Page 327. " In June of that year he was in Los Angeles "
Los Angeles Plaza (1869)
Public DomainLos Angeles Plaza (1869) - Credit: Los Angeles Public Library

The city of Los Angeles in California was founded on September 4, 1781, by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve. It became a part of Mexico in 1821 following the Mexican War of Independence. In 1848, at the end of the Mexican–American War, Los Angeles and the rest of California were purchased as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, thereby becoming part of the United States.

Today, Los Angeles is the second most populous city in America.

Page 327. " quartered in a hostel that was no more than a common dosshouse, he and forty other men of every nationality. "
'New York City - Cheap lodging-houses as nests of disease -A night scene in a
Public Domain'New York City - Cheap lodging-houses as nests of disease -A night scene in a "five-cent" den on Pearl Street' (1882) - Credit: Library of Congress

A dosshouse or flophouse is a place that offers very cheap lodging, generally by providing only minimal services.

Page 329. " he saw bears and lions turned loose in pits to fight wild bulls to the death "
Illustration of Bear & Bull Fight from Three years in California (1857)
Public DomainIllustration of Bear & Bull Fight from Three years in California (1857) - Credit: J.D. Borthwick

Bull and bear fights were a popular form of entertainment for the miners and prospectors of California during the mid 19th century. The preferred contest was between a Grizzly Bear and the Spanish bull of Mexico.

The animals would be placed within a circular pit, and the nose of the bull cut so that the blood would trickle into its mouth and nostrils and enrage the bull. The fight was to the death, and usually one-sided, with organisers (less willing to sacrifice the harder-to-come by, more valuable bears) sawing the horns off the bulls beforehand.

These contests had come to an end by the 1860s with the grizzly bear population hunted into near extinction.




Fights involving lions would have been rarer, given the difficulty in obtaining a lion, but a NY Times article dated April 12, 1898 shows that the spectacle was still taking place in Mexico towards the close of the 19th century. Click here.

Page 329. " he was twice in the city of San Francisco and twice saw it burn "
'View of the last great conflagration in San Francisco on the 22d of June, 1851'
Public Domain'View of the last great conflagration in San Francisco on the 22d of June, 1851' - Credit: Library of Congress

The Californian city of San Francisco has been struck by a total of seven great fires between 1849 and 1906.

Given the time frame of the novel, it is likely McCarthy is referring to the Great Fires of May 4, 1851 and June 22, 1851. Three-fourths of the city burned to the ground during the first fire, and in both cases the strong coastal winds caused the flames to spread irresistably through the city.

Click here for the Reverend Albert Williams' eyewitness account of the Great Fire of June 22, 1851.

Page 330. " They were led by a pitero piping a reed and then in procession a clanging of tambourines and matracas and men naked to the waist in black capes and hoods who flailed themselves with whips of yucca and men who bore on their naked back great loads of cholla and a man tied to a rope who was pulled this way and that by his companions and a hooded man in a white robe who bore a heavy wooden cross on his shoulders. "
Penitentes near Taos, New Mexico
Public DomainPenitentes near Taos, New Mexico - Credit: Library of Congress

The Holy Week processions of Los Hermanos Penitentes reached its highpoint on Good Friday when the group divided into Los Hermanos de Luz (the Brothers of Light) and Los Hermanos de Sangre (the Brothers of Blood).

The procession was led by a pitero who played a fife-like reed instrument called a pito, followed by the musicians and candlebearers of Los Hermanos de Luz. After them came the members of Los Hermanos de Sangre, scourging themselves with whips made from the yucca plant or  having bound their torsos with branching cactus of cholla. Then came the cross-bearers, the penitents who underwent a ritual ‘crucifixion’ at the close of the ceremony.

Page 330. " they were followed by a rude carreta in which sat a carved wooden skeleton who rattled along stiffly holding before him a bow and arrow. "
Death Cart of the Penitentes at Las Trampas Church, New Mexico (c. 1912)
Public DomainDeath Cart of the Penitentes at Las Trampas Church, New Mexico (c. 1912) - Credit: Jesse Nusbaum

The Carreta del Muerto (Death cart) was a wooden ox-cart (carreta) which held an effigy of Death armed with a bow and arrow. For the Penitentes, the Carreta del Muerto represented the power of Death during the period between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

The Penitente dragged the cart by a horse-hair rope passed over his shoulders and under his arm-pits, the painful weight of the dragging cart cutting into his naked flesh. It was a particularly severe penance since not only was the cart very heavy, its axles were stationary, and where there was a turn in the path, the entire cart had to be dragged by main strength.

Page 331. " Perhaps they’d gathered under the cross for shelter but the hole into which it had been set and the cairn of rocks about its base showed how it had been pushed over and how the hooded alterchrist had been cut down and disemboweled who now lay with the scraps of rope by which he had been bound still tied about his wrists and ankles. "
Public Domain'Penitents "crucifying" one of their own' (c. 1888), photographed by Charles F. Lummis - Credit: Library of Congress

The Good Friday procession of Los Hermanos Penitentes culminated with a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The crucifixion was not intended to bring about the death of the adherent, but in order to atone for sins. The chosen penitent was cinched to the cross with rough ropes around his arms and legs. According to Charles F. Lummis, one of the few outsiders to witness the ritual and whose photograph accompanies this bookmark, in previous years the victim had been spiked to the cross. This practice was by then, however, already in decline following the deaths of four men while nailed to crosses in penitent communities in southern Colorado.

At present no crucifixions take place, though previous to 1896 they were annual in many places in New Mexico and Colorado.

Page 333. " Sie müssen schlafen aber Ich muss tanzen "
Theodor Storm
Public DomainTheodor Storm - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Blood Meridian’s final chapter subheading translates from the German as ‘You must sleep, but I have to dance.' It is a revision of a line from the 19th century poem ‘Hyazinthen’ by Theodor Storm, which, in the original, reads: Ich möchte schlafen, aber du mußt tanzen. ('I would like to sleep, but you must dance').

The line is also quoted in Thomas Mann’s 1903 novella Tonio Kröger.




               Music sounds in the distance; but silent night is here,

               The flowers waft slumber-scent at me;

               I have always, always thought of you;

               I would sleep, but you must dance.


               It does not stop, it whirls without pause;

               The candles burn and the fiddles scream;

               The rows part and close,

                                                                                     And all are flushed, but you are pale.


                                                                                     And you must dance; strange arms twine

                                                                                     Around your heart; oh suffer no violence!

                                                                                     I see your white dress fly by

                                                                                     And your light, delicate form.


                                                                                     And the night scent wells more sweetly

                                                                                     And more dreamily from the calyx of the flowers.

                                                                                     I have always, always thought of you;

                                                                                     I would like to sleep, but you must dance.


                                                                                  (Translation copyright © 2008 by Elisabeth Siekhaus, used with kind permission.)

Page 333. " He crossed the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River "
Double Mountain Fork Brazos River
Public DomainDouble Mountain Fork Brazos River - Credit: Leaflet

The Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River is an ephemeral, sandy-braided stream heading on the Llano Estacado of West Texas about 18.5 km (11.5 mi) southeast of Tahoka, Texas. It is a tributary of the Brazos River, the longest river in Texas and the 11th longest in the United States.

The name comes from early Spanish explorers who christened the river Rio de los Brazos de Dios (meaning The River of the Arms of God). McCarthy uses the correct 19th century name for the tributary, which changed in 1964 to simply the Double Mountain Fork Brazos River.

Page 334. " When he came upon the bonepickers he’d been riding three days in a country he’d never seen "
Illustration of bison bone pickers
Public DomainIllustration of bison bone pickers - Credit: Martin S Garretson

Following the widescale slaughter of buffalo herds, well over one hundred million bones lay upon the western plains, extending from the Texas panhandle to Canada’s remote Northwestern border. They lay untouched until the use of bone phosphorus for agricultural fertilizer was discovered in the 1870s and the enterprise of bonepicking was born.

It was often a family enterprise, with bonepicking crews scouring the prairies with six mule-drawn wagons, five for plain bones, one for hooves and horns for use in paints and adhesives. An individual could earn as much as ten dollars a day, big money in an era when ten dollars a week was considered an income on which a man could support a family.

By the time the prairies had become completely cleaned of bones, an estimated $40 million dollars had been paid out to the bonepickers.

Page 335. " The bones had been gathered into windrows ten feet high and hundreds long or into great conical hills topped with the signs or brands of their owners. "
Bison skulls (mid 1870s)
Public DomainBison skulls (mid 1870s) - Credit: Burton Historical Society

Great rows and piles of bison bone and skull would have been a common sight upon the Great Plains towards the end of the 19th century, and McCarthy’s imagery of windrows and hills offers an appropriate description of a landscape that may have appeared to the eye to consist entirely of bone.

It is estimated that the skeletons of 178,500,000 buffalo were shipped east to be ground for fertiliser, paints and adhesives.


I saw in 1874, the year before the great buffalo slaughter began in earnest, a rick of buffalo bones, on the Santa Fé Railroad right-of-way, and twenty miles ahead of the track from Granada, Colorado, piled twelve feet high, nearly that wide at the base, and one-half mile long. Seven, eight, nine, and ten dollars per ton was realized from that alone.

(John R. Cook, The Border and the Buffalo)


Rows of bison skulls (1890)
Public DomainRows of bison skulls (1890) - Credit: Hugh Lumsden
Bison skulls being prepared for transportation by train
Public DomainBison skulls being prepared for transportation by train - Credit: Buell
Page 339. " This country was filled with violent children orphaned by war. "
Painting of the Battle of Chickamauga (1890), one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War
Public DomainPainting of the Battle of Chickamauga (1890), one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War - Credit: Kurz & Allison

The American Civil War (1861–1865) was triggered when eleven southern slave states responded to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President by declaring their secession from the United States, as the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy). The other twenty-five states supported the federal government (the Union). After four years of bitter warfare, mostly within the Southern states, the Confederates surrendered and slavery was outlawed everywhere in the nation.

At least 620,000 Americans died in the Civil War, with some experts claiming a death toll reaching 700,000.





Confederate dead, killed during the Battle of Chancellorsville (1963)
Public DomainConfederate dead, killed during the Battle of Chancellorsville (1963) - Credit: Andrew J. Russell


Page 341. " He rode through the McKenzie crossing of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River "

Ranald Slidell Mackenzie (July 27, 1840 – January 19, 1889)
Public DomainRanald Slidell Mackenzie (July 27, 1840 – January 19, 1889) - Credit: Library of Congress
The McKenzie crossing refers to Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, the United States Army officer who played a significant role in the Indian Wars.

In late September 1871, MacKenzie assembled his forces at the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, before setting forth in a northwesterly direction on October 3, 1871, hoping to find the Quahadi village, which housed the warriors led by the Comanche chief Quanah Parker. The subsequent Battle of Blanco Canyon would become a decisive battle in the U.S. Army’s campaign against the Comanche, marking the end of Comanche control over the heart of their Comancheria, and the beginning of the end of the Comanche as a free people.

Page 341. " before the lamplit bagnios they passed. "
Caricature of prostitutes at The Turk's Head, a well-known English brothel or bagnio (1787)
Public DomainCaricature of prostitutes at The Turk's Head, a well-known English brothel or bagnio (1787) - Credit: Library of Congress

A bagnio was a bath or bath-house which generally doubled as a brothel.

The term bagnio originally referred simply to bath-houses, and in England was used to describe coffee houses which offered Turkish baths. By 1740 it signified a place where rooms could be hired with no questions asked, and later a house of prostitution.

Page 342. " An old man in a tyrolean costume "

Tyrolean outfits are characterised by a soft-brimmed, usually green felt hat with a feather or ornament in the band.

Leather trousers (lederhosen) are also typical, while women would wear a dirndl (a wool skirt).

The Tyrol is a mountainous region in western Austria and northern Italy.

Page 342. " a little girl in a smock cranked a barrel organ "
American organ grinder with barrel organ and performing monkey (1892)
Public DomainAmerican organ grinder with barrel organ and performing monkey (1892) - Credit: Library of Congress

A barrel organ is a mechanical musical instrument consisting of bellows and one or more ranks of pipes housed in a case, which is operated by a person turning a crank.

The barrel organ was the traditional instrument of the organ grinder, a type of street performer which existed in great numbers at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

Page 342. " a bear in a crinoline twirled strangely upon a board stage defined by a row of tallow candles "
A dancing bear performing in the United States (c. 1900)
Public DomainA dancing bear performing in the United States (c. 1900) - Credit: Hugh Magnum Archives
Dancing bear in Sussex, England (c. 1900)
Public DomainDancing bear in Sussex, England (c. 1900) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The cruel practice of forcing bears to dance for people's entertainment dates back at least to the early Middle Ages, and still existed in many parts of the world, including the U.S., at the turn of the 20th century.

Cubs would be caught from the wild and, using inhumane methods, trained to stand on their hind paws to ‘dance’ on command. Sometimes a nose ring and metal muzzle would be attached to the bear's snout and a staff used to manipulate the bear, causing it to simulate a dance.

Banned in most countries by the early 20th century, bear dancing still continues in some parts of the world, particularly in Eastern Europe, India and Pakistan.


Dancing bears at Ours, France (1900)
Public DomainDancing bear at Ours, France (1900) - Credit: Eugène Trutat

Page 344. " cause to curse the Dauphin’s soul "
by cm

The judge is misquoting Shakespeare:

And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin's scorn.

Henry V Act 1: Scene 2


The young King says this after the Dauphin (heir to the throne of France) has answered his claim on French dukedoms by sending him a present of tennis balls.  Henry goes on to win the Battle of Agincourt and seize the French crown for himself.

Page 345. " This night thy soul may be required of thee. "

Judge Holden's words are a slight revision of the biblical verse:

'But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall these things be, which thou hast provided?' (Luke 12:20)