The company rides up into the mountains, where they encounter a big blond bear. Though Glanton shoots at it, the bear escapes, grabbing one of the Delawares between its jaws as it flees. The remaining Delawares trail the animal for three days, but they never find it. They eventually divide their fallen tribesman’s effects amongst themselves and never speak of him again. Meanwhile, the judge continues to wander around the gorge, collecting pieces of rocks, flint, bones, Indian artifacts, and anything else he can find - all to study and notate in his journal. When one member of the company - the Tennessean - asks the judge what he intends to do with his sketches, the judge answers that he wants to expunge them from the memory of man.
The judge then proceeds to tell the story of a man in the Alleghenies who ran a harness shop. His business was sparse because so few travelers came by, so he decided to dress up like an Indian and beg roadside travelers for money. One day, a white man passed him, and the shopkeeper was so embarrassed by his costume that he invited the white man to his home to have dinner with his wife and child. During dinner, the shopkeeper tried to wheedle money out of the young man, who eventually gave him two coins. Not satisfied, the shopkeeper asked for another coin. The young man then lectured him on propriety, during which time a funeral procession for a black man passed outside the shopkeeper's window. After the lecture, the shopkeeper claimed that he had changed his plan and offered to accompany the younger man for a while as he continued on down the road. Once they were far enough from the shopkeeper’s home, the shopkeeper killed the traveler, stole all his possessions, and buried him by the side of the road. He went home and told his wife that the young man had been murdered. The shopkeeper’s wife cried over the young man’s grave.
When he was on his deathbed, the shopkeeper finally confessed the truth to his son. His son forgave him but was tormented by his jealousy of the dead man. The shopkeeper's son dug up the traveler’s bones, after which he became a "killer of men" (145). His mother, the shopkeeper’s wife, thought that wild animals had dug up the bones, so she returned them to the grave and told people that it was her own son buried there. Most of Glanton's gang has heard this story before, and they begin to shout out disclaimers and corrections. However, the judge continues his story undeterred, explaining that the young traveler had had a pregnant wife at home. After the traveler's murder, the traveler's son also grew up without a father to guide him.
The judge compares this story to that of the Anasazi people, whose stone ruins survive even though the people who built the structures succumbed to drought, disease, and violent marauders. Similarly, many fathers have been buried on the land where Glanton's company is presently standing. The judge explains that people who hide from danger in the reeds will live and die without making an impact on the earth, but people who build in stone want to alter the structure of the universe. The judge believes that this cycle will never end. One group of savages will take down the next over and over again.
As the company rides along the ravine, they encounter deserted remains of several Indian encampments. That night, the judge squats naked on a ledge of sandstone. In one abandoned grass hut, Glanton finds a dog that he keeps for himself. One day, the Delawares, who usually ride ahead as scouts, inform the company that they have seen fires atop a thin blue mesa fifty miles south.
For the next two weeks, the company rides only at night and the men avoid making fires. The Delaware scouts continue to ride ahead; one day, they observe a wagon train that has clearly been attacked by Indians. The Indians have left their victims in the wagons, the corpses are horribly dismembered with their genitals hanging from their mouths.
The Delawares finally spot the Gileno camp (Gilenos were an Indian tribe). Glanton addresses his company, telling them to prepare for a massacre. The plan is to kill every man and animal they encounter. As the company rides down the mountain towards the encampment, an old man appears from the bushes, but someone in the company clubs him down. They descend into the camp, where over a thousand people are sleeping. Glanton begins the attack, riding his horse violently over the sleeping bodies and shooting at them. The massacre escalates. Glanton's men drag men from their huts and decapitate them while they beg for mercy. They swing infants into stones and crush their skulls, set women on fire, and hack at corpses with giant bowie knives. By the time the Indians can saddle their horses to stage a defense, the gang is one step ahead. Glanton shoots the Indians' horses between their ears, leading the creatures to throw their riders to the ground. Finally, the remaining survivors flee in terror as their homes burn. Glanton makes sure to scalp each corpse before the company moves on. He believes that the chief of this camp was Gomez, the man with the highest price on his head.
McGill, one of the Mexicans in Glanton’s gang, has been skewered through his midsection with a lance, so Glanton shoots him through the head to end his suffering. As soon as McGill falls, Glanton is alerted to a band of mounted Apaches approaching from the north. Glanton cocks his rifle and shoots at them; the Apache leader falls. As the rest of the Apache warriors try to lift their fallen man, Glanton and four of his cronies, including Sam Tate, surge forward and finish them. Glanton beheads the chief. He then makes sure to scalp McGill. Meanwhile, the judge has befriended a young dark boy who is sitting with him on his saddle.
David Brown has been seriously injured by an arrow through his thigh, but nobody will touch it. Brown is about to attempt to pull it out himself when the kid volunteers to do it. Tobin reprimands the kid for his charity, warning him that God will not love him forever. Eventually, the judge scalps the young dark boy. Toadvine is so furious that he puts a pistol to the judge's head, but he cannot bring himself to pull the trigger.
A larger group of Apaches begins to pursue Glanton's company across the plains. They remain just outside the company's rifle range, but they are persistent. Glanton's company arrives at a hacienda, where a young Mexican man comes out to greet them. Meanwhile, the peasants working in the fields see the company arriving and flee. The company then tramples through a grove of cottonwoods, ultimately leading the Apaches through the town of Gallego. During their flight, they engage the Apaches thrice.
On July 21, 1849, Glanton and his company arrive in Chihuahua to a hero’s welcome, displaying all the heads and scalps they have collected.
At the governor’s mansion in Chihuahua, all 128 scalps and 8 heads are laid out on stones. At a grand dinner held in their honor, Glanton's company is promised their full payment in gold. After the ceremony, Glanton and his gang celebrate at the public baths, revealing all their scars and battle wounds as they immerse themselves in the water.
That night, the lieutenant invites Glanton and his officers to dine, but Glanton insists that all of his men be invited. The company members arrive dressed in their new finery and feast like heroes. The judge is seated next to the Governor of Chihuahua (Angel Trias), and they engage in a deep conversation. The kid is wearing his first starched collar and a cravat, but he stays silent during dinner. The men raise toasts to a number of American heroes, like Washington and Franklin, but not to a single Mexican hero. Later, Glanton receives a big canvas bag filled with gold, which he divides amongst the men. Then, the party relocates to the adjoining ballroom, where all the lovely young women of Chihuahua have gathered to dance with the scalp-hunting heroes. They begin to dance a quadrille. As more liquor flows, though, the dancing turns into fighting. Prostitutes have infiltrated the celebration. Someone starts to throw furniture. By sunrise, all of the Americans are lying on the floor, drunk and covered in blood. This debacle continues to occur every night that Glanton's men are in town. Soon, the young girls of Chihuahua are boarded up for their own protection. Finally, on August 15th, 1849, Glanton leads his gang towards the town of Coyame. Since Coyame has endured numerous attacks by Gomez, its residents welcome Glanton and his company as if they were saints.
From Coyame, Glanton leads his company to the town of Presidio on the Texas border, where Glanton is a wanted man. Somewhere nearby are Glanton’s wife and child, whom he will never see again. After some time in Presidio, the company wanders the borderland looking for Apaches. As they wander, the judge copies all of the ancient rock paintings into his notebook. He frequently sits alone to study the information he has amassed.
Three days later, Glanton's crew finds a band of peaceful Tiguas camped by the river. At first, they see only a group of unarmed young women and children washing and cooking. Then, Glanton starts to shoot at them. Men rush outside when they hear the gunfire, but their bows are no match for the company's pistols. After the massacre, some of the Tigua women return to their campsite and howl in misery over the scalped bodies of their fallen family members.
Carrying their freshly acquired scalps, the company rides into Carrizal. It’s completely ruined and the presidio is sinking into the ground. The citizens themselves seem empty after having witnessed so much pain and destruction.
The next day, Glanton’s gang has to ride through sand, which is difficult for the horses. They can see storms raging across the plains. Two nights later, they glimpse a city below the mountains where they are camped.
When they arrive at the town of Nacori, Glanton's men head for the cantina. Tobin stays outside to guard the horses. While the company is inside the cantina, a young woman's funeral procession passes by and, as is the tradition, some of the mourners explode fireworks. The American horses are unfazed by the sounds, but the Mexican horses panic. Inside the cantina, someone insults the Americans. The kid and a few others try to determine which patron is the culprit. When they hear the rockets, the Americans rush to the door of the cantina. While they are observing the funeral procession, a drunk Mexican man shoves a knife deep into Grimley’s back. The judge kills the Mexican with a single shot to the forehead. This escalates into a full bloodbath, but the Americans have guns while the Mexicans have only knives. Toadvine and the kid stand back to back, firing alternatively. By the end of it, the Americans have mowed down more than twenty Mexicans and taken their scalps.
In the next town they ride through, the people scurry away in fear, but Glanton opens fire on them and ends up killing the entire population of the village. Moving on through the mountains, they encounter a company of Mexican soldiers, all dressed in pristine uniforms. The Americans and the Mexicans square off, with Glanton pulling his rifle first. The Mexican captain is injured from a gunshot wound to the chest, and Glanton kills him with a shot to the head. Some of the soldiers flee and disappear into the woods. The company takes council and decides to overtake them. When they finally do, Glanton calls for the Mexicans to surrender, but they refuse. The company easily kills them. After looting the bodies, the Americans bury them in a common grave.
Glanton's gang returns to Chihuahua, but there isn’t that much more gold available for the scalps. Within a week of leaving Chihuahua, the company learns that there is an 8,000 peso bounty on Glanton's head. Because Glanton keeps killing innocent people, including those he has hired to protect him, several factions want him dead. The company heads north.
They ride deeper into the mountains before finally descending into the old stone town of Jesus Maria, where they spend a rainy night at an old inn. The next morning, the rain has stopped, and the company parades through town wearing ornaments made of scalps. They spend the rest of their gold drinking in a bodega run by an American man named Frank Carroll. The next day is the feast of Las Animas, which locals celebrate by parading through the streets. The judge hands out little candy skulls to children. The souls of the dead are supposed to come out at midnight, but the drunken scalp-hunters fire indiscriminately through the streets, ruining the celebration and killing innocents. The next day, Glanton, drunk and crazed, fires his pistol throughout the town. The judge clams him down and cares for Glanton until he falls asleep.
Outside, the judge purchases two small dogs from a young boy. The boy is thrilled, but moments later, the judge throws the dogs into the river. In the late afternoon, Glanton awakens, still in the grip of mania. He cuts down a Mexican flag and ties it to a mule’s tail, riding the animal into the square. Someone fires at him and kills the mule, but Glanton escapes unharmed. The rest of the Americans, who have been drinking in Carroll’s bodega, rush outside to protect Glanton by firing their rifles into windows. As the conflict escalates, two Americans are killed. By the time the Americans are able to saddle up and escape the town, four more have died.
After Glanton and his gang have left, Frank Carroll and Sanford, another American, catch up to them. Carroll tells Glanton how the locals have torched his saloon and murdered the wounded Americans left behind. Carroll and Sanford join Glanton's gang.
The men encounter a conducta of muleteers who are traveling to the mines with flasks of quicksilver. The head muleteer greets Glanton cordially, but Glanton ignores him, pushing past the man on the tiny, narrow stone ridge. The muleteer grows angry and pulls out his shotgun. David Brown immediately shoots the muleteer twice in the chest and he falls off the cliff. Then, the rest of Glanton’s company starts firing at the muleteers, pushing their mules off the cliff. Soon, the bodies of over fifty animals lie at the base of the cliff. The company members survey the damage and soon continue on without a word. That evening, after fording a river, the judge demands that Carroll tell him where the “nigger” is (196). Neither Carroll nor Sanford know whom the judge is talking about, but the Delawares soon fetch the black man the judge is looking for. He had been riding one of the mules from the conducta and is now naked except for a blanket and his pistol, which he clutches to his chest.
For eight days, Glanton and his men ride through the mountains towards the western sea without seeing anyone. On the ninth day, they encounter a man with a pair of burros. The man hides when he sees the company coming, but Glanton tracks him to his hiding place. The old man refuses to speak to Glanton, so Glanton rides away. The old man shouts after him, asking why he has come looking for him. Glanton hears this, but rejoins his party without responding.
One night, Toadvine asks the judge why he collects leaves, studies butterflies, and catches birds. The judge lectures Toadvine on the ways that nature can enslave man. The judge’s goal is to uncover all the world’s secrets so that there are no mysteries. The judge feels that this is the only way he can take charge of his own fate.
On December 2, 1849, the company rides into Ures, the capital of Sonora. They are immediately surrounded by a variety of sordid individuals – beggars, prostitutes, the blind, the maimed, and the injured. The gang stays in a hostel run by a German who disappears upon their arrival, never requesting any payment or giving any service. However, local spectators have gathered outside, so Glanton hires them to staff the hostel. By dark, the judge has a string band of six musicians following him around and Doc Irving has engaged several prostitutes. A celebration starts out with dancing and drink but soon turns violent when a dogfight breaks out. Glanton kills the dogs with his knife. The next morning, while surveying the damage, Glanton (in black) and the judge (in white) ask a young boy to go fetch their horses.
Three days later, Glanton and his gang have a new contract from the Governor of Sonora for the “furnishing of Apache scalps” (204). By now, Carroll and Sanford have defected and a boy named Sloat has joined them. Over the next two weeks, they find only a single pueblo to massacre. They encounter armed Sonoran cavalry under the leadership of General Elias and engage in a running battle, during which three Americans are killed and seven are wounded.
At night, the company draws arrows to determine who must kill the wounded men. One Delaware kills two of his own people by crushing their skulls. The kid is assigned to kill either Shelby or the Mexican. Shelby and the kid are left behind for that purpose. However, the kid can't bring himself to kill Shelby, even though Shelby is begging him to; they both know that Glanton will kill Shelby much more violently if he finds him alive. The kid keeps refusing, however, and Shelby asks the kid to help him hide instead. The kid fulfills Shelby's request and then rides off to find the rest of the company.
As the kid is trying to catch up to Glanton's gang, he encounters Tate, who has fallen behind because of his injured horse. As Tate does not want to abandon the horse, the two men move on together slowly. After a while, it begins to snow. At night, while the two men are asleep, Elias’s Mexican scouts approach. The kid awakens just in time and shoots one scout in the chest. During the ensuing gunfight, the kid is separated from Tate.
The next morning, the kid is alone without a horse and only has snow to eat. His feet have become numb. He climbs down into a canyon and by the time he arrives on the barren plain, he has gone for two days without rest or food. He sees a fire in the distance, which turns out to be a lone tree burning in the desert. The next afternoon, he comes upon some horse tracks and follows them. He finds nothing but wolves and coyotes. Later, he encounters an abandoned horse. With difficulty, the kid manages to capture the horse and mount it. Soon, another horse joins them. The kid finally sees a group of riders, which he ultimately identifies as what is left of Glanton's company. They have lost four more men since leaving the kid behind and they have no idea how to find any more Apaches.
That night, the judge captures one of the weaker horses and asks someone to help him hold it. Tobin warns the kid against volunteering, but the kid does it anyway. While the kid holds the animal steady, the judge crushes its skull with a rock and they skin it so they can cook its meat. The next morning, they discover an assembly of eight men’s heads, each wearing a hat. From there, they cross the desert and ride into Santa Cruz. They encounter a man who gives them food and lets them sleep in his shed with all the farm animals.
In this section of the novel, McCarthy uses episodic violence to draw a clear line between Glanton and Judge Holden. While Glanton becomes more and more unhinged as this section goes on, the judge reveals himself to be completely in control and aware of the bigger picture. Glanton is merely a warrior in this border conflict, but Judge Holden’s violent streak runs much deeper than politics. Holden doesn’t only kill out of necessity or self-defense. As we see with the two innocent puppies he drowns, Judge Holden kills because that is just what he does. Furthermore, he seems to consider it his mission to encourage this aspect of human nature in others. He hands out skulls to children in Jesus Maria, a clear symbol of his desire to influence the younger generation to embrace death. He once again reveals the macabre side of his interest in children when he kidnaps the young dark boy; the judge's insinuated pedophilia could explain the particular interest he takes in the kid later on in the novel.
Besides underlining the difference between their approaches to violence, McCarthy also paints a literal picture of the contrast between Glanton and Holden when they stand side-by-side; Glanton wears black and Holden is dressed in white. Glanton has gone mad as a result of the violence he has chosen to commit, but there is something very pure about Holden in that he personifies violence. His purity is also evident in the bathhouse, when McCarthy describes him as pale and entirely hairless. The judge is not angelic by any means, but he is entirely true to his nature. He is willing to submerge himself in the darkness - represented by his descent into the nasty bathhouse water - but it does not leave a stain; he is above its influence. Meanwhile, greed and madness have tainted Glanton; his earthly obsession with power and wealth has led him astray.
Glanton loses his internal compass in this section, as evidenced by his outburst in Jesus Maria. The growing cracks inside him have started to manifest themselves in erratic behavior; he loses control as he kills more and more people. Glanton’s ability to lead his own gang becomes questionable in this section as he forces them to engage in pointless battles against the Mexicans and the muleteers. A number of Glanton's men lose their lives in these clashes, which have nothing to do with Glanton’s scalp-hunting mission and thus offer no potential for financial gain. However, Glanton seems to have lost his focus; violence is constantly seeping out of him. In this way, his violent acts have overpowered his identity.
McCarthy explores Holden's mystical beliefs further in this section, particularly through his two speeches. First, the judge explains to Toadvine why he collects all the leaves and bird feathers. He wants to conquer nature by uncovering all of its mysteries. Here, Holden's stated goal shows that he is a survivor, and concurrently, he never falls ill or loses his way during the gang's scalp-hunting expeditions. The judge's infallibility stands in direct contrast to the kid, who nearly becomes a victim of nature when he finds himself alone without a horse or food. He is lucky enough to rejoin his company, but he does not have the same survival skills as the judge does. Tellingly, the kid's first meal is courtesy of Judge Holden, who effortlessly crushes the skull of one of their weaker horses and skins it for meat. The judge's decision to kill the horse is the opposite of the compassion the kid shows towards Tate; the kid refuses to abandon Tate because of his injured horse. Because the kid indulges his vulnerable side, he puts himself in danger of being overpowered by nature, whereas the judge is always in control of his emotional impulses. Judge Holden has the ability to get what he needs from nature because he understands it so well. Therefore, he will never be a victim, which is part of what makes his character so terrifying.
The judge's story about the shopkeeper also gives some insight into his character and the novel's themes. The basic theme of the judge's story is 'sins of the fathers.' Men beget violence through their own actions, and yet these decisions affect their children, locking them into an endless pattern of bloodshed. The story parallels the tale of Adam and Eve, whose original sin tainted all mankind, according to many theologies. This cycle of sin and violence across generations could explain how the kid might have acquired his taste for mindless violence - it could be the result of his father's disinterest. As the judge points out in his story, an absent father (the traveler) can be just as harmful as a violent one.
This section also shows McCarthy's mastery of the Western genre. However, the grounded world of Blood Meridian is a far cry from John Wayne movies in which cowboys are fighting the Indians. Although he has never spoken publicly about Blood Meridian, it is clear that McCarthy did a great deal of research. The sections about Glanton’s gang are based on historical fact as chronicled by Samuel Chamberlain. Some critics believe that the kid is based on Chamberlain himself. While some readers find the lack of a clear and straightforward plot to be frustrating, McCarthy appears to be determined to create his world as vividly as possible, even if that means breaking away from certain expected literary tropes. Blood Meridian is filled with tangential passages in which McCarthy focuses on painting images of life in the Old West - but that do not necessarily drive the plot forward.
The narrative of the kid's journey with Glanton's gang is more like a cautionary tale than a traditional Western; it is similar to the message of the judge's shopkeeper story. No matter what the motivation, violence begets violence. This is evident not only in the mindless violent behavior that Glanton's men exhibit in town, but also in the way the company begins to kill anyone in order to increase their body (or scalp) count, whether the person is an enemy or not. They even kill Mexicans, the very people who have hired them. Certainly, this pattern reflects Glanton's increasingly violent nature, but it also reveals the inherent violence of a system that hires men to kill other men. McCarthy presents no solution to this problem, meaning that he is not expressing a particular political opinion. Instead, his message is universal - man is inherently violent and will inevitably perpetuate this vicious cycle for the rest of time. There are no heroes in Blood Meridian; morality is absent from both sides.
The brutality in Blood Meridian is also rooted in the psychology of these long suffering border civilizations. Whenever Glanton’s gang arrives in a new Mexican village, like Chihuahua, the citizens welcome them as heroes. They cheer when heads of dead Apaches are hoisted up and put on display. However, Glanton’s men are scalp-hunters. They are not heroes. The heads and scalps are symbols of their ability to brutalize, but, except for Judge Holden, none of these men have any kind of self-control. They drink and destroy everything around them. Therefore, it appears that the Mexican locals treat these men like saints simply because they need something towards which to direct their faith. They want to believe that these men and their hairy trophies signify a safer future for those living on the Mexican-American border, but in truth, Glanton and his gang bring chaos wherever they go.
Finally, it is worth noting that McCarthy does represent the violent outbursts as being particular to the Americans. For example, during the ceremonial dinner for Glanton's gang in Chihuahua, they toast great American heroes but do not mention any Mexicans. The fact that they are dressed in fine clothing underlines the irony of this celebration; Glanton's men are actually brutal murderers, but their clothing and skin color gives them a false sense of dignity that they attribute to their homeland. Hence, their homeland must also be held accountable for the ugliness that soon emerges from under that finery. Later, the fireworks during the funeral procession frighten the Mexican horses, but the American horses are unfazed, suggesting that the sounds and nature of violence are more conditioned in one stock than the other.