Here Lies Hugh Glass
A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation
By Jon T. Coleman
(Hill and Wang, Hardcover, 9780809054596, 272pp.)
Publication Date: April 24, 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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In the summer of 1823, a grizzly bear mauled Hugh Glass. The animal ripped the trapper up, carving huge hunks from his body. Glass's fellows rushed to his aid and slew the bear, but Glass's injuries mocked their first aid. The expedition leader arranged for his funeral: two men would stay behind to bury the corpse when it finally stopped gurgling; the rest would move on. Alone in Indian country, the caretakers quickly lost their nerve. They fled, taking Glass's gun, knife, and ammunition with them. But Glass wouldn't die. He began crawling toward Fort Kiowa, hundreds of miles to the east, and as his speed picked up, so did his ire. The bastards who took his gear and left him to rot were going to pay.
Here Lies Hugh Glass springs from this legend. The acclaimed historian Jon T. Coleman delves into the accounts left by Glass's contemporaries and the mythologizers who used his story to advance their literary and filmmaking careers. A spectacle of grit in the face of overwhelming odds, Glass sold copy and tickets. But he did much more. Through him, the grievances and frustrations of hired hunters in the early American West and the natural world they traversed and explored bled into the narrative of the nation. A marginal player who nonetheless sheds light on the terrifying drama of life on the frontier, Glass endures as a consummate survivor and a complex example of American manhood. Here Lies Hugh Glass, a vivid, often humorous portrait of a young nation and its growing pains, is a Western history like no other.
Jon T. Coleman is an associate professor of United States history at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Vicious: Wolves and Men in America, which won the W. Turrentine Jackson Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize.
[A] vigorously written meditation on 19th-century America's encounter with the wilderness.
"Richly told . . . [Coleman] masterfully mines what scant life poor Glass left behind (one letter to the parents of a companion killed by the Arikara Indians) to argue convincingly that the bear attack story is one of the contributing factors in how Americans have come to think of themselves."
"[Coleman's] writing is certainly audacious, not just in his colorful language . . . but also in his willingness to discard traditional disciplinary boundaries and in his exuberant mixing of history, folklore, literature, popular culture, and the natural sciences."
[Coleman] shines a pure light on the actual conditions of the working man in the American West, on the fundamental relation between men, animals, and Native Americans, and on the many rascals and scamps, not to mention confidence men and counterfeiters, who are the real source of our greatest national myths.
"In this harrowing and beautifully written book, Jon T. Coleman shows us how backwoods workers experienced a West that left them scarred and mutilated. These are the raw (and bloody) materials for America's tall tales, epic boasts, dime novels, and Wild West medicine shows."
"Almost killed by a grizzly, almost erased by the passage of time, Hugh Glass is resurrected by Jon T. Coleman in this wise and witty book. The American encounter with the dangers of the natural world will never look quite the same again."
"Jon T. Coleman steers the horrendous story of Hugh Glass through the frontier writer James Hall, Herman Melville's ubiquitous Confidence Man, modern-day survivalism, advertisements for runaways, Richard Henry Dana, Henry David Thoreau, the social lives of grizzly bears, Timothy Flint, Davy Crockett, transnationality, a workingman's history of the fur trade, and much more as he uncovers and adds to Americans' long and unfinished conversation about the West. Some readers will disagree with him, but all of them will have a good time."
"Chomp on Jon T. Coleman's Here Lies Hugh Glass, but beware: it may bite back. The book is a dazzling meditation on men as meat and how we cook up history. Even if you cannot swallow the bear whole, Coleman serves up fricasseed fabulists, the remains of a gnarly mountain man to gnaw on, and a literary feast to digest. Enjoy."
"This fascinating, wonderfully written book makes you think and makes you laugh. Jon T. Coleman tracks the many tales and few facts that surround the legend of Hugh Glass, whose improbable survival and quest for revenge crawls off the page and stays in your head."