Joaquin Murrieta

Joaquin Murrieta is believed by some folks to represent a hero figure whose struggle against social injustice forced him into the shadow of criminal life. The popular legend that he was a peace-loving man driven to revenge by the gang-rape of his wife and the murder of his brother was the creation of a novel written in 1854 by John Rollin Ridge. The fictional story of Murrieta became popular because Ridge portrayed him as a handsome, hard-working, well educated young man whose family, wealth and esteem were stolen from him by the many social injustices wrecked upon oppressed minorities of that period. Abandoned by the legal system, according to Ridge, Murrieta was forced, even against his own consciences, to balance the scale of justice by seeking vengeance against those who raped his beautiful young wife and murdered his brother. Certainly, such injustice would darken the soul of any normal person and turn them toward vengeance. However, Ridge's assertion is based entirely upon a fanciful story from the San Francisco Herald that was a reprinted letter from an unnamed author writing from Monterey (reprinted Daily Union 4/21/1853). In that story, as in Ridge's story, Joaquín is a polite young man who was oppressed, robbed, and driven from his valuable land by the Americans. He was a man driven to vengeance, and he swore, "I will revenge my wrongs and take the law in my own hands; those who have injured me I'll slay, and those who have not, I'll rob—my track shall leave a trail of blood."

Joaquin's alleged reign of terror became so appalling that California legislature authorized formation of the California Rangers under the command of Captain Harry Love. The Rangers were directed to apprehend a "party or gang of robbers commanded by the five Joaquins," specified as Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Murrieta, Joaquin Ocomorenia, and Joaquin Valenzuela. These men were believed to be responsible for most of the cattle rustling, robberies, and murders perpetrated in the Mother Lode region since 1850.

Joaquin, and a small band of compañeros, was intercepted by the Ranger on Cantua Creek during the early morning of July 25, 1853. Joaquin Murrieta, Bernardino Garcia (a.k.a. Three-Fingered Jack) and two others were killed during the skirmish. For identification, Joaquin's head and Bernardino's hand were cut off.

John R. Ridge, also known as Yellow Bird, romanticized Joaquin Murrieta's life and career with his 1854 book, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta. Yellow Bird was our nation's first Native American novelist and his book was California's first novel.

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Joaquin Murrieta and His Horse Gangs
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Autographed by Joaquin "Tex" Muiretta (photo of "Tex" is on page 271).

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Joaquín Murrieta (1853)

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Copyright ©, 2005; Updated May 23, 2016