Joaquín Murrieta in Narrative Fiction
Despite his short life and his brief career, Joaquín Murrieta has served as a central subject for historians, novelists, playwrights, and poets to produce a fair number of works. Many are the historians from California who mention him, the poets who invoke him, and the novelists who have transformed him into a mythical hero. Although historical information about Murrieta is scarce, the novels in which he appears as the main character are many; and the same can be said of other artistic forms such as drama and poetry.
In narrative fiction, Joaquín first appears in the story “Joaquín the Mountain Robber, or the Bandits of the Sierra Nevada,” which the Pacific Police Gazette published in May of l854. In July of that year, the California Police Gazette, in its first two issues, included the first four parts of the story “Joaquín, the Mountain Robber! Or, The Guerilla of California.”20 This title suggests that it is the same as the piece in the Pacific Police Gazette, a point that cannot be clarified until copies of this newspaper are found. What we do know is that in these early stories about Joaquín, the hero is not identified with the last name of Murrieta. But here the theme of revenge already appears. If the complete name of Joaquín Murrieta is not found in these stories, we do find it a month later in the work by Ridge, although spelled with one r.
Much discussion has been generated about the problem of historical veracity in this author’s work. For some, it is a simple novel, a fiction created by Ridge. J. H. Jackson, for example, accepts the idea that Murrieta, as a man of flesh and blood, existed but that Ridge’s biography is mere fiction:
It is true that in the early years of the gold rush there was a
Murieta. But it was Ridge’s Life of that outlaw, as preposter-
ous a fiction as any the Dime Libraries ever invented, that
sent this vague bandit on his way to be written into the
California histories. (l955: x–xii)