The Historical Joaquín
If it is difficult to separate the mythical from the historical elements present in all oral or written narratives, the task becomes nearly impossible when one is dealing with a figure like Joaquín Murrieta. In his case, myth and legend have fed history much more than the reverse. Nonetheless, we will try to outline the relationship between myth and history in the tangled case of this young miner who was unknown before 1853, but who, a few years after his supposed death on July 24 of that year, became the most outstanding of California’s popular heroes. We’ll begin with the hypothesis that Murrieta was a historical figure who was born in Sonora and lived in California. From there we’ll examine the process by which a myth was created around that figure, as much in the popular imagination as in literature, theater, folklore, and film.
The name Joaquín has a long tradition in California history. It appears in various places as early as the eighteenth century, when the first land expeditions to Upper California began. In the expedition led by Juan Bautista De Anza was the family of José Joaquín Moraga, which included a son named Gabriel. It was he who gave the name of San Joaquín to one of the rivers in the state. There is also a San Joaquín County, a town of San Joaquín, and, finally, the San Joaquín Valley where the story of the hero unfolds. Joaquín was a very common given name among the Californios. In the later twentieth century, both the name and story were revived among Chicanos with the publication in 1967 of the epic poem Yo soy Joaquín by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales.
The name Joaquín was first used in the newspapers to refer to Mexican bandits, though without identifying any one of them by a surname, between 1850 and 1851. In 1852 when the newspapers began to publish complaints about the so-called Mexican bandits, they had no concrete information as to whom those “bandits” might be, although it was rumored that one was named Joaquín. As late as