July 25, 1853 — Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo, also known as the Mexican Robin Hood, was decapitated today. Considered by government officials to be a bandit in California during the Gold Rush, his story became legendary after his death thanks to author John Rollin Ridge, who dramatized his life in the dime store novel entitled: The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit.
Lore tells us that Murrieta arrived in California in 1849 and made a fortune finding gold and engaging in illegal horse trade with Mexico. Fellow miners are said to have became jealous of his fortune and attacked him and his wife. In retaliation, Murrieta and a paramilitary band made up of relatives and friends, are said to have killed at least six of the Americans responsible for the attack, in addition to 28 Chinese and 13 Anglo-Americans.
In May 1853, the California state legislature listed him as one of the so-called “Five Joaquins,” and hired 20 California Rangers, veterans of the Mexican-American War, to hunt down Carrillo and his associates. They were paid $150 a month, and promised a $1,000 governor’s reward if they captured the wanted men.
Today, on July 25, the Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men at Arroyo de Cantua near the Coast Range Mountains of Coalinga. Three of the Mexicans were killed, including Carrillo. The California Historical Landmark #344, at the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198, marks the approximate site of the incident.
Was Carrillo an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot? You decide.
Words of Wisdom
So many tales have grown up around Joaquin Murrieta Carrillo 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.