This poem tells a powerfully vivid story that begins in 1823 – just after the Leavenworth campaign against the Arikara Indians – and follows an expedition of Major Andrew Henry through a series of arduous journeys over the Trans-Missouri region.
The poem describes the friendship that springs up between two trappers – an older man named Hugh Glass, and a younger named Jamie – who fight, scout and hunt together in the wilds. The story is set when Jamie and a companion betray Hugh: Hugh is abandoned – alive, and badly wounded – to die by the Missouri; to allow Jamie and his companion to safely flee the enmity of hostile Indians in the vicinity. Jamie and his fellow cover their cowardice with a specious lie: that they left only after Hugh died of natural causes, whereupon they first buried him before riding north to rejoin the trapping-party.
But against all odds – Hugh survives. Regaining consciousness and finding himself alone, Hugh shrewdly deduces the identity of those who betrayed him. Then – fired by a relentless hate to punish those who left him to die – Hugh claws his painful way back to the land of the living: but only to set out to track down his betrayers and deal out some requisite summary justice.