"Hugh Glass" is a true story. I spent five years researching the different aspects of the story(example: 19th century pirates; Jean Lafitte; 19th century sailing and what it was like to actually be a sailor in those days. I researched the Pawnee Indians extensively and learned their customs and some of their language. Several of the Indians in the story were real people that Hugh Glass would have known. I also took an animal tracking class at an Indian reservation.) Then I wrote the book as if it were a fictional tale, because I think that is the best way to relate history. Some have criticized me for "filling in" the blanks this way, but I like to think that I am a historian and story teller in equal parts...
"Hugh Glass" tells the true story of a man who, in 1817 at age 37, was given the choice to join a pirate crew or die. From that moment until the end of his days, Glass' life became an adventure that ranged from the edges of the Caribbean to the heart of the American wilderness!
HE WAS A WHITE MAN WHOSE STORY WAS SO POWERFUL THAT IT BECAME A TRADITION AMONG THE INDIANS OF THE AMERICAN PLAINS...
"HUGH GLASS" by Bruce Bradley
On the third morning after the attack by the Mandans, Hugh woke up feeling uncomfortable and out of sorts. He had slept wrong, and he'd had some unsettling dreams about Little Feather. He couldn't remember the dreams, only that she had been in them. It left him in a somber mood.
He reached the camp in time for coffee and a biscuit. While he was eating, young Jim Bridger approached him. Hugh liked Bridger. The young man talked very little, but he handled himself better than most men who were ten years older. What Hugh really wanted right now, though, was to be left alone.
"Mr. Glass...?" Bridger said tentatively.
"Mornin' Jim," Hugh said. "What can I do for you?"
Bridger looked around awkwardly. He wanted something from Hugh, but he hated to ask.
"Mr. Glass, is it true you know how to read sign, the way the Indians do?"
"Yes," Hugh told him. "I can read sign."
"Well...I was wonderin'... Could you, maybe, teach me? I-I can pay. I'll pay you. I don't expect nothin' for free."
Hugh immediately thought of Big Axe. His mood softened somewhat. He smiled.
"You don't have to pay me," he said. "I'll be happy to teach you, as soon as we get to Fort Henry."
"Is there some...some secret to it? I mean, I can tell what tracks are, when I can see 'em. Trouble is, they always disappear."
Hugh scratched the back of his neck. Looking up at Bridger, he said, "Yeah, there is a secret. You have to learn to soften your eyes."
Bridger looked puzzled. It made him look even younger than he was. It made Hugh think of his own sons, whom he had not seen in more than six years and who, he knew, he would almost certainly never see again.
Hugh threw the dregs of his coffee into the fire.
"Come on," he told the younger man. "We have a few minutes. I can show you enough to get you started."
He led Bridger over to a spot just past the edge of the camp, to a stand of cottonwoods. Casting about for only a moment, Hugh pointed at a pile of leaves.
"What do you see there?" he asked Jim.
"Leaves," Jim said. "Just leaves."
Getting down on one knee, Hugh looked at the pile.
"I see three different sets of tracks," he told Jim. "Over here--" He pointed to a spot just to his left. "--you can see where a fox followed a rabbit, probably yesterday. He wasn't chasing the rabbit yet, just following. Then, over here on the right, you can see where a prairie chicken walked through, scratching around, lookin' for his dinner."
"You have to teach yourself to focus on the outside edges of your vision--it's called peripheral vision, like seeing something out of the corner of your eye. When you do that the vision in the middle, which you normally use to look at things, softens. That allows you to see the things that aren't obvious. Takes practice. Indians learn to do it when they're young, which is why they're so good at it."
Jim Bridger, Hugh could tell, wasn't sure whether to believe him or not.
"Just practice it whenever you get the chance and it'll happen. When it does, it'll seem so obvious you'll wonder how you never saw the tracks before."
"That," he added, "I can promise."
As he had tried to do in the past, Henry insisted that Hugh remain with the others in the party.
"Especially now," Henry told him, "with the danger of attack from every known tribe imminent, we have to stay together." He wanted a tight, compact group, with no strays or stragglers.
"I'm sorry, Major," Hugh replied. "Can't do it. Don't worry--I'll stay within earshot. If anything happens, I'll come running."
"And what if something happens to you?" Major Henry shot back.
"I'll take my chances."
Disgusted, Henry moved off.
Hugh was not about to change his mind. Too many times in the past, he had trusted his welfare to others. Too many times, that had almost proved to be his undoing. After spending nearly four years with the Pawnees, he found the movements of the whites to be clumsy and loud. Their lack of harmony in the wilderness spread out from them in all directions, like the ripples that were created when you threw a stone into a pond. The unnatural movements of birds and animals would telegraph the coming of the white men for anyone with eyes to see, just as the movements of the grass told of the coming of the wind. If anyone was in danger of detection here it was they, and not Hugh Glass.
Besides that, he needed to be by himself today. His dreams had gotten him thinking about Little Feather again, and he wanted to be alone with her in his thoughts.
And that's exactly where he was when the grizzly attacked...
Copyright © 1995 by Bruce Bradley
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