a Ree village that involved Ashley’s men, another trapping party led by a Lt. Andrew Henry, 250 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Sioux, who harbored a deep and abiding antipathy for the Ree. It was the first military encounter between the U.S. and Native Americans in the West, and relations pretty much went downhill from there.

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How 'the revenant's' vfx team brought that bear to life.

what is revenant story about

John Fitzgerald and the teenager named Bridger did volunteer to stay with Glass until he died, and they did betray him, but the famed trapper’s quest ended without bloody vengeance in the mountains. In real life, Glass mostly just wanted his rifle back.

But back to the film — namely, that grizzly attack: Glass left Ashley’s group to join Henry’s (don’t ask), and early in the journey, Henry sent two of his now roughly 30-strong group to hunt some meat, telling the rest, including Glass, to stay put. But our protagonist had never liked orders. Also, he hankered for some berries.

He was standing in a berry patch when Ol’ Ephraim — that’s what mountain men back then called grizzlies, even females — charged. Glass shot her with his rifle. It was a good shot, but Ol’ Ephraim kept charging. Glass ran to a tree, but as he began to climb, O.E. grabbed him, threw him to the ground and tore some meat out of his rear. She tossed the meal to her cubs, who probably had never tasted man before (odds are they liked it). Then Ol’ Ephraim returned her attention to Glass. She raked her claws across his back, bit him about the head and shook him like a rag doll. Glass moved in close and slashed the bear repeatedly with his knife. He tried to yell, but what came out was a kind of high-pitched gargling, as his throat had been torn open and was gushing blood.

The grizzly fell, dead either by Glass’ shot or by those fired by two hunters who had heard the commotion. Fellow trappers bound Glass’ wounds as best they could, using sweaty, soiled pieces of fabric ripped from their shirts. The next morning, having abandoned their boat, the group marched on, carrying Glass on a litter made from branches.

It slowed them down. They knew hostiles were nearby. On the fifth day or so, Henry offered cash (accounts vary between $80 and $400) to any two men who would stay with Glass until he died, then meet the others at his namesake Fort Henry.

One volunteer, an otherwise forgettable figure, was named John Fitzgerald. The other was a teenager named Bridger. They kept Glass comfortable and waited for him to die.

After five days, though, the men had a talk (which Glass reportedly later told another trapper he’d overheard). No one had expected Glass to live this long, and no one would want the pair to stay. Glass was going to die anyway, Fitzgerald told the kid. It was only a matter of time before Ree or Cheyenne found them. And besides, they had already earned their money. The two men left Glass next to a nearby stream, underneath a berry bush. Just in case.

Fitzgerald and Bridger took Glass’ rifle, knife, tomahawk and flint; if they showed up empty-handed, Henry would have asked where the weapons were, and they wouldn’t get paid.

'The Revenant' Producer on the Bear Scene That Took on "Myths of Its Own"

what is revenant story about

In the film, Glass has a half-Pawnee son whose murder fuels his fierce pursuit of justice. There’s only one minor problem: Glass never had a half-Pawnee son.

But Fitzgerald never tried to suffocate Glass, as he does in the film, nor did he murder Glass’ beloved half-Pawnee son — mostly because Glass didn’t have a beloved half-Pawnee son. But seeking vengeance against a child killer is box-office gold.

The two minders set out for Fort Henry, and while the film depicts their journey as perilous and semi-epic, it was neither. They arrived two days after the others, displayed Glass’ armaments and collected their reward. While the duo’s conduct was dastardly by modern sensibilities, leaving their sure-to-die comrade wasn’t what got mountain men talking. They were a hard lot with an affinity for risk management. Heinous and unforgiveable to mountain men, however, was taking a man’s only means of survival — his tools.

As for what happens next — Glass’ solitary crawl to Fort Kiowa, which comprises the bulk of The Revenant — all we have to go on is the savaged trapper’s testimony, as passed on to a bunch of lying, hard-drinking louts with nicknames like Pegleg and Liver-Eating, who, in turn, relayed the account to reporters and writers of not much greater repute.

Still, one can ascertain with high probability a few things: One of Glass’ legs was broken, and his throat had been mangled so terribly that he’d never speak in the same voice again. He would lie next to the stream for five days, subsisting on a large rattlesnake he killed with a sharp stone. (Filmgoers might have gone for the rattlesnake eating. Go figure.)

He did crawl, and then crawled some more, and after that, he limped. The film got that right.

He did not get chased off a cliff, nor did he crawl inside a horse carcass for warmth. He did not meet a Native American with a sly sense of humor who tossed him a buffalo liver. Perhaps he ate some liver on his sojourn, but the truth is, he ate far more dog. Dog eating was not such a big deal back then. The Comanche thought it was disgusting, true, but it was a staple of the Sioux diet. The Kickapoo revered dogs, believing they had spirits like humans and lived in heaven after death. The Kickapoo bottle-fed their dogs, kept their paws from the dusty ground, washed and swaddled and sang to them. They also ate puppy stew.

But enough with the dog-eating. What about the buffalo? Glass did, in fact, eat a calf that was being worked over by wolves. And yes, if the wolves hadn’t gotten to it first, he probably ate the liver. And he did shoo the wolves away, but he waited till he saw they had eaten their fill.

Did he burn with rage and seethe with the compulsion to seek justice, to kill the men who had betrayed him, as the film depicts? You bet he did.

'The Revenant': Film Review

what is revenant story about

Three books on the life of Hugh Glass were written long before Michael Punke’s 2002 novel, The Revenant, including the closest thing to a historical account, ‘The Saga of Hugh Glass,’ which was published in 1976.

But not for child murder — he just wanted his gun back. His beloved and trustworthy Hawken. And if he had to crawl and limp 350 miles to kill the bastard who stole it, so be it. The film doesn’t get into the whole man-rifle bond too much. It also doesn’t mention the few days Glass spent with some friendly Sioux, who welcomed him to their village, where they cleaned the maggots from his back wound and poured vegetable juice on it.

Glass kept walking. After many weeks, he joined six French traders at Fort Kiowa, who he thought might drop him off near Fort Tilton, where he suspected the rifle thieves would be. After six weeks he parted ways with the Frenchmen. Just a mile later, they were butchered by Ree. Some Ree spotted Glass and gave chase, but a Mandan on horseback swept in, pulled him aboard and took him to his village. Mandans generally didn’t like Ree. The Mandan villagers made a big deal over him. For supper? Man’s best friend.

Glass then decided to go to Fort Henry, about 400 miles back in the direction from which he’d come. He never floated downstream in frigid water (it would have killed him), but he did stop at a fort to ask after his two sworn enemies and to catch up on mountain man gossip. There was another Ree attack that he managed to survive. There was a stretch where he subsisted on more bison calf, but now, stronger, he simply walked into a vast herd, ran down a calf, killed it, cooked it and ate it.

Can you blame Inarritu for leaving out so much? Who wants to see a dog-and-calf buffet? Who would believe a guy went through all that trouble for a rifle? Too many miles, too many Ree attacks, too many arrows. The film already runs two hours and 36 minutes.

Glass eventually found Bridger at Fort Henry, and Bridger thought he was a ghost. Instead of killing him, Glass lectured the kid and told him he knew Fitzgerald had persuaded him to leave. Then Glass invoked God and told Bridger to behave better in the future.

Revenant ‘s Glass finally tracks down Fitzgerald, wounds him, then floats him downstream to a gang of Ree, who finish the job. But that’s not what really happened. When Glass arrived at Fort Atkinson in 1824, after another long trek, he learned that while Fitzgerald was indeed present, he had enlisted in the Army. A captain named Bennet Riley informed Glass that he could not kill a soldier — if he did, he’d be tried for murder. When Riley heard Glass’ story, he offered to fetch Glass’ beloved rifle back. What a reunion it must have been.

The film’s final shot is of a terribly wronged but righteous man, peering with grit and hard-won wisdom into a forbidding but conquerable wilderness. Not even a Texas state school board would quibble with that vision of how the West was won. If you like Manifest Destiny, this ending is for you.

Another popular version of the Glass legend has him suf­fering and crawling, but instead of dispatching his arch-enemy, he finds himself swollen with empathy and love, and turns his chiseled, manly cheek and forgives Fitzgerald, as he did Bridger. This too syncs with our notions of how the West was won, or conquered, or not exactly stolen. Forgiveness works about as well as vengeance, as long as you get other stuff right.

What actually happened was more complex. Glass tried his hand at trading in New Mexico, didn’t like it and went back to trapping. Then Europeans developed a taste for cloth hats, and the trapping business dried up. Wagon trains started coming, too, and along with them women, children, dogs whose owners objected to them becoming a source of protein. Civilization.

Fitzgerald was never heard from again. Bridger went on to establish, in 1842 in southwestern Wyoming, the first resupply post for settlers on the Oregon, California and Mormon trails, opening up the path west and effectively ending the era of the mountain man. And the ne plus ultra of those unruly, undisciplined, comfort-spurning creatures?

Glass endured, as the world he knew best faded away. He took a job with a new fur company. He trapped some himself. He told stories about the old days, including some juicy ones about grizzlies and rattlesnakes. Some say his greatest talent was in creating and polishing the Legend of Hugh Glass.

In the winter of 1832-33, Glass was living at Fort Cass, a new garrison built near the junction of the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers. He worked as a hunter, procuring meat for the trappers of the American Fur Company, owned by John Jacob Astor. One cold morning in the spring of 1833, he and two other hunters left the fort looking to kill a bear or two. They hadn’t walked far, and it was considered safe territory. As they made their way across the frozen Yellowstone River, 30 Ree on horseback surrounded them.

They took Glass’ clothes, his gear. Then they scalped him.

Nothing heroic about his death. Nothing tied to the American dream or the nobility of pioneers. Glass had grown overconfident. He had grown careless. He had grown old.

what is revenant story about

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The True Story Behind The Revenant , as Told in 1939

I f there were ever a true story ripe for big screen treatment, it’s that of Hugh Glass, a 19th century trapper who traveled 1,500 miles through the wilderness in pursuit of vengeance against the men who left him for dead after he was mauled by a bear. A fictionalized version of the tale was recently brought to life by Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu in The Revenant , starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass, based on the 2002 Michael Punke novel of the same name.

But Punke’s book wasn’t the first to tell Glass’ story: in 1939, the New Deal-era Federal Writers’ Project published The Oregon Trail , a history of the American West in which Hugh Glass appears. In its review of the book , TIME called him “the angriest man in U.S. history.” Here is the real story, as told by that book:

In 1823, Glass joined a team led by Andrew Henry that traveled up the Missouri River and the Grand River in modern-day South Dakota. It was during that trip that Glass was mauled by a grizzly bear. “Before Glass could shoot or retreat, the animal had seized him and bitten out a large chunk of his flesh, which she dropped to her younglings,” the book relates. “Glass screamed for his fellows but before they could kill the bear he had been mangled from head to foot.”

In case you had any doubts to how truly fearsome grizzly bears are, The Oregon Trail offers some context: “The grizzly is one of the most ferocious and dangerous animals in the world—as some San Francisco gamblers proved long ago when they staged a fight between a grizzly and a tiger; the tiger was dead in a few seconds.”

Glass did not die, but his fellow travelers didn’t expect him to survive for long. They could not carry the injured man with them and, since winter was approaching, they could not risk staying with him until he died. The men in the group offered two of their own $80 ( quite a sum in that time) to stay with Glass and give him a decent burial once he died. But Glass would not let go of life, and after five days the two men abandoned Glass, scared that they would perish themselves if they stayed any longer. “Slipping away they took with them all his belongings—his gun, knife, flint and other essentials of wilderness life,” the book continues. “These they gave to Henry and asserted that Glass had died.”

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The book goes on to say that Glass’ “rage” at having been abandoned “provided the vitalizing will to live.” Without a gun, he began to drag himself to the nearest post, Fort Kiowa, 100 miles away. He was close to starving until he came upon a group of wolves killing a buffalo calf. He scared the animals off and ate the raw meat of the killed animal. He joined with a trapping party on its way to Yellowstone at the post, but they were attacked by a group of Native Americans, the Aricaras. None but Glass, who was saved by another tribe, the Mandan, survived.

Glass set off alone again and arrived at the Big Horn post, where he planned to enact his revenge, 38 days later. But the group that abandoned him had already left. He picked up supplies and joined yet another party of four men to Fort Atkinson in dogged pursuit of the men who betrayed him. They encountered another band of Aricaras. They seemed friendly, and Glass’ group joined them at their home. But it turned out the tribe’s chief had been killed by trappers the year before, and Glass and his fellow trappers had been set up. Two of the men were killed, while the others escaped. Glass found himself alone again.

Glass had lost his gun but still had his flint and knife. He was reported to say of these circumstances, “These little fixin’s make a man feel right pert when he is three or four hundred miles from anybody or anywhere.” They were apparently enough to sustain him until he eventually reached Fort Kiowa, later that spring.

What happened there, however, was rather anti-climactic:

“In June he walked into the fort at last to face those who had deserted him. Reports of his superhuman journey and vengeful desire had already reached the fort; he was received with awe and expectation, but his rage had been completely exhausted by the nine-month trek. Nothing happened.”

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what is revenant story about

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Notes From The Frontier

  • Mar 21, 2020

The True Story Behind The Revenant

Updated: May 4

what is revenant story about

One of my all-time favorite movies is the multiple-Oscar-winning frontier movie, The Revenant (meaning one who returns, especially from the dead ) . It is one of the most realistic, gritty, and magnificently beautiful depictions of life in the early frontier. Viewing the movie, you can see, hear, smell, even feel the reality of that harsh but exciting existence. I also love the movie because it is based on a true story—one of the most amazing frontier stories ever told—of frontiersman Hugh Glass and his epic survival in the wilderness after being mauled nearly to death by a grizzly, then left for dead by his companions.

what is revenant story about

Glass was born to immigrant Irish parents in Pennsylvania and at an early age took off to seek adventure. In 1822 he joined General William Ashley’s corps of 100 men to ascend to the Missouri River as part of a fur-trading venture. Many of the men of the corps would later become famous frontiersmen, including James Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, and Jim Bridger, in addition to Hugh Glass.

In the first year of the expedition, Glass was shot in the leg by attacking Arikara. Frontiersmen were successful in trading with many tribes and cultivated cordial relationships, but the Arikara remained distrustful of and hostile to the early whites. The next year the corps set out to explore the Yellowstone River when Glass, scouting for game for the expedition near Grand River (in today’s Perkins County, South Dakota) when he surprised a she-bear with two cubs. She charged, picked him up and shook him several times, pinned him to the ground, clawed him and took his flesh in her jaws, ripping his back and chest open, leaving the ribs exposed. He was left mortally mauled.

Below is a famous bear attack scene in The Revenant.

VIDEO- The Revenant bear attack scene:


what is revenant story about

The corps carried Glass on a litter for two days, but slowed the pace. Two volunteers, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridger, offered to stay with him until he died. They later claimed that they began digging his grave, when Arikara attacked. They grabbed all the arms and equipment, including Glass’s rifle and knife, and left him for dead, completely defenseless. Later, when they caught up with the corps, Fitzgerald and Bridger reported to the general that Glass had died.

But the story does not end there. Glass regained consciousness. He had lost a great deal of blood, his leg was broken, his back mutilated and his chest ripped open. He was 200 miles from the nearest settlement, Fort Kiowa. Glass set the bone on his own leg and bound his wounds with grass and a mud poultice. Cloaked in a bear hide that had been left on him as a shroud , he began crawling toward Fort Kiowa. He allowed the maggots to thrive in his wounds, eating the rotting flesh to prevent gangrene.

what is revenant story about

When he reached the Cheyenne River, about half way to Fort Kiowa, he fashioned a crude raft of tree limbs bound with willow and grasses and floated the rest of the way to Fort Kiowa. He survived on roots and wild berries.

The 2015 movie, The Revenant , directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, retells the survival story with gritty realism and gory detail against a backdrop of the West’s magnificent grandeur. The movie received 12 nominations and won Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography. The film was shot in twelve locations in three countries: Canada, the United States, and Argentina. Filming was done under notoriously harsh conditions.

what is revenant story about

In the movie, along Glass’s journey, he is attacked by Arikara and escapes on an Appaloosa horse he had absconded with and, in a wild chase, his horse leaps over a cliff with a waterfall to its death. The waterfall scene was filmed at the Kootenai Falls near Libby, Montana. In order to keep from freezing to death, DiCaprio as Glass slits open his horse’s underbelly, pulls out all the innards and crawls into the carcass.

Glass would make it to Fort Kiowa. It would take him six weeks. There he convalesced, then set out to find Bridger and Fitzgerald. He found both men, but ultimately forgave Bridger for his youth, believing Fitzgerald was the culprit.

what is revenant story about

He later found Fitzgerald at Fort Atkinson, Nebraska, as a soldier. There, Glass was told by an Army captain he would be hung for killing an Army soldier. Fitzgerald was forced to return Glass’s gun and compensate him with $300, an immense amount of money for the day. Glass, however, told Fitzgerald that if he ever left the Army, he'd kill him.

Glass went on to work for General Ashley for ten more years, until he was attacked by his old enemies, The Arikara, and killed in 1833 on the Yellowstone River. Today, a powerful monument—an iron sculpture depicting Glass fighting the grizzly—stands near the site of his mauling. But his legacy lives on, a paean to the miraculous grit and fortitude of the early frontiersmen who paved the way for western expansion in the American frontier.

You may enjoy these related posts:

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-Grizzlies, Lords of the Frontier


-Capturing the Steely Spirit of the West


"The True Story Behind The Revenant" was first published on Facebook and NotesfromtheFrontier.com on March 21, 2020

176,732 views / 3,209 likes / 2,743 shares


Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular NotesfromtheFrontier.com blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel ! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa , she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop , then at Northwestern University , Marquette and Mount Mary . Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens , includes credits in New York Times Magazine , New York Times , Connoisseur , many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook . 

Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation , Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women ( MMIW ), Homeless Veterans Initiative , Humane Society , and other nonprofits.  

Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on DeborahHufford.com , Facebook , and Instagram .

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The true story behind “The Revenant” is even crazier than the movie

For real though.

By now, many of us have at least seen the trailer for The Revenant , with Leonardo DiCaprio cast as Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and hunter who embarks on a mission for vengeance after being left for dead by his cohorts in the wake of a bear attack. As it turns out, Hugh Glass was a real guy who had a pivotal role in the westward expansion of the fur trade, and by extension, America. And he was even more of a badass than we see in the movie—though not for the reasons you might expect.  

The lucrative fur trade was a driving force behind American exploration, as Eric Jay Dolin explains in his chronicle , Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America . When Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark on their 1804 expedition to explore the land he acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, two of his objectives were to discover 1) what items Native Americans may accept in trade for pelts, and 2) whether a navigable, all-water route might connect the Pacific to the fur posts of the Missouri River.

Mountain men

Lewis and Clark did not find such a route. Instead, they found the Rocky Mountains, which gave rise to a new class of fur trader: the mountain man.

Dolin estimates only a few thousand men pursued this risky path. It was a wild, violent existence that required rugged self-reliance, but had its romance as well. Mountain men spent autumns and springs trapping, and winters camping—often in groups together with their wives and families—and summers selling at rendezvous, where they’d often drink and gamble away their earnings. (While in the wild they subsisted on what today we might call an intense paleo diet, sometimes consuming upwards of 10 pounds of meat per day , and replacing bread with dépouille , smoked straps of fat taken from either side of a buffalo’s spine.)

Among the toughest of the mountain men were the free trappers. Rather than contracting with a fur company to provide supplies and salary in exchange for all their pelts, these traders struck out on their own. They assumed all the risk for their journey, using their own horses, guns, and gear, and selling their furs to the highest bidder. According to mountain man Joseph Meek, the free trader “took what route he thought fit, hunted and trapped when and where he chose; traded with the Indians … dressed flauntingly, and generally had an Indian wife and half-breed children.”

Eventually, Glass became a representative of free traders. In the late 1820s, the New York-based John Jacob Astor—arguably the world’s most powerful fur trader—had an eye on western expansion. It was Glass who convinced his emissary, Kenneth McKenzie, that there were mountain men in the Rockies eager to do business with Astor’s company.

“This was all the coaxing McKenzie needed,” Dolin wrote. “In 1829 the American Fur Company, at McKenzie’s urging, sent a party of trappers and goods into the mountains. Astor had finally entered the Rocky Mountain Trade.”

But before Glass could make his mark on history as a spokesman for free traders, he had to become a legendary mountain man—which is what we see dramatized in  The Revenant. 

A grizzly ordeal

As Dolin wrote, mountain men were “forced to confront a lawless world where violence lurked at every bend.” It’s hard to imagine anything making them shake in their boots—except, perhaps, for a grizzly bear. Similar to the way surfers today call sharks “the man in a gray suit,” trappers referred to grizzly bears “Old Ephraim.”

In 1823, Glass met Old Ephraim, in an encounter that made him one of the most famous of mountain men. He had already had  a rough trip , having been shot in a battle with the Arikara tribe—called “Rees,” as those who have seen the movie may remember—on the shores of the Missouri River.

The losses in battle caused Glass’s trapping party to split up, and Glass to join a team of men and horses heading west over land. Glass ventured hunting ahead of his group, in the Grand River Valley of present-day South Dakota. There, he encountered a female grizzly with her cubs. According to Dolin, before Glass could prepare his rifle, the bear reared up, grabbed him by his throat and shoulder, slammed him on the ground, and “bit off a chunk of his flesh, and turned to feed it to her cubs.”

Glass’s cohorts arrived in time to kill the bear, but not before Glass was beaten, bruised, and bleeding profusely. The group’s leader, Rocky Mountain Fur Company founder Andrew Henry, determined moving Glass was not an option. He offered a reward to two men—veteran woodsman John Fitzgerald and, accounts suggest , a 19-year-old named James Bridger—to keep vigil over the hunter until he passed away, and give him a proper burial.

Left for dead

But Hugh Glass wouldn’t die. After five days, the men abandoned him, and took Glass’s tomahawk, knife, flint, and beloved hunting rifle with them—essentially sabotaging any hope for survival. They returned to their party and lied, saying Glass was dead and had a proper burial.

Glass, meanwhile, began to recover his strength. He foraged for berries and insects and drank spring water for at least 10 days, until he found a pack of wolves eating a buffalo calf, and scared them away (as you do). Fueled by buffalo protein and the promise of vengeance, Glass made it to the nearest trading post—some 350 miles from where he had been left—and kept moving in pursuit of his abandoners.

Spoiler ahead

After several more Arikara attacks, Glass finally found Fitzgerald, one of the men who had left him for dead, by then was enlisted in the army. Glass knew punishment would be swift if he murdered a soldier, so he reasoned with Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, recovered his stolen rifle, and moved on.

Some would say that Glass’s greatest legacy was one that  The Revenant didn’t respect.

“Not only had Hugh done a great thing in crawling back to safety after he was almost killed, but after he had figured out who had deserted him, he chased them down, caught them, and then … let them go,” Frederick Manfred, the late author of the 1954 biographical novel Lord Grizzly ,  said in a South Dakota Historical Society account . “That was an act that put him above Achilles. In fact, Hugh Glass had performed his heroics while completely alone. Achilles always had a contingent of Greek warriors nearby.”

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Based on a true story, ‘The Revenant’ will transport you into the wild unknown.

The 2015 movie “The Revenant” ​is based on the 2002 novel of the same name, which is in turn based on the true story of Hugh Glass, a man whose story was first recounted in 1915’s “Song of Hugh Glass.” ​At the Academy Awards, the film was nominated in the Best Cinematography category, a testament to its exceptional camera work. Not only did this film win lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio an Academy Award for Best Actor, but he also won Best Actor awards at the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA and a Critics’ Choice Award. Actors Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter also feature in the film, each delivering eloquent performances. The costumes department also deserves praise for representing the Western period drama well.

The film transports audiences into the American Old West to experience a fierce portrayal of frontier life. The film closely follows the story of Hugh Glass, played by DiCaprio, a frontiersman dealing with survival, betrayal and perseverance. After a conflict with the Indigenous Arikara people and a brutal bear attack, Glass finds himself stripped of most of his traveling party and partnered with only a companion who thinks he should be left for dead. Amidst rising tensions, Glass exemplifies wisdom and perseverance through losing those closest to him as he fights to remain a force in the wild unknown. 

As an R-rated film, “The Revenant” is certainly not family-friendly. Many scenes display considerable violence and gore, although this brutality is meant to show how frontier life was during the 1800s. One of “The Revenant’s” most admirable achievements is its transformation of its epic poem source material into a film that is gritty, realistic and tragic.

Published in Culture , Films and Reviews

Abigail Martin

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Is ‘The Revenant’ Based on a True Story?

Where to stream:.

  • The Revenant

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After bearing the cold and putting method acting to the test, Leonardo DiCaprio finally took home his Oscar for his performance in 2016’s  The Revenant . And while the movie is already nearly five years old, it remains a wintertime favorite — what better way to pass a snow day than to watch one man trek through the unforgiving wilderness from the warm comfort of your couch?

With the East Coast pummeled by a snowstorm yesterday and most of us still coated in drifts of white this afternoon, there’s no better time to revisit  The Revenant . DiCaprio stars as an 1800s frontiersman named Hugh Glass who’s been attacked by a bear and must fight for survival after being abandoned by his own crew of hunters. It’s a compelling tale, but is The Revenant a true story?

Well, sort of. According to The Hollywood Reporter , some of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film is actually based on a 2002 work of fiction about Glass’ journey. But the main plot points of the film are real: Yes, Hugh Glass existed, he did get attacked by a bear and survived. But details like his fall from a cliff while on a horse or his use of the dead horse as shelter from the cold aren’t proven. And no, he didn’t really eat raw liver (probably), nor did he have a son with a Native American woman.

The real Glass began his journey when he was forced to join a pirate ship and eventually escaped after years onboard, and became an honorary Pawnee when he reached the land. After answering an ad to join a crew setting off to trap beaver, Glass set off on his trip, where his famous bear attack took place. While picking berries, he was approached by a bear that grabbed him and took a bit bite out of his butt. While he was rescued by his crew, they eventually left him to be, figuring he was near death.

But unlike in the film, nobody tried to suffocate Glass, and he likely lay by a river, where he had been left, for days, eating rattlesnake and slowly gaining the strength to crawl, then limp, in search of revenge. Eventually, Glass did find the men he was searching for, but he didn’t serve them the same cold justice as in the film, although he did get that rifle back.

Head to The Hollywood Reporter for the full true story of  The Revenant .

Where to watch  The Revenant

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    Iñárritu and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass, retells the survival story with gritty realism and gory detail against a backdrop of the

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    As it turns out, Hugh Glass was a real guy who had a pivotal role in the westward expansion of the fur trade, and by extension, America. And he

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