The site of Murrieta's birth is disputed: either Alamos or Trincheras, in the northwestern state of Sonora, Mexico, or in Quillota, Chile (near Valparaiso). Some scholars contend his maternal side had Cherokee ancestors from the southeastern US who migrated to Chile in the late 18th century. Folklore claims Murrieta, a noble landowner supposedly of mainly Spanish Criollo blood, sympathized with the struggle of Native Americans as well as that of the Mexicans and Spanish he encountered in his residence in 1850s California.
Some have alleged that he first went to California in 1850 to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush. Instead of opportunity, though, he encountered racism and discrimination. While mining for gold he and his wife were attacked by a band of American miners upset by his success. They allegedly raped Murrieta's wife and lashed her. However, there is zero historical evidence for this story; the only source is a novel written in the 1850s. In that purely fictional novel, Murrieta sought justice through the legal system but was informed by a friend who was also a constable that there was no way to prosecute the crime because of a California law that prohibited Mexicans from testifying against a white man. To avenge this injustice, Murrieta formed a gang with his family and friends to hunt down those that attacked his family. They killed at least six, and since they were then outlaws, turned to a life of organized crime. Murrieta became a leader of the band called The Five Joaquins, which also included Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomorenia, and Joaquin Valenzuela. Between 1850 and 1853, these men, along with Murrieta's right hand man, "Three-Fingered Jack" (Manuel Garcia), were said to be responsible for the majority of cattle rustling, robberies, and murders committed in the Mother Lode area of the Sierra Nevadas. They are credited with stealing more than $100,000 in gold and over 100 horses, killing 19 people (mostly Chinese mine workers), and having outrun three posses and killing three lawmen. At the time, no one was certain of the name of the leader, so he was simply called Joaquin, and it was further uncertain if it was one or more bands. The band was supposedly supported by Californios, who protected them, even by non-Hispanic Californians like Robert Livermore.
On May 11, 1853, Governor of California John Bigler signed a legislative act creating the "California State Rangers," led by Captain Harry Love (a former Texas Ranger), whose mission was to arrest the Five Joaquins. The California Rangers were paid $150 a month and stood a chance to split a $5000 reward for the capture of Murrieta. On July 25, 1853, a group of these rangers encountered a group of Mexican males near Panoche Pass in San Benito County, about 100 miles from the Mother Lode and 50 from Monterey. A confrontation occurred, and two of the Mexicans were killed—one claimed to be Murrieta and the other was thought to be Garcia. There is now a plaque (California Historical Landmark #344) near the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 that marks the approximate site of his headquarter, Arroyo de Cantua, where he was killed.
The Rangers took Garcia's hand and Murrieta's head as evidence of their death and displayed them in a jar, preserved in brandy. The jar was displayed in Mariposa County, Stockton, and San Francisco, and traveled throughout California, where spectators could, for $1, see the remains. Seventeen people, including a priest, signed affidavits identifying the remains as Murrieta's, and Love and his Rangers received the reward money. However, a young woman claiming to be Murrieta's sister said she did not recognize the head and argued that it could not be her brother's since it did not have a characteristic scar on it. Additionally, numerous sightings of Murrieta were reported after his death was announced. Many people criticized Love for showing the remains in large cities far from the mining camps, where Murrieta might have been recognized. It has even been claimed that Love and his Rangers killed some innocent Mexicans and made up the story of the capture of Murrieta to claim the reward money. The head was lost in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
Soon after his reported death, Murrieta became the subject of story and legend. In 1854 the first fictionalized account of his life appeared in a San Francisco newspaper and in a book by Cherokee author John Rollin Ridge. It tells a story of how his wife was gang raped and killed, his brother was hanged, and he was horsewhipped for a crime he did not commit. Murrieta swore to avenge them by killing all the Yanquis or gringos he could find. Although there is no evidence to confirm that this actually happened to a man named Joaquin Murrieta, similar things did happen to other Mexicans living in California at that time. This account also inspired corridos depicting him as a fierce avenger of injustices against Mexicans.
The siting of his alleged birthplace in Chile seems to be a result of reports that Murrieta sided with Chilean miners during the "Chilean War." A portion of Ridge's novel was reprinted in 1859 in the California Police Gazette. This story was subsequently translated into Spanish, which was translated into French, and finally the French version was translated back to Spanish by Roberto Hynne, who claimed to have been in California during the gold rush. This final version had Murrieta born in Chile instead of Mexico.
The Man from the Rio Grande: A Biography of Harry Love, Leader of the California Rangers Who Tracked Down Joaquin Murrieta.(Book review)
Jan 01, 2006; THE MAN FROM THE RIO GRANDE: A Biogragraphy of Harry Love, Leader of the California Rangers Who Tracked Down Joaquin Murrieta By...
The man from the Rio Grande; a biography of Harry Love, leader of the California rangers who tracked down Joaquin Murrieta.(Brief Article)(Book Review)
Nov 01, 2005; 0870623281 The man from the Rio Grande; a biography of Harry Love, leader of the California rangers who tracked down Joaquin...