Blood Meridian Summary
We start off by meeting "the kid," a fourteen year-old who decides to run away from home and go it alone in the Old West. Sounds like a great idea, right? Wrong.
The thing is that he's walking into one of the most brutal and violent cultures in the history of the planet. To his credit, he does pretty well to survive his teenage years despite getting stabbed and shot on several occasions. Eventually, he's so hard up for money and clothes that he joins a militia that plans on going into Mexico to establish white American dominance. Yeah, we're sure that'll go over well with the Mexican people.
The militia's trip to Mexico is doomed from the start. They're barely inside the country before they're wiped out by a group of Apache warriors. Next thing you know, the kid is a prison slave. Luckily for him, he's bought out of prison by a man named Judge Holden who's helping another man named Glanton put together a group to hunt down Apaches and take their scalps for a government bounty. Cheerful. The kid falls in with this crowd and starts killing Apaches in no time. The problem is that once Glanton's crew gets a taste for killing, they turn into a mob of bullies who take whatever they want whenever they want it.
It's not long before Glanton's crew gets itself on Mexico's "Most Wanted" list, even as the Mexican government continues to pay them for Apache scalps. It basically gets to the point where the Mexicans decide that they don't know who they want to kill more: the Apaches or Glanton's men. In any case, a group of Yuma Aboriginals eventually solve this problem for the Mexicans by killing Glanton and nearly all his men.
The only people who survive the Yuma attack are the kid, Judge Holden, and a few other dudes. And worse yet, Judge Holden has decided he wants to kill the kid for being too much of a weakling. The judge believes that all the weak people in the world need to be cleared away so the strong can survive. But the kid escapes.
It's not until ten years after the fall of Glanton's men that the judge and the kid run into each other in a bar. The kid wanders out to an outhouse and finds the judge inside waiting for him. The judge pulls him inside and locks the door. We never find out what happens after that. We just know that whatever it is, it's bad. The book ends with Judge Holden dancing a jig back inside the tavern and telling people he'll never die. Just pat yourself on the back why don't you, Mr. Judge?
- Meet "the child." Apparently, he's pale and thin and lives in a horrible home back in the early nineteenth century (1845-ish) in the United States. His mom's dead and his dad's an abusive drunk.
- At fourteen, the kid decides to run away from home. He bounces around America for a while and ends up in St. Louis after a year. He gets into all kinds of scraps and one night, a dude shoots him in the back with a pistol. But the child lives through all of it.
- One day, the kid (he's called "the kid" now) goes into a tent where a guy named Reverend Green is preaching. While the reverend goes on about death and hell, a huge man (seven feet tall) comes into the tent and starts making serious accusations about the reverend. The huge man (who people call "the judge") claims the reverend is a fraud with no credentials and—worse yet—a rap sheet that includes sexually assaulting a goat. The townspeople crowd around the reverend feeling thirsty for his blood while the kid ducks out of the tent.
- The kid and a new buddy go into a bar later on, and they find the judge hanging out there. The judge buys the kid a drink while other people gather and ask how the judge knew so much about the phony reverend. The judge laughs and says he's never seen or heard of Reverend Green in his life, which means he basically just got the guy beaten up and run out of town for the sheer fun of it. Everybody laughs at the joke because hey, the Wild West is a brutal place.
- Eventually, the kid meets a guy named Toadvine. He runs into Toadvine while Toadvine is walking away from an outhouse. They're both walking the same path and neither wants to move. So like any civilized people, they get into a knife-fight over it. The two seem evenly matched before someone with a big club comes and smashes the kid over the back of the head, knocking him out.
- The kid wakes up later with Toadvine standing over him. After making sure his neck isn't broken, he gets up and retrieves his boots.
- Toadvine invites the kid to wander around with him. They head to a hotel where Toadvine goes to the room of some guy named Sydney who apparently owes him money. They light a fire under the man's door and when he comes running out, Toadvine and the kid beat him up. The kid doesn't ask any questions.
- When they're done beating on the guy, they turn and walk away. Meanwhile, the fire they lit under the guy's door has spread and is now burning the whole floor of the hotel. Toadvine runs through the streets, laughing like a crazy man while the kid follows quietly.
- The kid gets his horse and rides out of town, exchanging one last look with the judge as he goes. The judge smiles at him.
- Creepy, ain't it?
- As the book tells us, the kid spends a long time riding around begging and barely getting by. One night, he has to stop at the house of a crazy old hermit who takes him in and gives him food and water. It's clear that being alone out in the desert has made this dude crazy.
- The kid and the hermit sit and chat by the fire for a while, and the hermit tells the story about how he used to be a slave dealer and gives a general philosophy about life.
- The kid decides to leave when he wakes up in the middle of the night and finds the hermit leaning over him and watching him sleep.
- The next day, the kid runs into a group of men on horses herding a bunch of cattle. He joins up with them. He soon gets separated from them and follows a horsecart full of dead bodies into a nearby town.
- The kid goes into a bar and demands a drink, saying he'll sweep the floors in exchange. But even after he's swept the floors, the bartender won't give him anything. So you know what that means: it's time to fight. The kid grabs two liquor bottles while the bartender grabs a huge hammer. The kid gets the better of it and probably kills the dude, leaving him in a bloody heap. Then for good measure, the kid steals a couple of bottles of liquor and leaves.
- The next morning, the kid wakes up super hung over with his mule missing. But after a while, he finds it and washes himself in a river.
- The kid is lying asleep naked one day when a dude on a horse comes looking for him in a bunch of trees. It turns out the kid's been robbed of nearly everything he owned. The rider wants to offer him a chance to join a gang led by some dude named Captain White, especially after hearing about how the kid killed the bartender back in the last town.
- The dude promises the kid new clothes, a horse, and a rifle if he joins the gang. It turns out that Captain White wants to head down to Mexico to keep fighting the Mexicans, even though the war between Mexico and the U.S. is officially over.
- The kid agrees and the rider takes him to meet Captain White, who is angry that the Americans have allowed the Mexicans to take control of land that America rightly won in their last war.
- The gang fixes the kid up with a new horse and a rifle and some clothes. In one bar, though, they get talking with an old religious guy who says they're all insane for riding into Mexico the way they are. He says they'll all die.
- The kid sets out for Mexico with Captain White's crew. But the journey is a brutal one. Within the first ten days, four men in their crew get sick and die out in the desert.
- Eventually, they come across a mud hut with no one in it. But they know someone's around because the coals are still warm. They search and find an old man hiding in the nearby stable. The old man can only babble, so they take him away and by next morning, he's gone.
- A few days later, Captain White looks through a spyglass and sees a small group of Aboriginal people herding a huge group of cattle over the desert. Captain White figures that he should kill these riders. But just then, he realizes that there is something hiding behind the giant herd of cattle: it's a massive group of Aboriginal warriors riding on ponies and ambushing Captain White's group.
- The Aboriginals ride directly into Captain White's group and slaughter everyone in sight.
- After the Aboriginal warriors have passed through, the kid gets up from a pile of dead bodies and sneaks away from the site of the massacre of Captain White's crew.
- The kid eventually finds some rocks where he can hide. There's another man named Sproule who's already hiding there, badly wounded. It looks like eight men out of Captain White's crew have escaped death.
- The kid and Sproule look for more shelter the next day and walk through a bunch of dead babies hanging in some bushes (yup, this book is violent). They come upon a village, but it looks like everyone there has suffered the same fate as the folks in Captain White's crew. Dead people and animals lie all around. They spend a night in the village and head out the next day.
- As if things couldn't get any worse, Sproule's arm gets infected while they travel. If they don't see to it soon, the guy will probably die of blood poisoning.
- While they travel, they meet up with a group of Mexican riders. One of the riders is on Captain White's horse. They pass by, but the kid and Sproule grab at their ankles and beg for help. The leader of the riders gives them some water.
- The next night, Sproule gets attacked by a vampire bat. It seems as though everything is working against him and the kid.
- Wandering in the desert, the kid and Sproule come across an old rickety wagon with a family inside it. They grab some water and hop in the back of the wagon without asking, falling asleep as the wagon moves on to wherever it's going.
- When they wake up, they're inside a village. The kid gets out to pee and gets promptly arrested. They lead him through a crowd of people to the town square, where he's confronted with a jar that has Captain White's severed head inside it. The kid couldn't really care less about Captain White, though.
- The kid gets tossed into a prison with three other men from Captain White's failed expedition.
- Boys from the Mexican village like to stand on top of the walls surrounding the prisoners and try to pee on them. But the kid picks up a rock and drills one of the kids in the head with it, sending him unconscious off the wall.
- Three days later, a group of soldiers leads them out of the village.
- They enter a city and get pelted with rotten food by the people who live there. When they're put into a new dungeon, the kid recognizes one of the prisoners who is already there. We don't find out right away who it is, though. But hey, that's what the next chapter's for.
- The prisoners wake up the day after the kid's arrival and we learn that the guy he has recognized among the group is Toadvine. No one knows how Toadvine found himself to be in this prison too, but the kid doesn't ask.
- Toadvine seems confident that they'll get out of this jail, though the kid doesn't know how.
- While in prison, the kid and Toadvine make friends with a dude from Kentucky who's a veteran of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). The dude likes to tell all kinds of stories about different fighters and their levels of preparation. Eventually, he tells a story of how a group of Mexicans massacred a bunch of Aboriginal people who were having a funeral in a cave.
- While marching through the desert again, the prisoners run into a bunch of other groups riding through the area. At the front of one of these groups is the judge, the dude that the kid met back when he first met Toadvine.
- The next day, the judge sees the kid and smiles at him. Later on, Toadvine says that the leader of the group (which the judge is in) is a guy named Glanton. It looks like The Mexicans are going to pay Glanton a bounty on every Aboriginal scalp he can bring them, and Glanton is looking for some rough recruits. In other words, he's fixing to get the kid and Toadvine out of jail so they can join him. Three days later, they're out of jail and riding with Glanton's crew.
- In Glanton's militia, there are two guys named John Jackson, one white and one black. And guess what? They don't get along one bit.
- The group stops one day to buy some pistols from a guy named Speyer. The pistols are so heavy-duty that they weigh a few pounds each and can shoot a bullet through six inches of pure hardwood.
- Glanton tries one of the guns out and shoots whatever is nearby, including a cat and a goat. After a while, a group of nearby soldiers notices the commotion and comes riding toward the group. Glanton tries to antagonize them, but the judge talks them down and smoothes everything over.
- By the time everything settles down, Glanton's crew is riding away. Each man has two of the huge pistols.
- Once the group is in the desert again, we learn that the kid, Toadvine, and the veteran have been recruited to replace three other men who were killed in Glanton's last battle.
- Toadvine makes friends with another fugitive named Bathcat—which by the way is the most awesome name ever—and they make bets about which John Jackson (the black one or white one) will end up killing the other.
- Bathcat tells stories about how the Aboriginals used to get along well with the white settlers in the early days, before the two groups started killing each other at random.
- One day, the group is approached by a family of travelling musicians who are willing to pay money to be escorted safely across the desert.
- Glanton eventually gets bored one night and asks the magician to do some fortune telling. The dude takes out a deck of tarot cards. He starts saying stuff about the different riders, and the black John Jackson wants to know what he's saying, since all of it's in Spanish. Heck, it'd be nice if we knew what he was saying, too. But McCarthy never translates any of it. Oh well, that's what Google Translate's for, isn't it?
- After saying the kid's fortune, the magician is told by the judge to do Glanton's fortune. Once he starts telling it, though, Glanton orders him to stop. He's not interested by the idea that his fortune is set out for him in advance. He's about to shoot the magician's wife when the judge warps his arms around him and stops him. The magician and his wife are shooed away while the judge holds on.
- The next day, everything seems fine. The magician rides at the head of the group next to Glanton until they reach a town called Janos. The streets are deserted, and when Glanton stumbles on an old woman, he shoots her in the head and kills her. Then the men cut off her scalp so they can sell it for a bounty, although we're never even told if the woman is Aboriginal.
- The magician and his family continue to travel with them, and one night, Toadvine and the kid see the black John Jackson stumbling out of the magician's daughter's tent only half-dressed.
- Toadvine, the kid, and Bathcat hit up a bar in the town of Janos. While they drink, an old dude tries to come up and talk to them about killing Apaches (which is apparently their job). But they want nothing to do with the guy.
- At this point, a dude from the other side of the room starts moaning. Meanwhile, the old man won't let up about asking Toadvine and the guys questions. He tells them about how much blood has been spilled in Mexico over the years and how much will still be spilt in the future. Then he fills a cup with wine and walks away.
- Apparently, the moaning from the corner of the room is coming from a guy who's just been stabbed. He won't get up because there's nowhere for him to go to get help.
- Toadvine and the boys leave the bar.
- When the men ride out the next day, the judge realizes that the veteran from the Mexican-American War is no longer with them. He questions Toadvine about it, but Toadvine has no clue what happened to the guy.
- The first night back in the desert, it finally happens: one of the John Jacksons needs to go. The white John Jackson orders the black Jackson to use a different fire that's for non-whites. The black John Jackson politely replies by cutting off the white Jackson's head with a knife.
- The group gets up and rides into the desert plains. It's less than any hour before they're attacked by a group of Apaches.
- When they see the Apaches heading their way, Glanton and his crew tie up their horses and hide in some bushes. They're not ready to make the same mistake that Captain White's did when they underestimated the Apaches. But it's no good. The Apaches have seen them and have started shooting arrows their way.
- It looks as though they have fought the Apaches off, since the warriors have turned away and disappeared. But even after Glanton's crowd has been riding for a day afterward, they don't really believe they've escaped.
- They find an old cart with dead people inside and ransack it for guns and supplies. Then they head up a rock face to get to higher ground and make sure no one's after them.
- They eventually come upon an old mine and find four men living there. One of them has been shot through the chest by someone, meaning that there's been recent fighting at this mine.
- The judge spends some time examining the rocks in the mine and talking about how old the world is. Some of the men try to argue that the world's only a few thousand years old according to the Bible, but the judge insists that God speaks through bones and rocks and that rocks don't lie.
- The next morning, a young boy living with the miners is found naked and dead, face down in mud. No one knows what happened to him.
- Glanton's crowd leave the mine and head back onto the desert plains. They kill some deer and eat them. They come upon another group of riders, but it's just a group of Mexicans looking to sell meat at a distant market. The two groups pass each other without having to fight. This might be the first time that's happened in this entire book.
- As the days go by, Glanton and his men get comfortable with the fact that the Apaches are probably not following them. One day, the kid sits fixing a leather strap when an ex-priest named Tobin chats him up about life and stuff. Tobin talks about how the judge can master any skill he's put to and how he speaks all kinds of languages, including Dutch.
- Tobin then tells a creepy story of how he and Glanton's gang first met up with the judge. They were out in the middle of the desert and they found the judge just sitting and waiting for them on a flat rock. We're talking out in the middle of nowhere. No one even knew where the guy came from.
- In any case, the judge joined Glanton's crew and pretty soon, there was a group of Aboriginal warriors hunting them. The men had no gunpowder to defend themselves with, so the judge took them into some mountains and chipped off enough nitre and sulfur for them to make their own gunpowder. So crafty! Then they massacred the pursuing Aboriginals and took all their scalps.
- When Tobin's finished with the story, the kid asks him what the judge is a judge of. But Tobin tells him to keep quiet or else the judge will hear him. It seems like this judge guy is just becoming more and more of a mystery.
- While riding through some woody area, Glanton comes across a bear and shoots it in the chest. But the bear doesn't go down right away. It bites one of Glanton's Delaware (Aboriginal) guides and pulls him off his horse. The men try to kill it, but it escapes into the forest carrying the Delaware guide with it. The other Delawares spend three days trying to find their friend, but they never do. Glanton and his gang move on and the Delawares eventually catch up with them.
- One night, a guy named Webster sees the judge looking at plants and making notes in a ledger. Webster figures that the judge is trying to document everything he comes into contact with. He tells the judge it's no use and that no one can put the world in a book. But the judge doesn't seem fazed.
- The judge decides to tell the group a story about a harnessmaker who used to beg people along the road for money. One day, a rich young man came past and the harnessmaker brought him home for dinner. The young man gives the harnessmaker a speech about treating people well and being rewarded by god. The harnessmaker repents and promises to be better in the future. Then he offers to walk the rich young man down the road. When they're alone, the harnessmaker kills him and steals his money. The moral of the story seems to be that bad people don't change and that they'll always take advantage of the weak.
- When the judge is finished, the men of Glanton's crew all say the story is bogus. Some claim to know the actual guy who did the murder. Others claim that the dude wasn't a harnessmaker but some other kind of professional. Rather than thinking about the moral of the story, they're interested in arguing the details.
- Ultimately, the judge argues that humanity is degenerate and that there is no God watching over them and asking them to be nice to one another. Humans are even more violent and mindless than animals when it comes to hurting one another.
- The group comes upon some more abandoned mud huts and Glanton tames a vicious dog and makes it obey him. He boasts that he can tame any dog to do what he wants. Then they ride through some more mountains. It's hard to tell where all of this is leading. It just seems like villages followed by mountains followed by deserts…
- Soon enough, Glanton and his men start killing some of their animals for food. They come upon another group of wagons filled with dead people who've been massacred and their scalps taken. Glanton and his men pick up the trail of the murderers and follow.
- Two days later, the Delaware scouts tell Glanton that there is a massive group of Gileños (Aboriginals) camped farther ahead. It's not just warriors, but a group of families. Glanton decides to ride on them and he orders his men to leave no one alive.
- At dawn, Glanton and his men attack the camp and kill hundreds of people—shooting, stabbing, and trampling.
- Eventually, some warriors get organized and attack Glanton's group. But they're no match for Glanton's guns. Most of them go do and the others ride away weeping over their dead families.
- When the battle is over, Glanton shoots one of his own men who's been wounded. Maybe it's to put him out of his misery; maybe it's to keep him from slowing the group down.
- In the distance, a group of Apaches sits on the horizon watching them. Glanton levels his gun at them and shoots their chief off his horse. The other Apaches grab him and ride away. But Glanton follows in close pursuit and eventually catches the wounded chief and kills him, taking his head back to his camp. They even scalp their own dead men so they can pass the skin off as an Aboriginal's and make money off it.
- Glanton thinks he's captured the head of Gómez, a rebel leader with a big bounty on his head. But the judge tells him it's not Gómez.
- They ride on, but a guy named David Brown has taken an arrow in the leg and he can't get it out. The only option is to push the thing all the way through so he can cut off its barbed head. No one volunteers to help him, but eventually the kid steps forward and does it.
- After the fact, the ex priest Tobin comes up and tells the kid that he shouldn't have helped Brown because Brown would have taken him down with him if it had come to that. There's no room for compassion in this world. Just some very, very thin mutual interest. Glanton's crowd might look tight, but they're all just a razor's edge from killing each other.
- As they continue across the desert, Glanton's crew sees the distant bonfires of more Apaches (aka the enemies). But his group is too wasted away to fight well, so they can only run. They make their first stand and then run for eight days, with the Apaches always right behind them, bent on getting revenge for the massacre Glanton's men have committed.
- Apparently, the group has brought along a young boy who survived their last massacre. They play with the boy and feed him. But then one night, the judge simply kills the boy and scalps him. Toadvine takes exception and pulls his gun on the judge, but both of them know he won't fire.
- Glanton's crew reaches a town called Gallego and leads the charging Apaches right down Main Street, fighting all the way. They fight them in all kinds of places and finally end up in the city of Chihuahua to a hero's welcome. Everyone there hates the Apaches and treats Glanton's people like pure gold.
- For the first time in months, Glanton and his men get to enjoy themselves. They go to some public baths and get pampered with all kinds of nice stuff—new clothes, shaves, haircuts, the whole shebang. And all they had to do was murder a bunch of innocent people…
- They meet with Governor Trias, the same man who first hired them to kill the Apaches.
- That first night, Glanton and his men sit down for a great feast with the governor.
- The governor tries to make a speech, but the roughriders are all being too loud and rude to let him speak. This is pretty much par for the course from this point on. Glanton and his men get drunk and spend the next few days totally trashing the town and doing whatever they want. Some of the Mexicans living there start to grumble that they were better off when the Apaches were attacking.
- Finally, Glanton and his men ride back out. Governor Trias and the people of Chihuahua aren't sad to see them go. It doesn't take long for Glanton and his men to take over a new town and trash it.
- The next place Glanton's boys arrive is Coyanne. This village has been pillaged by a guy named Gómez and his band of Apaches for years now, so Glanton's crew is greeted by the town as a bunch of liberators. When the men ride out three days later, there's barely anything left of the town.
- Back in the desert, Glanton and his men look for more Apaches to kill.
- It's not long before the crew descends on a group of peaceful Tiguas (another type of Aboriginal people) and kills them all. Now they're blindly killing anyone they can find out in the desert.
- The next time the men ride into a city, a group of a hundred soldiers escorts them back out. It looks like word about Glanton's crew has gotten around.
- In the next town, some of the men (including the kid) get into an argument with a surly local. The local stabs one of them in the back and the judge shoots him (the local) through the head.
- A big fight breaks out through the town. Glanton's men kill more than half a dozen dudes and take their scalps. They're pretty much taking anyone's scalp these days. Then they ride out to look for a new town to plunder.
- Now it's clear that people know about Glanton's gang. The next time the gang enters a town, people run for their lives. Glanton's men kill them all and scalp them.
- At this point, Glanton's group starts to attack groups of Mexican soldiers. They massacre one group, but some of the soldiers escape and flee to tell others about Glanton. Glanton and his men try to run them down in the desert before they can reach the next city. They catch the soldiers just before they reach the next city and kill them all, stripping off their uniforms and burning them so no one will be able to identify them.
- This time, there's a price for Glanton's head when he and his men leave the city.
- It's time for Glanton and his crew to enter another town! By this point, you can probably guess how they'll treat the people there…
- In the evening, the men run and dance drunk in the streets. A priest comes out with a crucifix and scolds them, but they just beat him up. A funeral procession goes through the town, but the men just laugh and make jokes about death. In case you haven't realized, there's isn't a whole lot they respect in this world.
- During this stay, Glanton gets a serious fever and goes half crazy. They have to tie him to a bed because he's been shooting randomly in the streets.
- A little boy comes up to the judge and offers to sell him a puppy. The judge buys two from him and then pitches them in a nearby river. Bathcat walks by at this same moment and uses the little floating dogs as target practice. And yes, these guys are getting cartoonishly evil at this point. Now they're killing cute little puppies for the fun of it.
- Glanton eventually gets free of his bed. The first thing he does is take down a Mexican flag and tie it to the tail of a mule and drag it through the mud. This is too much, because someone in the town shoots the mule out from underneath Glanton. He fires in all directions and kills an old woman. His buddies join him and start firing at the upper windows of the buildings around them, looking for the shooter. Two of Glanton's men die in the firefight. Glanton and his men escape back into the desert.
- They aren't in the desert long before they come upon a line of mules and men carrying stuff out of a mine. The road is narrow and bordered by a cliff on one side. So Glanton and his men decide to attack the mule-men and force them off the cliff. When they're done massacring these people for no reason, they ride on.
- The group realizes soon enough that they're missing John Jackson. The judge and the Delaware scouts ride off and come back with him. He's totally naked, but alive.
- One evening, the judge takes out his ledger again and Toadvine asks him about it. The judge says that he needs to know as much as possible about the world because "Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent" (14.61). So it's clear here that the judge has some sort of God complex, thinking that he is a being higher than any normal mortal. And who knows? Maybe he is.
- Toadvine argues that no one can ever know anything, but the judge seems to think he can.
- Glanton's crew rides into another town and… yep… trashes the place.
- When Glanton's crew rides out from a new town, they take with them a new recruit—a young kid named Sloat. They have a new contract from the governor asking them to get more Apache scalps.
- They spend weeks wandering and looking for someone to kill. But they never find anyone. Eventually, they run into a Mexican general named Elias who has been sent out with a bunch of soldiers to kill Glanton's group. They fight and Glanton takes some serious losses, but most of the group escapes while Elias and his men come in pursuit.
- One of the wounded men is Dick Shelby, and the kid is put in charge of finishing him off while the other men ride away. The kid waits with him and Shelby tells him to get it over with. Instead, the kid gets Shelby under the arms and drags him into a nearby bush to give him half a chance at survival. Shelby snatches at the kid's gun, but the kid backs away in time and leaves him.
- The kid catches up with another guy named Tate whose horse has been badly hurt. Tate basically has no ride, so the kid gets off his own horse and they walk together, leading their horses by the bridle.
- Snow starts falling and the kid and Tate make camp for the night. The men of General Elias practically trip over them during the night. The kid makes a narrow escape, though he doesn't know what happened to Tate. We can only assume that Elias' men got him.
- Now the kid has to walk carefully through the cold desert, sleeping under the stars and nearly dying of hypothermia.
- He sees a fire in the distance and moves toward it. When he reaches it, he realizes that it's a single tree burning in the desert. He falls asleep in its warmth, and it's almost as if some higher being put it there for him to keep himself warm.
- He finds some tracks the next day and follows them, figuring that they have to lead somewhere worthwhile. Eventually, he comes across a burned wagon and a wander horse. He mounts it with some difficult and rides on.
- Then he sees a group of riders and catches up to them. It's Glanton's crew, and they're all looking like they're about to die. Elias' soldiers have put them through the ringer.
- The next night, the men need food. So the judge takes a horse and kills it by smashing its head in with a rock. The next day, they reach another town and stay there for the night.
- Glanton and his men ride into an old church and find an old man inside dying. One of Glanton's men has shot him. Apparently, there was another old man inside the same church, but someone saw him run away. They eventually chase down the other guy and learn that he is the brother of the other dude they just shot and killed. They've been hermits living in this old church for so long their minds are gone.
- The men leave the other crazy old brother alive and ride on. They camp in the desert. They eventually come across some scouts they'd sent ahead to look for trouble. Well it looks like the scouts found plenty of trouble, because they're hanging dead in a bunch of trees. There must be Apaches around…
- Eventually Glanton and his crew come across the Apaches. They can see the Apaches holding stuff that used to belong to their dead scouts, so they put two and two together…
- Glanton rides up to the Apache leader and his horse bites the Apache's horse on the ear. As you can imagine, a fight breaks out.
- Somehow, the judge manages to calm things down and to reason with the Apaches by speaking in Spanish.
- Another eight Apaches show up on the scene. The leader of the group is among them and he demands to know what's going on. Again, the judge uses his Spanish to reason with the guy and to avoid a fight that Glanton's crew probably won't win.
- The Apache leader wants whiskey as a payment for Glanton's horse biting the ear of his man's horse. But the Americans have no whiskey, so they ride into a town that the Apaches recently ransacked to look for some whiskey to drink together.
- While the men drink, Glanton and the judge go looking for new recruits for their crew. They come upon a travelling showman who's looking to go to California and they say he can come with them if he can pay up. The guy travels with his brother, who he shows to people as a freak called "The Wildman." His brother clearly has mental problems that the man is more than happy to exploit for money by putting his brother in a cage and treating him like an animal. After some haggling, the showman agrees on a price with Glanton and gets ready to leave the town.
- Meanwhile, the men in the nearby bar have some trouble with the bartender, who isn't willing to serve John Jackson because he's black. So Jackson shoots the bartender on the spot and kill him.
- Later on, an officer shows up and demands to know which of Glanton's men shot the local through the head. Through some clever legal language, the judge tells the guy that neither he nor anyone in Glanton's group ever went inside the tavern where the man was shot. This is a boldfaced lie and everyone knows it. But the officer doesn't know what to do.
- The officer comes back that evening and sits for a long chat with the judge. The judge dazzles him with all kinds of impressive legal-speak.
- In the morning, people learn that a young Mexican girl has been abducted. Instead of looking for the girl, Glanton's men gamble over whether the judge can lift heavy objects of his head and throw them.
- Glanton's men ride out of their most recent town in the evening. They wonder if the Apaches they've been drinking with will ride with them, but the Apaches stay behind because they won't ride at night. It's a good idea in the end, because Glanton and his men would kill and scalp them the first chance they got.
- The men make a fire and stare into it, thinking about the people from their group who've been killed. Then they get into an argument about whether there could be life on other planets.
- The judge declares that there is no life anywhere but earth and he does a magic trick with a coin as if it somehow proves his point.
- Eventually, Glanton and his crew come across a ferryboat that takes people across the Colorado River for a fare. The guy running the ferry is a doctor from New York.
- Glanton and his men ride down the river to check out a nearby camp of Yumas led by a guy named Pablo. This group is a lot like Glanton's and has been riding around killing people and taking what they want. They meet Pablo and he asks where they've come from. Then the chapter ends.
- Glanton and his boys ride out of the Yuma camp without getting into any major fights (a huge accomplishment at this point in the book). It looks like they've formed a plan with the Yumas to seize control of the ferry that's a little farther upriver.
- Back at the camp, a woman scolds the travelling showman for putting his mentally challenged brother on display. The women take the brother down to the river to bathe him and they burn his cage to show that he'll be free from now on. They also give him a nice new suit of clothes.
- Later that night, the brother wanders into the river and starts to drown. But the judge (who's just walking by) runs in and saves him.
- Glanton chats with the doctor who owns the ferry on the Colorado River and tells him he'll need protection from the nearby Yumas. He says this knowing that the Yumas are coming to attack (since Glanton planned it all). But the doctor says he gets along fine with the Yumas.
- The doctor owns a howitzer (a.k.a. a huge gun that they fill with pellets) and the men want to try it out. So they do, and everyone is impressed with the power of the thing.
- Two days alter, the Yumas attack the ferry crossing, just like Glanton has planned. But when they attack, Glanton fires on them with the Howitzer and blows half of them away. Then Glanton's men ride out of the trees and kill the rest of them. It's a total betrayal.
- Some of the Yumas get away and Glanton's bunch don't chase them.
- After this incident, Glanton officially takes control of the ferry and charges people everything they have to get across the river.
- Later on some people build a ferry farther downriver and they're chased off by some Yumas who start operating the rival ferry themselves. It takes not time for Glanton to attack them and burn their ferry.
- By this time, Glanton has captured some local Sonorans and turned them into slaves. You really have to wonder when this guy is going to get what's coming to him.
- Some men leave the camp one day to get supplies. Among them is David Brown, who gets drunk and wakes up the next day in some sort of shack. He hears that his two buddies have been thrown in jail and demands their release. But some soldiers warn him away, so he heads to a local craftsman and asks him to saw off the barrels of his shotgun (which will allow him to spray the shotgun pellets over a larger area, killing more people). The dude won't saw off the shotgun barrels though because the gun is too nice to be ruined this way.
- Brown chases the guy away and starts sawing off the barrels himself. Soon after, a soldier shows up with the craftsman, asking if Brown threatened the guy. Brown denies it and won't say where he got his gun. He finishes sawing off his barrels and heads outside, but the craftsman accusing him of threats has disappeared. So that's that.
- Brown runs into his two buddies, who've been released from jail. They're on the coast at this point, so they take a moment to stare at the ocean. They get drunk and run into some soldiers and get into a fight. Brown pours liquor over a soldier and sets him on fire, burning him to death.
- Brown wakes up alter in a prison cell. He eventually bribes a young soldier to help him escape and murders the soldier as soon as he's out of town.
- When the other two of Glanton's men get back to the river, they take a group of men to free Brown from jail. But they don't realize that Brown has already escaped on his own, so they end up beating some guards for no reason.
- Glanton returns to the ferry crossing alone, since his men have gone off to check out some California gold fields.
- That night, John Jackson goes down to the river to go to the bathroom and he gets shot with an arrow and killed with a club. It looks like the Yumas have had enough of Glanton and are ready for some revenge.
- After killing nearly everyone else, the Yumas enter Glanton's cabin and one of them kills Glanton with an axe. There, finally the dude has died. He goes down swearing and hating the world, as you'd expect.
- Next, the Yumas enter the judge's place. But the judge is waiting for them, holding the giant howitzer under one arm and threatening to set it off with his cigar. This gun would wipe out everyone in the room, so the Yumas back off and the judge escapes.
- The Yumas build a huge fire and burn Glanton's body in it, along with his dog.
- We look in on the kid and Toadvine, who are trying their best to get away from the Yumas who attacked their people at the ferry crossing. The kid has already gotten an arrow in his leg.
- One a ridge, the kid drops and shoots one of the Yumas, which buys him some time to run as the other Yumas gather around the injured one to help him.
- The kid and Toadvine finally reach a well, where Tobin is already waiting. They realize that they might be the only three survivors of the Yuma raid.
- When the Yumas show up, the kid takes out a few more of them with his pistol. His shooting is good enough to discourage them and force them to turn back. But they don't go away completely. They stay just out of gun range and keep following the kid and the others.
- The next day, someone on a horse approaches the three Americans with someone at his side. It's the judge pulling the mentally challenged "wild man" along on a leash.
- The first thing he does when he reaches the Americans is ask Toadvine how much money he wants for his hat. The judge's bald head is peeling badly in the sun. Toadvine says he won't sell his hat for any price, but the judge eventually makes him an offer he can't refuse. Next, the judge offers to share his meat with Tobin and the kid, but they won't go near him. Tobin is convinced that the judge is dangerous.
- The kid eventually goes down to the judge to grab some water, but only after leaving his pistol with Tobin. They won't let the judge anywhere near their last gun.
- Finally, the judge offers the kid five hundred dollars (an insane amount of money in 1850) for his pistol and bullets. At this point, Tobin orders the kid to shoot the judge. He says the kid will never get a better chance to finish the guy off. Tobin is convinced that the judge is death incarnate, and he might be right.
- The kid and Tobin ride away, leaving the judge and Toadvine at the well. Toadvine doesn't go with them because he's wanted in California, which is exactly where they're heading. On their way out, they pass David Brown, who has escaped from prison and is riding toward the wells where the judge and Toadvine are. They tell Brown that everyone is dead except them and Toadvine and the judge. It's important to mention here that Brown is riding toward the judge with a rifle…
- The next day, the kid bathes himself in a little puddle when a rifle bullet grazes him. He drops to the ground and looks to see who's shooting. On a nearby mound, he sees the judge on top of a horse carrying Brown's rifle. We don't know how he got the thing, but there you have it. He seems pretty intent on killing the kid.
- While the kid is hiding, he gets a clean shot at the judge. Tobin drops beside him and tells him to shoot the judge. But the kid just can't do it.
- The judge starts talking, coaxing the kid to come out. But Tobin tells the kid to plug his ears and not listen to the judge. The judge's words are pure evil, he says, and they might lure the kid if he listens to them.
- Tobin makes a cross out of two bones and waves it at the judge. But the judge just shoots him through the neck. As he's bleeding, Tobin tells the kid to shoot their horses. The only way the kid can beat the judge is if he takes away his (and the judge's) ability to get out of the desert. The kid eventually decides to shoot the horses and does.
- When he gets back to Tobin, he hears the judge telling him to hand over his pistol. But he still can't see where the judge is, so he takes his chances and moves away. He and Tobin hide until dark. The judge keeps talking to them, but they don't respond. When it's evening, they get up and try to run away. But it's tough, since the kid has an arrow in his ankle and Tobin is shot through the neck.
- They get away and head onto some rocks. When they look back over the desert, they can see the judge walking after them, dragging the "wild man" on his leash.
- When he sees the judge coming, Tobin tells the kid to save himself and move on. But when the kid starts to go, Tobin heads after him.
- They hide under an old wagon and wait for the judge to pass by. When the judge passes, the kid has another chance to shoot him but doesn't. Eventually, the judge gives a speech about how he knows the kid is not taking his chance to shoot. He says that the kid has always been a traitor because he has always had sympathy for the aboriginals that Glanton's band has been killing. The judge also insists that he has left Toadvine and Brown alive. In other words, he didn't kill them for their guns. We don't know if this is true, though.
- With this said, the judge moves on and walks off into the desert with the wild man at his side.
- As the narrator tells us, the kid and Tobin would have died if a group of aboriginals hadn't found them and nursed them back to health. Maybe that sympathy the kid was harboring for these folks was warranted after all.
- Eventually, the kid and Tobin reach San Diego, where Tobin goes to find a doctor while the kid stares out at the ocean.
- The kid bums around San Diego for a while. But eventually some soldiers stumble on him and arrest him, assuming that he's a drifter looking for trouble. Only later do they realize that the kid has been involved in all kinds of violence.
- One day, the judge shows up in the kid's cell, smiling down at him. He claims that he has told the police that the kid was the mastermind behind all of Glanton's butchering. So the kid is going to be hanged in the near future.
- The judge accuses the kid of having too much of a conscience and of feeling bad for all the killing he's done. In the judge's mind, there's no room in the world for this kind of compassion. It needs to be stamped out. That said, the judge also claims that he was the one who always convinced Glanton not to kill the kid for his weakness.
- Two days later, the kid is released. We don't really know why. He finds a doctor and finally gets the arrow in his leg taken out. That's a long time to walk around with something jabbed into your flesh. Yikes.
- After he's recovered, the kid travels to Los Angeles, where he sees two men hanged in a public square. The two men are Toadvine and Brown. It looks like the law caught up with them.
- The kid travels around asking about Tobin, but never hears anything about him. He spends the next eight years bumming around the west coast and doing odd jobs. He never hears anything about Tobin but hears lots about the judge.
- One night, the kid comes across a butchered group of travelers. He sees an old woman sitting nearby and figures she's a survivor. He talks to her and tells her his story. But then he realizes that she's dead. In fact, she's been dead for many years, but the blowing desert winds have preserved her somehow.
- In his journeys, the kid meets up with an old buffalo herder who laments the fact that settlers have killed nearly every last buffalo in all of America. The herder falls asleep wondering if there are other worlds or if their terrible world is the only one there is.
- While traveling across the desert, the kid comes across some children who ask him about where he's been and what he's done. One of the children thinks he's tough and has a big mouth on him. He keeps talking smack to the kid. The kid gets fed up and shoots the child dead.
- The other children gather up the dead child and carry him away. The dead child's twelve year-old brother can only stare off into the distance, stunned at what's happened.
- The kid reaches the next town and heads into a bar looking for whiskey. And who should show up all these years later but the judge. It's eerie, but the dude looks the exact same as he did when the kid last saw him ten years before. Maybe this dude really is the devil.
- At the front of the bar is a girl with a dancing bear. Someone in the crowd gets drunk and shoots the bear dead, causing a commotion. But the judge doesn't blink. He just sits down next to the kid and talks about how they're the only survivors of Glanton's gang.
- The judge gives the kid a speech about the secret order of the universe and how it's all one big dance of death. But the kid isn't really interested in listening. Finally, the judge moves away.
- The kid heads upstairs with a prostitute. When he comes back down, the bar is getting ready for a big dance. The kid heads out to the outhouse outside, but when he opens the door, he finds the judge inside. The judge gives him a bear-hug and pulls him into the outhouse, latching the door behind them.
- Some other drunk comes walking toward the outhouse, but another one warns him not to go inside. We don't know what the judge has done with the kid, but it doesn't sound good.
- Minutes later, the judge reenters the bar and starts up a dance. The book ends by describing what a great dancer the judge is. It also talks about how the judge claims he'll never die and how he is forever dancing.
- So yeah, is this guy Satan or not?
- Anyways, that's the end whether you like it or not. Cormac McCarthy is pretty famous for denying his readers a sense of closure, and he's definitely doing that in this case. We never really find out what happens to the kid. But we can guess…