Posted by: beachchairandabook | February 16, 2016

The Revenant, Cut-Nose and Five Scalps

The trailer and the title was enough to capture my attention – The Revenant and a wild-eyed shaggy man stranded in the white wilderness. (I call it the Game of Thrones, White Walkers effect).  When I learned that DiCaprio’s character was based upon real-life mountain man Hugh Glass  I was all in.  Actually, I learned about Glass through research on black trapper and mountain man Edward Rose. Could the Revenant  be the story of their ill-fated confrontation with the Arikara  near the Yellowstone River?   I hoped so. As I listened to the masterful narration of Holter Graham, I discovered it was not. But Rose’s story needs telling, too.  Just in case you missed my post last year, here’s the rewind on a man known as “a mountain man’s mountain man.”

I was drawn to the tales of mountain men after reading the exploits of legendary trappers Jedediah Smith, Jim Bridger and their black contemporary Jim Beckwourth. True to the times, in the 1951 film Tomahawk, instead of casting a black actor, Beckwourth was played by white actor Jack Oakie. What a joke – if Beckwourth was white, so was Frederick Douglass!

As always,  when faced with misinformation, I didn’t get mad, I got a book.  There had to be more than one black mountain man. And what a mountain man he was! Born to a white trader father and an African-American/Cherokee mother, Edward Rose was an outlaw, guide, hunter, interpreter, and war chief. In his youth Rose was part pirate and part highwayman, robbing travelers on land and water, from the Mississippi River to New Orleans. When the law put a halt to his life of crime, Rose settled in St. Louis.

With Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery came the development of the fur trade in the West and the need for men to trap, trade and negotiate with  Native Americans. According to one source “the old fur traders always got a Negro if possible to negotiate with the Indians because of their pacifying effect. They could manage them better than the white men…” Edward Rose was one of these men. Jim Beckwourth said of Rose: “He was one of the best interpreters ever known in the whole Indian country.”

It must have been so. When the Pacific Fur Company hired Rose as a guide, their leader Wilson Hunt (a man with no frontier experience) distrusted Rose because of his amicable relationship with the Crow. Near the Black Hills of South Dakota, Hunt fired him. The Pacific party promptly became lost, but was saved by Rose when he returned with a group of Crow to guide them.

Rose was often described in negative terms – sullen, silent and sinister; big, strong, hot-tempered, self-serving and dishonest.  Even so, his skill as a guide and hunter could not be denied. More than once Rose’s knowledge of Native American customs and language was in part responsible for the success of an expedition. On the Ashley-Smith exploration, Rose was counted, along with legendary mountain men Jim Bridger, Hugh Glass and Jedediah Smith, as “the most significant group of continental explorers ever brought together.”

Rose became part of a frontier militia formed to fend off attacks on traders by the Arikara. General Henry Leavenworth, in his report of a battle, described Rose this way: “I had not found anyone willing to go into those villages except a man by the name of Rose…He appeared to be a brave and enterprising man, and was well acquainted with those Indians…The Indians called to him to take care of himself before they fired upon General Ashley’s party.” Another described “the old Negro” in battle: “One foot was on the pile of muskets to prevent the Indians from taking any from it…his eye gleamed with triumphant satisfaction…(the) scars on his forehead and nose all united in forming a general expression, that…seemed to paralyze the nerves of every Indian before him.”

Eventually Rose rejoined the Crow who named him “Nez Coupe” (Cut Nose) because of the scars on his nose. By some accounts, he became a war chief, and for killing five Blackfoot in one battle, was given the name “Five Scalps.”

Edward Rose, Hugh Glass and Hailan Menard were “shot, scalped and plundered”  by a group of Arikara  on the banks of the Yellowstone River in the winter of 1823. 

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Responses

  1. Very interesting facts. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks. We’ve got to tell all of our stories. And you know how much I love history!:):)

  2. MANNNNNNN I loved The Revenant so for them to do this was unnecessary. Thanks for this.

    • I didn’t get to go when I planned, so I still have to see it. I thought Rose would be in this story, but this is just one part of Glass’ life. He went on to other near-death experiences until his last battle with the Arikara.

  3. Wow. Thank you for telling us about yet another interesting and mostly unknown African American. The list of fascinating characters to discover is endless!

    • Thank you so much for reading! You’re right – we’ve got to look beyond the more well-known figures to those people whose stories need to be told. We’ve got to search out those “I had no idea” figures in our history.:)

  4. I believe I am the “Tall brother, dressed in black” you referred to in an email. Glad we had the conversation and glad you published your research on Black mountain men. It is so typical that in the 1951 film, “Tomahawk,” a white actor would portray a Black man. Thank you for bringing the facts forward.
    Felton

    • Hi, Felton! Thank you for reading my post, for the encouragement and the conversation. I inherited a love of our history from my mother and I’m determined to keep her passion alive.


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