Blood Meridian, Chapter Twelve, Part II: “There’s enough to go around.”

red lake disasterThe indian slaughter chapters are the most gruesome, shocking, and unforgettable.  They are also some of the most vivid and beautifully, if terrifyingly, written.  Chapter 12 continues as Glanton’s band has found the Gileños and they are preparing for attack at first light.  Glanton gives a rousing speech of sorts: “When we ride in it’s ever man to his own. Dont leave a dog alive if you can help it.” (p. 155).  Every man for himself?  Glanton will show just how true this is before the encounter is over.  “How many is there, John?” one man asks.  “There’s enough to go around,” answers the judge.  Indeed.

As it turns out there are “upward of a thousand souls” (including women, children, old people, and babies [shudder]) to Glanton’s 19. The attack is brutal and merciless from the very outset.  Before they even reach the encampment, they startle an old man squatting in the bushes and kill him on sight.  Glanton later comes back for the old man’s scalp, a minor but significant detail.  Once they get to the sleeping others, many emerge waving white clothing in surrender, only to be struck down.  It is utter mayhem, gory and horrifying.

It seems in the frenzy that many are women, children, or old people.  Two babies in particular meet a graphically disturbing end, though I suppose the alternative would be getting left there to starve or be eaten by “little desert wolves.”  What few men/warriors there are in the group are slaughtered along with the rest, though they do do some damage, as seen with the Mexican John McGill (is this the same person as “Juan Miguel” mentioned in the chapter heading?).

As mentioned previously, they are camped around a shallow lake, which we see here has a “salt foreshore.”  Apparently some of the indians have attempted to flee into the lake, as they now “lay awash in the shallows like the victims of some disaster at sea.” (p. 157).  Glanton’s men wade in the shallows, hacking at the scalps of these in the water, retrieving scalps, and some even “coupl[ing] to the bludgeoned bodies of young women dead or dying on the beach.” (Id.).  Necrophilia?  Rape?  Both utterly disturbing.

Just before the attack, Glanton mentions that they “got a hour, maybe more.”  (p. 155). In the midst of the attack, we see that time is still on his mind: “Glanton knew that every moment on this ground must be contested later in the desert and he rode among the men and urged them on.” (p. 157)  They are being hunted, and there will be a reckoning.

One of the Delawares is wandering around holding a fistful of severed heads by their hair.  Scalps are being collected, and skin is being removed from the bodies to use in collecting these scalps.

In the midst of all this, McGill appears, having been skewered with a lance (maybe, but not necessarily, the victim of one of the sleeping indians attempting to defend himself).  The kid emerges from the water (what was he doing out there?) to try to help McGill, and Glanton orders him away.  Glanton shoots McGill in the head.  Why?  Maybe they don’t have time to deal with someone that injured.  Maybe Glanton did not like McGill.  He is, if nothing else, good for one more scalp (and indeed is later scalped before everything is said and done).

At this moment, Glanton looks up and sees to the north “a band of mounted Apaches…grouped against the sky.” (p. 157).  There seems to be some dispute about whether these Apaches were separate from the Gileños, who may have technically also been Apaches.  This doesn’t make sense to me.  I don’t know if these are supposed to be part of the group tracking Glanton, or some other group entirely.  But there seem to be leaders/chiefs among them, and Glanton decides to get another trophy.

A smaller group breaks off to chase down these Apaches, including Glanton, Webster, and some other unnamed member of the group who is awfully handy with the old pistola.  This man gets off his horse, lies on the ground, aims his pistol at the fleeing Apaches, and hits one at a dead run from 200 yards away.  (pp. 158-159).  For anyone who has ever shot a gun or knows anything about shooting, this is nothing short of outrageously accurate and highly skilled shot.

Glanton catches up to the wounded Apache leader, and despite their noble efforts to protect him, he is able to wave off the other Apaches.  On p. 159, it refers to the Apache’s “alien” head.  This is not the only time the indians are described as aliens.  The head is also labeled “barbarous,” which is ironic, given the respective positions of Glanton and the indian leader.  Glanton lays the wounded Apache chief’s head in his lap, gently, almost intimately.  The leader’s eyes are “dark pools” in which there sit “each a small and perfect sun.” (p. 159).  Glanton removes the head, and returns to the others, hoping this is the head of Gomez (if you remember back in Chapter 6, that was part of the contract with Trias, that they would get $100 a scalp, and $1000 for Gomez’s head.  I am picking up at this Chapter cold, and am not familiar enough with the history to know who Gomez was, but I gather from the exchange with the judge here that though Gomez may be among the indians, he is at least part Mexican, so this can’t be him, in that the head Glanton has is an indian’s of “sangre puro” (literally “pure blood”).  Also worth noting, Judge Holden apparently knows Gomez, or has met him.  Yet another instance where the judge seems to know everything and everyone)(another funny, if politically incorrect, phrase: “You cant be all Mexican. It’s like being all mongrel.” (p. 159)).

Glanton chooses this moment to ask if the judge has seen Glanton’s dog.  Earlier in the chapter, Glanton leans down and talks to his horse.  You gather that Glanton has a soft spot for animals, clearly much more so than he has for people.  Glanton’s dog does show back up a few pages later, though bloodied, and Glanton takes care of him, carrying him on his horse “until he could recruit himself.” (p. 161).  What is the significance of Glanton’s love for animals?

Somewhere in the melee, the judge has lost his horse, but acquired “a strange dark child covered with ash.” (p. 160).  There is no indication of how old the child is, though you gather that he is young.  There is no direct description of gender, as the child is consistently identified as “it.”  But you gather that it is a boy. [Note: even Glanton’s dog is a “he,” but the indian child is an “it”] [though you probably would have to think of them as things, and hardly even living things, to treat them the way Glanton does].

The men are covered in blood, but soon are the color of the surrounding land (this is not the first time such reference is made).  They are being pursued.  There is a thin line of dust to the north. (p. 161).  They were heading south.  Is this the Apaches, angry about their leader?  Or the missing child?  The regrouped Gilenos?  Someone else?

One of the mares, presumably one of the horses taken from the Gilenos, foaled (i.e. had a baby), which they immediately roast and eat.  The enemy is ten miles away.

One in the group, David Brown, has an arrow in his leg.  No one will touch him.  Particularly the judge.  Finally the kid says he will give it a try. (p. 162).  Why is the kid helpful?  He tried to help Miguel/McGill earlier.  There are other instances.  What’s the point?  And could it possibly undo all the evil/violence he’s participating in?

The kid successfully removes the arrow.  There is some noteworthy sexual imagery here, at one point Brown making a “lurid [i.e. very vivid, especially so as to create an unpleasantly harsh or unnatural effect] female motion,” though in pain not ecstasy, (p. 162), and later when the expriest tells the kid “Dont you know he’d of took you with him? He’d of took you, boy.  Like a bride to the altar.” (p. 163).  Is there something sexual about death, at least as written here?  When vampires, there is a sensual component to it.  Are the parallels?  The expriest also told the boy: “Fool…God will not love ye forever.” (p. 162).  The significance, and the reason no one else would help Brown, is that if the kid had not been successful in removing the arrow, Brown would have killed him.  Does God love the kid?

Sometime after midnight they build up the fires to make it seem like they are still there, and head out.  It does not seem that their pursuers are fooled.  There is some great imagery through here, the horses in the lightning at night “like horses called forth quivering out of the abyss” (p. 163) (more creation imagery, albeit primeval).  And more of those delightful “like” similes, Glanton’s band looking “less like victors than the harried afterguard of some ruined army retreating across the meridians of chaos and old night (p. 163) (the “like” being unspoken, this may technically be a metaphor, but it is gorgeous and delightful either way).

The “heathen” finally catches up to them, and they fight on the run for eight days. (p. 164).  On the third night they make camp a mile from the enemy.  The judge is bouncing who we now see is an Apache boy on his knee.  The other members of the group seem to like the boy, playing with him and giving him food.  Toadvine leaves to saddle his horse, and when he comes back ten minutes later the boy is dead.  And scalped.  Toadvine draws his gun and puts it “to the great dome of the judge’s head.” (p. 164).  “You either shoot or take that away.  Do it now,” says the judge. (Id.).  The judge does not even flinch.  Toadvine puts his gone away.  Though identified as a boy, the child is referred to as “it” until the end.

[I’ve read a lot of other reviews and analyses regarding what else the judge may have done to the boy.  I see nothing definitive in the text; it seems like speculation to me, but I could be wrong, and would be open to having specific references identified and discussed].

The fleeing and fighting on the run continues.  From time to time, Glanton’s group dismounts and aims their rifles at the following Apaches.  The indians would dismount and “flare like quail,” hiding behind their ponies.  (p. 164).  The Apaches probably outnumber Glanton’s men (in fact we see on the next page that there are at least 70 or 80, to Glanton’s now less than 19), but the Americans have the better weapons (a perennial theme between these two groups, both in the book and historically), and so the indians have to bide their time and keep their distance.

In their fleeing, they pass a hacienda, and the proprietor (el hacandado) rides out to greet them.  No one in Glanton’s group says a word.  The proprietor looks to the men, and then looks back to see the Apaches close behind.  The last the group sees of the the hacendado “he had drawn a small pistol from his boot and had turned to face the indians.” (p. 165).  The reader gets the distinct impression that el hacendado is about to have a very bad day indeed.

Many names of cities, towns, and other landmarks are mentioned in close succession here.  It would be enlightening to look at a map or talk to someone familiar with this area.  Maybe we could organize a scenic tour/reenactment, minus the carnage, of course.

Fighting as they go, they see the churchspires of the city to the south.  Chihuahua.  Safety and salvation.  The date is July 21, 1849.  They ride into the city to a “hero’s welcome.” (p. 165).  That won’t last long.  By the time they leave, there will be a bounty on their heads.  “Mejor los indios.”

Does anyone know what “el virote” means?  It’s in the chapter heading, and literally means “the bolt.”  It comes between the night fires and the surgery.  I can find it in other Spanish texts, but can’t find a good contextual definition.  Ayudame!

 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.”  – See more at:


riverrock- a dark variety of phosphate rock obtained from stream beds

rowel- a spiked revolving disk at the end of a spur, used to urge on (e.g. a horse)

tableau- a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history

partisans- a member of an armed group formed to fight secretly against an occupying force, in particular one operating in enemy-occupied territory; a member of a body of detached light troops making forays and harassing an enemy.

wickiup- an American Indian hut consisting of an oval frame covered with brushwood or grass.

berserkers- an ancient Norse warrior who fought in a wild frenzy; one whose actions are recklessly defiant

remuda- a herd of horses that have been saddle-broken, from which ranch hands choose their mounts for the day.

caulthe amniotic membrane enclosing a fetus; part of the amniotic membrane occasionally found on a child’s head at birth, thought to bring good luck;historically a woman’s close-fitting indoor headdress or hairnet.

sotol- a North American desert plant of the agave family, with spiny-edged leaves and small white flowers; an alcoholic drink made from the sap of the sotol.

haft- the handle of a knife, ax, or spear.

whang- thong, rawhide, large piece, chunk

caballado- having a hard time finding a solid definition, though judging from the context and the Spanish word “caballo” I gather it probably means group of horses, of which they start out with about 500

chaparral- vegetation consisting chiefly of tangled shrubs and thorny bushes.

recruit- in this context, replenish, restore or increase the health, vigor, or intensity

fletching- the feathers of an arrow

palo verde- a thorny, yellow-flowered tree or shrub that grows along watercourses in the warm desert areas of America; literally “green pole” or “stick.”

essay- to put to a test, to make an often tentative or experimental effort to perform, try

shadetree sawbones- slang, but from the context gather it is a reference to the kid as being an amateur doctor or surgeon.  Sawbones is slang for surgeon or physician.  Shadetree is someone who does a particular job, but is not a professional
and does not have a store or office in which he does it; an amateur; unlicensed

ocotillo- a spiny, scarlet-flowered desert shrub of the southwestern US and Mexico, sometimes planted as a hedge.

phantasmagoria- a sequence of real or imaginary images like those seen in a dream.

azotea- a flat roof or platform on the top of a house or other building

diorama- a model representing a scene with three-dimensional figures, either in miniature or as a large-scale museum exhibit.

acequias- a community-operated watercourse used in Spain and former Spanish colonies in the Americas for irrigation.

jacales- (in Mexico and the southwestern US) a thatched wattle-and-daub hut.

peon- a Spanish-American day laborer or unskilled farm worker; historical a debtor held in servitude by a creditor, especially in the southern US and Mexico; North American- a person who does menial work; a drudge; (in South and Southeast Asia) someone of low rank.

harlequin- having a pattern of brightly colored diamond shapes


15 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Chapter Twelve, Part II: “There’s enough to go around.”

    • Thanks. It’s all so deep and clever and rich. Layers upon layers of stuff. Each chapter you could discuss at length for days, on many different levels. Close analysis of Chapter 14 coming very soon. One through thirteen are already on the site. More to follow.

    • Oh, that sounds very intriguing. Reading this book makes it very hard to read anything else. Though I did recently read and very much enjoy McCarthy’s “The Crossing.” Some of the style and language is akin to that in “Blood Meridian.” Almost a “Blood Meridian”-lite. Gorgeous in its own right. But Blood Meridian is one of a kind, even within the greater body of McCarthy’s other works.

      • I wonder, though, if it’s almost too much detail. I’m not a huge historian. Or geography guy. Some of this might be too much information. But maybe not. I’ll probably end up getting a copy after I’m done too, though I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out as much as I can on my own.

  1. Great website and analysis. Very helpful. I also love your book lists, especially that one about your random book generator. I’d like to see more like that one.

  2. Just reading through Blood Meridian and your blog as well. Enjoying.

    My thoughts on El Virote. Literally the bolt (as in cross-bow bolt) or arrow, but not a common Spanish word. I think its just a reference to the arrow in Brown’s leg. So closely associated with “A surgery” in the prose that its surprising to have its own specific reference in the pre-chapter summary. Maybe McCarthy liked the Spanish word? As the judge says, Words are things.

  3. I think brown is a pedophile which is why anyone refuses to help him, the kid doesn’t know this until the expriest tells him he will take him like a bride.

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