Who is Joaquin Murieta and Why Had I not Heard of Him?

Joaquin Murieta's drawing
Do we even know if he had a wild eyed look?

It’s a real question. Why is this bandit, who terrorized people throughout 1850s California, a new discovery for me? Murieta is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. He hides behind the tale of Zoro. He lived on somewhat fictionalized in plagiarized magazine and radio serials. Countless westerns used his life as a model for their honorable bandits. But he himself is lost to time.

Did I not pay attention in school? Did I simply miss a museum display? Are the street names I pass every so often just generic? Is Rancho Murieta named after him? That would be ironic; a gated community named for a man who illuded all capture and fences.

I set out on a quest this year to read more books by people of color. I want to know what’s out there and to support their voices. The difference between speaking up for somebody and supporting somebody who is already speaking is a whole nother story, but an important one. And yet I get stuck, stuck in this endless loop of wanting to read really old books. So I bought some books by people who are alive (next on my list) and then I set out to read the 1854 novel The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta by John Rollin Ridge (definitely dead).

What drew me to this book

I studied the political factions of the Cherokee Nation for my writing and I knew a signer of the Treaty of New Echota had a son who wrote a novel. I didn’t care what it was, I wanted to see it, and to see how the events of his life crept into his writing. Ridge’s father knew he would die for signing that treaty and he did, supposedly right in front of the children, so you know…already there is tension.

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