The gang rides north through furious storms, rain, hail, and more rain for days on end. They ride through meadows and forests, down a mountain trail into the town of Jesús María. Glanton knocks at the door of an inn and the men are permitted to enter. By noon the next day, followed by a sad fiddler, the Americans have found a bodega run by a man named Frank Carroll and are drinking. The Judge throws a coin to the fiddler and begins to dance “with a strange precision.”
Without a motive or warrant to commit acts of violence, the scalp hunters become wayward, devoid of purpose. As such, they take to drinking heavily. In the bar, the Judge strikes up a dance and, as at the feast Trias held, the dance is a prelude for debauchery.
By that night, the Americans are once again hideously debauched. A priest comes out bearing an icon of Christ but the Americans beat him to the ground and fling gold coins at him as he lies in the street. The priest does not touch the money until some boys come by and begin to pick it up, upon which he orders them to bring the money to him. The Americans cheer and drink a toast to the priest.
The priest, in having boys collect and bring him what is essentially blood money, demonstrates a worldliness and avaricious pragmatism that undercut his moral authority. This corrupt priest and his kind are partially responsible for the decay of Christianity witnessed by the novel.
The next day is the Feast of the Holy Souls, a Christian celebration. A religious parade complete with a carving of Christ borne on a wooden platform winds its way through town, led by the priest. The Judge sits alone in the cantina offering children candy death’s heads, but they shy away from him. The scalp hunters spend another night debauched and howling in the streets, driving away very quickly a group of exhausted travelers who arrive en route to California.
The villagers’ observance of Christian ritual is disconnected from the world: despite it, the world remains just as wicked as it always has been. The Judge’s religion of warfare is much more effective, if disastrously so. The children seem to intuit that the Judge intends to do them harm, foreshadowing the little girl’s imminent disappearance.
The next day Glanton is drunk and crazed; he lurches into a courtyard and fires his pistols. He is taken to lie down and is bound to his bed, and the Judge comforts him and cools his forehead with rags doused in water. Meanwhile, the villagers discover that a little girl is missing and they go out looking for her. Later, while Glanton sleeps, the Judge goes out into town.
Without participating in the ritual of warfare, without purpose, Glanton slips into madness. The missing girl recalls the multiracial boy the Judge quite likely killed when the gang camped with the squatters, as well as the Indian infant he did definitively kill.
A young boy approaches the Judge and offers him dogs for sale. The Judge buys two puppies for much more than they’re worth, making the coin with which he pays disappear only to pull it from behind the boy’s ear. The Judge then walks atop a stone bridge and throws the dogs into the river below. Bathcat is nearby urinating; he draws, and with penis in one hand and pistol in the other he shoots both dogs—the boy who sold the dogs watches the whole time.
The Judge seems to disapprove of rational economic exchange, perhaps because it threatens to overtake warfare as the primary medium in which the human will can act. Here he disrupts trade by overpaying the boy and then destroying the sources of economic value, that is, the dogs. Of course, sadism also underlies this gratuitous act of violence.
In the late afternoon, Glanton wakes and breaks free of his bindings. He cuts down a Mexican flag, ties it to the tail of a mule, and rides the beast around town. A Mexican shoots the mule, and a firefight breaks out. Glanton and a gang member named John Gunn coordinate the Americans’ escape from town, and they leave behind six of their own dead in the streets. Later, Frank Carroll and another American, Sanford, catch up with the gang and tell the scalp hunters that the Mexican townspeople burned down the saloon and that the surviving scalp hunters who couldn’t escape the town were baptized and shot by the Mexican townspeople.
Glanton, ever self-destructive, seems to cut down the flag and dishonor it precisely to provoke a violent response; he cannot live without shedding blood. While the Mexicans’ observance of Christian ritual seems ineffectual, the evil of the scalp hunters seems to persuade the townspeople that more drastic, effective measures are required of them, hence the destruction of their own saloon. Sometimes it is not a saint but the devil who fortifies religious faith and adherence.
Riding up a mountain, the Americans meet a group of men leading mules to a nearby mine. “Bad luck,” the narrator observes. Despite being cordially greeted, Glanton rides past a muleteer and almost pushes him off a cliff. The muleteer draws a rifle, but David Brown shoots him first. Another shootout. Many mules fall to their deaths. Carroll and Sanford have become detached from the gang, but join back up with them toward dusk.
Whereas the Judge or Glanton might invoke fate to account for the disastrous encounter between the gang and the muleteers, the narrator instead invokes “bad luck,” preserving the possibility that human circumstance and action are not fated but accidental and/or at the command of people’s own will. If people have such free will, people might also be able to choose to lead less wicked lives.
Away from the scene of carnage, the Americans dismount. The Judge asks where the black Jackson is. No one knows. The Judge and a Delaware ride out to find him, and reunite with the gang at around dawn, black Jackson in their company, naked.
As when Grannyrat deserted, the Judge is disturbed at the black Jackson’s disappearance. He is intent on maintaining the unity of the gang at all costs.
The gang rides into a jungle, where after nine days they meet an old man with two donkeys. Glanton tries to question him, but the man is incommunicative. The men leave him and ride deeper into the jungle, the Judge shooting birds to study and stuff by night. He also collects exotic leaves, sketching and annotating in his ledger.
Unlike Glanton, the Judge is undisturbed by the gang’s lack of purpose. He does what he’s always done, studying each new environment to master its contents. The Judge, in other words, always has a purpose: to master the world, to wreak violence and war, regardless its direction.
Toadvine asks the Judge what the purpose of his studies is. The Judge explains that only nature can enslave humankind, and in order to be a “suzerain,” or absolute ruler of the earth, he must know and understand every natural object. He envisions a world in which everything that exists does so only because he permits, a world in which he alone dictates his fate. The freedom of birds, he concludes, is an insult to him.
Earlier with Webster, the Judge discussed his sketches of manmade artifacts. Here he discusses his studies in naturalism. Although he claims to desire absolute dominion over the earth, later he implies that his true desire is to be a god of war participating in eternal warfare—these desires seem mutually exclusive, but each involves the use of one’s will to exert mastery.
In the morning, the gang rides on. They cross the Yaqui Rive, and on December 2, 1849, they ride into Ures, the capital of the Mexican state of Sonora. They are greeted by a ragged, sordid crowd, and spend the night in a hostel run by a German. The German disappears, providing neither service nor asking for payment, so the gang pays townspeople to tend to them. They feast on goats, listen to music, and hire prostitutes. By nightfall, the Americans are dancing and debauched; dogs begin fighting in the courtyard of the hostel. Glanton goes out and kills them. In the morning, Glanton and the Judge have a boy fetch the gangs’ horses, which, with another boy, he hastily does.
Although wanted in Chihuahua, the gang takes advantage of what seems to be a lack of communication between the Mexican states and finds refuge in Sonora. However, the uneasiness of the Sonoran people suggests that word of the Americans’ brutality has indeed reached them. They seem to be merely placating the gang to avoid violence. Glanton’s killing of the dogs suggests that he is still unstable.