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Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, A Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation

By Jon T. Coleman; Hill and Wang

Figuring Hugh Glass was a surefire goner after being mauled by a grizzly bear in 1812, the mountain man’s boss left two men deep in Indian country to bury him. Days later, with Glass still breathing, his companions got cold feet. They took his rifle and skedaddled. Only Glass didn’t die. Living on “insects, snakes, and carrion,” he crawled and staggered 200 miles to Fort Kiowa. Then he went after the men who betrayed him. He let one (young Jim Bridger) live, and never caught the other. Ten years later, Glass himself was dead, killed by Arikara Indians—like bears, another occupational hazard.

Glass has been the subject of an epic 1915 poem (John G. Neihardt’s “The Song of Hugh Glass”), a brilliant 1954 novel (Frederick Manfred’s Lord Grizzly) and an intriguing 1971 misfire of a movie (Richard Sarafian’s Man in the Wilderness, starring Camelot’s Richard Harris). But a biography? Well, it’s hard to write one about a guy whose origins are unclear and who left behind just one letter.

Instead, Jon T. Coleman puts Glass in historical—more often, pop culture—context. Even Grizzly Man, the documentary about bear advocate Timothy Treadwell, who was killed by a grizzly, gets a mention. Coleman’s often acerbic wit will leave you laughing out loud: Not every historian can get away with calling his star character “more Homer Simpson than Homeric.”

As he writes, “I believe that history should be fun, sly, challenging, and artful.” By those standards, Here Lies Hugh Glass succeeds admirably.

Originally published in the August 2012 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.