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.

Holidays Approach, Let’s Make a Wish List!

Seems like it used to be just little children who made wish lists, then sent them off to Santa, hoping the right person might read them and delights would show up under their tree on Christmas morning. Well, everybody’s at it nowadays; you can pretty much add a wish list to almost any shopping website in mere seconds.

In some ways, we’re no different here at the South Dakota State Historical Society Press; we have our own wish list, although it isn’t filled with gift ideas, but book ideas instead. As part of our regular forward planning, we spend quite a bit of time thinking about what kind of books we’d like to see written and published on South Dakota topics. Recently, we’ve been brainstorming ideas for our extremely successful South Dakota Biography Series. If you haven’t seen any of the books in the series, they are readable biographies of famous people who have lived in South Dakota and, so far, we’ve done Laura Ingalls Wilder, Wild Bill Hickok & Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock. Already in the works, we have Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse, Gabriel Renville, Casey Tibbs, and Hugh Glass.

That’s a great list, but it usually leads us to thinking about who else we could add. The most glaring omission on the list is women. With just Laura Ingalls Wilder and Calamity Jane making the cut so far, and none on the forthcoming list, it strikes us that we need some more. Just yesterday, we talked about a potential “triple-threat” biography of Gladys Pyle, Zitkala-Sa, and Matilda Gage, which would really be filled with fascinating stories about three influential South Dakota women. Trouble is, we need to find someone qualified to write it!

And there lies the crux of the problem with brainstorming about books it would be wonderful to have in our list . . . we need someone to write them, so that we can publish them! So, pick up your pens, well, laptops or tablets, now, I suppose, and start writing!