This is summarized by the words of historian Susan Lee Johnson : "So many tales have grown up around Murrieta that it is hard to disentangle the fabulous from the factual. There seems to be a consensus that Anglos drove him from a rich mining claim, and that, in rapid succession, his wife was raped, his half-brother lynched , and Murrieta himself horse-whipped. He may have worked as a monte dealer for a time; then, according to whichever version one accepts, he became either a horse trader and occasional horse thief, or a bandit. This story was picked up and subsequently translated into French.
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It has the distinction of being the first novel published in California, the first novel published by a Native American, and the first American novel to feature a Mexican protagonist.
Its story draws together transformational events in the history of three nations, connecting the California gold rush with the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the Mexican-American War.
It blends elements of epic, folktale, revenge tragedy, and romance—yet historians have often treated it as a factual record. It has been repurposed, and sometimes plagiarized, throughout the U. In the wake of the estimated four thousand Cherokee deaths resulting from the Trail of Tears, negotiations with the U. In , Ridge killed a Ross sympathizer named David Kell in a horse dispute and fled the state. He moved to California to join the gold rush in but soon gave up mining to work as a poet, a journalist, and the editor of several newspapers.
In California, Ridge witnessed a young state shot through with social contradictions and upheavals. In the same years, the California gold rush led to rapid growth as miners from all over the world swelled the non-Native population from fifteen thousand in to a hundred sixty-five thousand in The nascent state government quickly moved to legislate white supremacy by imposing racially targeted laws.
In , General Persifor Smith, the U. John Rollin Ridge. Ridge did not believe in the equality of races. In his newspaper writings, he endorsed amalgamation and cultural assimilation as the best path forward for Native Americans.
Condensing the activities of scattered bandit groups into a single organization led by a man of extraordinary capacities, Ridge gives social disorder a perceptible shape and a storyline with a beginning and an end.
After numerous attempts to live an honest life in the face of racial violence, Murieta turns outlaw, kills all the men in the mob that assaulted him, and organizes a statewide network of bandits secretly aided by Mexican civilians. Although the novel was not widely reviewed upon its release, the California Police Gazette serialized a plagiarized version in under the title The Life of Joaquin Murieta, the Brigand Chief of California.
This revival of interest in Murieta gave rise to both popular manifestations—such as a Western True Crime comic book adaptation and the George Sherman film Murieta! The historical background of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the displacement and disenfranchisement of many Californios is completely excised in the most popular manifestations of the Murieta legend.
Hsuan L. Hsu is a professor of English at the University of California, Davis.
It has the distinction of being the first novel published in California, the first novel published by a Native American, and the first American novel to feature a Mexican protagonist. Its story draws together transformational events in the history of three nations, connecting the California gold rush with the Cherokee Trail of Tears and the Mexican-American War. It blends elements of epic, folktale, revenge tragedy, and romance—yet historians have often treated it as a factual record. It has been repurposed, and sometimes plagiarized, throughout the U.
Facts of his life are few and elusive , and much of what is widely known about him is derived from evolving and enduring myth. In the Gold Rush he tried prospecting, as did thousands of other immigrant Sonorans. The Yankee miners pressed the legislature in Sacramento in to pass the Greaser Act its official title and the Foreign Miners Act in an attempt to drive out the Mexicans. Historical accounts indicate that in a group of California Rangers commanded by Harry Love confronted a gang that was allegedly led by Murrieta and that they beheaded a Mexican whom they claimed was Murrieta and preserved his head in jar. It seems likely that the historical Murrieta did participate in violent raids and robberies undertaken by a gang probably started by one of his brothers-in-law. Get exclusive access to content from our First Edition with your subscription.