Page 130. " the rude jacales of mud and stick "
Jacal in Alamos, Sonora
Creative Commons AttributionJacal in Alamos, Sonora - Credit: eflon

A jacal is a thatch-roofed hut made of upright poles or sticks which are tied together and filled out with mud, clay and grasses.

The structure was employed by some Native peoples of the Americas prior to European colonisation and was later adopted by some Hispanic and European settlers in Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

 

Page 133. " Days to come he would encounter wild indians deep in the sierras living in the chozas and wickiups "
Kumeyaay woman in front of traditional choza at Campo, by Edward S. Curtis (1926)
Public DomainKumeyaay woman in front of traditional choza at Campo, by Edward S. Curtis (1926) - Credit: Library of Congress

A choza is a tent-shaped structure with a covering made from branches, straw or grass. The word originally described the small huts of wood or stone where Spanish shepherds and goat herders would spent the night by their flocks, and was later applied to describe the temporary residences used by the indigenous peoples of modern-day Mexico.

 

Apache Wickiup, photographed by Edward S. Curtis (c.1903)
Public DomainApache Wickiup, photographed by Edward S. Curtis (c.1903) - Credit: Edward S. Curtis Collection

 

The term wickiup (meaning dwelling in the Fox language) is more usually applied to Native American homes constructed using tall saplings driven into the ground, bent over, and tied together near the top. The dome-shaped framework was then covered with large overlapping mats of woven rushes, bark or grasses.

Page 133. " He was dressed in odd and garish fashion and his clothes were embroidered with signs that had about them the geometric look of instructions, perhaps a game "
Shamanic ceremonial dress (1914), by Edward S. Curtis
Public DomainShamanic ceremonial dress (1914), by Edward S. Curtis - Credit: Edward S. Curtis

Spoiler Warning: The following bookmark contains some plot information relating to The Crossing.

 

The description of the elderly Indian man suggests he may be a shaman or medicine man. It is this man who correctly identifies Billy as 'huerfano' (an orphan), the truth of which is only later revealed.

McCarthy frequently uses mysticism in superstition and dreams to communicate knowledge a character has no rational way of knowing. In The Crossing, it suggests the existence of some deeper world, a universe possessed of some inner logic that lies just beyond human understanding.

Page 135. " Along the face of the stone bluffs were old pictographs of men and animals and suns and moons as well as other representations that seemed to have no referent in the world although they once may have "
Pictographs at Arroyo de los Monos
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumPictographs at Arroyo de los Monos - Credit: RAEchel Running (www.raechelrunning.com)

Billy may well be passing the ancient petroglyphs found within the Arroyo de los Monos, a canyon located near the Casas Grandes region.

These etchings were probably left behind by former residents of Paquimé or the surrounding area (see bookmark p.194 - 'they rode past...').

Page 135. " the ensuing Carretas Plain that was once a seafloor "
Alto Plano plane between Sonora and Chihuahua
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumAlto Plano plane between Sonora and Chihuahua - Credit: RAEchel Running (www.raechelrunning.com)

McCarthy is likely referring to the Llano de Carretas (Plain of Carts) which extends west from the Rio Casas Grandes at Janos to the high passes to Sonora.

Page 135. " the old lands of the Chichimeca where the priests had passed and soldiers passed and the missions fallen into mud "
Carlos Rios - Tohono O'odham chief (c. 1907)
Public DomainCarlos Rios - Tohono O'odham chief (c. 1907) - Credit: Edward S. Curtis

Chichimeca was the name the Aztecs gave to a wide range of semi-nomadic peoples who inhabited the north of modern-day Mexico and the southwestern U.S. The term was later adopted by the Spanish and came to carry the same sense as barbarian.

Many of the peoples called Chichimeca are virtually unknown today, having been absorbed into the general population. Almost nothing is known about the peoples referred to as Guachichiles, Caxcanes, Zacatecos, Tecuexes, or Guamares. Others like the Opata are well described but largely extinct as a people. Other ‘Chichimeca’ peoples maintain a separate identity into the present day, such as the Otomies, Chichimeca Jonaz, Coras, Huicholes, Pames, Yaqui, Mayos, O'odham and the Tepehuánes.

In Mexican Spanish, the word ‘Chichimeca’ remains connected to an image of ‘savagery’, inherited from the original Spanish settlers who presumably found it morally less problematic to enslave and exploit a people they considered little more than primitive savages. This negative portrayal intensified after the Chichimeca attempted to reclaim their independence during the Mixtón Rebellion and the Chichimeca War in the 16th century . The Jesuit missionaries experienced some success in converting some of the tribes to Christianity, and eventually many Chichimecas were encouraged to adopt a more sedentary, agriculture-based lifestyle. Within decades, most had been assimilated into the Spanish and Indian mestizo culture.

 

Cora men and women
Public DomainCora men and women - Credit: Carl S. Lumholtz
Tepehuáne family
Public DomainTepehuáne family - Credit: Carl S. Lumholtz
Page 135. " he dreamt of wild men who came to him with clubs and their teeth were filed to points and they gathered around him and warned him of their work before they even set about it "
Cylindrical vessel with Mayan sacrificial scene; c. A.D. 600 - 850
Public DomainCylindrical vessel with Mayan sacrificial scene; c. A.D. 600 - 850 - Credit: FA2010

That this is the prelude to a sacrifice is made explicit in a similar dream described towards the end of Cities of the Plain.

Mayan skull with jade-inlayed teeth
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMayan skull with jade-inlayed teeth - Credit: David Dennis
The reference to filed teeth indicates McCarthy had in mind the Maya, who were known to ceremonially file their teeth to sharp points, with the elite classes often inlaying theirs with jade. 

The ancient Maya practiced dental mutilation over a very long span of time, beginning centuries ago and carried out right up until the European intrusions of the sixteenth century. Teeth were filed into points, ground into rectangles and drilled with small holes to permit the insertion of small round pieces of jade or polished iron pyrite (fool's gold). In all, over a hundred different patterns of cross-hatching, circular holes and shape alteration are found among the ancient Maya.

(Dr. Herman Smith, Maya Dental Mutilation)

Although the Maya never took to human sacrifice with the same ferocity as the later Aztecs, the practice was not uncommon. During the Classic Maya period, human victims were thrown into a deep well at Chichén Itzá to bring rain. Sacrifice on a larger scale may have been brought to the Mayans by the Toltecs, who exerted a similar influence upon the Aztecs. At some point, the Mayans moved towards the ceremonial cutting out of the still-beating hearts of their human victims.

Page 137. " Legacy of some drowned archer, musician, maker of fire "
Prometheus Brings Fire to Mankind (c. 1817), by Heinrich Friedrich Füger
Public DomainPrometheus Brings Fire to Mankind (c. 1817), by Heinrich Friedrich Füger - Credit: Liechtenstein Museum
Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, by John William Waterhouse (1900)
Public DomainNymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, by John William Waterhouse (1900) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A typically oblique reference from McCarthy which appears to link Billy to the great transgressive figures of Greek mythology, Orpheus and Prometheus.

The suggestion is that Billy, through his experience with the wolf in the wilds of northern Mexico, has somehow transgressed beyond the realm of civilization into some atavistic state. The theme of transgression will be later reinforced when the ragged Billy returns to America (‘Something in off the wild mesas, something out of the past… In that outlandish figure they beheld what they most envied and what they most reviled. If their hearts went out to him it was yet true that for very small cause they might also have killed him.’ [p.170])

In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan and a champion of mankind who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. Various myths concerning Orpheus attribute the legendary musician as having gifted mankind medicine, writing, agriculture, as well as revealing the mystery rites, often in defiance of the gods.

Closer to the novel’s setting, the two most prominent aspects of the Promethean myth – the creation of man from clay and the theft of fire – have parallels within Mayan and Native American belief systems.

Page 137. " He passed a mud horno in a yard "
Mexican hornos
Public DomainMexican hornos - Credit: John L. Stoddard

A horno is a beehive-shaped outdoor oven, made either from mud or adobe.

Originally introduced to Spain by the Moors, the horno was soon adopted and carried to other Spanish-occupied lands.

Page 140. " They came here many years ago. Eighteen and ninety-six. From Utah. They came because of the statehood. In Utah. I was a Mormon "
The wives and children of Joseph F. Smith, prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (c. 1900)
Public DomainThe wives and children of Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (c. 1900) - Credit: Utah State Historical Society

The territory of Utah had been home to the Mormons since the mid-19th century after they settled in the Salt Lake Valley area.

In 1896 Utah was admitted into the U.S. statehood, with the condition that a ban on polygamy was written into the state constitution. Many Mormons unwilling to give up the practice relocated to Mexico, joining the other colonists in Sonora and Chihuahua who had already fled America after specific laws prohibiting plural marriage were passed by U.S. Congress in the 1870s and 1880s.

Page 142. " As in the cities of the plain "

A reference to the Biblical Kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah, which were destroyed by God as punishment for their sinful ways. Together with the cities of Admah, Zeboim and Zoar, they made up the cities of the plain, believed to have been situated by the River Jordan in the southern region of the land of Canaan.

And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt.

[Genesis 19.29]

Cities of the Plain is also the title of the third installment of The Border Trilogy.

 

The Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, painted by John Martin (1852)
Public DomainThe Destruction Of Sodom And Gomorrah, painted by John Martin (1852) - Credit: John Martin

Page 143. " And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these also are the same selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them "

As Billy wanders through Mexico he meets several mentors who provide instructions about understanding a world of seemingly irreconciliable forces, often in the form of parables or stories.

The importance of stories and their telling McCarthy perhaps drew from Aztec and Mayan history. Enrique Florescano points out in Memory, Myth, and Time in Mexico: From the Aztecs to Independence that both the Mayans and Aztecs placed heightened emphasis on the scribe who recorded historical stories:

'The Nahua texts that describe the scribe, or tlacuilo, sometimes elevate him to the category of sage, or they represent him as an individual possessing specialized techniques and knowledge'.

The ex-Mormon at Huisiachepic, the blind ex-revolutionary, and the gypsy who tells Billy the story of the two aeroplanes certainly fall under this category.

 

Page 144. " This man’s parents were killed by a cannonshot in the church at Caborca where they had gone with others to defend themselves against the outlaw American invaders "
Henry A. Crabb
Public DomainHenry A. Crabb

In 1857 Caborca was the scene of a heroic defence against a force of American filibusters led by Henry Alexander Crabb seeking to annex Sonora to the United States.

After defeating a detachment of Mexican soldiers, Crabb’s men approached Caborca where the townsfolk took refuge in the church. After trying unsuccessfully to blast them out with cannon, the Americans occupied an adobe house across from the church. Soon Mexican reinforcements arrived and surrounded the adobe. After a six-day siege, Crabb and his men finally surrendered. They were each summarily executed the next morning, except for one 16-year-old boy. Crabb was decapitated and his head preserved in a jar of mescal. McCarthy must have been aware of the story when he came to write Blood Meridian as the same grisly fate befalls the filibustering Captain White in that earlier novel.

Caborca, the little desert town that held off a small army, was immortalised and given the new name of Heroica Caborca in 1949.

 

In alerting the media to his plans, Crabb made the fatal error of surrendering the element of surprise, but it has left to posterity an almost step-by-step account of the doomed enterprise. Click here.

Page 145. " And there in Bavispe the child died, crushed in the terremoto "
Depiction of the earthquake striking Bavispe
Public DomainDepiction of the earthquake striking Bavispe (c.1887)

The 1887 Sonora earthquake occurred in the Teras mountain range of northwestern Mexico. The town of Bavispe suffered the most casualties with 42 deaths. The church of San Miguel de Bavispe was completely destroyed and every home in the village left uninhabitable.

Click here to see a photograph of the town after the earthquake and here for a photo of the destroyed church.

As an interesting sidenote, according to the Aztec cosmic calendar, we are now in the fifth age in a cycle of creation and destruction - this epoch to be destroyed by earthquakes.

Page 149. " where the dome of the broken transept of the church of La Purísima Concepción de Nuestra Señora de Caborca floated in the pure desert air "
The spot beneath the broken transept where the heretic makes his colondancia with God
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumThe spot beneath the broken transept where the heretic makes his colondancia with God - Credit: Walter Pentland I

Located at a bend of the Río Concepción, the church at Caborca sustained damage caused by flooding beginning in 1890. Further floods in 1899, 1915 and 1917 destroyed more of the church and the sanctuary with its main altar was taken out in 1917.

 

La Purísima Concepción de Caborca Mission after the 1917 flood
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumLa Purísima Concepción de Caborca Mission after the 1917 flood - Credit: Walter Pentland I
Flood damaged La Purísima Concepción de Caborca Mission
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumFlood damaged La Purísima Concepción de Caborca Mission - Credit: Walter Pentland I