The Revenant fact vs fiction

I saw the Revenant on Saturday.  A very good movie.  One question everyone was asking as they left the theater was how much of the story was embellished and how much was fact.

The movie itself says it is based off the story by Michael Punke called The Revenant: A story of revenge.  The story itself is based off of a real man, Hugh Glass and his survival ordeal in the South Dakota wilderness in 1823.  The real story of Glass is very amazing but as with all legends people overtime have added various embellishments.

The novel by Punke is very good but was criticized by some for not being a true revenge tale.  Book critic Brian Ted Jones said the story is primarily about survival and secondarily about getting his stuff back.  This is because after Glass survived he hunted down the men who left him for dead, not to kill them, but to get his rifle back.

The changes between the film and the book were primarily to make the film more of a pure revenge story.  A son was added to the narrative that is killed by one of the men who left him.  This gives the film's Glass played by Leonardo Dicaprio a very passionate reason for revenge.

The son serves a secondary purpose as well.  As Glass's son is half Pawnee and Glass's wife was Pawnee it makes the film's version of Glass fit more with our modern multicultural values.  The true Glass may have shared these values, but he may not  have.  It really is hard to say.  There is a story that the real Glass spent time living with and even married a Pawnee woman but this story is not verified.  It is also true that Native American's are credited with helping him on his journey.  The multiculturalism of Glass is contrasted by some of the more bigoted members of his party as well as by a group of snooty, French fur trappers.  The French trappers are also added to the tale.

The part of the film where he befriends a Pawnee man who helps him, and another scene where he runs into a Pawnee war party are not quite real.  The real Glass is said to have met with friendly Native Americans (Tribe?) who sewed a bear hide to his exposed back and gave him both food and weapons.  This means the epic scene where he rides a horse off a cliff and then uses the horse's corpse as shelter did not happen.

Hugh Glass rumors potentially fact:

  • Potentially was captured and served as a privateer off the coast of Texas
  • Potentially was captured and lived with the Pawnee, had a Pawnee wife

Hugh Glass Facts:

  • Joined General William Henry Ashely's fur trapping expedition
  • Was on the expedition with other famous mountain men including: James Beckwourth, Thomas Fitzpatrick, David Jackson, William Sublette, Jim Bridger, and Jedediah Smith. 
  • The group is attacked on May 1823 by Arikara warriors.  In the attack Glass is shot in his leg.
  • Glass is part of the group that decides to hike back overland
  • Glass stumbles upon a mother grizzly and her cubs.  He is in a vicious fight with the bear.  Two of his compatriots arrive and help kill the bear.  Glass is badly wounded in the attack.
  • Two of his companions: Jim Bridger and Fitzgerald agreed to stay behind to bury Glass after he died for $40 dollars.  Both men decided to leav Glass behind still alive.  After catching up to expedition they reported that Glass had died and that they had buried him.
  • Glass forgave Jim Bridger who was only 19 at the time of the expedition
  • Glass hunted down Fitzgerald.  The two men met and Fitzgerald returned Glass's rifle. Glass did not fight or attempt to kill Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald had enlisted with the military making any retribution against him illegal.

Revenant Fiction:
  • Glass did not have a Pawnee son
  • Fitzgerald did not murder his son, but he did leave Glass behind and lie about it
  • Glass did not meet a Pawnee man but he did meet a group of Native Americans who helped him
  • Glass did not encounter a Pawnee war party on his way back
The truth is still a very amazing story and should in no way be discounted.

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