During the day, the prisoners work in the city streets gathering up filth. Their overseer is a “goldtoothed pervert” whom Toadvine wants to kill personally. Toadvine assures the kid that they’ll get out of the prison. During the day, a cart passes in the street, led by a fat priest who is delivering sacramental bread to someone (presumably someone dying); the guards forcibly remove their prisoners’ hats as a sign of respect to the priest and his holy office.
The opening of this chapter presents two figures of authority, the overseer and the priest. The former is a pervert, which undercuts his moral authority. The priest, the first religious figure afforded respect in the novel, does his office, but his fatness suggests an inappropriate investment in worldly interests. Even in the city, authority seems unjustly earned.
In the prison, the kid sleeps next to Toadvine and a man from Kentucky called Grannyrat Chambers who had served in the Mexican-American War and came back to Mexico to reunite with his beloved. The Kentuckian had also fought at Mier (where a battle between a Texian militia and Mexicans occurred in 1842); there gallons of blood flowed and his own leg was shattered. He’d also been part of the threadbare force, wearing only underwear and rags, which took Chihuahua during the Mexican-American War while women picnicked on the hills above the city.
Like many characters in the novel, Grannyrat’s life has been one fight after another, despite his having suffered debilitating wounds. Men can’t seem to get enough of warfare. His description of the taking of Chihuahua deflates the idea that war is glorious, however, waged not so much by heroes as desperate ragged men. The picnicking women treat death like a banal entertainment.
The kid tells the two men about the massacre of the filibusters at the hands of the Indians, who the men identify as members of the Comanche tribe. Grannyrat tells about how he saw a man once who had been robbed by the Comanche; he came crawling into Fredericksburg on his hands and knees because the robbers had cut the bottoms of his feet off.
Grannyrat’s story sheds light on the nature of violence in general: people don’t necessarily perpetrate violence out of a sense of practicality or perverse justice, but almost as an end in itself: inflicting pain for pain’s sake, because they enjoy it.
Grannyrat tells a final story, about a cave that also served as a burial ground for the Lipan Apache people. He says that the Mexicans robbed the grave of weapons and finery, and that Americans scalped the dead, some of them dead for perhaps a century, and attempted to sell the scalps in Durango. At story’s end, Toadvine asks the kid how much money they could get for their prison overseer’s gold teeth.
Grannyrat’s final story reveals that even the sacredness of death has been dishonored. Death is not the end of, but just a new occasion for, outrageous exploitation. Toadvine’s mention of the overseer’s teeth develops the subplot in which he murders the overseer and takes his teeth as a trophy.
While doing forced labor in the streets, the prisoners see people off to hunt for gold, young girls who gaze at them brazenly, the governor of the city, and a horde of men half drunk, dressed in animal skins, and packing weapons of every description. Riding foremost among them is the giant and childlike Judge Holden. The men go to the governor’s palace, where their small black-haired leader, later identified as John Joel Glanton, gains entry.
The gold hunters epitomize the get-rich-quick self-interest treated in the novel, contrasted with Glanton’s gang, which uses the prospect of profiteering only as a pretense to go to war for war’s sake. The Judge uncannily always ends up where the kid is, as though their paths are fated to cross (a suggestion later made by the Judge himself).
The next day, the Judge studies the prisoners while they work. He seems to smile at the kid. Toadvine explains later that night that the Governor of Chihuahua, Angel Trias, is paying Glanton and his gang to kill Apaches, a hundred dollars per scalp, one thousand dollars for their leader Gómez. Toadvine also tells the kid and Grannyrat that he has secured them positions in the gang, which will result in their freedom from prison.
These scenes mark the end of the kid’s expositional wanderings and the beginning of his involvement with Glanton’s gang, which takes up most of the novel. Ironically, Trias will later come to regret hiring the scalp hunters. With his newfound freedom the kid will only commit crimes for which he’ll later be jailed again.
Three days later, Glanton and his gang, which now includes the kid, Toadvine, and Grannyrat, ride out of Chihuahua, led by Governor Trias. Girls throw flowers to them and blow kisses, boys run alongside their horses, and old men celebrate. At the edge of the city, Trias gives the scalp hunters his blessing and drinks to their fortune. Then the gang set out on the road.
In contrast to White’s filibusters, Glanton’s gang is indeed recognized by the Mexicans as an instrument of liberation, driving out the brutal Indians. However, the people’s fanfare will soon become lamentation, when the Mexicans realize that the scalp hunters are not protectors but monstrous predators out to commit their violence against everyone.