Welcome to the very first edition of True Story, our new series of articles that look at the real life events that films use as the basis of their stories. We all know that when it comes to the narrative of films there is usually a certain liberty or two taken to enhance the dramatic effect of a story. Often times these changes are overlooked, other times they are a source of criticism for not staying true to source material. These articles of ours are not designed to criticise the changes, or lack of, from original source material, but are to show the differences of the film versus the fact. Got it? Well let’s get to it with the true story behind The Revenant. P.S. If you have not seen The Revenant then spoilers will follow.
The full history of Hugh Glass is a debatable one with sources of varying credibility laying claim to the story behind the man. There are though a selection of sources from different individuals that corroborate certain elements of the life of Glass from the initial Indian assaults, to his Grizzly attack and eventual journey for revenge against the men who left him behind. The film itself was based on a novelization of the story of Hugh Glass, also called The Revenant. So here are the facts of the story that inspired The Revenant and how they actually went down….
- Film – The events occur during winter, scenery looks spectacular.
- Fact – The events actually took place during the summer. The expedition started in May 1823, the Arikara attack on June 1st 1823, the grizzly bear attack in August 1823 and Glass got back to the first fort in October 1823.
- Film – Arikara Indians attack the trappers looking for Powaqa, a kidnapped daughter from their tribe. They also mercilessly hunt them down throughout the film.
- Fact – The trappers actually traded with the Arikara Indians prior to being attacked, giving them guns and ammunition for horses. The Arikara then did in fact attack the trappers in the following days but it was primarily down to previous casualties the tribe suffered at the hands of other white trappers.
- Film – The trappers escaped via boat after the Arikara Indians attack them, and immediately sought to return to the fort and regroup and come back for any pelts left behind.
- Fact – Following the initial attack on them that resulted in 14 people dead, and 11 wounded, the trappers regrouped, got reinforcements, and attacked the Arikara villages in retaliation. After a ceasefire, the villages were burnt down by Missouri Fur Traders not satisfied with the outcome. Giving them more reason to be hostile towards white people. Hugh Glass was not with the groups that retaliated.
- Film – Hugh Glass’s son Hawk is killed defending his dad, by John Fitzgerald.
- Fact – There are no reports of Hugh Glass ever having a son, but he definitely did not have one with him on the expedition. Meaning John Fitzgerald did not kill anybody prior to leaving Hugh Glass to die. Quite the plot device isn’t it?
- Film – Hugh Glass single-handedly killed the bear that attacked him.
- Fact – The trappers in the same party as Glass heard his screams, and assisted in killing the grizzly bear as he was being mauled.
- Film – Not long after escaping the Arikara Indians the trappers are travelling through a heavily wooded area and Hugh Glass suffers the infamous grizzly attack
- Fact – The grizzly attack occurs two months after the attack at the hands of the Arikara, during a second expedition that Glass embarks on. Another Indian attack occurs at this point, but by Mandan Indians.
- Film – French trappers trade with the Arikara Indians, and are the ones responsible for kidnapping Powaqa before Glass frees her and attacks them.
- Fact – There were no French trappers referenced in the accounts about Hugh Glass, and once again no kidnapped Arikara held captive.
- Film – It takes pretty much the entire length of the film (Not sure of the real time) for Hugh Glass to get back to the fort where the rest of the trappers are, and in the end they go out to find Glass, finally coming across him during the night.
- Fact – Glass is attacked in late August 1823, and makes his own way back and initially gets to the safety of a fort in October 1823. It is not until New Years Eve 1823 and some further trips that he comes across Jim Bridger.
- Film – Hugh Glass and Andrew Henry hunt for John Fitzgerald once his acts come to light. Fitzgerald kills and scalps Henry, and brutally fights with Glass. Instead of killing Fitzgerald, Glass lets the watching Arikara Indians have the honours.
- Fact – Hugh Glass finds John Fitzgerald at Fort Atkinson, a different Fort to Bridger. At the point Glass comes across him, Fitzgerald has joined the American army and is in effect their property. Andrew Henry is not present, and does not die and Fitzgerald also does not die. Glass is given his gun back, and that is that. Not exactly dramatic is it?
So there you have some of the differences between what the film portrays and how some the events purportedly went down. What could have stayed the same, and what should have changed? Do you think we should have seen the other attacks by Native Americans, or did it do the right think and keep it on the straight and narrow. I’m sure we can all agree the end of the film was dramatically better than what actually happened, but that would have been an intriguing end none the less don’t you think. All that hardship without a payoff? How would you do that on screen? I certainly would have liked to have seen it.
If you want to read more about the real story of Hugh Glass, check out this Hugh Glass website which collates many of the sources on Hugh Glass together. It’s a great read and get involved!