Any critic who attempts to clarify the history of a literary text must at times become a real detective. That occurs in the case of Vida y aventuras del más célebre bandido sonorense, Joaquín Murrieta: Sus grandes proezas en California (Life and Adventures of the Most Celebrated Sonoran Bandit, Joaquín Murrieta: His Greatest Exploits in California) in its various editions, all of them attributed to the Mexican novelist Ireneo Paz. Upon consulting the Biblografía de novelistas mexicanos (l926; Bibliography of Mexican Novelists) of the meticulous bibliographer Juan B. Iguínez, we discovered that in the list of novels by Paz, none devoted to Murrieta appears. This stirred our suspicions, and we decided to investigate this omission from such a prestigious bibliography. Upon examining the various editions that exist of that work, we uncovered that none of them cite Paz as the author; each states only that it was published in Mexico by the Tipografía y Encuadernación de Ireneo Paz, 2a de Relox número 4 (Irineo Paz’s Typography and Book Binding, second block of Relox, [currently Argentina Avenue,] number 4). As explained in Section III Paz’s book, attributed to him as the author, appeared as a translation into English in l925 in Chicago. Without knowing the history of such a text, translator Frances P. Belle thought that the original work was that of Ireneo Paz. And it is easy to believe it so, as Octavio Paz himself (grandson of Don Ireneo) asserted.
The history of this edition is complicated. In l939 historian Joseph Henry Jackson, in a chapter dedicated to Murrieta (l977: 3-40) in his book Bad Company, had already noted the similarities between Belle’s translation and John Rollin Ridge’s original (p. 332). What it doesn’t explain is the complex history of the trajectory of such a text, from Ridge to Belle, already detailed earlier and unnecessary to repeat here. Let it be said that, more than the historical events themselves, Joaquín Murrieta’s fame goes back in great part to the work of John Rollin Ridge, or “Yellow Bird,” whose translation is now made available through the French version to the reader. Ireneo Paz’s edition is the one to have Murrieta’s life and deeds become best known through the numerous Spanish editions published in the United States, which are now out of print.
Bibliography or novel? The first critics and commentators classified Ridge’s work as belonging to the genre of biography, and rightly so, because the author himself tells us that what he tells about Murrieta is literally true (l955: 4). Such an opinion is supported by the historians Hubert Howe Bancroft and Theodore H. Hittell, who resorted to Ridge’s work as a source of information in their scholarly historical accounts of California. Nonetheless, it is not in history where