The Joaquain Band: The History behind the Legend

The Joaquain Band: The History behind the Legend

The Joaquain Band: The History behind the Legend

The Joaquain Band: The History behind the Legend

Synopsis

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, Joaquén 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 Joaquén 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 Joaquén 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 Joaquén band played in the Spanish-language newspapers of the time and their view of the vigilante response. The Joaquén Band is a fascinating examination of the role of the Joaquén band legend in California and Chicano history and how it was shaped over time.

Excerpt

My first encounter with Joaquín Murrieta was in a Reader’s Digest book for kids about American legends and lore. His story came after Salem witchcraft history and lore and amid colorful depictions of pirate captains like Blackbeard and frontiersmen like Daniel Boone. Years later, when I read about Joaquín and his band in history books, I found a lack of consensus with regard to his existence. That bewildered me. I knew that the same was true of Robin Hood and King Arthur, but they came from a time of little documentation. Joaquín Murrieta, on the other hand, rode into legend a mere century-and-a-half ago, and out of a place and time that is exceedingly rich in primary sources. It seemed incredible that some historians had decided he has more in common with the fictional Zorro than with the historical Tiburcio Vásquez.

This provoked a more intense interest in Joaquín and band. I visited previously cited sources and found a few hitherto unexplored ones. I wanted to know more about the history out of which the legend came, and I found that the history relevant to Joaquín Murrieta reaches beyond him to include other outlaws with whom he had associated, some of whom outlived him. There were Claudio and Reyes Féliz, Bernardo and Francisco “Pancho” Daniel, Joaquín and Jesús Valenzuela, Juan Flores, Ana Benites, Antonia “La Molinera,” Luis Burgos alias Joaquín, Luciano Tapia alias Lorenzo Lopez, John “Jack” Powers, Tiburcio Vásquez, and Procopio Bustamente, among others. Their histories have influenced Joaquín-related oral tradition, folklore, and legend. This history looks beyond Joaquín Murrieta to include these other outlaws, the sources that tell their stories, and the vigilantes who pursued them.

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