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Blood Meridian | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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Course Hero. "Blood Meridian Study Guide." Course Hero. 1 Dec. 2019. Web. 28 Jan. 2023. <>.

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Course Hero. "Blood Meridian Study Guide." December 1, 2019. Accessed January 28, 2023.


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Blood Meridian | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


The Journey Begins

The kid, at the tender age of fourteen, leaves his home and sets out for adventure. It is not long before he encounters Judge Holden, the man who will become and remain his nemesis until the day he dies. Despite his young age the kid is not afraid of violence and frequently uses it to get out of sticky situations. He is not without help as he encounters men such as Louis Toadvine, who removes him from a bar fight, and the hermit, who provides him with a place to sleep during a severe storm, without whom he might never have made it beyond the Texas border.

A New Path

Armed with a desire to make something of himself, the kid joins up with Captain White and his company as they prepare to head into Mexico to save the United States from being taken over by Europeans. Despite warnings by those with good intentions, Captain White and his company begin traveling across the open plain. Armed with weapons stolen from the U.S. Army, Captain White's company continues forward, staving off dehydration and starvation long enough to meet with what they believe is a cattle herd, but ends up being a group of Comanches ready to slaughter them.

Alone again, the kid begins heading south, encountering Sproule, another surviving member of Captain White's army. Deciding that traveling together is better than traveling alone, the two continue moving through the Mexican desert. They finally arrive in a town only for the kid to realize that Sproule, sick with consumption, has passed on. Before the kid can even process this change in circumstance he is arrested and thrown into a cell where he encounters yet another former member of Captain White's army. The kid and the Georgian find themselves the prisoners of Mexican soldiers who are taking them to Chihuahua City to serve time. Although this is a rather uncertain time for the kid, his arrival in Chihuahua City brings him face to face with his old friend, Toadvine.

Although they are forced to spend their days picking up filth from the gutters, it isn't long before Toadvine solves their problems and signs the kid, their new comrade Grannyrat Chambers, and himself up for Glanton's gang, a group led by a man named Glanton and Judge Holden and charged with scalping Indians and bringing Gómez's head back to Chihuahua City. Before they have even left the city, trouble arises and a simple meeting with Speyer to purchase pistols is almost catastrophic except for the quick thinking of Judge Holden who smooths everything over.

Searching for Scalps

Weapons procured, the gang begins its journey and makes it to Corralitos without encountering either Indians or other trouble. Things take a mystical turn when a group of magicians traveling with the gang spends an evening telling fortunes with the help of the juggler who reads the tarot cards. When Glanton draws his card, it magically disappears, and the magicians grow concerned until the judge calms the group. The next day the group, with Glanton and the juggler side-by-side, enters Janos where Glanton scalps a decrepit Indian woman, indicating for the rest of the gang what their sole purpose on this journey is.

While enjoying an evening respite at a tavern in Janos, the men are warned about their mission by an elderly gentleman. Although most of the men ignore his warning, Grannyrat Chambers is missing when the gang rides out the next morning. The Glanton Gang numbers continue to dwindle when the next day two of the Delawares are missing, and a fight between the two Jacksons leaves the white Jackson dead. It is not long after this that the gang encounters their first group of Apache. The results of the skirmish leave a single Apache dead and Judge Holden holding his first scalp.

The difficulty of this journey is not relegated to man alone. Some of the horses begin to suffer, and the decision is made to put them down. A small bit of hope appears when the two missing Delawares return with the pony of Grannyrat Chambers, and a new path into the mountains is followed. The gang arrives in a now-abandoned town and collects three new members for their gang before encountering a group of buffalo hunters, called ciboleros, whom they pass with surprisingly little conflict.

During their downtime, the men in the gang talk and share stories, including those regarding how the judge came to be the unofficial leader of the Glanton Gang. The judge is an interesting character, and the men are frequently confused as to his reasons for examining and sketching pieces of nature each time they stop. His affinity for nature does not stop one of the Delawares from being killed by a grizzly or a mule from falling off a cliff. Regardless, the group continues searching for the Indians whose trail they are following.

It takes Glanton's gang two weeks to track the Gileños, and when they finally find them, it is their goal to destroy them. The Gileños are not only a group of warriors, but also contain many women and children, all of whom are subject to the wrath of the Glanton Gang. Although the Gileños are eviscerated, Glanton is upset to learn the head of the chief he carries is not Gómez's. Regardless, the gang scalps all the dead, including McGill who was the lone Glanton Gang victim in the fray. The rest do not ride away unscathed, as the kid is called upon to remove an arrow from the thigh of David Brown who Tobin later tells the kid would have killed him if he wasn't successful.

A Hero's Welcome

The Glanton Gang returns to Chihuahua City with 120 scalps and 8 heads in their possession. Governor Trias is thrilled with the work, and the Americans are treated as royalty until they begin causing chaos and destruction in the town. Armed with a new bounty, the Glanton Gang heads for the town of Coyam where its members are again received as royalty.

A Change Occurs

A change has taken over the Glanton Gang, and although they are still contracted by Governor Trias to retrieve Gómez's head, they begin scalping without discernment. They first massacre a peaceful group of Tiguas, and later when Grimley, one of their own, is killed in a cantina, the gang murders and scalps each of the people inside. No longer a revered group, the Glanton Gang kills and scalps Mexican soldiers sent to track them down, and a reversal of circumstances results in a bounty placed on Glanton's head.

The Glanton Gang has now succumbed to the full depths of depravity, and they begin inciting destruction and chaos without discernment. After killing a family in Jesús María, the gang acquires two new outcasts named Carroll and Sanderson and makes their way to Sonora where they obtain a new contract for the procurement of Apache scalps. When Carroll and Sanderson realize the depravity occurring in the Glanton Gang, they quickly leave, but this is of no concern to Glanton and the judge as they acquire a new member named Sloat.

General Elias and his cavalry are dispatched to remove the Glanton Gang from the area either by arrest or death, and his task is partially successful. Three members are killed in a skirmish between the two groups, and an additional four are wounded so badly they cannot ride. In an act of compassion, the kid fails to kill Shelby who will not become a victim for the next group to pass him and is then separated from the group. He eventually catches up to the gang who has spent their time chasing Apaches in front of them while simultaneously running from General Elias behind them.

Not nearly as strong a force as before, the Glanton Gang no longer attacks without thinking. They are even able to pass a group of Chiricahuas without it resulting in bloodshed, and it is not until Mr. Owens, the proprietor of an eating house in Tucson, refuses to serve Jackson that someone is left for dead. A man by the name of Lieutenant Coats approaches the Glanton Gang and tries to arrest Jackson for the murder of Mr. Owens, but the judge is able to use his cunning and wit to avoid both arrests and trouble. Luckily, for the people of Tucson the Glanton Gang rides out the next day.

The Colorado River

Acquiring five recruits, a man named Cloyce Bell, and his mentally handicapped brother, James Robert, the gang continues across the desert. An uneventful trip from Tucson lands the Glanton Gang on the banks of the Colorado River where they encounter a migrant group of Yuma Indians. They also meet Dr. Lincoln, a New York man who has taken up residence on the river and makes his income charging those he ferries across. Glanton and the judge agree to a parlay with the Yumas and develop a plan to take charge of the ferry but renege on this and use Dr. Lincoln's howitzer to destroy the Yumas.

Now in charge of the ferry, the Glanton Gang spends their time fortifying their hill and extorting the other people camped along or passing through the area. In need of supplies, Glanton sends David Brown, Long Webster, and Toadvine to San Diego. In traditional Glanton Gang fashion, the three men cause chaos and destruction, resulting in the arrest of both Webster and Toadvine and their separation from Brown who is also arrested. Webster and Toadvine are released from prison and head back to the gang without the provisions they were sent out to procure. Brown, on the other hand, escapes from prison and kills a young soldier named Petit who helped him escape.

When Webster and Toadvine return minus the wares, Glanton heads to San Diego to retrieve them, returning to their fortification to find the Yumas retaliating and the Glanton Gang in a desperate state.

On the Run

Partnered again, Toadvine and the kid escape the massacre and reach Alama Mucho where they are joined by Tobin. The three men take cover in the deserted mail station and the next morning see the silhouettes of the judge and James Robert, both naked, heading toward them. The judge manipulates Toadvine and is later joined by Brown, but both Tobin and the kid choose to leave the judge and strike off on their own. Unable to allow the kid and Tobin to simply leave his grasp, the judge, along with the imbecile, follow after them. After days of striving to outpace the judge, Tobin and the kid hide in hopes that he will pass right by. The judge uncovers their plan, and although he leaves them, he does so after trying to entice the kid to follow him.

With the help of a group of Diegueños, the kid and Tobin arrive in San Diego. Soon after they arrive, the kid is arrested and a fashionably dressed Judge Holden appears at his cell. The judge tries to convince the kid that the events at the Colorado River were his fault and strives to bring him back under his control. The kid resists, and once released, searches for Tobin but eventually leaves San Diego and heads to Los Angeles where he finds the executed bodies of Toadvine and Brown.

Alone Again

The kid spends the next 30 years or so living a solitary life on the Texas prairie, killing only when necessary, until he encounters a group of boys, one of whom, Elrod, is bent on his own destruction. Elrod is unable to control himself and refuses to listen to either his friends or the kid's warnings, and the kid eventually shoots Elrod and kills him, an event Elrod's friends are not at all surprised about.

At odds with his actions, the kid heads to a tavern and comes face to face yet again with Judge Holden. Still able to resist the judge, the kid walks away and takes up with a prostitute for the evening. Unfortunately, the judge will no longer allow the kid to ignore him, and later that night when the kid opens the door of an outhouse, the judge is waiting inside to kill him. Once the kid is no longer an issue the judge heads back into the tavern to dance the night away.

Blood Meridian Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The kid runs away and meets Judge Holden for the first time.

Rising Action

2 The kid joins Captain White's company, which is massacred.

3 The kid joins Glanton's gang, which is run by Judge Holden.

4 On contract, Glanton's gang hunts Indians to scalp.

5 The contract is voided and a bounty placed on Glanton.

6 General Elias hunts down the Glanton Gang.

7 Glanton and his gang take over the Colorado River ferry.

8 After the Yumas attack, the kid escapes the judge's grasp.


9 The kid is arrested and released after the judge intercedes.

Falling Action

10 The kid travels around Texas living a solitary life.

11 The kid kills Elrod when the boy threatens him.


12 The kid encounters Judge Holden who finally murders him.

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