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.
* 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Most of The Crossing’s other historical references add up if we take the years 1941 to 1945 as the period of the novel’s setting.
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.
Arnica is a herb said to reduce inflammation, decrease pain and improve wound healing.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
In Mexican tradition, kissing the finger with which one makes the sign of the cross is customary.
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.