Originally from the State of Sonora, Mexico, Joaquin Murrieta came to California in 1848 with his wife in search of gold and to establish a family. Mexico had recently lost California to the United States following the Mexican-American War and as word spread to the rest of the world that there was gold to be found, California’s population exploded and with it, competition for land and resources.
Having just won a war against Mexico and thereby seizing the territory, the incoming White Americans harbored deep hatred toward the Mexicans in California. This combined with an insatiable greed for land and gold drove many of these new comers to steal the wealth and property of Mexican miners and settlers, whom the existing laws did little to protect. Murrieta was no exception and both his wife and brother were brutally murdered and his property and earnings were all stolen.
Given this horrible treatment at the hands of these newcomers, Joaquin Murrieta vowed to pursue those who had stolen everything and killed his loved ones. Over some time, a string of murders occurred against those individuals, all attributed to Murrieta.
Stories started circulating around the territory and soon other Mexican Californians began to join him, all intent on serving justice to those Americans who had terrorized them and redistributing the stolen goods to the Mexican people of California.
The newly formed State Legislature dispatched the California Rangers to pursue Murrieta and eliminate the threat. In 1853, they ambushed Murrieta, cut off his head, and put it in a glass jar filled with alcohol. After collecting the bounty, they paraded the head all over California, charging people a dollar to see it.
There is much speculation about the details of the life and deeds of Joaquin Murrieta, as his story is a combination of history and legend. Indeed he is credited with inspiring the stories of Zorro and even Batman. But whatever the history indicates, he remains a powerful symbol of justice and resistance and remains one of the most famous outlaw heroes of the American West.