Page 303. " They listened to american hillbilly music coming out of Acuña on the Texas border "

The radio station is surely the infamous Dr. John R. Brinkley's border blaster XERA-AM (formerly XER-AM), which broadcast out of Del Rio in Villa Acuña, Coahuila, throughout the 1930s. The Del Rio station became known as Hillbilly Hollywood, helping to launch the careers of a number of country artists (including Patsy Montana, Jimmie Rodgers, Red Foley, The Carter Family, and many others).

Brinkey's main purpose in setting up the station, however, was to continue promoting his bizarre goat gland treatments which he posited as a cure for impotence. It was because of his earlier experiments in transplanting goat testes into men throughout the U.S. that Brinkley had originally been chased out of the country. The station was eventually closed by the Mexican government in 1939 following U.S. pressure. *

You can read more on Brinkley and the Mexican border blasters, as well as listen to an extract from one of his goat gland adverts, here.


Needless to say, the quality of music played on Brinkley's station was more reliable than the medical advice.  

Patsy Montana - I Wanna Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart     Jimmie Rodgers - Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel     Red Foley - Satisfied Mind  





* Although McCarthy rarely provides specific dates in the novel, it does appear he has taken some liberties here. Having already referenced Hawbaker’s book from 1941, Brinkley’s station at Acuña shut down in late 1939 and broadcasting from the station did not resume until 1947 as XERF-AM.

Most of The Crossing’s other historical references add up if we take the years 1941 to 1945 as the period of the novel’s setting.

Page 303. " where his brother lay within among his offerings like some feastday icon "
Altar de muertos
Creative Commons AttributionAltar de muertos - Credit: Gabriel Flores Romero
Día de muertos en Milpa Alta
Creative Commons AttributionDía de muertos en Milpa Alta - Credit: Eneas De Troya
The Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) holiday is a celebration in remembrance of loved ones who have passed away, occurring on November 2 in connection with the Catholic feast days of All Saints' Day and All Soul's Day.
One of the traditions connected with the holiday is the building of altars on which offerings (ofrenda) such as sugar skulls, marigolds, and the favourite foods and drinks of the departed, are placed in honour of the deceased.
Page 316. " tea of manzanilla and arnica and root of golondrina bush "
Arnica flower
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeArnica flower - Credit: Kurt Stüber

Manzanilla (also known as chamomile) has a long history as a herbal cure in Hispanic cultures. Among other applications, it is utilized to treat depression and to sedate.


Chamomile flower
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeChamomile flower - Credit: Rod Allday

Arnica is a herb said to reduce inflammation, decrease pain and improve wound healing.


Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeEuphorbia - Credit: Alvesgaspar

The golondrina bush (also called euphorbia) is a plant often used medicinally to ease breathing.








Probably as good a herbal remedy as any for someone recovering from a gunshot wound.

Page 317. " he'd drunk a small glass of pulque for the vigor in it "
Mecapaleros enjoying a glass of pulque, photographed by Ismael Casasola (1920)
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMecapaleros enjoying a glass of pulque, photographed by Ismael Casasola (1920) - Credit: Archivo Casasola

Pulque is a milk-like, alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of the maguey plant.

The drink dates back to the Mesoamerican period, where it was consumed ritually by priests and sacrificial victims, as well as by the nobility to celebrate military victories. After the Spanish Conquest, the drink became secular and was hugely popular before beer took its place.

The drink does have some nutritional value. There is a Mexican saying that pulque is ‘sólo le falta un grado para ser carne' (‘one grade shy of being meat’). This was also recognised by the Mesoamericans who allowed pregnant woman and the elderly to drink what was normally reserved only for priests and nobility.

Page 321. " when the last husband fell as detailed by his own uncle at Torreón "

There were two major battles at Torreón, not including Villa’s original taking of the city on May 15, 1911.

The First Battle of Torreón was fought on September 29, 1913, when Villa recaptured Torreón from federal forces.

The Second Battle of Torreón took place from March 26 to April 2, 1914, with Villa once again the victor after driving off a 10,000 strong federal garrison.

It is unclear which specific battle is being referred to in the novel. 



Los Alegres De Teran – La Toma De Torreon (The Taking of Torreón)

Page 321. " with one hand over his breast in a gesture of fidelity sworn, clutching the rifleball to him like a gift "
Panal of Government Palace mural depicting Hidalgo execution in Chihuahua
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikePanal of Government Palace mural depicting Hidalgo execution in Chihuahua - Credit: Lyricmac

McCarthy's imagery in the description of the fallen soldier at the Battle of Torreón recalls a famous mural by Aarón Piña Mora depicting the execution of Miguel Hidalgo, the Mexican priest and iconic figure of the Mexican War of Independence.

Page 321. " and tamales in their corded wraps of cornhusk "
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeTamales - Credit: El rrienseolava

A tamal is a traditional Latin American dish made of masa (a type of corn-based dough), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper.

Mexican tamales typically have a sweet or savoury filling, with variations depending on the state and region.

Tamale recipe.



Page 322. " the Guardia Blanca of La Babícora "

The White Guard was a mercenary group hired to protect Babícora, land owned by W. R. Hearst, from rustlers and squatters, including the families Hearst's ownership of the ranch had displaced. 

Page 324. " she made the sign of the cross and kissed her fingers "

In Mexican tradition, kissing the finger with which one makes the sign of the cross is customary.

Page 325. " In the dream he was in another country that was not this country and the girl who knelt by him was not this girl. They knelt in the rain in a darkened city and he held his dying brother in his arms but he could not see his face and he could not say his name "

Spoiler Warning: The following bookmark contains plot information relating to The Crossing and Cities of the Plain.


This remarkable passage won't make much sense taken only in the context of The Crossing. It foreshadows events that will come to pass in Cities of the Plain, the third and final installment of The Border Trilogy.

The dying brother is not Boyd, but John Grady Cole, the lead character from All The Pretty Horses who becomes, in a sense, a spiritual reincarnation of Boyd. History will repeat itself in Cities of the Plain when Billy Parham is once again unable to save the younger man from death.

The girl is the young prostitute John Grady falls in love with.