The Joaquín Band: The History behind the Legend

Overview


After the U.S.-Mexican War, gold was discovered in northern California, a Mexican territory that had been ceded to the United States. Thousands of Mexican and American citizens traveled to the gold region and soon clashed. The ruling Americans enforced unjust laws that impelled some Mexicans to become bandits, Joaquín Murrieta among them. He became something of a media myth, with a few newspaper editors complaining that he was reportedly seen in two or more counties at once. In 1854 journalist John Rollin Ridge ...
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Overview


After the U.S.-Mexican War, gold was discovered in northern California, a Mexican territory that had been ceded to the United States. Thousands of Mexican and American citizens traveled to the gold region and soon clashed. The ruling Americans enforced unjust laws that impelled some Mexicans to become bandits, Joaquín Murrieta among them. He became something of a media myth, with a few newspaper editors complaining that he was reportedly seen in two or more counties at once. In 1854 journalist John Rollin Ridge published a book about the legendary Joaquín band, with news accounts providing the foundation for Ridge’s story. In one newspaper, Murrieta was quoted as saying he had suffered abuse at the hands of Americans and so was justified in seeking revenge by trampling their laws under foot. Murrieta’s justification became an oft-repeated refrain among bandits, one designed to excite sympathy and gain followers.  

By digging up Spanish sources and revisiting English sources, Lori Lee Wilson discovered previously unrecognized cultural and political forces that shaped the Joaquín band legend. She reveals the roots of an American fear of a Mexican guerrilla band threat in 1850 and the political and societal response to that perceived threat throughout the decade. Wilson also examines how the Joaquín band played in the Spanish-language newspapers of the time and their view of the vigilante response. The Joaquín Band is a fascinating examination of the role of the Joaquín band legend in California and Chicano history and how it was shaped over time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Much more than an account of the life of famed Mexican outlaw Joaquín Murrieta, Wilson (The Salem Witch Trials: How History Is Invented) delves into a variety of historical sources to paint a vivid picture of life in California during the Gold Rush of the 1850s. Wilson provides a wealth of context in which to examine the complicated legend of Murrieta, who "became the historical symbol of Mexican banditry as rebellion against unjust laws and actions" committed by Americans in California. As legend has it, Murrieta was a "a light-skinned romantic Robin Hood or Zorro type," who rebelled against "southerners in the United States who coveted more land and felt manifestly destined to take it." Wilson includes profiles of John Rollin Ridge, the first writer to chronicle Murrieta in the quasi-fictional The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murrieta; and journalists Manuel Clemente Rojo and Francisco P. Ramirez who wrote extensively on the Murrieta band and tackled the political landscape of the time. The second half of the book explores the dangers of vigilantism and the fates of many other notorious Mexican criminals of the time like Juan Flores, Pancho Daniel, and Tiburcio Vásquez. Thorough and engrossing, this book will likely spark the interest of scholars and rabble-rousers alike.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
True West

"This is one of the best books about the real Joaquin Murrieta, and it does a great job of separating fact from fiction."—True West
Richard Griswold del Castillo

“This is a remarkable book showing tremendous scholarship and amazing facility in weaving stories together to present nuanced and sophisticated points of view. The author’s work on this theme will immediately be recognized by scholars as monumental. This work will become the most authoritative work on not just Joaquín Murrieta’s history but on the social history of early California.”—Richard Griswold del Castillo, coauthor of Competing Visions: A History of California and the editor of World War II and Mexican American Civil Rights
New Mexico Historical Review

"Wilson's original contribution to the Murrieta literature is her analysis of how race, nationality, and partisan politics affected newspaper coverage of California bandits and vigilantes in the 1850s. . . . Readers looking for a place to enter the labyrinth of Murrieta studies would do well to start here."—Glen Gendzel, New Mexico Historical Review

— Glen Gendzel

Michael Gonzalez

“Lori Lee Wilson has produced an eloquent, provocative, and compelling work. Her study will impress scholars and students alike, as well as contribute to our understanding about the life and politics of nineteenth-century California.”—Michael Gonzalez, author of This Small City Will Be a Mexican Paradise: Exploring the Origins of Mexican Culture in Los Angeles, 1821–1846
New Mexico Historical Review - Glen Gendzel

"Wilson's original contribution to the Murrieta literature is her analysis of how race, nationality, and partisan politics affected newspaper coverage of California bandits and vigilantes in the 1850s. . . . Readers looking for a place to enter the labyrinth of Murrieta studies would do well to start here."—Glen Gendzel, New Mexico Historical Review
Western American Literature - Elisa Warford

"Wilson crafts a rich and nuanced history not only of the Murrieta bands, but also of a violent, ethnically diverse nineteenth-century California in which many groups were struggling to assert their identity and legitimacy as Californians and Americans."—Elisa Warford, Western American Literature
True West
"This is one of the best books about the real Joaquin Murrieta, and it does a great job of separating fact from fiction."—True West
New Mexico Historical Review - Glen Gendzel
"Wilson's original contribution to the Murrieta literature is her analysis of how race, nationality, and partisan politics affected newspaper coverage of California bandits and vigilantes in the 1850s. . . . Readers looking for a place to enter the labyrinth of Murrieta studies would do well to start here."—Glen Gendzel, New Mexico Historical Review
Michael Gonzalez
“Lori Lee Wilson has produced an eloquent, provocative, and compelling work. Her study will impress scholars and students alike, as well as contribute to our understanding about the life and politics of nineteenth-century California.”—Michael Gonzalez, author of This Small City Will Be a Mexican Paradise: Exploring the Origins of Mexican Culture in Los Angeles, 1821–1846
Richard Griswold del Castillo
“This is a remarkable book showing tremendous scholarship and amazing facility in weaving stories together to present nuanced and sophisticated points of view. The author’s work on this theme will immediately be recognized by scholars as monumental. This work will become the most authoritative work on not just Joaquín Murrieta’s history but on the social history of early California.”—Richard Griswold del Castillo, coauthor of Competing Visions: A History of California and the editor of World War II and Mexican American Civil Rights
Richard Griswold del Castillo

“This is a remarkable book showing tremendous scholarship and amazing facility in weaving stories together to present nuanced and sophisticated points of view. The author’s work on this theme will immediately be recognized by scholars as monumental. This work will become the most authoritative work on not just Joaquín Murrieta’s history but on the social history of early California.”—Richard Griswold del Castillo, coauthor of Competing Visions: A History of California and the editor of World War II and Mexican American Civil Rights

Michael Gonzalez

“Lori Lee Wilson has produced an eloquent, provocative, and compelling work. Her study will impress scholars and students alike, as well as contribute to our understanding about the life and politics of nineteenth-century California.”—Michael Gonzalez, author of This Small City Will Be a Mexican Paradise: Exploring the Origins of Mexican Culture in Los Angeles, 1821–1846

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803234611
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Lori Lee Wilson is an independent writer. She is the author of The Salem Witch Trials: How History Is Invented.
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Read an Excerpt

The Joaquín Band

The History behind the Legend
By LORI LEE WILSON

UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS

Copyright © 2011 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8032-3461-1


Chapter One

The Legend and History

The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit, by Yellow Bird (Tsis-qua-da-loni in Cherokee, phonetically rendered "Chees-quat-a-lawny"), better known as John Rollin Ridge, was published in San Francisco in July i854, one year after the California State Rangers brought in a head identified as that of Joaquín Murrieta. Ridge's book was a slender little volume with a soft cover of heavy yellow paper, signifying to book buyers in those days that here was a "blood and thunder" adventure full of violent action sequences interspersed with scenes of illicit love. (In all Spanish-language sources, the name "Murrieta" is consistently spelled with two r's. English-language newspapers often misspelled the name with only one r. John Rollin Ridge relied on these newspapers for source material.)

Nineteenth-century authors of yellow-covered books generally wrote hastily and usually published their work under pen names as did Ridge. Publishers printed them hurriedly (printing errors were common) and on cheap paper; buyers paid little for them and did not treasure them but passed them on to friends or traded them in toward other purchases. Very popular and often advertised in gold rush California newspapers, yellow-covered books were sold by booksellers in San Francisco as well as at trading posts near river crossings and at mining and lumbering camps.

Joaquín Murrieta was a natural subject for the genre because his name had recently been in the news a lot. Heroes in such books were generally based on such persons, be they pirates, highwaymen, Indian killers, fugitives, mercenaries, buccaneers, or duelists. Though popular and profitable, yellow-covered literature was often denounced as worthless, immoral, sensationalistic, and a bad influence on young, impressionable minds. Among those who read them was John Rollin Ridge.

John Rollin was born at New Echota, Cherokee Territory, in 1827 to Chief John Ridge and Sarah Bird Northrup, the daughter of New England–based missionaries whose school Chief John Ridge had attended. The Cherokee had been striving for two decades to observe the terms of a treaty signed by George Washington that promised them they could keep their land and live independently of the U.S. government as peaceful neighbors, if they became "civilized." The Cherokee women learned to spin and weave wool, and the men learned to farm. Hundreds of Cherokee farmers used African slave labor, as did their white neighbors in Georgia and Tennessee. Missionaries came and opened schools. Sequoya, a Cherokee warrior who observed an American soldier reading what looked like symbols on a letter from home, created a Cherokee syllabary and taught it to his people so that they could read and write. By 1827 the Cherokees dressed like whites, but they added their own splashes of native decorum. They owned horses and cattle, ran farms and orchards, and lived in log cabins or clapboard houses. So John Rollin Ridge grew up in a house and went to a school that had a missionary teacher, a school that his brothers, sisters, cousins, and neighbors attended, a school that the Georgia state government threatened to close because a few of the pupils were black. In Georgia it was against the law to educate blacks.

Had the treaty with George Washington been kept, Ridge may never have gone to California or written about Joaquín Murrieta. But like so many other treaties, this one, too, was broken, though not until after George Washington had died. It was broken because a company of Georgians, including corrupt politicians, took part in what became known as the Yazoo Land Fraud. They claimed all the land belonging to the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks (or what is today northwest Georgia and all of Alabama and Mississippi) with the goal of selling it for profit. The government broke up the company but in doing so ended up paying the state of Georgia for the land and promising to remove all the Indians. Removal efforts began in i803, with a few thousand Cherokees volunteering to relocate west of the Mississippi River. Those who stayed behind agreed to fight for the U.S. government against the Creeks when they rebelled. The government promised the Cherokees that in return for their allegiance, they could stay in their homeland. But Georgian settlers kept encroaching on Cherokee land, and the Georgia government would not allow Indians to testify in its courts against settlers who harassed Cherokee residents. When gold was discovered on Cherokee land, matters got worse.

Young Ridge and his siblings saw their home become crowded with displaced Cherokees. As chief of a clan, his father was obliged to open his property and home to those of his people whose homes had been confiscated, or looted and burned. Among them were widows and orphans, because men who resisted were flogged and hanged. On occasion women were also abused. The horror stories they told provoked Chief John Ridge to work hard, via diplomatic channels, to get U.S. military protection for his people. He and his cousin, Buck Watie (also known as Elias Boudinot), pleaded with President Andrew Jackson, but Jackson knew he presided over a young and shaky democracy that might break if it presumed to take military action against the Georgians on behalf of Indians. Jackson told them that, even though Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall had ruled in their favor, he would never enforce the ruling. The Cherokee had a choice: they could stay in New Echota and lose everything to the Georgians, or they could sign a treaty whereby they would be compensated for their losses and remove west, as had thousands of their countrymen, including Sequoya. That was when Chief John Ridge and his cousin gave up hope of saving their homeland.

They shared what they had learned with Chief John Ross and others at a tribal meeting. Ross swore he would fight for their homeland to the bitter end. That was a popular stand, and he soon became Principal Chief. His first act as such was to censor the Ridge party to keep them from winning converts to the view that signing a treaty was best for the people. About 350 Cherokee families followed the Ridge party lead anyway and traveled to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma in 1837. John Rollin Ridge was ten years old at the time. Chief John Ross and thousands of his followers were forcibly marched west the following year on what became known, because so many died en route, as the Trail of Tears.

Once settled out West, Principal Chief Ross made a grab for power over the whole Cherokee Nation. The western Cherokees, who had been living there for decades and had their own chief, and the Ridge party, which had willingly submitted to the western Cherokee governance, resisted. Ross's party responded by condemning the Ridge party for having signed the treaty, insisting that if they had not done so, the Cherokee would still have their homeland. Their leaders were slated by the Ross faction for execution.

On the night of June 22, 1839, twenty-five men burst into Chief John Ridge's home, dragged him outside and knifed him to death in front of his protesting mother, wife, and children. His father, Chief Major Ridge, was shot in the back and killed, and Buck Watie was axed to death. (Buck's brother Stand Watie escaped.) Twelve-year-old John Rollin Ridge never forgot that bloody night. He held John Ross responsible for the murders and wanted to kill him in revenge. He never got near Ross, who always traveled with about forty bodyguards. But as a young man of twenty-two, after he had married and settled on a ranch he had inherited, he shot and killed David Kell, one of Ross's men. Kell had stolen John Rollin's breeding stud and gelded it, and then he threatened young Ridge with a bowie knife.

After killing Kell, Ridge fled to Missouri where he tried to round up a party of white men to go with him to kill Chief Ross. The plot failed because the men wanted compensation, and Ridge had very little money. He went to his mother's house in Arkansas, where she had moved after her husband had been murdered. While he was there, his cousin Stand Watie urged him to stand trial, saying he was sure he could get him acquitted. Ridge was amenable to that idea until he learned how much it would cost him in legal fees. That was when he decided, in the spring of i850, to join a party of Cherokees heading for California, leaving his wife and child with his in-laws.

Like hundreds of others, Ridge hoped to solve his financial problems by panning for gold in California, but after mining for a year with poor results, he decided he would have to strike it rich by some other path. He went job-hunting in Sacramento and was hired as a correspondent for the New Orleans True Delta, which had an office there. That job gave him access to other newspaper offices in town where he read about Joaquín and his fellow outlaws. Two years later the California Rangers arrived in town with a head in a jar, identified as that of Joaquín Murrieta. Ridge was not well at the time and probably did not see the head. He was burning with fever and suffering from an ulcer, it seems. But his young wife, on hearing that he was ill, traveled out to California and nursed him back to health. He then began to work with zeal on his book about Joaquín.

The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta was reviewed by a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He said John Rollin Ridge's writing style was respectable—for an Indian, that is. The jab was aimed at Ridge's open pride in his Cherokee heritage, as demonstrated in his choice of pen name and as discussed in the publisher's preface. The publisher pointed out that Ridge knew what it was like to be born and raised on land that white people coveted because of the presence of gold. He also knew how it felt to kill a man who insulted him and threatened his life, and he knew what it felt like to desire bloody revenge against those who murdered a family member. It was these experiences that gave the author insight into his subject.

In an interesting twist that only history could produce, twentieth-century scholars list Ridge's book as the first American Indian novel ever published. American pride in American Indian accomplishments has at long last replaced contempt, but that laudable move also turned the legendary Murrieta into a fictional character, a myth. Lydia D. Hazera, Peter S. Christensen, Joseph Henry Jackson, María Mondragón, Alberto Huerta, and Luis Leal have all examined the literary merit and cultural significance of Ridge's depiction of Joaquín Murrieta. The author, they all say, identified strongly with his subject. He was a mestizo who witnessed the effects of persecution inflicted by whites, even as Ridge's own publisher had asserted.8 His biographer, James Parins, interpreted Ridge's depiction of the avenging Joaquín Murrieta as a kind of dream fulfillment. His Joaquín died knowing that his enemies were dead. (As it turned out, so did John Rollin Ridge, John Ross having giving up the ghost fourteen months before Ridge died in October 1867.)

The Original Story Line

John Rollin Ridge knew that the California state legislature had hired rangers to hunt down no less than five bandits named Joaquín and their banded associates, so before telling Murrieta's story he wrote, "There were two Joaquíns, bearing the various surnames of Murieta, O'Comorenia, Valenzuela, Botellier, and Carillo." Murrieta was the famous brigand chief, he explained, and Valenzuela was "a distinguished subordinate" of his. Both came from Mexico and looked enough alike to be mistaken one for the other, he wrote. Ridge went on to describe Murrieta as a young Sonoran with large black eyes "kindled with the enthusiasm of his earnest nature," glossy black hair that hung to his shoulders, a well-shaped head, silvery voice, and cordial bearing, his features reflecting his combined Castilian and "Mexiques" (or Aztec) Indian heritage. Ridge's own features likewise reflected his combined New England white and New Echota Cherokee heritage, but it was probably an illustration he saw in an April 1853 Steamer Edition of the Sacramento Daily Union that influenced his description of Murrieta.

Ridge wrote that Murrieta had first met North Americans in his homeland and that he had been favorably impressed. The young Mexican was "tired of the uncertain state of affairs in his own country, the usurpations and revolutions which were of such common occurrence," and so departed for Alta California in 1849 with the intention of making a new home among the North Americans there. In the spring of 1850 he built a little home for his "heart's treasure—a beautiful Sonorian girl" whom Ridge belatedly identified as Rosita. The young couple prospered until "lawless and desperate men, who bore the name Americans but failed to support the honor and dignity of that title," ordered Joaquín to leave. When he refused, they struck him a blow to the face, then they bound him and "ravished" Rosita.

The distraught couple moved northwest, where they farmed in a little valley near the Calaveras River until again forced out by rude Anglo-Americans. They moved to Murphy's Camp where Joaquín dealt monte (a card game popular among Hispanic gamblers). He fared well until seen riding a stolen horse he had borrowed from his half-brother. He was arrested and flogged under the same tree from which his half-brother was hanged for horse-stealing. All of this was influenced by an April 1853 correspondence published in the San Francisco Herald which referred to an "interview" or conversation with Joaquín Murrieta.

"It was then that the character of Joaquín changed," wrote Ridge. "Wanton cruelty and the tyranny of prejudice" had destroyed Murrieta's faith in Americans. Even though an American friend doctored his wounds and tried to calm his angry soul, it was of no avail. He disappeared, and soon afterward corpses turned up along side roads and in gullies. Joaquín had started a campaign of bloody revenge and ruthless murder, his first victims being the vigilantes who hanged his half-brother and flogged him. His violent reprisals soon attracted followers of like mind.

Murrieta won the loyalty of a California war veteran named Manuel "Three-Fingered Jack" García, whom Ridge described as "blood-thirsty" and violent. Then there was the resourceful Joaquín Valenzuela who had served under "the famous guerilla chief, Padre Jurata" (Fr. Celedonio Dómeco de Jarauta) in Mexico during the war, as had Valenzuela's comrade in arms, Luis Vulvia (probably based on the outlaw, Luis Burgos). Sixteen-year-old Reyes Féliz was a member of the band, too. Ridge identified him as the brother of Joaquín's mistress. There was one Claudio, whom Ridge described as being thirty-five, vigorous, dark-complexioned, sly, quick, and savage. There were also Pedro Gonzalez and Juan. Reyes Féliz had a sweetheart named Carmelita, and a woman whose name was never given seems to have been Juan's lover. Ridge mentioned an Anglo-Saxon bandit called "Mountain Jim" and a messenger and spy named Reis. Several hundred other band members, matching descriptions given by Harry Love in newspaper interviews printed in August 1853, remained nameless foot soldiers and cavalry in Murrieta's legendary guerrilla band.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Joaquín Band by LORI LEE WILSON Copyright © 2011 by Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

List of Illustrations....................vii
List of Maps....................viii
Preface....................ix
Acknowledgments....................xiii
1. The Legend and History....................1
2. Joaquín and his Countrymen as Depicted in Diaries....................47
3. The Perspective of the Los Angeles Star and La Estrella....................74
4. Northern Newspapers and the Politics of Bandit Hunting....................113
5. Joaquín Valenzuela and Others in El Clamor Público....................184
6. Of Tiburcio, Procopio, Mariana, and Oral Tradition....................240
Closing Thoughts....................261
Appendix: Outlaw Band Members Named in 1850s Newspapers....................269
Notes....................273
Bibliography....................299
Index....................305
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