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  • Julia Echenique

A Story of Joaquin Murrieta the Bandit

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Early Life

Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo was born in Hermosillo in the northern state of Sonora, Mexico in 1829. When he was a young man, Murrieta, along with his recently married wife and some others, moved to California to catch the 1849 gold rush. Murrieta encountered resistance in the harsh mining camps. Legend states that Murrieta was beat and his wife gang raped. On top of that, another legend states that Murrieta was falsely accused of stealing a mule, leading to his brother being hanged and him being horsewhipped. Murrieta was enraged by events like this and went on to live a life of crime and vigilantism. The record of his life that followed is based on elusive facts and fabulous tales.


Many like to believe Murrieta was a peace-loving man seeking to avenge his wife and brother, but actions were far from peaceful. Murrieta soon became the leader of the notorious “Five Joaquins” gang. They terrorized California from 150 to 1863, cattle rustling, robbing, and murdering up and down the gold rush area. They stole over 100 horses, took over $100,000 in gold, and killed at least 41 people. Stories began to emerge of Murrieta giving gold to poor Mexicans, giving him the moniker “Robin Hood of the West”.


Of course, Murrieta’s actions could not go unnoticed. Local law enforcement soon realized that something needed to be done about Murrietta and his gang. The state payed a group called the California Rangers to hunt down The Five Joaquins and promised a hefty bounty for their capture. On July 25th, 1853, the rangers encountered a group of Mexicans, one of who was claimed to be Murrieta. They came out victorious in the skirmish and killed three of the Mexicans. As proof of his death, the rangers cut off the alleged Murrieta’s head and preserved it in a jar of alcohol. This head was paraded around the state and people would pay to witness the preserved head.

Note Worthy

The head in the jar was never confirmed to be Murrieta, and many people believe that he lived to old age. Among these people are Murrieta’s sister who claimed that the head lacked Murrieta’s telltale scar. Nonetheless, Murrieta remains as a powerful symbol of the resistance against Anglo-American economic and cultural domination in California. He has come to be the inspiration for Chicano activists. Murrieta also appears in popular culture in the form of books and movies. The legend of Joaquin Murrieta is an undying tale that will continue to inspire and haunt California.

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