Page 209. " the curled form of the dead gusano circled the floor of the bottle in a slow drift like a small wandering fetus "
Gusano de Maguey in a bottle, waiting to be added to finished Mezcal (Oaxaca, Mexico)
GNU Free Documentation LicenseGusano de Maguey in a bottle, waiting to be added to finished Mezcal (Oaxaca, Mexico) - Credit: Nsaum75

Spanish for worm, the gusano is actually the larvae of an insect found within the agave cactus used to make mescal. The gusano is often put into the bottle and sometimes eaten as a sign of machismo.

This is one of the rare instances of historical inaccuracy in the novel. The gusano was not introduced into mescal production until the 1950s after Jacobo Lozano Páez inadvertently discovered that the worm changed the taste of the agave (agave worms are sometimes found in the piña after harvesting). From then on the gusano was put into mescal bottles, mainly as a marketing gimmick.

Page 211. " The mescal sat in his stomach like some unholy incubus "
The Nightmare, by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1781)
Public DomainThe Nightmare, by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1781) - Credit: Detroit Institute of Fine Arts

An incubus is a demon in male form, said to lie upon female sleepers in order to have sex with them. In the Middle Ages, the existence of incubi was recognised by law.

McCarthy frequently uses the image in his novels, employing it in a sense more closely related to its original Latin root incubare (‘to lie upon’) as something incumbent, something malicious lying upon or within.

Coloured aquatint showing sleeping woman being attacked by incubi (1870)
Public DomainColoured aquatint showing sleeping woman being attacked by incubi (1870) - Credit: Charles Walker
Page 214. " He asked her if she could ride caballo en pelo "

Caballo en pelo means to ride bareback.

Coincidently, Caballo en Pelo ('The Naked Horse') was the name of the Quechan chief responsible for killing John Joel Glanton, the infamous leader of the Glanton Gang of scalphunters, whose exploits McCarthy described in his earlier Blood Meridian.

Page 215. " The front of the house was faced with three stone arches and above them were carved the words Hacienda de San Diego in letters arched over the initials L.T. "
Hacienda San Diego 1910
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumHacienda San Diego 1910 - Credit: RAEchel Running (

Hacienda de San Diego was one of 23 haciendas owned by Luís Terrazas, governor of Chihuahua and patriarch of the powerful Creel-Terrazas clan that at one time was primed to succeed Diaz’s rule of Mexico.

During the Revolution, Terrazas was forced into exile in the United States and the hacienda was taken over by rebel soldiers under Madero and Villa. It was here that Francisco I. Madero was proclaimed president of Mexico.

Today, the hacienda is inhabited still by descendants of the original campesinos who lived there at the end of the Revolution.

Hacienda de San Diego. The girl standing before the house is Dennise Acosta who lives in the hacienda with her family
Permission Granted by Copyright Owner for Use on Book DrumHacienda de San Diego. The girl standing before the house is Dennise Acosta who lives in the hacienda with her family - Credit: RAEchel Running (

Page 215. " In one corner of the compound stood the carcass of an antique Dodge touring car "
1915 Dodge Brothers Model 30-35 touring car
Creative Commons Attribution1915 Dodge Brothers Model 30-35 touring car - Credit:
U.S. Army Camp during Punitive Expedition with Dodge touring cars at right
Public DomainU.S. Army Camp during Punitive Expedition with Dodge touring cars at right - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Dodge Model 30 touring car was first produced by the Dodge Brothers Company in 1914 and marketed as a slightly more upscale competitor to the Ford Model T.

In 1916, the U.S. Army employed Dodge Brothers vehicles during their Pancho Villa (or Punitive) Expedition into Mexico. The Dodge Company gained some priceless publicity when Lt. George S. Patton employed three Dodge Model 30 touring cars in an ambush against Julio Cardenas, one of Villa’s most trusted subordinates; eventually returning to headquarters in Dublán with the bodies of Cardenas and two other Villistas tied to the hoods of the cars.

That old Dodge lying by the Hacienda de San Diego (located near Colonia Dublán) may well have come from the Pancho Villa Expedition – one of many ghosts from the past haunting McCarthy’s novel.

In a separate incident, Pancho Villa himself would die in a Dodge Brothers car, mysteriously assassinated while driving his black 1919 Dodge through the city of Parral on July 20, 1923.


Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCorrido - Credit: Library of Congress









Hernandez y Sifuentes – La Punitiva (The Punitive Expedition)

Page 215. " both men and women in robes and kimonos "

The kimono is a traditional Japanese robe worn by women, men and children.

Kimono literally means a 'thing to wear' (ki 'wear' and mono 'thing').

Page 219. " the primadonna moved in lascivious silhouette behind a wagonsheet "

Alicia Aguilar (Mexico)
Public DomainAlicia Aguilar (Mexico) - Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Italian for first lady, the prima donna was the term used to designate the leading female singer in an opera company - the person to whom the prime roles would be given.


Maria Callas, prima among primadonnas.


Page 219. " He watched the play with interest but could make little of it. The company was perhaps describing some adventure of their own in their travels and they sang into each other's faces and wept and in the end the man in buffoon's motley slew the woman and slew another man perhaps his rival with a dagger "
Commedia dell'Arte troupe Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCommedia dell'Arte troupe Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting - Credit: PRA

Although McCarthy describes the travelling theatre troupe as an opera company, the play Billy watches belongs to the Commedia dell'Arte tradition - a form of theatre that originated in mid-16th century Italy.

Commedia dell’Arte troupes travelled extensively and were not hampered by language barriers since the plays were largely communicated by gesture and physicality rather than dialogue. The plays were performed outside on temporary stages, characterised by masked ‘types’ and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios.


More information on the Commedia dell'Arte can be found here




Public DomainCapitano - Credit: Maurice Sand
Public DomainScaramuccia - Credit: Maurice Sand
Public DomainCoviello - Credit: Maurice Sand

Page 223. " A victrola was playing "
Victrola brand phonograph (c. 1908)
Public DomainVictrola brand phonograph (c. 1908) - Credit: Library of Congress

In 1906 the Victor Talking Machine Company created a new line of phonographs with the turntable and amplifying horn tucked away inside a wooden cabinet which they trademarked with the name Victrola.

Victrolas became by far the most popular brand of home phonograph, and sold in great numbers until the end of the 1920s. RCA Victor continued to market phonographs with the Victrola name until the early 1970s.

Page 224. " lorgnette operaglasses "

Lorgnette opera glasses developed from the Lorgnette spectacles which were popular among the fashionable ladies of the 19th century. The use of the original Lorgnette spectacles was mainly cosmetic, worn more as jewellery than to enhance vision. The more specialised Lorgnette opera glasses maintained the handle of the original Lorgnette but added a greater magnification specially designed for viewing opera or theatre performances.

Page 225. " the young jinete who sat his horse before her "
Jinetes skirmish at the 1431 Battle of Higueruela
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeJinetes skirmish at the 1431 Battle of Higueruela - Credit: Ian Pitchford

The jinete was originally a Spanish light cavalry man armed with a javelin, sword and shield, designed for skirmishing and rapid manoeuvre. This troop type developed in the early Middle Ages in response to the massed light cavalry of the Moors during the Reconquista.

In modern Spanish usage, the term has come to mean someone who shows particular expertise in horse-riding, such as the vaquero or charro.