against Mexican Americans was not confined to Texas. It was also
rampant in California, where Californios—Californians of
Mexican descent—decried the discrimination and violence
Californio newspaper published in Los Angeles, El Clamor Público,
denounced violence against California's Mexican population. "It
is becoming a very common custom to murder and abuse the Mexicans
with impunity," the newspaper reported in July 26, 1856.
A week later it declared that the Anglo-Americans "not content
with having plundered" the property belonging to California's
Mexicans, were subjecting the people "to a treatment that
has no model in the history of any nation conquered by savages
or by civilized people." Reports of lynchings filled California's
newspapers. "Mexicans alone have been sacrificed on ignominious
gallows which are erected to hurl their poor souls to eternity.
Is this the freedom and equality of the country we have adopted?"
the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, prospectors from Sonora,
Mexico, found at least half the gold discovered in the Sierra
Nevada mountains. Eager to eliminate their competitors, Anglo-American
miners tried to drive them out of the gold fields, through legal
measures--like the Foreign Miners Tax--and illegal violence. The
Sonorans did not respond passively. During the early 1850s, reports
flourished in California about a horseman staging raids on Anglo
American miners and avenging injustices committed against the
Mexican population. The horseman's name was Joaquín Murieta
and he was called the "the Napoleon of Banditry" and
"The Ghost of Sonora."
no soy americano
pero comprendo el inglés.
Yo lo aprendí con mi hermano
al derecho y al revés.
A cualquier americano
hago temblar a mis pies.
Por cantinas me metí
"Tú serás el capitán
que mataste a mi hermano.
Lo agarraste indefenso,
am not an American
but I understand English.
I learned it with my brother
forwards and backwards.
And any American
I make tremble at my feet.
Through cantinas I went
"You must be the captain
who killed my brother.
You took him defenseless,
you boastful American."
Philip Sonnichsen, Texas-American Border Music
is almost impossible to separate myth from fact; and California
authorities were uncertain of the identity of the man who was
attacking the gold mining district. In the spring of 1853, the
legislature authorized a temporary contingent of state rangers
to capture bandits known as the five Joaquíns: Joaquín
Valenzuela, Joaquín Ocomorenia, Joaquín Carillo,
Joaquín Beotllier, and Joaquín Muriati [sic].
the leadership of a Texan named Harry Love, the rangers were to
capture the Joaquíns within three months and receive a
$1,000 reward. Since there was little information about the identity
of the five Joaquíns, the rangers were free to pursue any
Mexicans they wished. In July 1853, as the three-month period
was ending, the rangers encountered a small group of Mexicans
and killed two men. They identified one as Joaquín Murieta
and the other as three-fingered Jack Garcia. They cut off Garcia's
hand and Murieta's head and placed them in jars of alcohol (the
head was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.) To
this day, no one knows for sure whether the rangers actually captured
and beheaded Murieta.
1854, a popular novelist, John Rollin Ridge, published a fictionalized
life of Joaquín Murieta, "the brigand chief of California,"
whom he depicted as an avenger of the wrongs inflicted against
the Californios. According to local legend, Murieta was born in
Sonora, Mexico, of either Indian or Spanish and North African
ancestry. In 1848, he and his wife moved to California, where
he worked as a ranch hand--until Anglo-American miners raped his
wife, leading him to launch his "acts of revenge" against
1927, a California ranger named Horace Bell declared that far
from being viewed as a bandit, Murieta should be seen not as a
bandit but as a defender of his people. "In any country...except
the United States," he wrote, the operations of Joaquín
Murieta would be dignified by the title of revolution, and the
leader with that of rebel chief."
He had been brought in contact with many of the natives of the
United States during the war between that nation and his own,
and had become favorably impressed with the American character,
and thoroughly disgusted with the imbecility of his own countrymen;
so much so that he often wished he had been born on the soil
meditations were suddenly cut short by the wild shouting and
yelling of hundreds of miners in the streets, intermixed with
cries of "hang 'em!" "hang 'em!" "string
'em up and try 'em afterwards!" "the infernal Mexican
thieves!" Joaquín rushed out, and was just in time
to see his brother and Flores hauled up by their necks to the
limb of a tree. They had been accused of horse-stealing by the
two Americans from San Francisco, who claimed the animals as
their own, and had succeeded in exciting the fury of the crowd
to such an extent that the doomed men were allowed no opportunity
to justify themselves, and all their attempts to explain the
matter and to prove that the horses were honestly obtained,
were drowned by the fierce hooting and screaming of the mob....
country was then full of lawless and desperate men, calling
themselves Americans, who looked with hatred upon all Mexicans,
and considered them as a conquered race, without rights or privileges,
and only fitted for serfdom or slavery. The prejudice of color,
the antipathy of races, which are always stronger and bitterer
with the ignorant, they could not overcome, or would not, because
it afforded them an excuse for their unmanly oppression. A band
of these men, possessing the brute power to do as they pleased,
went to Joaquín's cabin and ordered him to leave his
claim, as they would not permit any of his kind to dig gold
in that region. Upon his refusing to leave a place where he
was amassing a fortune, they knocked him senseless with the
butts of their pistols, and while he was in that condition,
ravished and murdered his faithful bosom-friend, his wife.
soul of Joaquín now became shadowed with despair and
deadly passion; but still, although he thirsted for revenge,
he... would not endanger his freedom and his life in attempting
to destroy single-handed, the fiendish murderers of his wife
and brother.... Then came a change, suddenly and heavily, and
Joaquín was at once hurled into the deep and dark abyss
of crime. He had gone a short distance from camp to see a friend
by the name of Valenzuelo, and returned...with a horse which
his friend had lent him. The animal, it was proved by certain
individuals in town, had been stolen some time previously, and
a great excitement was immediately raised. Joaquín found
himself surrounded by a furious mob and charged with the theft.
He informed them when and where he had borrowed the horse, and
endeavored to convince them of Valenzuelo's honesty. They would
hear no explanation, but tied him to a tree and disgraced him
publicly with the lash. They then went to the residence of Valenzuelo
and hung him without allowing him a moment to speak. Immediately
there came a terrible change in Joaquín's character,
suddenly and irrevocably. His soul swelled beyond its former
boundaries, and the barriers of honor, rocked into atoms by
the strong passion which shook his heart like an earthquake,
crumbled and fell. Then it was that he resolved to live henceforth
only for revenge, and that his path should be marked with blood....
became generally known, in 1851, that an organized banditti
was ranging the country, and that Joaquín was the leader.
Travelers were stopped on the roads and invited to "stand
and deliver"; men riding alone in wild and lonesome regions,
were dragged from their saddles by means of the lasso, and murdered
in the adjacent chaparral. Horses were stolen from the ranches,
and depredations were being committed in all parts of the State,
almost at the same time.
John Rollin Ridge, Life of Joaquín Murieta (San Francisco:
California Police Gazette, 1859).