Sunday, May 6, 2018

William H. Ashley & Hugh Glass


A good friend recently asked me to post what I knew about Hugh Glass. Since many out there have heard the story about how Glass was a mountain man who was mauled by a female grizzly bear and was thought near dead but miraculously lived, I thought I'd start out by telling you how his story started.

So now, since this is way too long, grab a cup of coffee and try not to let the kids hear you cussing me out as you read the story of William H. Ashley, Hugh Glass and others of Ashley's Hundred.

First, to tell the story about Hugh Glass, we have to first talk about William Henry Ashley. We have to talk about how Glass and others answered an advertisement that Ashley placed in a St. Louis newspaper looking for 100 men for a two to three year expedition up the Missouri River.

Who was William Henry Ashley you ask? He was born in 1778 in Virginia. He would pass away on March 26th, 1838, in Boonville, Missouri. He was a pioneer in the American fur trade. And though he was from Virginia originally, Ashley was already living in an area that was part the Louisanna Purchase when it took place in 1803.

The area that he lived in became known as Missouri. Ashley was living in St. Louis by 1808 and there he became a Brigadier General in the Missouri Militia during the War of 1812. Prior to the British invasion, Ashley was a real estate speculator and manufactured gunpowder. He was elected as Missouri's first Lieutenant Governor in 1820 when Missouri was admitted to the Union. He served as that state's Lieutenant Governor until 1824.

In 1822, just two years after becoming Lieutenant Governor, he became business partners with Andrew Henry who was a Major in the Missouri Militia during the War of 1812. Henry was a bullet maker by trade and their gunpowder and bullet business was a huge success. Always looking for new opportunities, Ashley and Henry soon formed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to get in on the fur trade.

Now as for the ad that Ashley placed in a St. Louis newspaper in 1822. Well, on February 13th, 1822, Ashley ran his advertisement in the St. Louis Missouri Republican seeking one hundred men. As it states, "To Enterprising young men . . . to ascend the river Missouri to its source, there to be employed for one, two, or three years." Those men would became known as "Ashley's Hundred."

The ad was meant to recruit men for the first of several fur trapping expeditions to the Rocky Mountains. All financed and organized by William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry. Of course his ad was helped along on September 17th, 1822, when the St. Louis Intelligencer newspaper ran a story detailing how young men were working in the fur trade "increased their capital and extended their enterprises." The article also reported that "a thousand men" were at the time trapping the upper reaches of the Missouri while another five hundred trappers were working on the Mississippi.

To say that the advertisement worked is pretty much an understatement. Because the fur trade was booming, and a large number of young men wanted to cash in on the goings on, it's said Ashley was inundated with young men all seeking such adventure. Among those of Ashley's Hundred who would later become famous in American History was Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, Jim Beckwourth, Mike Fink, David Jackson, John Fitzgerald, Tom Fitzpatrick, William Sublette, and of course Hugh Glass. As for Glass, he didn't actually join Ashley's expedition until the second year. So no, he wasn't part of the original 100. And frankly, since he was supposedly born in 1783, that means he was already 40 years old at the time. That's important since Ashley is said to have hired only young men when he started Ashley's Hundred.

What did Ashley's Hundred accomplish? 

Ashley's expeditions started out in trouble. For example, though three expeditions were ordered, with the last being led by Ashley himself, those expeditions were a failure financially. One was a huge loss. That was during the expedition led by a Daniel Moore who lost one of his keelboats when it capsized. When that happened, Moore lost all of its expedition's cargo. The cost of that loss was said to be about a $10,000 loss. 

As for as encounters with Indians, it's said Blackfeet Indian attacks resulted in the death of four men during that first outing. During the next year, Arikara Indians attacked the group and Ashley lost twenty-four men in that attack. The survivors are said to have retreated down river and actually hid in shelters where they stayed for more than a month. 

While some would have seen the loss of a quarter of your expedition as a sign to stop, Ashley didn't. Instead, he used his power as Lieutenant Governor to call Colonel Henry Leavenworth who commanded the 6th Infantry to handle the situation with a force of 230 soldiers. Soon after that his partner Andrew Henry’s men came downriver. He was accompanied by Joshua Pilcher’s men from the Missouri River Fur Company. They were allied with 750 Sioux Indians. Henry's 50 men and Ashley's remaining 20 trappers, Pilcher's men, and the 750 Sioux, along with the 230 soldiers of the 6th Infantry were all under the command of Lt Col. Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson in what is today Nebraska.

 All were gathered to take on the Arikara Indians. Then on August 9th, 1823, their combined force of more than 1,000 men attacked Arikara villages along the Missouri River in what is today South Dakota. The incident would later become known as the Arikara War. After just a few days of fighting, the Arikara Indians were allowed to leave their villages.

While their defeat diminished their threat, the attacks had a serious impacted how Ashley and his partner Henry conducted things. For example, feeling that the risks from Indians in Montana was way too great, they instead focused on the Bear, Green, Snake, and Wind Rivers. Then in a move that changed everything, they allowed the men under their employ to roam the country as they saw fit.

Ever wonder who started the first "Rendezvous" for trappers and such? Well, it was William Henry Ashley who came up with the whole rendezvous system where mountain men, trappers, Indians, and traders would all meet annually. The time and place was all predetermined to sell and exchange furs, buy goods, make money, and replenish supplies. It's said that his innovations, which included rendezvouses, made him a great deal of money and garnered him a great deal of recognition and respect in the fur trade.

From what I can tell, Ashley himself led only 4 expeditions. And though that's true, his rendezvous system is said to have "ushered in the golden age of Rocky Mountain fur trading." His rendezvous strategy was an arrangement where mountain men received a fixed sum for their furs, which of course those same trappers spent on supplies, powder, bullets, and liquor which Ashley furnished.

Ashley and his men would help open the West to American expansion. For example, between 1822 and 1825, they actually accomplished a number of large scale fur trapping expeditions. In fact, Ashley's men are officially credited with the discovery of South Pass in the winter of 1824. That same year, Ashley lost reelection as Missouri's Lieutenant Governor. Not having to deal with anything else, Ashley had more time to focus on the fur trade. His partner Andrew Henry decided to leave the expeditions and soon afterwards sold out his half of the company to Ashley.

During the spring of 1826, Ashley himself led an expedition into the Salt Lake Valley. Then he headed south of the Great Salt Lake, and he's actually credited with discovering Utah Lake which he originally named Lake Ashley.

It was there that he established Fort Ashley in order to trade with the Indians there. And over the next three years, Fort Ashely is said to have collected over $180,000 worth of furs. Friends, $180,000 back 189 years ago in the year 1829 is equivalent in purchasing power to $4,652,153.33 in 2018.

He made so much money from this arrangement that he was able to completely retired by 1826. So in 1826, Ashley sold the Rocky Mountain Fur Company to Jedediah Smith. The sale of his company didn't stop his men from exploring what is today northern Colorado. In fact, it's said they went from the South Platte River to the base of the Front Range, and then ascended the Cache la Poudre River into the Laramie Plains and advanced to the Green River. That was in 1828.

As for Ashley? He got back into politics and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1831 after Spencer Pettis was killed in a duel that same year. He was reelected in 1832 and 1834. But by 1836, Ashley didn't want to run for a fourth term in Congress and instead ran for Governor of Missouri.

He lost that election and returned to private business where he made a great deal of money when he returned to dealing in real estate. Sadly, Ashley’s heath had started to decline after he left Congress. He became ill and bedridden. He died of pneumonia on March 26th, 1838. While some sources say he was 54 when he died, others say he was 60 years old at the time of his passing.

William H. Ashley is buried atop an American Indian burial mound in Cooper County, Missouri. It's said that he overlooks the Missouri River.

So now, you're saying what about Hugh Glass? 

Well, he is believed to have been born around 1783 in Pennsylvania to Scots-Irish parents. But frankly, that's anyone's guess if that's true or not because his early life is more myth and mystery. For example, Glass was supposedly born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and his parents were supposedly from what is today Northern Ireland. But, I can't find anything to confirm that.

There is a great tale about how he had been captured by pirates off the coast of Texas in 1816. Supposedly, after being captured, he was forced to become a pirate for a few years but then escaped by jumping ship and landing in what is now Galveston, Texas. Of course, after that he was captured by the Pawnee who made him a member or their tribe. Then, after living as a Pawnee for a number years, he waved goodbye and left for St. Louis, Missouri in 1821. Another story says that since he was the only English speaking captive, he taught the Pawnee Chiefs to speak English so that they could negotiate a peace treaty and end a war with the Americans. But really, that doesn't make sense since the Pawnee were never at war with the United States and in fact had a treaty with the United States in 1818 while the Pawnee were still living in Nebraska. 

He was among the men who were Ashley's expedition of 1823. We know that when he is mentioned in Ashley and Henry's private papers, they usually make him out as an employee that lacked discipline and was hard to handle. Though that may have been the case, Glass did in fact take part in the Arikara War and was said to have been among the fortunate ones who survived that engagement even after being shot in the leg. 

While the Arikara War was the first conflict with Indians in the West, and is considered a victory for the United States, the war with the Arikara Indians did inflict a great number of casualties on Ashley's men, the 6th Infantry, and the Sioux who were allied at the time.

Of course, Hugh Glass is best known for his story of survival after being left for dead during that expedition in 1823. And please understand that there are no known direct eyewitness accounts of the bear attack or what happened afterwards.

We do know that the story was first published in The Port Folio in 1825 in Philadelphia.  The story's author was James Hall who was brother of the editor of The Port Folio. The story was supposedly picked up by newspapers and from there became well known. The writer, James Hall, is an interesting character in that he was a judge and lawyer who worked very hard as a writer. In fact, he is considered a "literary pioneer of the Midwestern United States" while also practicing law as a lawyer. He is known to have worked as an editor with the Illinois Gazette. And later while still practicing law, and later a judge and politician, he was an editor with the Illinois Intelligencer. He also later became editor of the Western Souvenir, the Illinois Monthly Magazine, and the Western Monthly Magazine. So yes, he was quite the storyteller. Some say quite the fiction writer.

As for Hugh Glass himself was unlike Jim Bridger who couldn't read or write. Glass is said to have been very literate. But while that's true, no one can find where Glass himself wrote anything down that would corroborate James Hall's story of what has become a legend.

So what does that mean to us? For me, it tells me that we can only got with the few facts that we know and the legend which I'm sure has been embellished over the years. And since there's no real way of knowing how embellished it has become over the years, who knows the truth of what took place after he was attacked by a female grizzly?

We know that Glass didn't join Ashley's Hundred until the second year. He was part of those who retreated downstream as a result of their fight with the Arikara Indians. He and the rest of the Ashley's men eventually returned to Fort Kiowa. Andrew Henry had joined the group there soon after that. Then with Henry in the lead, they all set out overland to the Yellowstone River to join up with

Glass was only with Ashley's Hundred for five months when he was attacked. He was actually part of a hunting party our looking for game for the expedition. They were near what is today Shadehill, South Dakota. It was there that Glass was surprised by a mother grizzly bear. For me, I think he was attacked because she saw him as a predator since she had her two cubs to protect.

Many years ago, I became fascinated by bear attacks after meeting an old man who said that he survived such an attack by a mother black bear. He described a bear attack as horrendous. He said the ordeal was ferocious, absolutely savage, the most violent thing he'd ever experienced.

My fascination with such things stems from the fact that such encounters exemplify the human spirit fighting with all one has to stay alive and not just roll over a die. Over the years, I've had two encounters with bears. One was very close with a very angry black bear who screamed into my face that was just a couple feet away from his. While that's a story for another day, from my own first hand experience with bears, I've found that a bear's first reaction when meeting up with people or hearing shots fired is to run away as far as fast as possible. In my case, a few shots fired turned that big cinnamon bear around and set him running. Lucky for me.

While a bear's first reaction is to turn and run, that's not the case when they're surprised or when protecting their young. From what I can tell, almost all bear attacks result from somebody surprising the bear. Hunters, even today, are the most at risk because hunters aren't making very much noise because they won't scare the game away. This means that while hunters try to be silent to get the game they're after, a bear will feel threatened and immediately go in attack mode instinctively if the hunter suddenly appears out of nowhere and is seen as a threat. This instinctive reaction to attack is heightened when it's a mother bear thinking she has to protect her young.

Female bears are very defensive of their young. Fact is she bears do not need the participation of a male bear to take care of her young. Male bears don't matter as a female bear spends her life devoted to raising their cubs. Yes, the term "mama bear" is a reference to the extremely instinctive reactive and protective nature of women who take care of their children in the same way.

So while bears will usually run away if alone, a mother bear protecting her cubs is mostly likely to attack any sudden threat. In fact, research agrees with that saying that the vast majority of bear attacks take place when a mother bear senses danger is approaching her cubs.

As for a bear attack, aside from deep lacerations, fractures, broken bones, dislocation, and other traumatic wounds, the fact that bears eat carrion for protein means that a bear's mouth full of infectious bacteria. Modern day recovery from bear attacks are said to depend on the extent of the injuries and in most cases involves long-term medical treatment. That's today world of modern medicines.

In the case of Hugh Glass, the last thing that he wanted to do that day was meet up with a mother grizzly. She charged him and is said to have literally picked him up when she bit into his head. Her three-inch claws opened huge lacerations in Glass. And when she was done with him, it's said she literally threw him to the ground at one point.

The rest of the hunting party is said to have heard his screams and the bear in rage. Soon they arrived and found Glass with a knife in his hand fighting for his life. I read where those mountain men fired a number of shots into the angry she bear before finally killing her.

Glass was said to be slashed open from her claws, punctured in the head and neck by her teeth, one of his legs were broken, and he was basically cut up from head to toe. She had made a mess of him. And to aggravate matters, while the others were trying to tend to his wounds the best they could, soon infection and fever set in. He loss consciousness and fell into what we know today was a coma.

Remember, that was 1823 in the wilderness of what would become South Dakota. There were no doctors, no medical emergency services, no calling in help, nothing that we have today. These were mountain men with basic medical skills when it came to tending to wounds. They did everything they could for him even though they were convinced Glass would not survive from what he went through.

While Hollywood has depicted this taking place in the freezing cold of winter, with Glass having to kill an elk and then crawl into it's carcass for warmth, it actually took place in the middle of summer. And while movies show his party simply leaving him to die, in truth they carried Glass on a litter for two days hoping he'd waken from his coma.

I can understand how Andrew Henry saw their efforts to save Glass as definitely slowing down the rate that their travel, especially since they were needed to link up with another party led by Jedediah Smith in the Blackfoot territory. They were support for others in a hostile land.

It's said at one point Henry asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass to give him a Christian burial when he dies. John S. Fitzgerald and a young Jim Bridger stepped forward to stay behind and make sure he was buried. They were so sure Glass was going to die, that Fitzgerald and Bridger immediately started digging a grave while the rest of the party started to moved out.

So now, we have a group of mountain men who fought the Arikara Indians, loss a number of their own men there, and now have one of their own mauled by a she bear. He looked like he was dead but he was still breathing. He was unconscious and had a fever as infections set in. The leader of the group believed he would not live very long so he asked for volunteers. Two of the men stepped forward to volunteer to stay with their dying companion. Their job was to wait for him to die. Yes, just so they could give him a Christian burial.

It is believed that after two days of watching over him, Fitzgerald started to worry about their odds of catching up with their party. It's speculated that he actually convinced the younger Bridger to bury Glass and head out to reconnect up with their party for safety reasons.

There's another story about how when Fitzgerald and Bridger caught up with Henry's main party, that Fitzgerald reported how the two came under attack as they were burying Glass who had died. Supposedly Fitzgerald claimed that he and Bridger came under attack by Arikara Indians, so they slipped Glass into the shallow grave before grabbing up Glass's rifle and other gear and retreating from the area. Frankly, who knows what took place? I don't think anyone really does.

I don't think neither of them expected for Glass to regain consciousness and live. But he did, even though his injuries were immense. Of course when he did wake from his coma, he found himself in a shallow grave left for dead. And worse, he found himself without his rifle, powder, or any of his gear. No, not even a knife.

As for his infected wounds, his broken leg, the deep cuts and punctures? Legend says that he prevented gangrene by allowing maggots to eat the dead flesh in his wounds. As for his leg, since his comrades applied a splint to his broken leg when they initially treated him after the attack, he kept the splint in place during his whole ordeal.

Then even though gravely injured, he somehow summoned the will to drag himself until he found water. After taking in water, legend says that he crawled for six weeks surviving mostly on wild berries and roots while trying to make it back to Fort Kiowa. And while there is the great story about how Glass supposedly killed and ate a rattlesnake during his journey, or that he was woken from sleep by a grizzly bear licking the maggots off his wounds, those sound like tale tales at best.

Glass is said to have crawled to the Cheyenne River where he put together a raft and then floated downstream to Fort Kiowa. The entire journey is said to have taken him six weeks. And depending on the source, some say that he may have crawled over 200 miles to Fort Kiowa on the Missouri River without using the river to get him there.

While a number of people, especially those in Hollywood, have repeated the story that what kept Hugh Glass alive was his anger and desire for revenge and retaliation on Fitzgerald and Bridger. Bu how could that be true? Since he was already in a coma when Fitzgerald and Bridger volunteers to stay behind and give him a Christian burial, how did he know it was them who left him?

What that means is there was no way of him knowing who put him in that grave and left, or when or why they left, or anything? There was no way for him to know about anything that took place until he was back in Fort Kiowa. He would only be able to know who to be angry with when he found the rest of party. It would only be then that he would find out what happened after that she bear came close to killing him and he became unconscious.

So really, when we consider the fact that he was unconscious and had absolutely no knowledge of what took place that resulted in him being placed in a shallow grave, how can anyone surmise that he wanted revenge against anyone since there was no way for him to know how or why he was left there, by who, or for what reason?

Frankly my friends, that's why I don't think it was rage or revenge that kept him alive. I think his sense of survival came out of his overwhelming desire to live and not die. Sorry if it doesn't sound dramatic enough, but I really believe he made his journey back because his desire to live pushed him onward.

As for wreaking violent revenge on those who left him, besides his not knowing who that were, how would Fitzgerald and Bridger have known that Glass would've simply awoke? Or survive another day or another month? How long were those two supposed to wait in the middle of the wilderness for a comrade to die while infection and gangrene ate away at him? And that's another thing, no where in the story of what took place do we know how long it was before Glass regained consciousness? Was it an hour after Fitzgerald and Bridger left? Was it a day? Two days? Was it almost a week later? Was it more than a week before he awoke for his coma and crawled to water?

I've read 5 days in one source and 7 days in another source, but I can't find anywhere that confirmed either number. After two days of waiting for Glass to die, Fitzgerald and Bridger trailed after Henry's main party in an effort to catch up with them. I can't find anywhere that explains why Glass didn't trail after Fitzgerald and Bridger, or if he did and when did he start out? Since Ashley's Hundred was always on foot and din't have horses, one would think they were easy enough to follow.

As for "showing mercy to Fitzgerald and Bridger"? Legend says Hugh Glass found Jim Bridger and forgave him because of his youth. There's the story that he found Fitzgerald had joined the U.S. Army and later found him. Glass supposedly got his rifle back but warned Fitzgerald that he'd one day kill him.

Glass is said to have "re-enlisted" with Ashley's Hundred. Later he was employed as a hunter for the U.S. Army at Fort Union in North Dakota. It was during that time that Glass and two others were killed in early 1833 on the Yellowstone River in an attack by the Arikara. Glass was either 49 or 50 years old when he died. That was pretty old for those days.

It might be interesting to note that the famous mountain man Jedediah Smith was also attacked by a grizzly in 1823. Yes, the man who is considered the first American to enter what is today California was actually attacked by a grizzly that was supposedly stalking his party around the same time that Hugh Glass was attacked.

Along the Cheyenne River, near what is Buffalo Gap and Beaver Creek in South Dakota, a grizzly surprised Smith and attacked him violently. The bear is said to have thrown Smith to the ground, cracking his ribs while ripping off Smith's  scalp. The bear actually had Jed Smith's head in his mouth and supposedly chewed off Smith's right ear. But believe it or not, Smith survived. 

Smith's scalp was hanging on to his head only by an ear. In the case of his being attacked, Jed Smith recorded what happened in his journal. He states how when his men found him in such a bloody and horrible way that they were horrified. He states how he calmed them down and instructed Jim Clyman to sew his hanging flesh back on. And yes, fellow mountain man Jim Clyman actually stitched his scalp back to his head while Smith is said to have repeated the 23rd Psalm over and over and over again.

Doing the best that he could, at one point Clyman stopped and said that there was nothing that he could do for Smith's severed ear. Smith wrote in his journal how he insisted that Clyman try. Jim Clyman wrote in his journal, "I put my needle sticking it through and through and over and over laying the lacerated parts together as nice as I could with my hands.” Imagine that.

Besides being part of Ashley's Hundred, fighting in the Arikara War, being mountain men, and both surviving beating attacked by grizzly bears, Hugh Glass and Jedediah Smith had something else in common. I'm sure it wasn't something either of them wanted to have in common.

In 1831, two years before Glass was killed by Arikara Indians, Jedediah Smith was himself killed by Comanche Indians. It's said that Smith wanted to retire from exploring the West. He was on his last trip along the Old Santa Fe Trail when he was killed. He was 32 years old, and is truly one of America's great explorers. 

Today there's a marker on the spot where he was killed by Comanche Indians. It's where he reached the river after days without water. And just as what would happen to Hugh Glass two years later, Jedediah Smith's body was never found after being murdered. Only parts of it. 

Tom Correa




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