John Glanton's Gang

S. Chamberlain

Samuel Chamberlain
In his memoirs My Confession: the Recollections of a Rogue, Samuel Chamberlain narrates the demise of John Glanton's gang of scalp hunters, operating in northern Sonora and in New Mexico and Arizona (some of the particulars of this text are not accurate- dates, etc.- but it provides a first hand account of life in a scalping party). Chamberlain had left Boston and had gone West- the beginnings of an eventful life, only a small portion of which can be found here. In 1844 his father died and he traveled to Illinois; in 1846 (at sixteen) he enlisted in the "Illinois Foot Volunteers," and Private Chamberlain went to war against Mexico. Three months later he was discharged in San Antonio and immediately signed up with the First Regiment of the United States Dragoons. According to Army records on March 22, 1849, he was listed as a deserter- he had left his regiment for Glanton's gang (Chamberlain claimed that he was discharged in Mexico and had signed onto an expedition to California as a civilian when he joined Glanton). The next documented record of Chamberlain appears at the Alcalde of Los Angeles; on May 9, 1850 the survivors of the Glanton massacre, of whom Chamberlain presumably numbered, arrived there and reported an "Indian uprising" on the Colorado River.

J. Glanton

According to Chamberlain, John Glanton was born in South Carolina and migrated to Stephen Austin's settlement in Texas. There he fell in love with an orphan girl and was prepared to marry her. One day while he was gone, Lipan warriors raided the area scalping the elderly and the children and kidnapping the women- including Glanton's fiancee. Glanton and the other settlers pursued and slaughtered the natives, but during the battle the women were tomahawked and scalped. Legend has it, Glanton began a series of retaliatory raids which always yielded "fresh scalps." When Texas fought for its independence from Mexico, Glanton fought with Col. Fannin, and was one of the few to escape the slaughter of that regiment at the hands of the Mexican Gen. Urrea- the man who would eventually employ Glanton as a scalp hunter. During the Range Wars, Glanton took no side but simply assassinated individuals who had crossed him. He was banished, to no avail, by Gen. Sam Houston and fought as a "free Ranger" in the war against Mexico. Following the war he took up the Urrea's offer of $50 per Apache scalp (with a bonus of $1000 for the scalp of the Chief Santana). Local rumor had it that Glanton always "raised the hair" of the Indians he killed and that he had a "mule load of these barbarous trophies, smoke-dried" in his hut even before he turned professional.

When Chamberlain first encountered "Crying Tom" Hitchcock (one of Glanton's scalp hunters) near Tucson, the former supposedly had been tied up in the sun as punishment by a commanding officer for defying orders and sketching the Mission of San Xavier del Bac. Hitchcock cut him down and for his efforts was similarly punished. From Hitchcock, Chamberlain learned that Glanton and his army of Indian hunters had been employed by the Governor of Sonora Don D. Josť Urrea and decided to run away and join Hitchcock and Glanton. The pair set off towards Frontreras, and on the way Chamberlain got his first taste of his new life. They encountered an Apache war party which began to charge; according to Chamberlain he "drew a bead on a big chap and fired." The wounded soldier "gave a wild startling yell, and by his hands alone, dragged himself to the brink of the deep barranca, then singing his death chant and waving his hand in defiance towards us he plunged into the awful abyss"- saving his scalp from the Anglos. Apparently, Chamberlain's shot had also dispersed the rest of the party since he makes no other mention of them; at any rate the pair soon reached the rest of the hunting party.

Judge Holden

Glanton's gang consisted of "Sonorans, Cherokee and Delaware Indians, French Canadians, Texans, Irishmen, a Negro and a full-blooded Comanche," and when Chamberlain joined them they had gathered thirty-seven scalps and considerable losses from two recent raids (Chamberlain implies that they had just begun their careers as scalp hunters but other sources suggest that they had been engaged in the trade for sometime- regardless there is little specific documentation of their prior activities). Second in command to Glanton was a Texan- Judge Holden. In describing him, Chamberlain claimed, "a cooler blooded villain never went unhung;" Holden was well over six feet, "had a fleshy frame, [and] a dull tallow colored face destitute of hair and all expression" and was well educated in geology and mineralogy, fluent in native dialects, a good musician, and "plum centre" with a firearm. Chamberlain saw him also as a coward who would avoid equal combat if possible but would not hesitate to kill Indians or Mexicans if he had the advantage. Rumors also abounded about atrocities committed in Texas and the Cherokee nation by him under a different name. Before the gang left Frontreras, Chamberlain claims that a ten year old girl was found "foully violated and murdered" with "the mark of a large hand on her throat," but no one ever directly accused Holden.

Indian Warfare

The day after Chamberlain arrived, Glanton and several others left Frontreras to cash in the scalps; on the way they encountered a camp of Sonorans. The desperadoes disguised themselves as Apaches and raided the camp for supplies. Three Mexicans were killed and scalped (to be redeemed by their government); five women were "collected"- three of whom were scalped (for the same purpose) because they were old and ugly. The Sonorans returned to battle the "Indians," interrupting their orgy, and the remaining women were killed and scalped. The Sonorans were driven off, but several of Glanton's party were injured too. After this the gang decided to follow rumors of gold and El Dorado and began north towards New Mexico. On their way, they terrorized Arizona, impersonating Apaches, killing and scalping farmers (presumably to maintain their contract with the government), and cashed in their scalps too. From this point on Chamberlain narrates the events leading to the end of Glanton and his group. In New Mexico (after finding no El Dorado), they were attacked by an Apache war party; they lost fourteen of their party (out of about forty). The scalpers fought and then ran and secured a small wooded position around the only source of water in the area; from there they were able to drive off their attackers.
Chamberlain with an Apache in his Sights
(from S. Chamberlain's sketches)
At the end of the battle, Chamberlain counts about twenty-five Indian fatalities but makes no mention of scalping in this encounter. As a result of the fight though, an additional four scalpers were deemed too badly injured to continue. The party was forced to draw straws to assign the gruesome duty of executing their partners.

The Yumas

From there the headed north, losing two more of the party from injuries sustained in the previous battle. By this time they had reached the Colorado River and decided to follow it to the Gila River- path that would take them through the Grand Canyon. Eventually they wound their way to the Gila and a new plan. The Yuma Indians there had set up a ferry about four miles south of the junction of the two rivers to take settlers into California. Glanton and Holden came upon their new El Dorado; the gang would "seize [the ferry], kill the Indians if they objected, capture the young girls for wives etc." The gang seized the ferry and nine girls and drove off the unarmed natives; they then began constructing a rock fort to defend their new possession. When a party of Indians came demanding the return of their possession and women, Glanton proposed that he would keep all he had taken and that the natives should provide him with food or he would raze their village and kill all of them. The Indians attacked, but Glanton and his men killed four with concealed pistols- they were subsequently scalped "by force of habit." Glanton left briefly to get provisions; he ran afoul of the law and returned empty-handed but with an interesting piece of information. A group of Sonorans were traveling home from the gold mines with plenty of gold; Glanton's plan to ambush them was struck down, but Chamberlain had had enough. He and three others plotted to desert.

Chamberlain Rescues Holden from the Yumas
On the day that they were to escape, the Yumas attacked- Glanton had been killed- and Chamberlain and his companions set out over the 130 miles of desert toward California. Twenty miles from their camp, they saw Holden fleeing from the Yumas. They had surrounded him armed only with clubs; he had "brained" one using his rifle as a club, but a dozen had cornered him. Chamberlain killed one and chased the others off, and so Holden briefly joined their escape party which ended at Los Angeles in 1850.

The party had abandoned Holden by that point, and the fate of the other three fugitives remains unknown. Chamberlain stayed in California for a while, then returned to Boston and married. He joined a volunteer regiment during the Civil War and was named a brevet brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. Samuel Chamberlain died in Massachusetts in 1908.