New Hugh Glass Biography Coming in May from State Historical Society

Mclaird - Hugh Glass (CI)PIERRE, S.D.—This spring, readers will be able to learn the true story behind frontiersman Hugh Glass, who is currently portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in the Hollywood blockbuster “The Revenant.” As Oscar buzz continues to mount for the movie, the South Dakota State Historical Society is getting ready to release “Hugh Glass: Grizzly Survivor”by James D. McLaird in May.


The most famous grizzly bear attack in the history of the American West took place in 1823 and left Glass struggling for life. Setting out on a journey of revenge and forgiveness, he eventually crawled 200 miles across the plains back to civilization. The story of Hugh Glass has provided fertile ground for articles, books and film, but the real man remains much a mystery.


“Hugh Glass continues to be a larger-than-life character who occupies a significant place in American folklore,” says Nancy Tystad Koupal, director of the South Dakota Historical Society Press. “However, little has been done to create an accurate historical biography that looks at the other narratives written about him.”


McLaird, a Mitchell historian, traces the few existing threads of Glass’ life and delves into the role of popular history in making a legend. He also looks at the grizzly bear itself, examining popular sentiments towards the creature that led to its near extinction.


“Had it not been for a chance encounter with a grizzly bear along the Grand River in what is now northwestern South Dakota,” says McLaird, “Hugh Glass would barely warrant a passing note in fur trade history. That fact made researching him a challenge.”


McLaird is professor emeritus of history at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. He is the author of the second South Dakota Biography Series book “Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends” and numerous articles on the Black Hills and American West. 


“Hugh Glass: Grizzly Survivor”is the latest addition to the South Dakota Biography Series published by the South Dakota Historical Society Press. The book will be available in May for $14.95, plus shipping and tax. It can be preordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press at or by calling (605) 773-6009. Follow the South Dakota Historical Society Press on Facebook (SDHS Press) and Twitter (@sdhspress) for more information.




Editor’s Note:Email for publicity information and to contact the author.


About the South Dakota State Historical Society

The South Dakota State Historical Society is a division of the Department of Education. The State Historical Society, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is headquartered at the South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center in Pierre. The center houses the society’s world-class museum, the archives, and the historic preservation, publishing and administrative/development offices. Call (605) 773-3458 or visit for more information. The society also has an archaeology office in Rapid City; call (605) 394-1936 for more information.


Why I Love History, part 13!

Professor Emeritus James D. McLaird, award-winning author of numerous works of history including the South Dakota State Historical Society Press’s Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends has written today’s post in the ongoing “Why I Love History” series.

For variety, I like driving different routes when I travel. Once, when crossing the sandhills region of Nebraska, I turned south from Gordon. About thirty miles later, I stopped at a historic marker explaining that only a few miles east was the Sandoz homestead site. I had enjoyed reading Mari Sandoz’s Crazy Horse and Old Jules, so headed east. The road quickly changed from gravel to two dirt tire tracks through the grass, but I kept driving, watching curlews fly up and swans swim in nearby ponds. Finally, the orchard planted by the Sandoz family appeared before me. However, I didn’t remain long, nervous about dark storm clouds approaching.

For me, history enriches life experiences. Having read Sandoz’s books helped me appreciate the beauty of the sandhills, and experiencing that bleak landscape allowed me to more deeply appreciate Sandoz’s books. When I meet a person or visit a place, I want to know about the past of that individual or that locality. I appreciate people most when I learn what experiences molded them. I enjoy a community more when I find why it was founded and what changes have occurred in its development. These are among the reasons I find studying history a fulfilling experience.

Fact or Fiction?

A couple of nights ago, historian James D. McLaird visited the History and Heritage Book Club at the South Dakota State Historical Society Cultural Heritage Center. The club had been reading his Hard Knocks: A Life Story of the Vanishing West. As part of the discussion, McLaird talked about separating what is likely true and reliable in old memoirs (such as Hard Knocks) from what is not. He recommended looking for personal experiences the individual is relating and skip past things they are telling about others (hearsay). His also recommended further research. Learn to look through old newspapers and other sources to see if it is possible to document what the author is saying. However, no matter how hard the writer or reader tries to discern truth from fiction, all popular old memoirs have both truth and misstatement. Some of that misstatement is due to failure of memory on the part of reteller of the story and some is due to relating things the author has heard others say. The crucial aspect of reading such memoirs, McLaird advised, is to tell the difference!

It’s a Hard Knock Life!

March is Hard Knocks month at the South Dakota State Historical Society Press this year. Here’s something to whet your appetite. Remember, during March this great book is only $8 when purchased online.

“Kirt Jordan, the great buffalo hunter, finally went wrong, and became a horse and mule thief. The U.S. marshal arrested him for stealing government mules, tried and sentenced him to Leavenworth Government Prison for ten years. An officer and two men, with Kirt handcuffed, started for Leavenworth, Kirt siting in the seat with the officer, and the soldiers in the seat at his back. Kirt requested the officer unhandcuff him as he wished to wash himself in the toilet. The officer did so, when, as quick as lightning, he grabbed the officer’s six-shooter from his scabard and shot him dead. He then shot one of the soldiers, and jumped through the open window to the ground, lighting on his head and breaking his neck. Poor Kirt was a good fellow, but, like many others, after his occupation as a buffalo hunter ended, he could not resume his occupation as a teamster, and accordingly went bad.”

Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane author in Pierre


Author James D. McLaird will be at the Cultural Heritage Center from 12:00-1:00 p.m. and at Prairie Pages bookstore from 5:00-7:00 p.m., Thursday, February 26 to discuss his book Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends, and sign copies.

McLaird’s book examines what is real and what is myth when it comes to the famous two Wild West characters. His book has been called “a fascinating read,” and it is “loaded with great historical information.”

Priced at just $12.95 plus tax, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane is available directly from the South Dakota State Historical Society or from most bookstores. For more information about the book signings visit, call (605) 773-8161 or contact Prairie Pages at (605) 945-1100.

Whetting the Appetite

Dramatic scenes from classic Westerns. Polished hyperbole across pages of written accounts. Images of two people who may, or may not, have been what legend has made them into.

Those are the kind of things that historians must contend with when researching and writing about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, two of the most legendary Wild West characters in history.

Check out the short video at for the new book Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane: Deadwood Legends. How much do you think you know about these two? Is any of it true?