The kid, who remains unnamed for the duration of the story, begins as a violent boy of 14 making his way into the Southwest. He is initially viewed by those around him as weak, but consistently proves them wrong, maiming and killing men far larger than he. As the story progresses, he joins groups of like-minded individuals and finds that his violent tendencies are far outmatched. Although the kid spends a good chunk of time with the Glanton Gang, there are very few instances in which there are specific descriptions regarding his violent acts. Rather, there are scenes in which his compassion for others is evidenced. The kid comes to recognize the level of evil inherent in Judge Holden, and as such does what is necessary to leave his presence. His strength of character is highlighted each time he encounters the judge and is able to walk away.
Judge Holden, also known as simply "the judge," is the primary antagonist of the story. The judge is described as completely bald, with no hair anywhere on his body. When in civilized areas, he is well dressed and often wears white. Judge Holden is fraught with contradiction, an extremely intelligent man who presents himself as mannered and civilized, yet he will commit such acts as toying with and killing a child for no reason other than his own amusement. Judge Holden is the unofficial leader of the Glanton Gang and uses his quick wit and manipulative nature to not only keep the gang out of trouble, but also ensure he is placed in a position of power. His affinity for nature is underpinned by a desire to understand the world around him so as not to fall victim to its whims. The kid's refusal to continue following him is a sore spot, and after trying several times to use his manipulative tactics, the judge resorts to killing him.
Louis Toadvine is described as having letters H, T, and F branded across his forehead, as well as having no ears. Despite his dreadful physical appearance and penchant for violence, Toadvine has a moral compass. When he witnesses Judge Holden kill a child for no reason, Toadvine is thoroughly disgusted. Although Toadvine is all too willing to commit murder, he does not hesitate to look out for others, specifically the kid. Toadvine's very nature prevents him from striking out on his own as he appears to need the guidance and protection of a larger group. When Toadvine leaves the safety of the Glanton Gang and Judge Holden at the end of the novel, the end result is him swinging from a hangman's rack.
Captain White serves as the leader of his illegal army intent on continuing to destroy and terrorize the people of Mexico. Although Captain White asserts he is protecting the interest of the United States from being taken over by Europe, he is clearly motivated by a racist desire to rid the world of Mexicans. In a twist of irony, Captain White survives an attack by Comanche Indians only to be killed by a group of Mexican bandits, the very people he was hoping to pillage.
John Joel Glanton
John Joel Glanton, simply known as Glanton, is the leader of the Glanton Gang and intent on bringing back the scalps of as many Apaches as possible. Although his status as leader of the gang is never challenged, he is not nearly as intelligent as he is battle ready and follows the lead of those he determines to have knowledge. As such, Judge Holden often seems to have more power than Glanton. Glanton seems to have no moral compass, and although he has a wife and son, there is no indication that he misses them or regrets the decisions he has made that have led him away from them forever.
Tobin is also referred to as the ex-priest and serves as the antithesis to Judge Holden. Although Tobin is a part of the Glanton Gang and commits criminal acts and murder just as the rest of the gang, he does not believe they are without judgement. Tobin frequently looks out for the kid and is the voice of truth behind the manipulation and lies set forth by the judge. He is not without understanding about the severity of their actions and believes it is his role to contradict the spewing of lies by Judge Holden with truth.