The mystical language McCarthy employs in the first section of the novel places his wolf within a long tradition of folkloric and mythological wolves from around the world. Often depicted as the epitome of evil and savagery, McCarthy’s treatment is closer to that found in many Native American cultures, where the wolf was both feared and admired in equal measures for its ferocity and strength.
During his pursuit of the she-wolf, Billy follows in the footsteps of the wolf hunter Echols ('half wolf hisself') and consults the brujo Don Arnulfo (named after a wolf). Later, Billy will seek almost to change into the wolf; closing his eyes to see what the wolf saw and trying to imagine what the wolf smelled or tasted, wondering ‘had the living blood with which it slaked its throat a different taste to the thick iron tincture of his own’ [p.52].
Nopalitos is a dish made with diced nopales, a vegetable derived from the prickly pear. Nopalitos are often eaten with eggs as a breakfast and in salads and soups as lunch and dinner meals.
Machaca is a dish prepared from dried, spiced meat (usually beef) that has been rehydrated and pounded to make it tender. Although drying meat is one of the oldest forms of preservation, the drying of beef with chillies and other spices was developed specifically by the ranchers and cowboys of northern Mexico.
A comal is a type of griddle or grill, used in Latin America to cook tortillas, toast spices, sear meat, and generally prepare food.
Dating back to Pre-Columbian times, the comal continues to play an important part in Indigenous and Hispanic cultures where it is traditionally handed down the female generations; the idea being that a comal tempered over years of usage will heat faster and cook cleaner.
The town thrived until the summer of 1912 when the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution instigated a mass exodus. The following year Joseph F. Smith, President of the Mormon Church, dissolved the commitment binding the colonists to Morelos and officially sanctioned its abandonment.
In 1921, Colonia Morelos and the surrounding land was sold to the Mexican government.
Colonia Morelos, the town Billy enters, was actually founded in 1900, but the majority of the Mormon colonies in Mexico do date back to the 19th century, beginning in 1885.
The towns making up the colonies were situated near the Sierre Madre mountains, in the states of Chihuahua and Sonora. The original colonists had migrated to Mexico in order to escape persecution in the United States for the Mormon practice of polygamy.
In 1912 the colonies were evacuated due to anti-American sentiment during the Mexican Revolution. Today, only Colonia Juárez and Colonia Dublán in the Casas Grandes river valley remain active Mormon settlements.
The Tarahumara, or Rarámuri, are an indigenous people of northern Mexico.
They originally inhabited much of the state of Chihuahua but retreated to the Copper Canyon within the Sierra Madre Occidental upon the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. Due to their isolation there, most Tarahumara have managed to maintain a traditional lifestyle, living in natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small wood and stone cabins.
The Yaqui, or Yoeme, originally lived in the valley of the Río Yaqui in Sonora, where 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.
As a result of these wars, a number of Yaqui now live in Arizona, though many continue to live in their original homeland.
Although descended from the same group, the term Apache refers to several culturally related but distinct groups of Native Americans who once ranged over eastern Arizona, northwestern Mexico, New Mexico, Texas and the southern Great Plains.
The Apache tribe consists of six subtribes: the Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan and Kiowa. The groups had little political unity, speaking different languages and occasionally even entering into wars with other Apachean tribes.
The term Apache comes from the Yuma word for fighting-men and the Zuni word meaning enemy. Native names vary with each tribe but is usually a variation of Inde, Tinde or Tinneh (all meaning the people).
Apachean warriors were historically very powerful, opposing the Spaniards and Mexicans for centuries, and gaining a reputation as skilful strategists during 19th confrontations with the U.S. Army.
The charro is a traditional type of horseman, originally from the Jalisco region of central-western Mexico. They are known for their colourful traditional costumes and their participation in the coleadero y charreada, a specific type of Mexican rodeo.
Mariachi music originated in the Guadalajara area but is played nationwide and has since become a national music of Mexico.
The origin of the word mariachi is something of a mystery. Some historians claim that the word is a corruption of the French mariage (marriage) stemming from the time of the French Intervention in 1861-67 when mariachi bands were said to have played at wedding ceremonies. Others say that the word was in use before the French arrived and arose from festivals honouring the Virgin Mary at which musicians performed.
Today’s mariachi bands are of two types. The original version consists of musicians who play only string instruments and who limit their repertoire to traditional Jalisco melodies. The modern, more commercial mariachi’s main instrument is the trumpet, and they have a broader repertoire.
In Mexico, cockfights are a legal activity and a popular part of Mexican culture.
They often take place during village fairs and festivities, drawing crowds to place their bets and watch their chosen gamecock battle another rooster - sometimes, but not always, to the death - in the cockfighting ring known as the Palenque.
The ejido is a system where the government promotes the use of communal land shared by the people of the community.
The use of community land was a common practice during the time of Aztec rule in Mexico, but fell away after Spanish colonisation when it was replaced by the encomienda (also known as the hacienda) system.
The encomienda was abolished by the Constitution of 1917, with the promise of restoring the ejido system. Ejidos were reinitiated after the Mexican Revolution in some states, notably Morelos, but the repartition of land in most of Mexico did not begin until Lázaro Cárdenas became president in 1934.
In the 2010 census the town had a population of 77,254 people, making it the seventh-largest community in the state.
The blood sport of dog-fighting gained popularity in 19th century England after bear-baiting was banned. The dogs formerly used to torment the bears were then pitted against each other. The ‘sport’ spread across Europe and into the Americas during the 1800s.
Unsurprisingly, the practice of wolf-baiting is less common, although not without precedent. Historically, the baiting of wolves was more in the context of training dogs for wolf hunting than public entertainment. Wolves would sometimes be caught, either at the end of hunts, or in set traps, and would be set upon by the dogs, usually as a way of helping them master their fear of the animal.
An empanada is a stuffed bread or pastry baked in many countries of Latin America and the south of Europe, and made by folding a dough or bread patty around the filling. The filling can consist of almost anything, although usually meat or vegetables.
A puro is a cigar made entirely from the tobaccos of only one country, either from Cuba or Nicaragua. It takes considerable skill to make a puro as the use of tobacco leaves from different countries is usually required to balance the taste of a cigar.
A catherine wheel is a firework which when ignited, spins quickly, producing a display of sparks and coloured flame.
The corrido is a folk ballad of Mexico.
These popular narrative songs started to accrue political overtones during the Mexican War of Independence, but the high watermark of the corrido was the period surrounding the Mexican Revolution. A people’s history all of its own is contained in the many corridos of the Mexican Revolution, and before the widespread use of radio these songs were used to bring news to a largely illiterate population as well as to counteract the propaganda being spread by the Díaz government owned newspapers
The best known Revolutionary corrido is undoubtedly La Cucaracha (The Cockroach), an old song which, in its most famous form, was rephrased to celebrate the exploits of Pancho Villa’s army and send up his nemesis Venustiano Carranza.
A number of corridos, like the one Billy sings to the wolf, also celebrate the soldaderas, the women of the Mexican Revolution:
Maria Herrera-Sobek, The Mexican Corrido: A Feminist Analysis