From Dave Weinstein
- Which leaves us with El Cerrito’s top rock, a pile of blueschist that was so legendary in the years before the Gold Rush it was said to have attracted none other than the bandit Joaquin Murieta. Murieta, it is supposed, hid among the rock’s gray matter, soaked up power from the heated stones, and then descended with his gang on the coaches that traversed Contra Costa Road so far below.
- Today this former power spot, privately owned but much visited by the public, squats beneath brush and poison oak, smeared with graffiti and decorated with broken glass for beer bottles. Stand beneath Murieta Rock, at the corner of Arlington and Cutting boulevards, and you won’t see a thing. Head north a bit on Arlington, though, and look back. Astounding!
Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo (sometimes spelled Murieta or Murietta) (c. 1829 – c. July 25, 1853), also called the Mexican Robin Hood or the Robin Hood of El Dorado, was a famous figure in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. Depending on the point of view, he was considered as either an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot.
Controversy surrounds the figure of Joaquin Murrieta: who he was, what he did, and many of his life’s events. 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.”
John Rollin Ridge, grandson of the Cherokee leader Major Ridge, wrote a dime novel about Murrieta; the fictional biography contributed to his legend, especially as it was translated into various European languages. A portion of Ridge’s novel was reprinted in 1858 in the California Police Gazette. This story was picked up and subsequently translated into French. The French version, featuring a fictional Chile-born Joaquín Murrieta, was translated into Spanish by Roberto Hyenne. He claimed to have been in California during the Gold Rush and to have learned of Murrieta there.
Murrieta reportedly went to California in 1849 to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush. He encounteredracism in the extreme competition of the rough mining camps. While mining for gold, he and his wife supposedly were attacked by American miners jealous of his success. They allegedly beat him and raped his wife. However, the source for these events is not considered reliable, as it was a dime novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, written by John Rollin Ridge and published in 1854.
The historian Frank Latta, in his twentieth-century book, Joaquín Murrieta and His Horse Gangs (1980), wrote that Murrieta was from Hermosillo in the northern Mexican state of Sonora and that he had a paramilitary band made up of relatives and friends. Latta documented that they regularly engaged in illegal horse trade with Mexico, and had helped Murrieta kill at least six of the Americans who had attacked him and his wife.
He and his band attacked settlers and wagon trains in California. The gang is believed to have killed up to 28 Chinese and 13 White-Americans. By 1853, the California state legislature considered Murrieta enough of a criminal to list him as one of the so-called “Five Joaquins” on a bill passed in May 1853. The legislature authorized hiring for three months a company of 20 California Rangers, veterans of the Mexican-American War, to hunt down “Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Muriata [sic], Joaquin Ocomorenia, and Joaquin Valenzuela,” and their banded associates. On May 11, 1853, the governor John Bigler signed an act to create the “California State Rangers“, to be led by Captain Harry Love (a former Texas Ranger and Mexican War veteran).
The state paid the California Rangers $150 a month, and promised them a $1,000 governor’s reward if they captured the wanted men. On July 25, 1853, a group of Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men near Arroyo de Cantua near the Coast Range Mountains of Coalinga. In the confrontation, three of the Mexicans were killed. They claimed one was Murrieta, and another Manuel Garcia, also known as Three-Fingered Jack, one of his most notorious associates. Two others were captured. A plaque (California Historical Landmark #344) near Coalinga at the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 now marks the approximate site of the incident.
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