Joaquín Murrieta in Poetry
The first poet who gave expression in verse to the life and adventures of Murrieta was Joaquín Miller (l837-l9l3), the name under which Cincinnatus Hines (or Heine) Miller is known, an author of the “long and very bad poem,” according to Jackson (l955: xxvi), titled “Joaquín Murietta.” The latter is included in the collection Joaquín et al from l869, published in Oregon, and then later in Songs of the Sierras from l872, a book which appeared in London in l87l. When the poem was published, his friends started calling him “Joaquín,” and Miller accepted the name, under which he is known.
Miller was born on a farm near Liberty, Indiana. At the age of fifteen he went with his family to live in Oregon. With a fancy for adventure, he abandoned his family and headed to California in search of gold in the same year Murrieta was killed. It was there that he published a letter in defense of the rights of Mexicans, for whom he always showed sympathy, and which he expressed in l869 in the poem he devoted to Murrieta, and in his novel The One Fair Woman, published in London in l876, in which the character as an observer is named Murietta.25 In the long poem by Miller (30 pages), Murrieta gallops and gallops on his horse until he is fatally wounded and goes on to die in a church, where a priest cares for him:
Death has been in at the low church door,
For his foot-prints lie on the stony floor. (Frost 57)
Rather than a character, Miller’s Joaquín appears to be a shadow. As Frost says, “The actual Joaquín Murietta is scarcely in the poem, even in the slightest detail” (58). He’s right. One of the few direct references to Joaquín is the following, expressed in a context in which the romantic motif of ruins appears:
Some joints of thin and chalk-like bone,
A tall black chimney, all alone
That leans as if upon a crutch,
Alone are left to mark or tell,
Instead of cross or cryptic stone,
Where Joaquín stood and brave men fell.
(Poems II, l28)
One of the few physical characteristics mentioned by the poet is a scar on the face, “A brow-cut deep as with a knife,” a characteristic referred to by subsequent authors but absent in Ridge.
Some writers have criticized Miller for glorifying Murrieta. According to Nadeau, “Miller went even further than the others in purifying Joaquín as a kind of Galahad.” As Joaquín breathes his last, Miller writes: “Here lies a youth whose fair face is/ Still holy from a mother’s kiss” (l974: l26). Although the poem, as already pointed out, was criticized for its length and poor composition, there is no