The legend of Joaquin Murrieta: Mexico’s Robin Hood or just plain hood?

articles History & People

Maggie Van Ostrand

Joaquin Murrueta
Joaquin Murrueta

Everything about Joaquin Murrieta is disputed. He was either the Mexican Robin Hood or the El Dorado Robin Hood. He was either an infamous bandito or a Mexican patriot. He was born in either Alamos or Trincheras, in either Sonora Mexico or Quillota Chile.

He was either descended from Cherokee ancestors who migrated to Chile in the late 18th century, or a noble Spanish landowner. He either sympathized with Native Americans or with Mexicans.

An undisputed truth about Joaquin Murrieta is that he was born in 1829 and made his way to California in 1850, seeking to mine for gold. Legend says that he, his wife and his brother were attacked by American miners who envied his success and hated Mexicans. Talk about sore losers, they not only raped his wife, they hanged his brother, and horsewhipped the innocent Joaquin to a bloody pulp.

Murrieta tried to do the right thing and sought redress in the California courts, but was thwarted because Mexicans were prohibited from testifying against white men.

Seeking vengeance outside the law, Murrieta formed a gang, hunting down and killing six culprits. His outlaw band was named The Five Joaquins: Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomoreniaq, Joaquin Valenzuela and Joaquin Murrieta. There was a sixth member, Manuel Garcia, affectionately dubbed Three-Fingered Jack.

In the Sierra Nevadas, they rustled cattle and horses, robbed banks, and murdered no fewer than 19 men. California governor, John Bigler, got plenty mad about this and created the California State Rangers, led by Captain Love, who had the task of finding the gang for a paltry $150 per month. A bounty of $5,000 was offered for Murrieta.

On July 25, 1853, an encounter between the Rangers and the gang ensued, killing Murrieta himself, and Three Fingered Jack. The Rangers mustve been pretty bloodthirsty, because they stuck Garcias three-fingered hand and Joaquin Murrietas head in a big jar filled with brandy to preserve their trophies. They displayed the jar over Northern California, spectators paying one dollar each. (Note: The jar was lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.)

A year after the head and the hand event, legends about Murrieta began in earnest with San Francisco newspapers and even a book telling the story which had unleashed the fury of Five Joaquins and one Garcia in their quest for revenge.

History and legend ultimately came together creating Murrieta’s posthumous reputation as a Robin Hood fiercely avenging injustices against Mexicans.

His legendary life has been the subject of songs, novels, plays, and even the first Russian rock opera. Murrietas story can also be seen in motion pictures like The Robin Hood of El Dorado and The Mask of Zorro.

Not a bad legacy for a man about whom so many facts are disputed.

Published or Updated on: March 16, 2010 by Maggie Van Ostrand © 2010
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