The Legend of Joaquin

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February 10th 2020
Published: February 7th 2020
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For those of us who live in the great San Joaquin Valley, we learned a small, mostly inaccurate story about how this valley was named for Joaquin Murrieta. Let's see what we do not really know about this notorious "outlaw".

The Robin Hood of El Dorado, as one of the most famous books about Murietta’s life describes him, was a Mexican immigrant who fought against unfair racial treatment in California. Born in Sonora, Mexico in 1830, Murietta moved to California to try his hand at prospecting. However, local authorities tried to drive out Mexican-Americans and pass legislation to limit their rights.

Murietta became a champion of the oppressed by robbing stage coaches and holding up gold mines. However, his destructive tendencies caught the attention of the local law enforcement, who demanded his capture — dead or alive. In 1853, Murietta was confronted and killed by a detachment of California Rangers.

But rather than try to figure out how he died, I thought it would be more interesting to see if he really fought for unfair racial treatment of Mexicans. Some say he was a Mexican patriot, others ay he was a viscious desperado! Some historians say he was horsewhipped, while they gang raped his wife, and hung his brother. Maybe he was driven to this lifelong vendetta?

According to most history books, he, his brother, and several others turned to crime after being forced form his rightful claims near Placerville (Hangtown), CA. They were angry and unable to find work. His band of ruffians soon became known as the Five Joaquins, including his right hand man, Manual "Three-Fingered Jack" Garcia.

According to some historians, Murrieta and his gang were generous and kind to his Mexican compatriots, giving much of his ill-gotten gains to the poor. They, in turn, sheltered and fed him, protecting him from law enforcement. His vendetta, however noble, may have also been retribution for many Mexican immigrants who were killed or went missing.

At the very least, he became a symbol of resistance against Anglo-American economic and cultural domination here in California. His legend may have been the inspiration for the fictional character of Zorro.

So, where might the truth be? Maybe he was part Robin Hood, part Billy the Kid. Or maybe, none of this is true. I would rather believe that he was the original desperado!


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