Blood Meridian, Chapter 13- “Mejor los indios”

[Another guest post from Christian]

Many of these notes reflect callbacks to earlier mentions in the book.
There were one hundred and twenty-eight scalps and eight heads…”  When they attacked the camps of the Gilenos in chapter 12, it said there were “upward of a thousand souls” and Glanton had said before the attack If we dont kill ever nigger here we need to be whipped and sent home.”  I realized it’s only 19 guys out there and maybe all the gruesomeness of the book is desensitizing me, but I thought they would have had more scalps than that.  Also, a reminder from Chapter 6 “[Glanton]‘s got a contract with Trias.  They’re to pay him a hundred dollars a head for scalps and a thousand for Gomez’s head.”  Righteous bucks.
When the men are at the baths “all tattooed, branded, sutured,…fingers missing, eyes, their foreheads and arms stamped with letters and numbers as if they were articles requiring inventory.”  Toadvine has H.T. on his forehead and F on his cheek (Chapter 1). Calling back from Chapter 7 this of Bathcat the Vandiemanlander “Only on the inside of his lower arm was there tattooed a number which Toadvine would see in a Chihuahua bathhouse…”  Also from Chapter 8 Bathcat has three fingers on one hand.
“…the governor [Trias] had him [the judge] seated at his right and they at once fell into conversation in a tongue none other in that room spoke at all saving for random vile epithets drifted down from the north.  The expriest was sat opposite the kid and he raised his brows and motioned toward the head of the table with a swing of his eyes.” In Chapter 10, it was Tobin the expriest who had told the kid about how the judge knew Dutch.  This is a “see what I mean?”
“Patriotic toasts were drunk, the governor’s aides raising their glasses to Washington and Franklin and the Americans responding with yet more of their own country’s heroes, ignorant alike of diplomacy and any name at all from the pantheon of their sister republic.” 
“You Americans are great!”
“Yes, we are.”
Lacking table manners: “The governor had tapped his glass and risen to speak in his well-phrased english, but the bloated and belching mercenaries were leering about and calling for more drink and some had not ceased to scream out toasts…”   “Glanton…cutting the governor short…”
“The scalphunters stood grinning at the dames, churlishlooking in their shrunken clothes, sucking their teeth, armed with knives and pistols and mad about the eyes.” This is after the banquet at the governor’s palace when the gangmembers are good and loaded.  I recently saw parts of the movie The Dirty Dozen on TV.  There’s a scene just like this where Lee Marvin’s character Major Reisman has arranged for some ladies of the evening to entertain his filthy, dangerous bunch.  There’s a moment where they first stare at each other before they begin to dance.  And on Mother’s Day, no less.
“Pistolfire soon became general and Mr. Riddle, who was acting American counsel in the city, descended to remonstrate with the revelers and was warned away.” In chapter 7, the Glanton gang was buying these very Colt pistols off a representative of Mr. Riddle.  Also, is there more stereotypical crazy cowboy than just firing into the air?  See Three Amigos and the Texan from the Simpsons.
I had started to copy all the different ways in which the gangmembers scare off the local populace, but it’s too much even for me.  At first the description of their actions (shooting up the houses writing IOU’s for stealing an entire stock of stores), but later it’s the reactions of the other people that speak volumes (e.g. the citizens of Coyame not bothering to see them out of town after only three days, people clearing out a bar whenever two of the Americans show up).  It is notable that in all the debaucherous craze and the later slaughters in this chapter that the kid is never described as killing anyone.
“Mejor los indios” “Better the Indians,” i.e., we’d rather take the Indians than these guys.
“On the fifteenth of August they rode out.”  That adds up to about a three-week bender in Chihuahua.
A humanizing moment for Glanton:  when they arrive at Presidio on the Texas border.  ”He rode out alone on the desert and sat the horse and he and the horse and the dog looked out across the rolling scrubland and the barren peppercorn hills and the mountains and the flat brush country and running plain beyond where four hundred miles to the east were the wife and child he would not see again.  His shadow grew long before him on the banded wash of sand  He would not follow.” You almost feel bad for the guy.  It’s a nice moment, especially since even Tobin had considered Glanton just to be outright crazy.  I do wonder if this sets off something in his head that he knows he can never go home again and that his days are numbered.  In this chapter he goes from bringing the scalps of the hostile Apaches to killing and scalping peaceful Tiguas, drunken hostile Mexicans, innocent Mexican citizens and finally Mexican soldiers.
After they leave the Presidio and wander the borderlands they go by the Hueco tanks.  The come across some cave and rock paintings, and as in Chapter 11, the judge documents and then destroys some of these.
They come across a band of “peaceful Tiguas.”  It seems as though everyone knows they aren’t expecting much of a fight “As if such destinies were prefigured in the very rock for those with eyes to read.  No man stood to tender them a defense.”  Then this:
Them sons of bitches aint botherin nobody, Toadvine said.  The Vandiemanlander looked at him.  He looked at the livid letters tattooed on his forehead and at the lank greasy hair that hung from his earless skull.  He looked at the necklace of gold teeth at his chest. They rode on.” What’s that about?  Is that saying that Toadvine hasn’t let that bother him before so it’s too late to get a conscience?
In the days to come the frail black rebuses of blood in those sands would crack and break and drift away so that in the circuit of few suns all trace of the destruction of these people would be erased,  The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, nor ghost nor scribe, to tell any pilgrim in his passing how it was that people had lived in this place and in this place died.”  Earlier the gangmembers have passed piles of bones with no story.  God speaks in stones and trees, the bones of things.
When they get back to Chihuahua, Toadvine is stopped by the governor’s guards about gold teeth.  He is of course wearing a necklace of gold teeth and in chapter 6 was talking to the kid about taking gold teeth from their jail overseer.  Since they are later escorted out of the city by “upward of a hundred soldiers,” I take that to mean that the governor may have confirmed his suspicious about Toadvine.
Love this foreshadowing: “They passed through small villages doffing their hats to folk whom they would murder before the month was out.”
The cantina fight in Nacori is amazing and the judge goes full commando, shooting people right over the heads of his own men, picking up a man by the head and crushing his skull, and ordering the refugees to be shot as well.
They slaughter a town of helpless and frail Mexicans. I was actually wondering why they hadn’t tried this before.
Many of the people had been running toward the church where they knelt clutching the altar and from this refuge they were dragged howling one by one and one by one they were slain and scalped in the chancel floor.  When the riders passed through this same village four days later the dead were still in the streets and buzzards and pigs were feeding on them.” This is almost the exact same thing that the kid and Sproule come across in Chapter 5, innocents slaughtered in a church and buzzards about.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in previous notes, but there is a lot of imagery of the dead being left to “watch” the scenery.  In this chapter alone, you have
1) the severed heads of the Gilenos:  ”The severed heads had been raised on poles above the lampstandards where they now contemplated with their caved and pagan eyes the dry hides of their kinsmen and forebears strung across the stone facade of the cathedral…”
2) The gangmember Grimley, knifed in the back:  ”[Grimley] was holding his pistol in his lap and looking off down the street…”
3) The naked bodies of the Mexican soldiers:  ”lying in the pit gaping sightlessly at the desert sky…”
They enter Chihuahua for the third time this chapter, get paid the scalp bounty, then have the contract revoked.  It’s unclear whether they were ever paid for the head of Gomez, but it’s now the Glanton gang who has become public enemy #1, leading me to some questions in later chapters.

13 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Chapter 13- “Mejor los indios”

    • NCL, we had some weird problem some months back where half of our content just disappeared over night. We recovered as much as we could, but it looks like Chapter 12 was one of those that was forever lost to cyberspace. I am picking up this project now and will attempt to recreate the Chapter 12 analysis as quickly as I can, as close to its original content as I can. I will then be completing the proceeding chapters, hopefully in short order. Sorry to leave you hanging. Thanks for your patience.

  1. Fantastic, been enjoying the chapter by chapter synopsis immensely. I guess from this point on, I trudge on alone into the rest of this ultraviolent tome. God help me..

    • Fear not! Chapter 12 will be coming, maybe as soon as today (picked it up last night, about halfway through the chapter). I will try to keep pace as best I can. No one should have to trudge through this one alone!

    • (No. “Tome” is such an excellent word, you should use it whenever you can, even if running the risk of misspeaking. According to my thesaurus, it is synonymous for “book, digest, volume, and work.” Tome on!)

  2. I’ve just started reading Blood Meridian and not knowing the ins and outs of the period of history, I wonder how much I’m missing. I’m up to where Toadvine has just met Bathcat in Chapter 7 and there’s a seemingly significant moment in which the former looks over the latter for tattoos as if to confirm a suspicion about him. Why is that? What’s the meaning of these tattoos, where did the guys get them? Does it mean they’re convicts? Any help appreciated!

    • I have not read that particular chapter in a little while, but if memory serves, I believe your prison suspicion is probably correct. I am separately reading Moby Dick, and in one of the opening chapters there is suggestion that certain tribes of cannibal headhunters would tattoo their prisoners. An alternative possibility, perhaps. Glad you are getting into it. Blood Meridian is great! I currently have a pretty thorough analysis of up through Chapter 16 on the blog, with Chapter 17 underway. I hope it helps. Thoughts/questions are always welcome.

  3. You realize the “Dutch,” referred to by the expriest is actually German, right? Settlers from Germany were common in and around Texas in the 1840s (google “Latin Settlements”; many were even in Llano and Austin counties). Immigrants from The Netherlands numbered only 340k from 1820-1900, whereas there were 430k alone from 1840-50 and twice that in the following decade.

    • I don’t know that I did realize that, but thank you for the observation. So many layers to this book: history, language, theology, geology, philosophy. The more I read and discuss the more I learn. Thanks for your comment.

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