John Joel Glanton

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John Joel Glanton (1819 – April 23, 1850) was an early settler of Mexican Texas, a Texian fighting for independence, and later a Texas Ranger. After the Mexican–American War, he became a soldier-of-fortune and mercenary and led the notorious Glanton Gang of scalp-hunters in the Southwestern United States.


Early life and education[edit]

Glanton (sometimes spelled "Gallantin"), was born in Edgefield County, South Carolina, in 1819. According to some reports, he was an outlaw in Tennessee, where his family moved before they went to Texas. He was 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 career[edit]

Glanton was involved in early military affairs in Texas and the South-West in the Texas Revolution and the Mexican–American War.[1] While a member of Walter P. Lane's San Antonio company of Texas Rangers in the Mexican–American War, and while positioned as a perimeter sentry, contemporary sources attribute to him the 1847 killing of a Mexican civilian in the city of Magdalena.[2] In his defense, Glanton said the civilian refused to obey his commands as sentry to halt. The event brought Walter P. Lane, then a major in the army, into conflict with General Zachary Taylor. As a result, Glanton evaded the American army police sent to arrest him.[3] He 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 Organization[edit]

After the summer of 1849, Glanton and his employees were hired by Mexican authorities to eliminate troublesome Apaches in northern Mexico and what is now part of the American South-West. For increased income, their organization scalped peaceful agricultural American Indians and Mexicans to claim the bounty for scalps. The soldier and memoirist Samuel Chamberlain claimed he worked as a member of the organization. According to Chamberlain, Glanton's second-in-command was a Texian known as Judge Holden. Reneging on their contracts, the state of Chihuahua put a bounty on the heads of the organization, declaring them outlaws on December, 1849.[1] Chihuahuan authorities drove them out to Sonora. Eventually, they wore out their Sonaran welcome, then moved north into the Arizona territory.

Glanton Massacre[edit]

In Arizona, the Glanton organization became partners in a ferry at the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River, a popular crossing for settlers and prospectors traveling to and from California during the California Gold Rush. According to claims from competing ferry operators, the Glantons sometimes killed Mexican and American passengers returning from the gold-fields to take their money and goods.[1] Other highly-sensationalized accounts claim they destroyed a boat and killed some Quechans operating a rival ferry near Pilot Knob. At dawn on April 23, 1850, a band of Quechans led by Caballo en Pelo killed and scalped most of the Glanton organization to establish the tribe's ferry monopoly.[5] Hearing of the massacre, California officials recruited a militia in the ill-fated Gila Expedition against the Quechan tribe.

In popular culture[edit]


  • Jeremiah Clemens (1814–1865) includes Glanton as a character in his novel Bernard Lile (1856), one of the earliest fictional works concerning the Texas Revolution.
  • Samuel Chamberlain (1829–1908), who claimed to have been a member of the gang, wrote an account of their activities in his memoir, My Confession.
  • Glanton, under the name Gallantin, is a character in George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman and the Redskins (1982), an installment in the long-running The Flashman Papers series of comic novels.
  • A fictionalized version of Glanton and his gang is featured prominently in Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian (1985), many of the events of which are based on Chamberlain's account. McCarthy developed the mysterious Judge Holden (Glanton's second-in-command according to Samuel Chamberlain's memoirs) as the primary antagonist of his book.
  • Glanton, along with another historical scalp hunter, James Kirker, appears briefly in the opening scenes of Larry McMurtry's novel Dead Man's Walk (1995). The book is the first volume of McMurtry's Lonesome Dove tetralogy.
  • The seven-page story "A Scalp for a Scalp", drawn by Russ Heath and written by John Whalen, also based on Chamberlain's memoir, is included in The Big Book of the Weird Wild West published by Paradox Press in 1998.[6]
  • Hugues Micol [fr]'s graphic novel Scalp: La Chevauchée funèbre de John Glanton et de ses compagnons de carnage, again based on Chamberlain's book, was published in 2017 by the French publisher Futuropolis [fr].



  1. ^ a b c d e "John Joel Glanton", Texas Handbook of History Online, accessed 2 Dec 2009
  2. ^ Lane, Walter P. (1928). Adventures and Recollections of General Walter P. Lane, A San Jacinto Veteran. Sacramento, California: News-Messenger Publishing Co. pp. 56–59. ISBN 978-0282317942.
  3. ^ "Id."
  4. ^ Frederick Wilkins. The Highly Irregular Regulars: Texas Rangers in the Mexican War (1990), pp. 146–47, 158, 163. Eakin Press.
  5. ^ Braatz, Timothy. Surviving Conquest, 2003. p. 76
  6. ^ Whalen, John. The Big Book of the Weird Wild West, 1998. p. 109

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]