Not much is known about his life before the bear attack. What we do know is that he was born in Pennsylvania, to Scots-Irish parents. A lot of his story has been embellished through the years, so I will begin around the time of the attack.
In 1822, Glass signed up for a fur-trading expedition backed by William Henry Ashley . The group departed from St. Louis in March. Several months later they were attacked by Native Americans, and Glass was slightly wounded.
In August 1823, near present-day Perkins County, South Dakota, Glass was scouting for game for the expedition. He stumbled upon a grizzly bear with her two cubs. Perhaps, in an attempt to protect her cubs, the grizzly charged him, picked him up, and threw him to the ground. Glass managed to kill the bear with help from his trapping partners, Fitzgerald and Bridger, but was left badly mauled and unconscious. He reportedly had a broken leg, a ripped scalp, a punctured throat, and numerous gashes.
Ashley was convinced he was mortally wounded and would not survive his injuries and asked for two volunteers to stay with Glass until he died and bury him. Jim Bridger and John Fitzgerald volunteered and began digging his grave while the party moved on. They claimed they were interrupted by Arikara Indians (also known as Ree), and the two took Glass’s belongings and rejoined the party. Bridger and Fitzgerald later caught up with the party and told the group Glass had died.
Glass regained consciousness, but found himself abandoned, without weapons or equipment. He set his own leg, wrapped himself in the bear hide that had been placed over him as a burial shroud, and began crawling. To prevent gangrene, Glass laid his wounded back on a rotting log and let maggots eat the dead flesh. He would crawl 200 miles and it took almost 2 months. He went overland south toward the Cheyenne River using Thunder Butte as a navigational tool, where he fashioned a crude raft and floated downstream to Fort Kiowa. He would keep his strength up by eating wild berries and roots. On one occasion he was able to drive two wolves from a downed bison calf and feast on the meat. Glass did get help from some friendly Native Americans that would sew a bear hide to his back to cover the exposed wounds and provided him with food and weapons.
Motivated by revenge or something else he set out again to find Fitzgerald and Bridger. He found Bridger at a camp located at the mouth of the Bighorn River. He apparently forgave him because of his youth, and then re-enlisted with Ashley’s company. Bridger went on to become one of the most famous mountain men, trappers, and scouts in the U.S.
Glass would later learn that Fitzgerald had joined the army and was stationed at Fort Atkinson in present-day Nebraska. He traveled there as well, where Fitzgerald returned his stolen rifle. Glass reportedly spared Fitzgerald’s life because of the penalty for killing a soldier of the United States Army. Glass would be killed, along with two fellow trappers, in an attack by the Arikara on the Yellowstone River in the winter of 1833.
A monument marks the spot where Glass was attacked, near Shadehill, south of Lemmon, overlooking a man-made lake. The grave that was dug for Glass was said to still be visible before water covered it in 1951. There have been many books and films about his life continuing his legend today.