- The kid: The novel's anti-heroic protagonist, the kid is a Tennessean initially in his mid-teens whose mother died in childbirth and who flees from his father to Texas. He is said to have a disposition for bloodshed and is involved in many vicious actions early on; he takes up inherently violent professions, specifically being recruited by murderers including Captain White, and later, by Glanton and his gang, to secure release from a prison in Chihuahua, Mexico. The kid takes part in many of the Glanton gang's scalp-hunting rampages, but gradually displays a moral fiber that ultimately puts him at odds with the Judge. "The kid" is later, as an adult, referred to as "the man," when he encounters the judge again after nearly three decades.
- Judge Holden, or "the judge": An enormous, pale, and hairless man, who often seems almost mythical or supernatural. Possessing peerless knowledge and talent in everything from dance to legal argument, Holden is a dedicated examiner and recorder of the natural world and a supremely violent and perverted character. He rides with (though largely does not interact with) Glanton's gang after they find him sitting on a rock in the middle of the desert and he saves them from an Apache attack using his exceptional intellect, skill, and nearly superhuman strength. It is hinted at that he and Glanton have forged some manner of a pact, possibly for the very lives of the gang members. He gradually becomes the antagonist to the kid after the dissolution of Glanton's gang, occasionally having brief reunions with the kid to mock, debate, or terrorize him. Unlike the rest of the gang, Holden is socially refined and remarkably well-educated; however, he perceives the world as ultimately violent, fatalistic, and liable to an endless cycle of bloody conquest, with human nature and autonomy defined by the will to violence; he asserts, ultimately, that "War is god."
- Louis Toadvine: A seasoned outlaw the kid originally encounters in a vicious brawl and who then burns down a hotel, Toadvine is distinguished by his head which has no ears and his forehead branded with the letters H, T, (standing for "horse thief") and F. He later reappears unexpectedly as a cellmate of the kid in the Chihuahua prison. Here, he somewhat befriends the kid, negotiating his and the kid's release in return for joining Glanton's gang, to whom he claims dishonestly that he and the kid are experienced scalp hunters. Toadvine is not as depraved as the rest of the gang and opposes the judge's methods ineffectually, but is still a violent individual himself. He is hanged in Los Angeles alongside David Brown.
- Captain White, or "the captain": An ex-professional soldier and American supremacist who believes that Mexico is a lawless nation destined to be conquered by the United States, Captain White leads a ragtag group of militants into Mexico. The kid joins Captain White's escapades before his capture and imprisonment; he later discovers that White has been decapitated by his enemies.
- John Joel Glanton: Glanton is the American leader (sometimes deemed "captain") of a band of scalphunters who murder Indians as well as Mexican civilians and militants alike. His history and appearance are not clarified, except that he is physically small with black hair and has a wife and child in Texas though he has been banned from returning there because of his criminal record. A clever strategist, his last major action is to seize control of a profitable Colorado River ferry, which leads him and most of his gang to be killed in an ambush by Yuma Indians.
- Tobin, or "the ex-priest": A former novice of the Society of Jesus, Ben Tobin instead turns to a life of crime in Glanton's gang, though remains deeply religious. He feels an apparently friend-like bond with the kid and abhors the judge and his philosophy; he and the judge gradually become great spiritual enemies. Although he survives the Yuma massacre of Glanton's gang, during his escape in the desert he is shot in the neck by the judge and seeks medical attention in San Diego. His ultimate fate, however, remains unknown.
- David Brown: An especially radical member of the Glanton band, David Brown becomes known for his dramatic displays of violence. He wears a necklace of human ears (similar to the one worn by Bathcat before his immolation). He is arrested in San Diego and sought out by Glanton personally, who seems especially concerned to see him freed (though Brown ends up securing his own release). Though he survives the Yuma massacre, he is captured with Toadvine in Los Angeles and both are hanged.
- John Jackson: "John Jackson" is a name shared by two men in Glanton's gang— one black, one white— who detest one another and whose tensions frequently rise when in each other's presence. After trying to drive the black Jackson away from a campfire with a racist remark, the white one is decapitated by the black one; the black Jackson later becomes the first person murdered in the Yuma massacre.
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