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 civil rights leader,
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 hung 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.
Johnston McCulley supposedly received his inspiration for his
fictional character Don Diego de la Vega — better known as
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.
1 Controversy over his life
2 Early life and education
3 Migration to California
4 The Real Zorro
4.1 Representations in media
5 See also
8 Further reading
9 External links
Controversy over his life
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
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
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
Most biographical sources hold that Murrieta was born in Hermosillo
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."
Migration to California
Murrieta reportedly went to
California in 1849 to seek his fortune in
California Gold Rush. He encountered racism 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. 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.
The historian Frank Latta, in his twentieth-century book, Joaquín
Murrieta and His Horse Gangs (1980), wrote that Murrieta was from
Hermosillo in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, and that he had a
paramilitary band made up 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.
He and his band attacked settlers and wagon trains 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. The gang is believed to have killed up to 28 Chinese
and 13 Anglo-Americans. 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
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. Two
others were captured. 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.
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.
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. Later that fall,
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.
On May 28, 1854, the
California State Legislature voted to reward the
Rangers with another $5,000 for their defeat of Murrieta and his
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. 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
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
Mexico that was lost at that time in the Treaty of Guadalupe
Representations in media
Joaquin Murrieta has been a widely used romantic figure in novels,
stories, and films, and on TV.
The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta
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
Burns, Walter Noble (1932). The Robin Hood of El Dorado. New York:
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 
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’ety — The 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
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) 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.
California Trail" by Ralph Compton, a small part in chapters 22
Film and TV:
The Robin Hood of El Dorado, 1936 film by William A. Wellman.
The Bandit Queen, 1950 film by
William Berke with
Phillip Reed as
The Adventures of Kit Carson, 1951 series television premiere episode,
California Bandits", with
Rico Alaniz as Murrietta.
Stories of the Century, 1954 television series, episode "Joaquin
Rick Jason in the starring role
Death Valley Days, long running television and radio Western anthology
series, episodes "I Am Joaquin" (1955) with Cliff Fields (credited as
Field) as Murrieta; and "Eagle in the Rocks" (1960) with Ricardo
Montalban playing Murrieta.
The Last Rebel a 1958 Mexican film with
Carlos Thompson as Murrieta.
The Firebrand a 1962 film with
Valentin de Vargas as Murrieta.
Murieta, a 1965 Spanish Western directed by
George Sherman with
Jeffrey Hunter as Murrieta.
The Big Valley, United States ABC TV Series, 1967, episode "Joaquin"
with Fabrizio Mioni as Juan Molina, suspected to be Joaquin Murrieta
Desperate Mission, United States Television Movie, 1969, with Ricardo
Joaquin Murrieta 
The Mask of
Zorro (1998) film features a youthful Murrieta and his
death at the hands of Captain Harrison Love (A Fictionalized version
of Murrieta's real killer Harry Love). His fictional brother Alejandro
(Antonio Banderas) assumes the role of Zorro, and kills Love in
revenge. Victor Rivers played Joaquin and
Matt Letscher played Capt.
Murrieta is referenced in
CSI S05E12 "Snakes" by a suspect claiming to
be his descendant and therefore protected by him.
Behind The Mask of
Zorro (2005) a History Channel documentary about
Murrieta and how he inspired the character of Zorro.
Faces of Death II, 1981 fake documentary film about death. Murrieta's
head in the jar was believed to have survived the earthquake, and was
sold to different collectors; its current "owner" has it on display,
and explains the legend.
The Head of Joaquin Murrieta, (2015) PBS short-documentary. As
producer John Valadez seeks the head of Murrieta, and seeks to bury
"Así Como Hoy Matan Negros," recorded by
Víctor Jara and
Inti-illimani, based on
Pablo Neruda and Sergio Ortega's collaboration
Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta.
Cueca de Joaquín Murieta" recorded by both
Víctor Jara and
Quilapayún, in the style of Chile's national dance, the cueca - the
song is featured on the album X Vietnam
"Premonición de la Muerte de Joaquin Murieta" (Premonition of the
death of Joaquin Murieta), a tribute to Murrieta, performed by
Quilapayún - the song is featured on the album Quilapayun Chante
"The Ballad of Joaquin Murrieta", performed by the Sons of the San
Joaquin on the album Way Out Yonder.
"The Bandit Joaquin" recorded by Dave Stamey
"Murrietta's Head" written and recorded by
Dave Alvin on the album
"Joaquin Murietta" by Spectra Paris
"Joaquin Murrieta, 1853" by
Bob Frank & John Murry
"Corrido de Joaquin Murrieta" by Los Alegres de Terán
"Stella Ireland and Lady Luck" by American folk
singer/songwriter/guitarist Debby McClatchy
"Adios Querrida" recorded by Wayne Austin on the album "By the Old San
"Del Gato" recorded by Gene Clark and Carla Olson, from the album So
Rebellious a Lover, 1987, written by Gene Clark/Rick Clark
"La Leyenda de Joaquin Murieta" ballet by Jose Luis Dominguez (Chilean
composer/conductor). Released by
Naxos Records in 2016.
^ Burns, Walter Noble, The Robin Hood of
El Dorado Coward-McCann,
Inc., New York, 1932.
^ "The Real Zorro, Unmasked". Desert Magazine.
^ "El Bandito Joaquin Murrieta". Desert Magazine.
^ 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
^ Roddy, W. Lee (1970). Wanted! Black Bart and Other California
Outlaws. Ceres, California.
^ a b c Ron Erskine (5 Mar 2004). "
Joaquin Murrieta slept here".
Morgan Hill Times. Retrieved 24 Oct 2016.
^ Peter Mancall; Benjamin Heber-Johnson. Making of the American West:
People and Perspectives. p. 270.
California State Rangers".
California State Military Museum. 1940.
^ 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.
^ WPA, "
California State Rangers: History", 1940,
Military Museum, accessed 7 August 2011
^ See The Pioneer, Sat., Nov. 29, 1879. Also see History of Nevada
County (Oakland : Thompson & West, 1880; rprt Berkeley:
Howell-North Books, 1970), 115.
^ Bacon, David (December 15, 2001). "Interview with Antonio Rivera
Murrieta". Retrieved 2010-06-16.
^ Amazon eBook ASIN: B00ATYKW3C
Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
California Outlaws", The Adventures of Kit Carson, August 11,
1951". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved May 15, 2014.
Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
Joaquin Murrieta on IMDb
The Big Valley
The Big Valley Season 3 Episode 1. First aired September 11, 1967
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
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.).
John Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws,
Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes, Wiley, 1999.
Susan Lee Johnson, Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California
Gold Rush, New York: Norton, 2000.
Joaquín Murrieta, Picacho
The Legend of Joaquin Murieta
"Mystery of the decapitated Joaquin", Benicia News
"Joaquin Murrieta", Biographic Notes, Inn-California
Jill L. Cossley-Batt, The Last of the
California Rangers (1928
"What's the story on Joaquin Murieta, the Robin Hood of California?",
American Mythmaker: Walter Noble Burns and the Legends of Billy the
Kid, Wyatt Earp, and Joaquín Murrieta, by Mark J. Dworkin, University
of Oklahoma Press, 2015.
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