The quena is a traditional flute of the Andes, usually made of bamboo or wood. Pre-Columbian versions have been found dating back to 900 B.C. and were made of bone and clay.
Although the term quena would not have been used by indigenous tribes of North America, it is believed the Andean flute did influence Native American flutes. The Anasazi flute of the Oasiasamerican Ancient Pueblo Peoples, probably the first Native American flute, was based on Mesoamerican flute designs from the south. Anasazi flutes have been discovered dating back to 620-670 AD.
Bone flutes are believed to have been the first musical instruments, dating back 40 to 35,000 years ago. Most commonly the leg or wing bones of birds or animal bones from sheep and goats were used. In some cases, human bones were employed.
The Comanche were America’s most accomplished horsemen and formidable opponents who developed specific strategies for fighting on horseback.
George Catlin commented on their prowess in the following way:
Amongst their feats of riding there is one that has astonished me more than anything of the kind I have ever seen or expect to see in my life: – a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body on the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectively screened from his enemies’ weapons, as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horse’s back… in this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and shield and also his long lance 14 feet in length.
(Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians)
In Blood Meridian, the Comanche war party utilise this very technique; concealing themselves behind their horses before rising up at the last moment, to the utter dismay of the filibusters when the true number of Indians dawn on them. It is a detail inspired by an actual historical event. Historian J.W. Wilbarger gives this account of an infamous Comanche raid upon the port town of Linnville in 1840:
Early in the morning of August 8, some few of the inhabitants of Linnville observed in the distance a perfect cloud of dust, caused, as they supposed, by a vast caballada of horses, being brought in from Mexico for trading purposes. By throwing themselves on the sides of their horses, and riding in this way, the Indians had completely concealed themselves from the vision of the unsuspecting denizens of the village. Imagine their consternation and utter dismay, when one thousand red savages, suddenly rising in their saddles, dashed upon the defenseless town, when many of the inhabitants were fast asleep. […] The scene amid the confusion which prevailed was one never to be forgotten by the survivors of that terror stricken people. The war whoop of the wild Comanche commingled with the screaming of women, the crying of children, and the groans of the dying and wounded almost beggars description.
(Indian Depredations in Texas)
When they went to war, some Comanche warriors wore a headdress made from a buffalo’s scalp. Most of the hide and flesh was cut away from the buffalo head, leaving only a portion of the wooly hair and the horns.
Variations of this type of headdress were worn by other Native American tribes as part of their ceremonial buffalo dances.
McCarthy’s description of Comanche warriors dressed in stovepipe hats and carrying umbellas is a detail made no less bizarre by having a basis in historical fact. During the Great Raid of 1840, Comanche warriors ransacked the Texan port town of Linnville, emptying the stores and warehouses of their inventories, including a shipment of top hats and umbrellas on their way to San Antonio.
Historian James Thomas DeShields provides this description of the Comanche warriors with their Linnville plunder:
Several of the Indian chiefs charged up in front of the Texans and hurled defiant arrows at them. One of these daring chiefs rode a fine horse with a fine American bridle, with a red ribbon eight or ten feet long tied to the end of his horse. He was dressed in elegant style from the goods plundered at Victoria and Linville, with a high-top silk hat, fine pair of boots, leather gloves and an elegant broad-cloth coat hind-part before him with brass buttons shining brightly up and down his back. When he first made his appearance he carried a large umbrella stretched.
You can see another depiction of the Comanche Linnville raiders in Howard Terpning's painting Comanche Spoilers. Click here to see the painting.
The conquistadors (Spanish for conqueror) were Spanish and Portuguese soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, following Christopher Columbus' 1492 discovery of the New World.
Ferocious and merciless warriors, the lightning fast strikes conducted on horseback struck fear into the hearts of all their victims.
The Comanche were an immensely fierce, warlike tribe, and anyone who dared to cross their warpath (as the unfortunate filibusters do) could expect little in the way of mercy. However, it should be noted that this was a period in which no one group possessed a monopoly on barbarity, and Blood Meridian is true to history in presenting all parties (be it American, Mexican or Native American) as equally given to committing atrocities.
For those readers who feel McCarthy’s graphic desciption of the Comance attack verges on the sensational, it may be worth quoting historian Tom DeShields on the Indian treatment of enemies:
Though having lost one of their comrades in the fight, the Tonkawa were elated over the victory, and after scalping the dead and dying Wacos and Comanches, cutting off their hands, feet, arms and legs, and fleecing strips of flesh from their thighs and breast, they were ready and anxious to return to their village and engage in their usual cannibal-like and mystic war dance.
(Border Wars of Texas)
The term tonsure originally referred to the traditional practice of Christian churches of cutting or shaving the hair from the scalp of clerics, monastics, and, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, all baptized members.
The term is now used more generally for the cutting or shaving of hair for devotees, holy people, or mystics of other religions as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem, such as by Buddhist novices and monks.
Sopilote is a mispelling of zopilote, a Spanish word used predominantly in Mexico and Central America for the buzzard or vulture.
It usually refers specifically to the American black vulture, whose range extends from the southeastern United States to central Chile and Uruguay in South America. The Black Vulture is a scavenger, feeding mainly on carrion, although it will also eat eggs or prey upon newborn animals.
This may be a reference to the Gnostic concept of the Demiurge, which in Hebrew yaldabahut is translated as "Child of Chaos".
The words 'Rock and no water' are found in line 332 of section V of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
Read the poem online here.
The men have just witnessed an inferior mirage typical of desert regions.
A mirage is an optical phenomenon in which light rays are bent away to produce a displaced image of distant objects or the sky. The inferior (meaning lower) mirage is an image which appears under the real object, so that in desert regions, the sky may be reflected as a bright bluish patch appearing on the ground in the distance. For exhausted travellers in the desert it may appear as a lake of water.
There are three bat species (commonly known as Vampire Bats) that feed solely on blood: the Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus), the Hairy-legged Vampire Bat (Diphylla ecaudata), and the White-winged Vampire Bat (Diaemus youngi). All three species are native to the Americas, ranging from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.
Whereas both the Hairy-legged and White-winged Vampire Bat prefer to feed on the blood of birds, the Common Vampire Bat feeds mostly on the blood of mammals (including humans). It is this latter bat which the unfortunate Sproule falls victim to.
A carreta is a wooden cart, which is usually pulled by mules or oxen.
The German doctor and traveller Adolphus Wislizenus offers this description of a carreta he encountered during the Mexican-American War:
Imagine to yourself a cart, made without any nails or iron of any kind, with two solid wheels formed out of the trunk of a big tree, and in the circumference rounded, or rather squared, and with a frame of ox-skin or sticks fastened together by rawhide, and this machine put in motion by three yokes of oxen, and carrying a load, which on a better vehicle one animal could transport much faster and easier, and you will have an idea of the primitive and only known vehicle used in Northern Mexico.
(Memoir of a Tour to Northern Mexico)
Mescal is an alcoholic drink distilled from the maguey agave plant. It is similar to tequila (itself a type of mescal made from the blue agave) but with a stronger, more smoky flavour.
It is traditionally made by extracting the hearts or piñas from the plants, which are then cooked for about three days in a pit oven (earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks). This underground roasting gives mescal its intense and distinctive smoky flavour. The piñas are then crushed and mashed and then left to ferment in large vats or barrels with water added.