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.
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This elite law enforcement team caught up with a man they presumed to be Murieta a month later on the Tejon Pass, killed him, and brought his head back to display to the relieved public.
There was, and remains, some dispute over his identity. According to this unsubstantiated story, he had come to the Stanislaus River near San Francisco to prospect for gold during the great gold rush.
Vowing revenge, Murieta formed a gang of Mexicans who roamed the frontier towns and terrorized prospectors and new communities. Stories about Murieta have continued to this day.
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Head of frontier bandit placed on display
It has the distinction of being the first novel published in California, the first novel published by a Native American, and the first American novel to feature a Mexican protagonist. Its story draws together transformational events in the history of three nations, connecting the California gold rush with the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the Mexican-American War. It blends elements of epic, folktale, revenge tragedy, and romance—yet historians have often treated it as a factual record. It has been repurposed, and sometimes plagiarized, throughout the U. In the wake of the estimated four thousand Cherokee deaths resulting from the Trail of Tears, negotiations with the U. In , Ridge killed a Ross sympathizer named David Kell in a horse dispute and fled the state.
Evidence for a historical Joaquin is scarce. Contemporary documents record testimony concerning a minor horse thief by the same name in Bandidos with the name 'Joaquin' involved in the robbery and murder of several Chinese were reported by newspapers during the same time. A California Ranger by the name of Harry Love was tasked with and eventually brought in a human head claimed to be that of Murieta.
Thought to have been born in either Alamos, Sonora, Mexico or Quillota, Chile in ; Joaquin traveled with his older brother, Carlos and his wife, Rosita, to California in to seek his fortune in the gold fields. The three immigrants soon set up a small farm and the brothers began to work a claim near Hangtown. However, in the same year as their arrival, a Foreign Miners Tax was imposed in California and their Anglo-Saxon neighbors tried to run them off by telling them that it was illegal for Mexicans to hold a claim. Reportedly, the Murrieta brothers tried to ignore the threats as long as they could until they were finally forced off their claim. Angry and unable to find work, Joaquin turned to a life of crime, along with other disposed foreign miners, who began to prey upon those who had forced them from their claims. Murrieta soon became one of the leaders of a band of ruffians called The Five Joaquins , who were said to have been responsible for cattle rustling, robberies, and murders that occurred in the gold rush area of the Sierra Nevadas between and With posses trailing after them, the bandits were able to avoid the law for several years, killing three lawmen in the process.