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Player Handout: Joaquin Murrietta

Joaquin Murrietta

Joaquin Murrietta was a reknowned "bandito" operating in California, around which legends sprung up that made him a sort of contemporary Robin Hood, stealing from the rich gringos and giving to the poor. He was one of the first to be revered for his quick-draw method, making use of an old French cap-and-ball large caliber pistol tucked in a sash rather than a holster.

This Mexican gunfighter came to California to stake a gold claim in 1949, bringing with him his wife, Antonia Molinera. She was raped by miners while he was working as a card dealer in a saloon. This offense drove Joaquin to a life of crime, embarking on a career of gunslinging and robbery which has never been equaled. He started by robbing miners, then was accused of being a horse thief, and was publicly beaten with a thonged bullwhip. From that moment forward, Joaquin learned to hate gringos (and just about everyone else, as well).

He led a band of eighty or so desperadoes, trained to be fast and deadly with a gun -- including his own wife, who dressed as a man. His band would descend upon stagecoaches or lone riders, robbing them blind and then leaving them afoot in the wastelands, robbing for gold and dust. To add to his fame, he tied Chinese workers together by their hair, made them dance to the tune of a pistol, then shot their eyes out.

Among his many other feats, he lured a Sacramento River schooner to the shore, then killed everyone aboard and made off with over twenty thousand dollars in gold and dust. On another occasion, he offered a thousand dollars for his own capture and arrest, then revealed his true identity to the sheriff, and killed him on the spot. In another instance, he is said to have stolen fifty horses from the governor of California and run them off to Mexico.

Despite his deadly reputation, he was secretly loved by many of the rancheroes, whom he helped with money and many kindnesses.

His end came when a gunfighter by the name of Captain Harry Love, backed up by twenty men, surprised him at a camp near Lake Tular. His body was beheaded, and the head was carried back to the sheriff's office, where it was auctioned off for thirty-five dollars. The head was put on display in the Gordon Museum on Market Street in San Francisco, where, for the sum of twenty-five cents, one could gain admission to see the grisly trophy. In the earthquake of 1906, however, the jar was knocked over, and the head of Murrietta was lost forever.

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