Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Revenant and the Mountain Men

The Revenant, an award-winning 2016 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, dramatically tells of the hardships endured by the  mountain men who hunted, trapped, and explored the western regions of the United States in the early decades of the nineteenth century. I recently wrote about this subject on my personal website, and some of what follows is copied from that post. You can read the original post here:

Hugh Glass, the real-life character DiCaprio portrays, suffered more than many of his mountain men compatriots. The Revenant, based upon a 2002 novel of the same title by Michael Punke, describes a heart-wrenching tale of injustice and revenge. Because of the level of violence depicted and the occurrence of some nudity, the movie is rated R, making it “not recommended” for middle-grade viewers. I personally think the level of violence is probably no greater than what is encountered on many video games. Too bad it is not readily available for young students of American history.

Hugh Glass

In the movie, as in real life, Glass was abandoned to die by two fellow mountain men, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Jim Bridger. Glass endured excruciating hardships in saving his own life and in pursuing his vendetta against the two who left him for dead. Although I had not read Punke’s novel when I wrote my trilogy, I was aware of the Glass story and the role Bridger played in it.

In Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book One, I introduce Charles “Bullfrog Charlie” Munro, a mountain man who befriends young Will Braddock, the protagonist. Bullfrog helps Braddock learn about the wilderness and aids him in overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Bullfrog is 65 years old when he first appears in Eagle Talons, where he reveals that Jim Bridger gave him his nickname. Bullfrog could have been with Bridger on the expedition when Glass was attacked by the bear, but we will never know for sure.

In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book Two, Will Braddock is with Bullfrog when the old mountain man is mauled by a grizzly bear. Later in the book, while leading a hunting expedition, Will is himself attacked by a grizzly. During the time period of The Iron Horse Chronicles, Bridger was very much alive and serving as a guide for the US Army. Bridger does not appear personally in Bear Claws, but Bridger Pass and Fort Bridger appear frequently in both Eagle Talons and Bear Claws. James Felix Bridger is justifiably considered one of the greatest of the mountain men.

My search for books about Hugh Glass and the other mountain men written specifically for middle-grade students was not very productive.

Hugh Glass, Mountain Man, by Robert M. McClung, fits the category, but is apparently out of print. A new copy is listed on Amazon for $2,400 and on Barnes & Noble for $2,000. That’s probably more than most young reader’s budget can manage. Both booksellers offer access to used copies of the book for less, but still not cheap. Copies should be available in libraries.

Jedediah Smith: And the Mountain Men of the American West, by John Logan Allen is a generalized study of many of the mountain men. As the title implies, the book is heavily oriented toward another famous mountain man, Jedediah Smith. Smith was with the expedition when Hugh Glass was attacked by the bear. In a later incident, Smith was mauled badly by a grizzly, and his compatriots had to sew his scalp and ear back in place. This is another book that is out of print, but new and used copies are available from Barnes & Noble. I found a copy of this book in my local library.

Because of my difficulty in finding books written for the middle-grade student, I recommend two books that I used while researching grizzly bear attacks and mountain men experiences in general. Both books are written at a reading level with which middle-grade students should have no difficulty.

Cowboys, Mountain Men & Grizzly Bears by Matthew P. Mayo contains what its subtitle explains: “Fifty of the Grittiest Moments in the History of the Wild West.” Each of Mayo’s fifty articles is only two or three pages long, and the book contains several illustrations. One of those tales presents what is considered to be the true story of Hugh Glass. Author Mayo is a fellow member of Western Writers of America and a winner of that association’s Spur Award.

The Mountain Men by George Laycock is subtitled “The Dramatic History and Lore of the First Frontiersmen.” Among the book’s twenty-five stories, one is about the amazing survival experience of Hugh Glass. The book also includes eight special “side-bar” articles with beautiful illustrations explaining how the mountain men trapped beaver, made fire without matches, and did many other things to survive. These exciting articles reminded me of my dog-eared copy of the official Boy Scout Handbook from years ago.

My experience in putting this article together for Mad About MG History indicates a need for a middle-grade novel about the mountain men. I’ll have to think more about that.

1 comment:

  1. I think you have good reasons to learn more about mountain men and write about them.