Thursday, November 28, 2019



Pea Ridge, MO 

I've often marveled at how men and women as well managed to survive what seemed like a death sentence by being injured while alone in the mountains, or other far secluded places with no help anywhere ahead. But somehow, through some miraculous occurrence and through tremendous strength of will and stubborn perseverance overcame all obstacles in their way and managed to save themselves. What sort of human is this and what spark do they have?

Revenant is a historical novel by Michael Punke. This book is based on a true event. It is about one man's successful attempt to come back from the dead. I'd read an earlier book about the travails of the mountain man, Hugh Glass, titled, Lord Grizzly, written by the legendary historical writer, Fredrick Manfred, so I was familiar with how Glass a hunter/scout for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, after being viciously mauled by a mother grizzly bear, crawled through miles of harsh wilderness alone to return to the safety of "civilization" in 1823
The leader of the brigade to locate new trapping spots was Captain Andrew Henry. After the mauling, Captain Henry battled about what to do with Glass. It seemed to him that he would soon die. So, instead of just abandoning the man, he decided to haul him with them as they pressed on. 

The Arikara Indians had recently made an attack on them that left them all skittish. Due to the threat of further attacks, Henry was keenly aware of the danger that he and his men now faced, and needed to put miles between themselves and the hostiles. After lugging Glass along with them on a litter for two days Henry made the decision to leave Glass but with the offer of seventy-dollars apiece to any two men who would agree to stay with Glass until he died, bury him and then move on in an attempt to overtake the brigade. 

A roughish man by the name of Fitgerald was quick to take the captain up on the offer. But a second man was slow to do step forward. By and by, an eighteen-year-old man, Jim Bridger, tossed in his hat to stay with Fitgerald. At first, Henry was reluctant to leave Glass in the hands of the man Fitzgerald, fearing that Fitzgerald might merely leave Glass at the first opportunity and continue the journey. But he had no choice. His only wish was that the boy, Bridger, might somehow persuade Fitzgerald not to abandon Glass. This was a frail hope, however, because Fitzgerald had bullied Bridger ever since they left St. Louis and would offer little resistance to the stronger, older man.

The brigade was pressed for time, however, and in the end, Henry gave in and the men traveled on.

Glass indeed was in horrible health, with his back open to the ribs from the track of the claw marks left by the grizzly, his scalp torn off and merely placed back on his head to heal on its own if heal it would. But the worst wound Glass suffered was a deep claw swipe that had nearly cut his throat. He was barely able to breathe. It seemed certain Glass would soon die.

A few days later, Glass still lived. Fitzgerald by this time had become eager to leave, spurred on by a close encounter with four Indians that same day who somehow managed to miss their tracks and those the brigade had left in their time at the camp. Fitzgerald threw all his gear together, stealing Glass's expensive Anstadt rifle, his flints, and steel as well as all the powder he owned along with his knife, which he gave to Bridger. This left Glass with no way to protect himself or even to build a fire. Fitzgerald managed after an argument with Bridger, to win him over, doing so with the threat of what the Arikara would do them if they caught them. They then abandoned Glass who was only too aware they were forsaking him.

Awhile later, Glass came to himself long enough to kill a snake. He was starved and ate it raw. This turned out to be the only food he would eat for several days. The next day, his fever broke and he decided that if he was going to die, he might as well do so on the move. The trouble was he was in such horrible shape that all he could do was crawl and little of that.

In the following days, he grew a bit stronger by catching insects, ground squirrels and mice, and small animals. This encouraged him and by inches, he realized he had made the right decision to move, even if it was only to crawl. In time, he managed by using string made from stripping his possibles bag into string he constructed a crude fire bow. He now had the means to provide himself with fire. Days later, he located a large herd of buffalo and watched as a group of wolves kills a buffalo calf. Glass starts a fire and gathers a large bundle of switches, lights them and scares off the two remaining wolves that are feeding on the remains of the calf. He now has a good supply of raw meat.

Glass smokes the meat after first gorging himself on raw meat. The remains of the 150-pound calf make perhaps fifteen pounds of jerked meat. Now, he is ready to strike out for real. After some time, he begins to grow stronger and is able to stand and walk for several hours a day by using a dead tree limb as a crutch. He grows stronger by the day, and this sets his mind to go as far as he possibly can to catch up to the brigade. He plans to kill both Fitzgerald and Bridger when and if he does catch them. His lust for revenge is the catalyst that moves him forward.

He overcomes practically as many obstacles as were set in the way of Job from the bible. But eventually, he reaches his destination and has his showdown with the two men. Through his ordeal, his desire for revenge weakens and he has a change of heart after shooting but not killing the hard man Fitzgerald. He forgives the boy, Bridger and calls it even after he reclaims his Anstadt and his knife.

This is not half the trials the man had to endure to come back from the dead but to me, the beauty of Glass's "crawl" as it came to be called when the legend got passed around is just how in the world can a person endure such torture as Hugh Glass did.

This was not meant as a review of the Revenant although it is an exciting book. However, the Manfred book, Lord Grizzly was much better in my opinion. I used this tale as one example of survival that has lasted since 1823. Glass has been listed as the number one badass of all by a national outdoor magazine. There are many instances of survival tales that are almost too difficult to believe but are true all the same. I remember in the 70s reading the tale of the South American soccer team who survived a plane crash in mountains that were covered in snow. In spite of all, two of the men managed to walk away from the relative safety of the wrecked plane and walk to safety and fetch a rescue helicopter. 

There was the Donner Party, which everyone recalls. Even though we might disagree with what they did to survive, survive they did and who's to say they wouldn't have done the same in their place.

Another tale of survival that ranks up there close to Hugh Glass's ordeal is the one of John Colter, the first white man to ever set eyes upon Yellowstone, which must have seemed to him to be hell itself. He was captured by the Blackfeet Indians and set free naked and alone to outrun the tribe's fastest runners. He manages to escape them and return to the safety of his own kind.

And in this age, there was a female doctor in a community of scientists cut off from civilization in the winter of the Arctic who needed an operation and she is the only one able to do the work and she manages it. That takes guts in my opinion. Not on a par with Glass perhaps, but still a fantastic show of courage that few have. Even boxers who have been knocked down and all but out have managed to get to their feet, persevere long enough to recover and in the end win the bout. That takes guts as well. And who can ever forget the brave men and women who survived Hitler's death camps during World War Two? They probably earn the prize in survival skills as well as courage.

Some people have the mettle to meet the demands of extreme survival others haven't. In the words of little Mattie Ross, they had true grit. I for one doubt that I have that much guts. I hope I never have to find out, which is the only true way to learn the truth. 

Sumner Wilson 
Author of:

The Hellbringer
Billy in the Lowground
A House of Men
Available on Amazon, Pen-L Publishing,
Five Star Publishers
and at bookstores everywhere.


  1. Sumner, if you enjoy reading these types of survival stories, I think you'd like Jim Davidson's memoir, The Ledge. Jim and his best climbing friend tackled Mt. Ranier, but the big part of the story happened on the way down. I won't tell you more, except to say that it will keep you turning the pages. It's a story of survival, emotional trauma, and resilience.

    1. Thanks, Patricia. How did you know I enjoyed reading climbing tales?

      Enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for commenting on mine.