This is one of three passages in the novel (see also p. 252 and p. 290) where Judge Holden is implicated in the murder or sexual abuse of children. It is yet another detail drawn from Chamberlain’s My Confession:
terrible stories were circulated in camp of horrid crimes committed by [Holden] when bearing another name, in the Cherokee nation and Texas; and before we left Fronteras a little girl of ten years was found in the chapperal, foully violated and murdered. The mark of a huge hand on her little throat pointed him out as the ravisher as no other man had such a hand, but though all suspected, no one charged him with the crime.
Chamberlain also describes another incident involving Holden abducting a Pima Indian girl and ‘proceeding to take gross liberties with her person’ before drawn guns shied him from his ‘prey’. Although never explicitly stated in McCarthy’s novel that Holden is responsible for the deaths of the children, it is heavily implied.
They learned to hunt buffalo from Native American neighbors in order to provide winter meat for their home villages (although, at the same time, the great number of buffalo killed by the ciboleros often led to confrontation with Native American tribes). Like the Pueblos and Plains Indians, New Mexican Hispanos depended on bison during the late Spanish colonial, Mexican, and territorial eras. The volume and extent of the ciboleros' hunts peaked in the first half of the 19th century and declined thereafter as the bison were taken to the brink of extinction.
German explorer Frederick Adolphus Wislizenus offers this description of ciboleros he encountered in northern Mexico in the late 1840s:
While we were travelling to-day over the lonesome plain, men and animals quite tired and exhausted, on the rising of a hill before us quite suddenly appeared a number of savage looking riders on horseback, which at first sight we took for Indians; but their covered heads convinced us soon of our mistake, because Indians never wear hats of any kind; it was a band of Ciboleros, or Mexican buffalo hunters, dressed in leather or blankets, armed with bows and arrows and a lance – sometimes, too, with a gun – and leading along a large train of jaded pack animals. These Ciboleros are generally poor Mexicans from the frontier settlements of New Mexico, and by their yearly expeditions into the buffalo regions they provide themselves with dried buffalo meat for their own support and sale. Their principal weapon is the lance, which in riding they plunge so adroitly into the buffalo’s flanks, that they seldom miss their aim. They are never hostile towards white men, and seem to be afraid of the Indians. In their manner, dress, weapons, and faces, they resemble the Indians so much, that they may easily be mistaken for them. The company which we met with consisted of about 100 men and some women, and they felt rather disappointed when we told them how far they had to travel to find the buffalo.
(Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico)
Mesilla is a town in Doña Ana County in the U.S. state of New Mexico.
It was formed in 1848, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo shifted the U.S.-Mexico border south of the village of Doña Ana, placing it in the United States. A small group of Mexican citizens, unhappy at being part of the United States, chose to move south of the border, and by 1850, Mesilla was an established colony.
America declared the Mesilla Valley region part of the United States following the establishment of Fort Fillmore in 1851 to protect its citizens north of the border from repeated Apache attacks. The resulting boundary dispute was eventually resolved in 1853, with the Gadsen Purchase, when Mesilla became a part of the United States.
Famous for its markets, cantinas and festivals, it was the most important town of the region up until the 1880s. It quickly declined in importance after the Santa Fe Railway opted to build their railroad through neighbouring Las Cruces in 1881.
This is the Little Colorado River:
It is a lo[a]thesome little stream, so filthy and muddy that it fairly stinks. It is only 30 to 50 [yards] wide now and in many places a man can cross it on the rocks without going on to his knees ... [The Little Colorado was] as disgusting a stream as there is on the continent ... half of its volume and 2/3 of its weight is mud and silt. [It was little but] slime and salt ... a miserably lonely place indeed, with no signs of life but lizards, bats and scorpions. It seemed like the first gates of hell. One almost expected to see Cerberus poke his ugly head out of some dismal hole and growl his disapproval of all who had not Charon's pass.
— George Bradley and Jack Sumner, August 1869
'Et In Arcadia Ego' is a Latin phrase commonly translated as ‘Even in Arcadia I exist.’
It is best known as the title of two pastoral paintings by Nicolas Poussin depicting Arcadian shepherds gathered around an austere tomb, possibly inspired by an earlier painting of the same subject by Guercino. The phrase itself can not be traced to any known classical source, but the first treatment of the theme appears in Virgil’s Eclogues.
The ambiguity of the phrase has inspired a number of interpretations, but it is usually read as a memento mori, with the ‘I’ referring to Death.
This is the first suggestion of a Faustian pact between Judge Holden (who may be the Devil) and Glanton (and, by extension, the Glanton Gang as a whole).
Further evidence of some sort of Satanic contract can be see in Holden’s extensive use of legalese and, by the end of the novel, the collective fate of the gang members who once rode with the Judge.
A malpaís (Spanish for ‘badlands’) is a landform characterised by eroded sedimentary rocks and usually associated with types of lava plain terrain found in volcanic fields.
These xeric places are found in arid environments in many parts of the world, but the malpaís is mainly associated with Spanish-speaking countries and the southwestern United States, where Spanish settlers gave the landform its name.
There are a number of instances throughout Blood Meridian where McCarthy appears to draw parallels between Judge Holden and the Devil. Holden’s ‘sermon’, taking place as it does on a volcanic terrain associated with demons and evil spirits (see bookmark p.138), seems to be a Satanic inversion of the Sermon on the Mount. This is perhaps confirmed later when Holden finishes his address and the men are described following behind the Judge ‘like disciples of a new faith’ (p.137).
The infernal appearance of the malpais has given rise to a number of myths and superstitions. The English explorer George Frederick Ruxton, travelling through the area in the mid-19th century, mentions some of these beliefs in his Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains. Describing the 'Mal Pais' as an ‘evil land’, he writes:
The Mexicans, as they passed this spot, crossed themselves reverently, and muttered an Ave Maria; for in the lonely regions of the Mal Pais, the superstitious Indian believes that demons and gnomes, and spirits of evil purposes have their dwelling-places, whence they not unfrequently pounce upon the solitary traveller, and bear him into the cavernous bowels of the earth; the arched roof of the prison-house resounding to the tread of their horses as they pass the dreaded spot, muttering rapidly their prayers, and amulets and charms to keep off the treacherous bogles who invisibly beset the path.
The cloven hoof has traditionally been associated with the Devil and his minions.
An alpenstock was an early form of ice axe, consisting of a long wooden pole with an iron tip and sometimes having a pick and adze at the head.
The device has been used by shepherds travelling on snowfields and glaciers in the Alps since the Middle Ages.
Brimstone is an alternative name for sulphur.
Being abundant in its natural form, sulphur was known in ancient times and is referred to in the Torah and the Bible, where English translations commonly referred to burning sulphur as ‘brimstone’. Its association with volcanic activity probably informed the ‘fire and brimstone’ conception of Hell.
Keet Seel, or Kiet Siel (‘broken house’ in Navajo) is a preserved cliff dwelling of the ancient Anasazi people located in the Tsegi Canyon in northeastern Arizona. The site was first occupied at around AD 1250 and abandoned in the early 14th century. At its peak, it is believed that up to 150 people inhabited the site.
Old Ephraim was a name, dating back to the early 1800s, used by hunters, prospectors and mountain men for the Grizzly Bear. It carried the same meaning as 'the Devil', although the origin of the name remains a mystery.
The name Old Ephraim has since become largely associated with a legendary grizzly bear (also known as ‘Old Three Toes’) that roamed the Cache National Forest (Idaho and Utah) until it was killed on 22 August 1923.
It is unlikely McCarthy had this particular Old Ephraim in mind, however, given the geographical location and the fact that its appearance in Blood Meridian would make the bear over 70 years old upon its death in 1923 (Grizzly Bears live for 30 years in the wild at the very most).
The bear which attacks Glanton’s gang would have been a Grizzly Bear, a subspecies of brown bear which is also known as the silvertip bear, the North American brown bear, or simply grizzly. Although grizzly bear fur is generally brown in colour, it can vary from blonde to nearly black.
Today the grizzly bear’s range in North America is restricted to Alaska, western Canada and portions of the northwestern United States, but it once extended further south to include the Great Plains, the southwestern United States, and parts of Mexico.
It was a Native American tradition not to speak of the dead.
When reading Blood Meridian I am reminded of this reference to Native American traditions:
“among the Indians there have been no written laws. Customs handed down from generation to generation have been the only laws to guide them. Every one might act different from what was considered right did he choose to do so, but such acts would bring upon him the censure of the Nation.... This fear of the Nation's censure acted as a mighty band, binding all in one social, honorable compact.”
- George Copway (Kah-ge-ga-bowh) Ojibwa Chief (1818-1863)
Also, I am also reminded of this quote:
"How smooth must be the language of the whites, when they can make right look like wrong, and wrong like right."
- Black Hawk, Sauk (1767-1838) Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak
At the time of European contact in the 16th and 17th centures, the Lenape (Delawares) lived in the area referred to as Lenapehoking (roughly the area around and between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers) in what is now the Northeastern United States. They were gradually pushed out of their ancestral homeland over the next centuries, having been by severely weakened by introduced infectious diseases, and by conflict with both Europeans and their traditional Lenape enemies, the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock. After the signing of the Treaty of Easton in 1758, the Lenape were forced to move west into what is today known as Ohio.
The Moravian missionary town of Gnadenhutten, south of what is now New Philadelphia, Ohio, was the scene of a brutal massacre of 96 Ohio Indians, mostly Lenape, by a company of Pennsylvania militia during the American Revolutionary War on March 8, 1782. The Indians, who had been converted by Moravian Breathren and were peaceful Christians, were under suspicion because of their neutrality in the war. Seeking revenge for Indian raids of frontier settlements, Captain David Williamson and his 90 volunteers captured a number of Lenape from the town and from neaby Salem. They were imprisoned overnight until it was decided to execute them the next morning by smashing their skulls, one-by-one, with a cooper’s mallet. Only two children managed to escape.
Similar subterranean rooms are found among the ruins of the Ancient Pueblo Peoples, like the Keel Seel kivas described here. Ancient Puebloan kivas are usually round, and thought to have been used for spiritual and other communal purposes.
The kivas were built in proportion to the number of rooms in a pueblo, with one small kiva built for roughly every 29 rooms. Some of the larger pueblos hosted an oversized Great Kiva, up to 63 ft (19m) in diameter.
Tarring and feathering was a type of punishment which involved the victim being stripped to the waist, hot tar being poured or painted onto the person, and then feathers thrown on their body so that they stuck to the tar. The practice was never an official punishment in the United States, but rather a form of vigilante justice or mob vengeance.
The practice continued into the 20th century, with widespread reports of the punishment being carried out in the U.S. during the years surrounding the First World War. In Europe, there were instances of alleged German collaborators being tarred and feathered following the liberation of France in World War II. Similar tactics were also used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the early years of The Troubles. As recently as 2007, loyalist groups in Northern Ireland were linked to the tarring and feathering of an individual accused of drug-dealing.
The Allegheny Mountain Range is part of the Appalachian Mountain Range that runs through the eastern United States and Canada.
The range stretches 400 miles (640 km) from north-central Pennsylvania through western Maryland and eastern West Virginia to southwestern Virginia.