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John Joel Glanton


John Joel Glanton

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.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and education 1.1
    • Military career 1.2
    • Glanton Gang 1.3
    • Glanton Massacre 1.4
  • Representations 2
    • In literature 2.1
    • On television 2.2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5


Early life and education

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 career

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, contemporary sources attribute to him the 1847 killing of 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 Gang

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 Massacre

In Arizona, Glanton's men became partners in the ferry at the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River. They sometimes killed the Mexican and American passengers returning from the goldfields to take their money and goods.[1] They destroyed a boat and killed some Quechan (known then as Yuma) natives, who were operating a rival ferry down the river near Pilot Knob, which also transported migrants to the California Gold Rush. 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] Upon hearing of the "massacre", the California state government recruited men for a militia and directed the ill-fated and badly led Gila Expedition military operation against the Quechan tribe.


In literature

  • 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 Flashman and the Redskins (1982), an installment in the long-running The Flashman Papers series of comic novels.
  • 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.
  • 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). That book is the first volume of McMurtry's Lonesome Dove tetralogy.
  • 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 television

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. ^ a b c d e "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 reading

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

External links

  • "John Glanton's Gang", University of Virginia
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