John Joel Glanton, soldier of fortune, outlaw, and notorious bounty-hunter and murderer, was born in 1819 with twin brother Julian in Edgefield County, South Carolina, to Charles William and Margaret Hill Glanton. The family relocated to to Louisiana after Charles Glanton's death, and later settled in Jackson County, Arkansas. Margaret married Major John Roddy, a war veteran and owner of Walnut Woods Plantation. John Glanton developed a reputation from his explosive violence, and was reported to be an outlaw in Tennessee before his arrival in Texas. In 1835 he was living with his parents at Gonzales, Texas. His fiancée was abducted, scalped, and killed by Lipan Apaches that year. On October 2, he joined the movement to San Antonio to dislodge Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos. Glanton was a free scout for the army under Col. James W. Fannin, Jr., and allegedly a Texas Ranger captain at sixteen. He narrowly escaped death at the Goliad Massacre. President Sam Houston reportedly banished Glanton from Texas for reasons unknown, though apparently the order was never enforced.
Glanton returned to Louisiana, where on March 11, 1841, he was arrested for shooting a pistol at a police officer in the American Theater in New Orleans. Since no one was injured during the performance, Glanton received little or no punishment. In early 1843, Glanton applied for a 320 acre Arkansas land grant in Jackson County. He did not acquire a certificate of purchase, but he improved the property during his short residence. He transferred the land in 1845 to his brother Benjamin and returned to Louisiana.
After the Texas Revolution Glanton joined the ranger company of Capt. John C. Hays in protecting San Antonio, where he courted Joaquina Menchaca, the daughter of respected former mayor Jose Antonio Menchaca and called "the most beautiful woman in the Republic of Texas." They married in October of 1846, and Joaquina became pregnant shortly thereafter. Glanton traveled to East Texas during the Regulator-Moderator War. Apparently Glanton supported neither faction in the dispute, but he allegedly wounded or killed the best fighter on each side. Local residents who objected to his actions reportedly considered lynching him.
During the Mexican War Glanton scouted as a free ranger with Col. Hays for Gen. Zachary Taylor. On January 13, 1847, he enlisted in Capt. Walter P. Lane's Company of Maj. Michael Chevallie's Battalion of Texas Mounted Volunteers. He rendered heroic service in clearing Northern Mexico of guerrillas in the Chevallié Battalion. While in Lane's company, Glanton killed an unarmed Mexican and stole his horse. Mexican authorities protested, and Taylor ordered Glanton arrested, but Lane warned Glanton of his impending arrest and he escaped into Texas. Glanton joined the command of Capt. Alfred M. Truitt and distinguished himself as a lieutenant in the special scout company of Capt. John Salmon [Rip] Ford. The illness and subsequent death of his infant son troubled Glanton. He deserted his unit at Encantada, Mexico, on October 18, 1846, but later joined Capt. Jacob Roberts' Company, which served as the vanguard of Brig. Gen. Lane's force at the skirmish of Galaxara Pass. Glanton earned recognition for his actions at both Matamoros and Galaxara Pass. As a result, he joined Capt. Ford's Special Spy Company and was elected a lieutenant. He was discharged from the company of Capt. Jacob Roberts on April 30, 1848, at Camp Washington, near Veracruz. Glanton returned to San Antonio in mid 1848 as a minor war hero before the end of the year was elected a lieutenant under Capt. Benjamin F. Hill in the regiment of Col. Peter H. Bell fighting Native Americans on the Texas frontier. On November 15th, he encountered three belligerent U.S. infantrymen on Commerce Street in front of Hummel and Sons’ Gun Shop. He mortally wounded one of them, but immediately surrendered to the law for a trial and was later acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.
In mid 1849, he rode out of San Antonio for California with thirty well-armed gold-seekers, leaving his wife and a daughter. Glanton led a small expedition along the Chihuahua route to California, but became stranded in Mexico, where their funds and supplies were unexpectedly depleted. In Chihuahua City, Michael H. Chevallié and Glanton influenced the state legislature to pass the Fifth Law (Ley Quinto) over the veto of the governor, empowering Chevallié to contract with guerrillas to capture or kill troublesome Apache Indians. Chevallié entered the first contract the following day, and Glanton was in his company on several successful expeditions north of the capital. These bounty hunting campaigns were the source of bitter controversy in Chihuahua. By the third week of June, Glanton earned a contract as a government bounty hunter with financing from United States Consul, Benjamin Riddle.
His campaigns during the remainder of 1849 were widespread, successful, and financially rewarding. By 1850, however, it became increasingly difficult for the Glanton gang to find hostile Apaches, and they began attacking peaceful agricultural Indians in the vicinity of Fort El Norte. Finally, they turned to taking Mexican scalps for profit. As a result the Chihuahua government drove Glanton and his company into Sonora and put a bounty on his scalp. There he contracted with the authorities to fight the Indians, traded Indian scalps for bounties, and again resorted to taking Mexican scalps to increase his profit. He and his gang seized and operated a river ferry controlled by the Yuma Indians. While operating the ferry, they reportedly killed Mexican and American passengers alike for their money and goods. At dawn on April 23, 1850, the normally friendly Yuma got their revenge on the interloping entrepreneurs. They killed most of the ferry workers and slit Glanton's throat in his tent. His body was taken to the U.S. side of the Colorado River, lashed to a dog and burned with the animal. As a result, the governor of California deployed a short-lived military expedition to punish the Yuma. Glanton’s will was probated the next year and his mother, Margaret Roddy of Taylor’s Bay, Jackson County, Arkansas, was named an heir. Glanton's legacy shifted from war hero to alleged mass murderer in less than a year.
Glanton’s widow remained devoted to him, never remarried, and retained his surname until her death in New Orleans. Their daughter Joaquina M. Glanton married Cuban revolutionary General Rafael Quesada. In 1891, Joaquina and Rafael’s son, Juan Quesada (alias John Glanton) was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor for robbing a San Antonio ice house with a Bowie knife. Over the decades, the historical fiction and romance biographies of Jeremiah Clemens, Horace Bell and Samuel Chamberlain altered Glanton’s image in scholarship. Respected historian Walter P. Webb strongly denounced Chamberlain’s memoir as a hoax.