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John Joel Glanton (1819 – April 23, 1850) was an American, later a Texian fighting for independence, a Texas Ranger who served in the Texas Ranger Division during the Mexican American War, a soldier of fortune and mercenary, and later led the Glanton Gang of scalp hunters, infamous in the Southwest.

Early life and educationEdit

Glanton (sometimes spelled "Gallantin"), was born in Edgefield County, South Carolina, in 1819. He was said to have been an outlaw in Tennessee, where his family had moved, before they went to Texas. He would have been under arms at an early age.[1]

In 1835 at age 16, Glanton was living with his parents at Gonzales, Texas. Some accounts said he was engaged but his fiancée was killed that year by Lipan Apaches.[1]

Military careerEdit

Glanton was involved early in military affairs in Texas and the Southwest, participating in the fight for Texas independence, and later in the Mexican-American War.[1] While a member of Walter P. Lane's San Antonio company of Texas Rangers in the Mexican-American War, he is attributed by contemporary sources as in 1847 having killed a Mexican civilian in the city of Magdalena.[2] Although Glanton protested he had done so when the civilian had refused to obey his commands as sentry to halt passage, other witnesses claimed it had been an act of murder. The event brought Walter P. Lane, then a major in the army, into conflict with General Zachary Taylor. As a result, Glanton was forced to flee the American army police who were sent to arrest him.[3] He later re-enlisted in John Coffee Hays' second regiment of the First Texas Mounted Rifles, and saw action with Winfield Scott's army in central Mexico.[4]

Glanton GangEdit

After the war in summer 1849, Glanton and his gang were hired in a nominally mercenary operation by Mexican authorities, to track down and kill dangerous bands of Apache Indians in northern Mexico and what is now part of the Southwest. To earn more money, the Glanton gang began murdering and scalping peaceful agricultural Indians and Mexican citizens alike to claim under the bounty for scalps. The state of Chihuahua put a bounty on the heads of the gang, declaring them outlaws by December 1849.[1] Chihuahua authorities drove the gang out to Sonora where they also wore out their welcome and moved into what is now Arizona.

Glanton MassacreEdit

In Arizona, Glanton's men killed some Quechan natives and took over operating their ferry on the Gila River in Arizona, which transported migrants to the California Gold Rush. They sometimes killed the Mexican and American passengers to take their money and goods.[1] A band of Quechan led by Caballo en Pelo killed and scalped Glanton and most of his gang in retaliation. They reclaimed the tribe's ferry business.[5] The California state government recruited men for a militia and directed the ill-fated Gila Expedition military operation against the Quechan tribe.

In literatureEdit

  • Samuel Chamberlain, who claimed to have been a member of the gang, wrote an account of their activities in his memoir, My Confession.
  • A fictionalized Glanton is featured prominently in Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian (1985), in which many of the events are based on Chamberlain's account. McCarthy featured a character who was Glanton's second-in-command, the mysterious Judge Holden, as the primary antagonist of his book.
  • A comic-book account of Glanton's story, also based on Chamberlain's memoir, is included in The Big Book of the Weird Wild West published by Paradox Press.[6]

On televisionEdit

A 2005 episode of The History Channel series Wild West Tech featured an account of the Glanton Gang, focusing on Glanton's misdeeds as a scalphunter. These scenes were filmed at Old Tucson Studios near Tucson, Arizona.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "John Joel Glanton", Texas Handbook of History Online, accessed 2 Dec 2009
  2. Walter P. Lane, Adventures and Recollections of General Walter P. Lane, A San Jacinto Veteran, pp. 56-59 (Marshall, Texas: News-Messenger Publishing Co., 1928)
  3. "Id."
  4. Frederick Wilkins, The Highly Irregular Regulars: Texas Rangers in the Mexican War, pp. 146-47, 158, 163 (Eakin Press, 1990).
  5. Braatz, Timothy Surviving Conquest, 2003. p. 76
  6. Whalen, John. The Big Book of the Weird Wild West, 1998. p. 109

Further readingEdit

  • Ralph A. Smith, "John Joel Glanton, Lord of the Scalp Range," Smoke Signal, Fall 1962.

External linksEdit

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