In the News: Executive Director Harry Thompson Discusses Legacy of Fred Manfred, 'Lord Grizzly'
TUESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2016
As the author of the definitive narrative on Hugh Glass, interest in Frederick Manfred continues to grow in the wake of the Oscar-nominated film, The Revenant. And as Manfred's work receives more attention, so do the new Voices of the Northern Plains exhibits at the Center for Western Studies, a portion of which are dedicated to Manfred and other important regional authors who re-imagined the pioneer period for twentieth-century audiences.
CWS Executive Director Dr. Harry F. Thompson recently discussed the author's quest for authenticity with reporter Mary Ann Grossmann. The following article about Frederick Manfred and his most famous work, Lord Grizzly, was published by the Pioneer Press on January 8, 2016.
By Mary Ann Grossmann, Pioneer Press
Attention readers and film-goers: Leonardo DiCaprio's new film, "The Revenant," is not based on Minnesotan Fred Manfred's 1954 novel "Lord Grizzly," although some people think it is. Others think it should be.
Manfred's daughter Freya, a soft-spoken poet who lives in Stillwater, tries to keep frustration out of her voice when she says, "I've gotten letters congratulating me on Dad's book being made into a movie. I tell them 'Lord Grizzly' is not the book they read."
DeCaprio's film is based partly on Michael Punke's "The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge." Manfred says she read two-thirds of Punke's book and "it's terribly written." She's undecided about seeing "The Revenant," but her husband, screenwriter Tom Pope, will attend to look for any traces of "Lord Grizzly."
Both Manfred and Punke tell the story of real-life Mountain Man Hugh Glass, who was part of an expedition attacked by Indians in 1823. He was nearly torn to pieces by a bear near present-day Lemmon, S.D., and left for dead by two companions.
But Glass didn't die. His scalp was nearly torn off by the animal's 3-inch claws, his ribs were exposed, maggots infested open wounds in his back and his leg was broken, but he crawled 200 grueling miles to Fort Kiowa near present-day Chamberlain, S.D. He eventually tracked down the men who abandoned him, but he let them live.
"I think 'Lord Grizzly' is the granddaddy of Hugh Glass novels," Freya says, adding that it has rarely been out of print. The book was a finalist for the National Book Award and has sold more than a million copies. It was chosen by James Work, past president of the Western Literature Association, as one of five most important works of Mountain Man fiction.
For the Manfred children -- Freya, Fred Jr. and Marya -- DiCaprio's film, which opened nationwide Friday -- is another example of Hollywood passing over "Lord Grizzly," even though Manfred himself and Pope wrote screenplays based on the novel. The 1971 film "Man in the Wilderness," starring Richard Harris, bore similarities to "Lord Grizzly" but didn't acknowledge Manfred.
"That was a painful period for us," Freya recalled of the months after the Harris film came out. "We had a lot of discussion about whether we should sue, but Dad had no money."
Minnesota filmmaker Mike Hazard said Manfred described his relationship with Hollywood "hoo doo."
"He meant that in his whole life his relationship with Hollywood was haunted. Nothing ever worked out," explained Hazard, who made a film about Manfred titled "American Grizzly," a title honoring Manfred's choice of the grizzly bear as his personal totem.
Hollywood might ignore Manfred, but his 62-year-old novel is being remembered on social media by commentators discussing "The Revenant" novel and film.
On Amazon.com, a reader named Nancy commented: "I am ... a fan and scholar of the writings of Frederick Manfred ... Just wondering why the earlier Hugh Glass novel has not been mentioned."
Totalbadass posted on disquis.com: "Save your money and read 'Lord Grizzly' instead."
Ted at therumpus.net said: "... sounds suspiciously like 'Lord Grizzly,' a biographical novel by Frederick Manfred ..."
Ken at southdakotamagazine.com: "I read 'The Revenant' and am sad to say they chose to make a movie from that book instead of Manfred's masterful work."
In Lemmon, S.D., a town of 1,300 people closest to where Glass was mauled, LaQuita Shockley says there is talk among the locals about preferring to see a movie based on "Lord Grizzly."
"I've lived here my whole life," said Shockley, publisher of the Dakota Herald newspaper and co-chair of the second annual Hugh Glass Rendezvous in August. "We grew up with his story, learned it in school.
"What bothers me is the movie changes the storyline so that Glass was seeking revenge because they killed his son. We know there was no record to prove he had any children.
"Seldom is a movie based on a book followed to a 'T,' but when it's a story of historical fact, you don't change that."
She also points out that the landscape through which Glass crawled is prairie, not mountains and pines as seen in the film.
Manfred's son Fred Jr., of Luverne, Minn., hasn't seen "The Revenant" and didn't know it was partly based on a book. He's mostly philosophical about his father's novel being passed over again.
"The author and Hollywood have every right to do what they did creatively. There is no law against it," he says. "The thing that bothers me most is that the person who wrote the definitive story of Hugh Glass is not getting credits for one of his best works."
Fred Manfred, who built two houses in the Blue Mounds area near Luverne, was a big man -- 6-foot-9 -- who wrote big, muscular books. When he died in 1994 at age 82, he had written 34 books, including 22 novels, story collections, poems, essays, memoirs and letters. He was an established author of seven autobiographical and farm novels when he wrote "Lord Grizzly," his first foray into Western writing and first in his Buckskin Man Tales series, which includes "Conquering Horse," "Scarlet Plume," "King of Spades" and "Riders of Judgment."
One of the reasons "Lord Grizzly" endures is Manfred's quest for authenticity, according to Harry Thompson, executive director of the Center for Western Studies at Augustana University in Sioux Falls. Manfred was a consultant in humanities at the school, and some of his papers and personal effects are on display at the center.
"From a scholar's point of view, Manfred took authenticity to a high degree in 'Lord Grizzly' by re-creating Glass's crawl when he was wounded," Thompson said. "I do think he put special effort into 'Lord Grizzly' and in doing so he discovered the ability to re-create the West he had not explored previously."
Manfred himself enjoyed talking about doing that research. In a 1988 Pioneer Press interview just before his 75th birthday celebration at the Loft literary center, he described walking more than 70 miles through North Dakota and South Dakota to retrace Glass's adventures. Sometimes he got down on his stomach and tasted ants and other insects -- just as Glass ate during his long crawl.
When Manfred returned to Bloomington, where the family lived at the time, he fashioned a sling for his leg and dragged himself around a big hill to get the feel of crawling hundreds of miles with a broken leg.
Trying to keep laughter out of his voice, Manfred recalled: "Our neighbor was a banker, and his wife was having a tea party. A woman looked out and said, 'There's a man crawling around out there.' The neighbor said, 'Oh, that's just crazy Fred doing some research.' "
Why did Manfred turn to the West for inspiration? Part of the answer might lie at the Minnesota Historical Society, where acquisitions librarian Patrick Coleman prizes several copies of "Lord Grizzly." One first edition has end papers that are maps of the real places Glass went through his ordeals.
Manfred donated a copy to MHS in 1967 with a handwritten explanation on a front page about why he wrote about Glass when he was 42, the same age as the Mountain Man when he was attacked by the bear: "I wrote the book because I felt a gap or dimension lacking in my characters -- I wanted to 'feel them' as having come from somewhere."
Coleman, a fan of Manfred's writing, points out that up to this point Manfred's novels hadn't been particularly well received and he may have been aware of what he was doing by turning to a real-life character for inspiration.
"I am kind of ticked off that more reviews (of 'The Revenant') aren't referencing 'Lord Grizzly,' '' Coleman says. "How do you say anything about Hugh Glass without mentioning Manfred?"
Fred Manfred wrote his own screenplay for "Lord Grizzly" in 1964, which he showed to son-in-law Tom Pope.
"Tom felt Dad was an excellent fiction writer but his screenplay wasn't good," Freya recalls. "Tom offered to write a screenplay, and Dad thought that was a great idea. Tom's script was circulated in the '90s, and those who saw it said it was one of the best Westerns they ever read. But by that time Westerns were dead. We sent it around again fairly recently, to some of the same people who were working for DiCaprio. They didn't like it. I'm curious to find out how this 'Revenant' person got a script to DiCaprio."
What bothers the Manfreds most about "The Revenant" film is that it's partly based on a book that has "revenge" in the title. They believe "Lord Grizzly" captures the redemption that is the essence of Glass' story.
"In letters Dad wrote before he finished the novel, he talks about how there is no evidence in history that Glass forgave anybody," Freya says. "But because he was a Christian man that would give some indication of forgiveness. In letters to New York publishers, Dad says he didn't know if people would buy forgiveness from a Mountain Man, but to him it made the story much more profound."
Fred Manfred didn't live to see the one film that credited him as a writer. "Johnson County War," a 2002 television movie written by Larry McMurtry, listed Manfred as co-author because it was based on his book "Riders of Judgment."
Those who care about Manfred's legacy are hoping "The Revenant," being touted as an Oscar-winner for DiCaprio, will create new interest in "Lord Grizzly."
At the Center for Western Studies in Sioux Falls, S.D., director Thompson is encouraging a revival of interest in Manfred.
"One of the subthemes of our new exhibits," he says, "is to bring back to the people of this area and people traveling through an awareness of the degree to which this part of the country that we call Northern Plains has been written about by (Willa) Cather, Herbert Krause and Manfred, who have re-imagined the period so many think of as the immigrant period and early contact with Indians.
"For those of us who study literature and culture of this part of the country, Fred's reimagining of the frontier era is welcome."
Fred Jr. takes the long view regarding "Lord Grizzly."
"I'm not having a nervous breakdown about my dad's legacy," he says. "Let history take care of that."
Mary Ann Grossmann can be reached at 651-228-5574.
WHO WAS FRED MANFRED?
Fred Manfred was born in 1912 in Doon, Iowa, to farmer Feike Feikes Feikema VI and his wife. They were Dutch Frisians, a minority group that spread from Holland through Germany and part of Denmark. (In 1951, Fred dropped Feikema as a last name and substituted Manfred, which means "man of peace.")
After studying at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., Manfred hitchhiked west during the Depression. By 1937, he was a sports reporter for the Minneapolis Journal newspaper, until he and the late broadcaster Eric Sevareid were fired for Newspaper Guild activities.
Manfred spent 1940-42 recovering from a near-fatal case of tuberculosis in the Glen Lake sanitarium in Minneapolis.
When he left the sanitarium, he had completed the manuscript of a book based on his 1934 Dust Bowl hitchhiking journey from South Dakota to Yellowstone National Park. Encouraged by author Meridel LeSueur, he rewrote the manuscript and "The Golden Bowl" was published to some acclaim in 1944 under the name Feike Feikema. At the sanitarium he also met his future wife, Maryanna, when they were lying side by side on gurneys. They later divorced.
The couple moved first to Dinkytown, then to Bloomington, where their children spent part of their childhoods. By 1961, they were living in a house Manfred built in the Blue Mound area. But a legal dispute with the builder led to loss of the house, and it is now the state park's interpretive center. Undaunted, Manfred built another house a couple of miles away.
Manfred was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize, and his writing was praised for authenticity, sense of place and lyricism. But by the 1980s, editors who knew his work were either out of publishing or dead, and popular fiction had turned from his larger-than-life books written from a moral viewpoint. His last books were published by the University of Oklahoma Press. "No Fun on Sunday," a story about baseball, came out in 1990; "Of Lizards and Angels: A Saga of Siouxland," in 1992.
Manfred died of complications from a brain tumor in September 1994. Five years later, the Minnesota Historical Society Press published Freya's memoir, "Frederick Manfred: A Daughter Remembers."
FOLLOWING HUGH GLASS
If you are inspired by "The Revenant" or "Lord Grizzly" to take a summer trip to Hugh Glass sites, you need to drive only about 550 miles west on Interstate 94 from the Twin Cities.
IN LEMMON, S.D.: This town of 1,300 is closest to where Glass was mauled by the bear. Located on the border with North Dakota, it is the epicenter of the Mountain Man's story. "I always thought Hugh Glass was our untapped resource, a very interesting, important part of history we weren't doing anything to promote. Thanks to the movie, and other people's interest, we have a catalyst to get things going," said LaQuita Shockley, newspaper publisher and organizer of the August Hugh Glass Rendezvous.
If you go you'll see:
-- An interpretive plaque at Shadehill Reservoir, 13 miles out of town, marking the site of the bear attack, which is now underwater.
-- Hugh Glass recreation area, where the Aug. 28-30 Rendezvous will be held. Families are welcome to the event that includes hands-on activities for kids, entertainment, food and everybody in pioneer costume. (For registration information, go to hughglassrendezvous.com or email email@example.com.)
-- Grand River Museum, home to John Lopez's life-size sculpture of Glass fighting the bear.
IN SIOUX FALLS, S.D.:
The Center for Western Studies at Augustana University has a mission is to improve the quality of social and cultural life in the Northern Plains and facilitate a better understanding of the region, its heritage and its resources. It serves as a repository for more than 500 substantive collections and maintains a library of more than 36,000 volumes on the American West. The center owns a collection of Fred Manfred's papers, his book collection and artifacts on display, including his buckskin boots, typewriter, desk and briefcase.
OTHER BOOKS ABOUT HUGH GLASS
-- "The Saga of Hugh Glass: Pirate, Pawnee and Mountain Man" by John Myers Myers (biography, 1976)
-- "Hugh Glass, Mountain Man" by Robert M. McClung (fictionalized biography, 1990)
-- "Wilderness" by Roger Zelazny and Gerald Hausman (fiction about Glass and fellow mountain man John Colder, 1994)
-- "Here Lies Hugh Glass: A Mountain Man, a Bear, and the Rise of the American Nation (An American Patriot)" by Jon T. Coleman (history placing Glass in the context of the story of the American West, 2012)