Judge Holden

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Judge Holden
First appearanceBlood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West
Created byCormac McCarthy
In-universe information
Full nameHolden (full name unknown)
NicknameJudge Holden, The Judge
AffiliationGlanton Gang
NationalityUnknown (Presumably American)

Judge Holden is a purported historical person who partnered with John Joel Glanton as a professional scalp-hunter in Mexico and the American Southwest during the mid-19th century.[1] To date, the only source for Holden's existence is Samuel Chamberlain's My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue, an autobiographical account of Chamberlain's life as a soldier during the Mexican–American War. Chamberlain described Holden as well-spoken, intelligent, and physically quite large, as well as perhaps the most ruthless of the roving band of mercenaries led by Glanton, with whom Chamberlain briefly traveled after the war. Holden, Chamberlain describes, "had a fleshy frame, [and] a dull tallow colored face destitute of hair and all expression."[2]

Chamberlain makes it very clear that he strongly disliked Holden: "I hated him at first sight, and he knew it," Chamberlain wrote. "Yet nothing could be more gentle and kind than his deportment towards me; he would often seek conversation with me."[3]

He was popularized as the main antagonist of Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian (1985), where he is described as "a massive, hairless, albino man who excels in shooting, languages, horsemanship, dancing, music, drawing, diplomacy, science and anything else he seems to put his mind to. He is also the chief proponent and philosopher of the Glanton gang’s lawless warfare."[4]

Historical basis[edit]

In Samuel Chamberlain's autobiographical My Confession, he describes Holden:

Illustration by Chamberlain in his book showing Judge Holden

The second in command, now left in charge of the camp, was a man of gigantic size who rejoiced in the name of Holden, called “Judge” Holden of Texas. Who or what he was no one knew but a cooler blooded villain never went unhung; he stood six feet six in his moccasins, had a large fleshy frame, a dull tallow colored face destitute of hair and all expression. But when a quarrel took place and blood shed, his hog-like eyes would gleam with a sullen ferocity worthy of the countenance of a fiend. His desires was blood and women, and terrible stories were circulated in camp of horrid crimes committed by him when bearing another name, in the Cherokee nation and Texas; and before we left Fronteras a little girl of ten years was found in the chapperal, foully violated and murdered. The mark of a huge hand on her little throat pointed him out as the ravisher as no other man had such a hand, but though all suspected, no one charged him with the crime.

Holden was by far the best educated man in northern Mexico; he conversed with all in their own language, spoke in several Indian lingos, at a fandango would take the Harp or the Guitar from the hands of the musicians and charm all with his wonderful performance and out-waltz any poblana of the ball. He was “plum center” with a rifle or revolver, a daring horseman, acquainted with the nature of all the strange plants and their botanical names, great in geology and mineralogy, in short another Admirable Crichton, and with all an arrant coward.

Not but that he possessed enough courage to fight Indians and Mexicans or anyone else where he had the advantage in strength, skill, and weapons. But where the combat would be equal, he would avoid it if possible. I hated him at first sight and he knew it, yet nothing could be more gentle and kind than his deportment towards me: He would often seek conversation with me and speak of Massachusetts and to my astonishment I found he knew more about Boston than I did. [sic][5]

Some amateur historians have interpreted the name "Judge Holden" as a pseudonym, and hoped to establish his true identity.[6] Popular candidates include Charles Wilkins Webber, an educated man in the region who once used the pseudonym "Holden".[7]

Blood Meridian[edit]

Holden is heavily featured in Cormac McCarthy's (pictured) Blood Meridian (1985).

A fictionalized Holden is a central character in Cormac McCarthy's 1985 Western novel Blood Meridian. In the novel, he and Glanton are the leaders of a pack of nomadic criminals who rob, rape, torture, and kill across the borderlands between the United States and Mexico. Throughout the novel, Holden brutally murders dozens of people, including children. Searching for additional evidence for Holden's existence has been a hobby for some Cormac McCarthy scholars.

As depicted in Blood Meridian, Holden is a mysterious figure, a cold-blooded killer, and, it is implied, a child rapist;[citation needed] aside from the children he openly kills, he is seen enticing children with sweets, and a child often goes missing when he is in the vicinity. At one point in the novel, he is seen naked with a naked twelve-year-old girl in his room. Holden displays knowledge of paleontology, archaeology, linguistics, law, technical drawing, geology, chemistry, prestidigitation, and philosophy.

He is described as nearly 7 ft 0 in (2.13 m) tall and completely bereft of body hair, including eyebrows and eyelashes. He is massive in frame, enormously strong, an excellent musician and dancer, a fine draftsman, exceptionally articulate and persuasive in several languages, and an unerring marksman. His skin is so pale as to have almost no pigment. This strange appearance, as well as his keen, extremely fast reflexes, strength, agility, apparent immunity to sleep and aging, and multifarious other abilities point to his being something other than a normal human. In the final pages of the novel, McCarthy makes more direct reference to the Judge as a supernatural entity, or even as a concept personified.

In 2002, Book magazine rated Holden as the 43rd greatest character in fiction since 1900.[8] He is regarded as one of the greatest characters of modern literature, likened to a "Captain Ahab of the desert."[9] Harold Bloom described him as "short of Moby Dick, the most monstrous apparition in all of American literature."[10] Holden has been characterized as " the most haunting character in American literature."[11]

Scholarly debate[edit]

In his essay "Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy", literature professor Leo Daugherty argued that McCarthy's Holden is—or at least embodies—a gnostic archon (a kind of demon).[12] Harold Bloom, who declared Judge Holden to be "the most frightening figure in all of American literature",[13] even came to regard him as immortal.[14] However, unlike Daugherty, Bloom argues that Holden defies identification as being under any "system" such as Gnosticism, citing the passage in the book stating that there was no "system by which to divide [him] back into his origins".[15] Rather, Bloom "resort[s]" to literary comparison with Shakespeare's Iago, a methodical dispenser of strife.[16] Cody Todd has written of Holden representing a radically figurative notion of evil who stakes a claim against the natural order of the universe.[17]


  1. ^ "John Glanton". xroads.virginia.edu. Archived from the original on 2003-04-04. Retrieved 2004-07-28.
  2. ^ "John Glanton".
  3. ^ Sepich, John Emil. “The Dance of History in Cormac McCarthy's ‘Blood Meridian.’” The Southern Literary Journal, vol. 24, no. 1, 1991, pp. 16–31. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20078027. Accessed 2 Aug. 2020.
  4. ^ "The unfilmable 'Blood Meridian'". The Conversation. March 11, 2018. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
  5. ^ Chamberlain, Samuel (1956). My Confession. Harper and Brothers. pp. 271-272.
  6. ^ McNabb, Max (16 January 2019). "The Monster Who was Real: Judge Holden of Texas, Scalp-hunting Giant". Retrieved November 29, 2022.
  7. ^ "New historical notes on Judge Holden, Glanton, Tobin, and the rest". cormacmcarthy.com. Archived from the original on 30 January 2022.
  8. ^ Paik, Christine. "NPR: 100 Best Fictional Characters Since 1900". www.npr.org.
  9. ^ Hall, Michael (21 January 2013). "Desperately Seeking Cormac". Texas Monthly. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
  10. ^ "Harold Bloom on Blood Meridian". The A.V. Club. June 15, 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2021.
  11. ^ Cusher, Brent Edwin. (2014). “Cormac McCarthy’s Definition of Evil: Blood Meridian and the Case of Judge Holden.” Perspectives on Political Science 43, no. 4 (2014): 223–30.
  12. ^ Daugherty, Leo (1999). "Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy". In Arnold, Edwin; Luce, Dianne (eds.). Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Project MUSE. ISBN 9781604736502.
  13. ^ Hartman, Andrew (January 14, 2014). "Blood Meridian and Its Implications". U.S. Intellectual History Blog. Allendale, Michigan: Society for U.S. Intellectual History. Retrieved September 22, 2018.
  14. ^ Hage, Eric (2010). Cormac McCarthy: A Literary Companion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786455591.
  15. ^ Bloom, Harold (2009). Novelists and Novels. New York City: Infobase Publishing. p. 535. ISBN 978-0791093733.
  16. ^ Turner, Edwin (September 30, 2010). ""The Authentic American Apocalyptic Novel" — Harold Bloom on Blood Meridian". Biblioklept.
  17. ^ Todd, Cody.(2013). “Authority and the Failed Justification of Evil in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness in the West.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.