Page 201. " The day that followed was the feast of Las Animas "

The Fiesta de las Santas Animas (Feast of the Holy Souls) falls on October 27th and marks the first day of the Mexican Halloween celebrations, which in that country carries on till November 2nd. According to Mexican tradition, this is a time where the souls of the deceased come back and visit the family homes. At this time, Mexicans remember their departed loves and celebrate their afterlives.

On the Fiesta de las Santas Animas, families clean their relatives’ graves and decorate them with pine needles and flowers. Temporary altars are built near the gravesite and stocked with candles and the deceased’s favourite foods and drinks.

Page 201. " small children sat in the doorway eating pastry skulls "
Mexican girl with calavera
Public DomainMexican girl with calavera (1933) - Credit: Library of Congress

These small pastry or sugar skulls are known as calaveras de azúcar (‘sugar skulls’) and are associated with Halloween celebrations in Mexico, particularly Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

The calaveras are used to decorate the graveside altars built in honour of departed loved ones, or given to children in order to reinforce the idea that death is a positive part of the life cycle.

Page 204. " Before dark they encountered laboring up the western slope of the mountain a conducta of one hundred and twenty-two mules bearing flasks of quicksilver for the mines. "
Quicksilver being transported from New Almaden mine (1850)
Creative Commons AttributionQuicksilver being transported from New Almaden mine (1850) - Credit: Rice Digital Scholarship Archive

Quicksilver is an archaic name for mercury, a necessary element for refining silver from ore.

It is likely McCarthy is referring to quicksilver from the New Almaden mine in San Francisco when he describes the conducta as being ‘twenty-six days from the sea’ (p.204). According to Bartlett, ‘there was but one other mine in the world, that of Almaden in Spain, where the operation [of quicksilver refining] was carried out on a large scale’.

Jesús María, the conducta’s intended destination, was one of Mexico’s great silver-mining areas.

Page 204. " They could hear the whipcrack and cry of the arrieros "
Arrieros depicted in an 1836 lithograph
Public DomainArrieros depicted in an 1836 lithograph - Credit: Carl Nebel

Arriero is a Spanish term for a muleteer or wrangler.

Arrieros work in the transportation of merchandise or luggage with the help of pack animals. The profession emerged in South and Central America during the 18th century and continues to the present time in areas where the absence of good roads prohibits the use of wheeled vehicles.

Page 210. " They forded the muddy Yaqui River "
Yaqui River
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeYaqui River - Credit: Tomas Castelazo

The Yaqui River (Río Yaqui in Spanish) is a 320 km (200 mile) long river which runs through the Mexican state of Sonora.


Page 212. " sullen groups of Yaqui indians in loincloths "
Yaqui man (c. 1907)
Public DomainYaqui man (c. 1907) - Credit: Library of Congress
Yaqui woman (c. 1907)
Public DomainYaqui woman (c. 1907) - Credit: Library of Congress

The Yaqui, or Yoeme, are an indigenous tribe who originally lived in the valley of the Río Yaqui in Sonora. They numbered about 30,000 at the time of Spanish contact in 1533.

Fiercely independent, they successfully resisted Spanish efforts to subdue them, but their numbers were greatly reduced by subsequent wars with the Mexican government after Mexico won its independence from Spain.

As a result of these wars, a number of Yaqui now live in Arizona, though many continue to live in their original homeland.

Page 215. " The ogdoad "
Ogdoad and sun
Public DomainOgdoad and sun - Credit: Egyptian Mythology

The Ogdoad was the collective name of the eight deities who form the basis of the Egyptian creation myth.

Consisting of four gods (represented as frogs or with the head of a frog) and four goddesses (in the shape of a snake or as a woman with the head of a snake), the Ogdoad personify the essence of the primordial chaos before the creation of the world. They are Nun and Naunet (the primordial water), Huh and Hauhet (infinite space), Kuk and Kauket (darkness), and Amun and Amaunet (representing hidden powers). From themselves they created the mound upon which lay the egg from which the sun god emerged.

The concept of an Ogdoad also appears in Gnostic systems of the early Christian era.


Ogdoad depicted on relief at Dendera Temple, Egypt
Creative Commons AttributionOgdoad depicted on relief at Dendera Temple, Egypt - Credit: Olaf Tausch


Page 215. " with them now rode a boy named Sloat who had been left sick to die in this place by one of the gold trains bound for the coast weeks earlier. When Glanton asked him if he were kin to the commadore of the same name the boy spat quietly and said No, nor him to me. "
John Drake Sloat (July 6, 1781 – November 28, 1867)
Public DomainJohn Drake Sloat (July 6, 1781 – November 28, 1867) - Credit: Library of Congress

John Drake Sloat was a commodore in the United States Navy who, in 1846, claimed California for the United States.

In 1844 Sloat was appointed to command the Pacific Squadron, and in 1845, as tensions with Mexico grew, he was instructed to land in Alta California and claim it for the United States if war broke out. Receiving a report of fighting on the Texas border while off Mazatlán, he raced north (the British were reportedly interested in California too), engaged in a skirmish called the Battle of Monterey, raised the flag over the Customs House at Monterey on July 7, 1846, and issued a proclamation announcing that California was now part of the United States. He was Military Governor of California for only seven days, before handing over the office to Robert F. Stockton.

Page 224. " The stars swung counterclockwise in their course and the Great Bear turned and the Pleiades winked in the very roof of the vault. "
Ursa Major as Great Bear from the Mercator celestial globe (1551)
Public DomainUrsa Major as Great Bear from the Mercator celestial globe (1551) - Credit: Harvard Map Collection
Ursa Major
Creative Commons AttributionUrsa Major - Credit: Dmitry Kalinin

The Great Bear is the common name for Ursa Major (Latin for 'Larger Bear'), a constellation visible throughout the year in most of the northern hemisphere. Ursa Major has been seen as a bear by many distinct civilizations.






A colour-composite image of the Pleiades
Public DomainA colour-composite image of the Pleiades - Credit: NASA
The Pleiades (1885), by Elihu Vedder
Public DomainThe Pleiades (1885), by Elihu Vedder - Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Pleiades is a star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus. The name comes from Greek mythology after the Seven Sisters,  the seven daughters of the titan Atlas and the sea-nymph Pleione. They were placed among the stars by Zeus to save them from the pursuit of Orion.

Page 225. " tarantulas and solpugas and vinegarroons and the vicious mygale spiders "
Tarantula - Mexican flameknee tarantula ((Brachypelma auratum)
Public DomainMexican Flameknee Tarantula  - Credit: George Chernilevsky

Tarantulas, Solpugae, Vinegaroons and Mygalae belong to the Arachnid family.

Found variously in tropical, subtropical and desert regions throughout certain parts of the world, they feed mainly on insects and other arthropods, although tarantulas and mygale spiders are known to kill and eat animals as large as lizards, mice, and birds.

Only the Mygalae are true spiders, and only spiders of the Australian genus Atrax can be really harmful to humans.





Solpuga - Male Galeodes Solifuge
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeGaleodes Solpuga - Credit: Jon Richfield
Vinegaroon (Mastigoproctus giganteus)
Creative Commons AttributionMastigoproctus Giganteus Vinegaroon - Credit: Clinton & Charles Robertson
Mygale - California Trapdoor Spider (Bothriocyrtum californicum)
Creative Commons AttributionCalifornia Trapdoor Mygale Spider  - Credit: Davefoc