Joaquin Murrieta

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Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo
Artist's portrayal of Murrieta
Artist's portrayal of Murrieta
Born 1829
Sonora, Mexico
Died Fresno County, California
Residence California, Sonora, Mexico
Nationality Mexican
Other names The Robin Hood of El Dorado, The Mexican Robin Hood
Occupation Vaquero, Gold miner, outlaw
Known for Outlaw leader during time period of California Gold Rush
Political party Mexican Liberal
Spouse(s) Rosa Feliz aka Rosita Carmela or Rosita Carmel Feliz
Parent(s) Joaquin and Rosalia (née Carillo) Murrieta
Relatives Jesus Murrieta (elder brother), Antonio Murrieta (brother), Rosa Murrieta (niece), Herminia Murrieta (niece), Anita Murrieta (niece), Ramon Feliz (Father-in-law),[1] Procopio (nephew)

Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo (sometimes spelled Murieta or Murietta) (1829 – July 25, 1853), also called The Robin Hood of the West or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a famous vaquero, and gold miner in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. The popular legend of Joaquin Murrieta is that of a peace-loving man driven to seek revenge when he and his brother were falsely accused of stealing a mule. His brother was hanged and Joaquin horsewhipped. His young wife was gang raped and in one version she died in Joaquin's arms. Swearing revenge, Joaquin hunted down all who had violated his sweetheart. He embarked on a short but violent career that brought death to his Anglo tormentors. The state of California then offered a reward of up to $5000 for Joaquin "dead or alive." Joaquin was never found.

In 1919, Johnston McCulley supposedly received his inspiration for his fictional character Don Diego de la Vega — better known as Zorro — from the 1854 book entitled The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge. John heard about a Mexican miner who had turned to banditry and was intrigued by the story.[2][3]

Controversy over his life[edit]

Controversy surrounds the figure of Joaquin Murrieta: who he was, what he did, and many of his life's events. This is summarized by the words of historian Susan Lee Johnson:

"So many tales have grown up around Murrieta that it is hard to disentangle the fabulous from the factual. There seems to be a consensus that Anglos drove him from a rich mining claim, and that, in rapid succession, his wife was raped, his half-brother lynched, and Murrieta himself horse-whipped. He may have worked as a monte dealer for a time; then, according to whichever version one accepts, he became either a horse trader and occasional horse thief, or a bandit."[4]

John Rollin Ridge, grandson of the Cherokee leader Major Ridge, wrote a dime novel about Murrieta; the fictional biography contributed to his legend, especially as it was translated into various European languages. A portion of Ridge's novel was reprinted in 1858 in the California Police Gazette. This story was picked up and subsequently translated into French. The French version was translated into Spanish by Roberto Hyenne, who took Ridge's original story and changed every "Mexican" reference to "Chilean" for either nationalistic reasons or to better fit the Chilean market.

Early life and education[edit]

Most biographical sources hold that Murrieta was born in Hermosillo[4] in the northwestern state of Sonora, Mexico. However, "evidence suggests . . . [he] was not one man, but three, or five, whose exploits were recorded as one."[5]

Migration to California[edit]

Murrieta reportedly went to California in 1849 to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush. He encountered prejudice and hostility in the extreme competition of the rough mining camps. While mining for gold, he and his wife supposedly were attacked by American miners jealous of his success.[4] They allegedly beat him and raped his wife. However, the source for these events is not considered reliable, as it was a dime novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, written by John Rollin Ridge and published in 1854.[4]

The historian Frank Latta, in his twentieth-century book, Joaquín Murrieta and His Horse Gangs (1980), wrote that Murrieta was from the Pueblo de Murrieta on the Rancho Tapizuelas, across the Cuchujaqui River, (or arroyo de Álamos), to the north of Casanate, in the southeast of Sonora, near the Sinaloa border, within what is now the Álamos Municipality, in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. He wrote that he had a well organized bands led by of relatives and friends. Latta documented that they regularly engaged in illegal horse trade with Mexico, and had helped Murrieta kill at least six of the Americans who had attacked him and his wife.[6]

He and his band attacked miners, settlers and wagons in California. They also stole horses, driving them from Contra Costa County to the Central Valley via the remote La Vareda del Monte trail through the Diablo Range.[6][7] The gang is believed to have killed up to 28 Chinese and 13 Anglo-Americans.[8] By 1853, the California state legislature considered Murrieta enough of a criminal to list him as one of the so-called "Five Joaquins" on a bill passed in May 1853. The legislature authorized hiring for three months a company of 20 California Rangers, veterans of the Mexican-American War, to hunt down "Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Muriata [sic], Joaquin Ocomorenia, and Joaquin Valenzuela," and their banded associates. On May 11, 1853, the governor John Bigler signed an act to create the "California State Rangers," to be led by Captain Harry Love (a former Texas Ranger and Mexican War veteran).

The state paid the California Rangers $150 a month, and promised them a $1,000 governor's reward if they captured the wanted men. On July 25, 1853, a group of Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men near Arroyo de Cantua on the edge of the Diablo Range near Coalinga, California. In the confrontation, three of the Mexicans were killed. They claimed one was Murrieta, and another Manuel Garcia, also known as Three-Fingered Jack, one of his most notorious associates.[7] Two others were captured.[9] A plaque (California Historical Landmark #344) near Coalinga at the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 now marks the approximate site of the incident.

A poster advertising the display of the supposed head of Murrieta in Stockton, CA. 1853

As proof of the outlaws' deaths, the Rangers cut off Three-Fingered Jack's hand, and the alleged Murrieta's head, and preserved them in a jar of alcohol to bring to the authorities for their reward.[4][7] Officials displayed the jar in Mariposa County, Stockton, and San Francisco. The Rangers took the display throughout California; spectators could pay $1 to see the relics. Seventeen people, including a Catholic priest, signed affidavits identifying the head as Murrieta's, alias Carrillo.[citation needed]

Love and his Rangers received the $1,000 reward money. In August 1853, an anonymous Los Angeles-based man wrote to the San Francisco Alta California Daily that Love and his Rangers murdered some innocent Mexican mustang catchers, and bribed people to swear out affidavits.[citation needed] Later that fall, California newspapers carried letters by a few men claiming that Capt. Love had failed to display Murrieta's head at the mining camps, but this was not true.[10] On May 28, 1854, the California State Legislature voted to reward the Rangers with another $5,000 for their defeat of Murrieta and his band.[11]

But, 25 years later, the myths began to form. In 1879, O. P. Stidger was reported to have heard Murrieta's sister say that the displayed head was not her brother's.[12] At around the same time, numerous sightings were reported of Murrieta as an old man. These were never confirmed. His preserved head was destroyed during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fire.

The Real Zorro[edit]

Murrieta's nephew, known as Procopio, became one of California's most notorious bandits of the 1860s and 1870s; he purportedly wanted to exceed the reputation of his uncle. Murrieta was possibly partly the inspiration for the fictional character of Zorro, the lead character in the five-part serial story, "The Curse of Capistrano," written by Johnston McCulley, and published in 1919 in a pulp fiction magazine. For some activists, Murrieta had come to symbolize the resistance against Anglo-American economic and cultural domination in California. The "Association of Descendants of Joaquin Murrieta" says that Murrieta was not a "gringo eater," but "He wanted to retrieve the part of Mexico that was lost at that time in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo."[13]

Representations in media[edit]

Joaquin Murrieta has been a widely used romantic figure in novels, stories, and films, and on TV.


  • The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta (1854) by John Rollin Ridge, published one year after Murieta's supposed death. Parts of this were translated into French and Spanish, adding to his legend in Europe.
  • Burns, Walter Noble (1932). The Robin Hood of El Dorado. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc. 
  • Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta, (tr. The Splendor and Death of Joaquin Murieta by Ben Belitt) - a play by the Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, published in English in paperback in 1972.
  • L'Homme aux Mains de Cuir (The Man with the Leather Hands) by French writer Robert Gaillard, published in 1963 [14]
  • Daughter of Fortune, a 1999 novel by Isabel Allende, includes the mythical figure of Murrieta.
  • Звезда и смерть Хоакина Мурьеты (Zvezda i smert’ Khoakina Mur’etyThe Star and Death of Joaquin Murieta), 1976, opera by Alexei Rybnikov and Pavel Grushko, is based on Pablo Neruda's play.
  • Bandit's Moon, (1998) by Sid Fleischman, an award-winning children's novel.
  • L.A. Outlaws, a 2008 novel by T. Jefferson Parker, and another of Parker's 'Charlie Hood' series of novels, feature Murietta as an ancestor of some of the main characters.
  • "The History & Adventures of the Bandit Joaquin Murietta" (2012[15]) a novella by Stanley Moss (b. 1948), retelling the legend of the outlaw intertwined with a memoir
  • "This is a Suit" - a slam poem by Joaquin Zihuatanejo.
  • "The California Trail" by Ralph Compton, a small part in chapters 22 and 23

Film and TV:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burns, Walter Noble, The Robin Hood of El Dorado Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1932.
  2. ^ "The Real Zorro, Unmasked". Desert Magazine. 
  3. ^ "El Bandito Joaquin Murrieta". Desert Magazine. 
  4. ^ a b c d e *"Review: Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush", American Scholar, 1 January 2000, p. 142 Vol. 69 No. 1 ISSN 0003-0937.
  5. ^ Roddy, W. Lee (1970). Wanted! Black Bart and Other California Outlaws. Ceres, California. 
  6. ^ a b Frank F. Latta, JOAQUIN MURRIETA AND HIS HORSE GANGS, Bear State Books, Santa Cruz, California. 1980. xv,685 pages. Illustrated with numerous photos. Index. Photographic front endpapers.
  7. ^ a b c Ron Erskine (5 Mar 2004). "Joaquin Murrieta slept here". Morgan Hill Times. Retrieved 24 Oct 2016. 
  8. ^ Peter Mancall; Benjamin Heber-Johnson. Making of the American West: People and Perspectives. p. 270. 
  9. ^ "California State Rangers". California State Military Museum. 1940. Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  10. ^ Democratic State Journal, Oct. 17, 1853, Calaveras Correspondence from W. C. P. of Mokelumne Hill; San Joaquin Republican, Oct. 20, 1853, correspondence from Sonora, Tuolumne Co.
  11. ^ WPA, "California State Rangers: History", 1940, California State Military Museum, accessed 7 August 2011
  12. ^ See The Pioneer, Sat., Nov. 29, 1879. Also see History of Nevada County (Oakland : Thompson & West, 1880; rprt Berkeley: Howell-North Books, 1970), 115.
  13. ^ Bacon, David (December 15, 2001). "Interview with Antonio Rivera Murrieta". Retrieved 2010-06-16. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Amazon eBook ASIN: B00ATYKW3C
  16. ^ Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
  17. ^ ""California Outlaws", The Adventures of Kit Carson, August 11, 1951". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 15, 2014. 
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
  21. ^ Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
  22. ^ Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb


  • The Big Valley Season 3 Episode 1. First aired September 11, 1967

Further reading[edit]

  • Frank F. Latta, JOAQUIN MURRIETA AND HIS HORSE GANGS, Bear State Books, Santa Cruz, California. 1980. xv,685 pages. Illustrated with numerous photos. Index. Photographic front endpapers.
  • Paz, Ireneo (1904). Vida y Aventuras del Mas Celebre Bandido Sonorense, Joaquin Murrieta: Sus Grandes Proezas En California (in Spanish) (English translation by Francis P. Belle, Regan Pub. Corp., Chicago, 1925. Republished with introduction and additional translation by Luis Leal as Life and Adventures of the Celebrated Bandit Joaquin Murrieta: His Exploits in the State of California, Arte Publico Press, 1999. ed.). Mexico City. 
  • John Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes, Wiley, 1999.
  • Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush. New York: W. W. Norton. 2000. ISBN 978-0-393-32099-2. 
  • Seacrest, William B., The Man From The Rio Grande, A Biography of Harry Love, Leader of the California Rangers who tracked down Joaquin Murrieta, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Spokane, 2005. Includes a very extensive account of the outlaws career including many quotes drawn from period news sources and personal accounts.

External links[edit]