Much has been said about the legendary Joaquín Murrieta, the Mexican guerilla leader during the California gold rush. Many of the things said about him are untrue. Myth became intertwined with fact.
Tracing the actual birthplace of Murrieta has been difficult. There are two reported birthplaces: Quillota, Chile and Sonora, Mexico. Evidence seems to point towards the latter as the actual place of Joaquín's birth. Regardless, there was person by the name of Joaquín Murrieta born around 1830 whom according to John Rollin Ridge came to California sometime in the early 1850's along with his wife to mine gold.
Murrieta is seen as a social bandit who was the victim of ethnic discrimination. Originally an immigrant miner, Murrieta turned to a life of crime only after American miners beat him, tied him up, hanged his half-brother and ravished his wife. After this he declared that he would henceforth "live on for revenge, and that his path should be marked with blood." Murrieta is said to had had many companions alongside him in his crusade including the notorious "Three-Fingered Jack".
Murrieta was forced off his claim under the Foreign Miner's Tax of the 1850s, which was initiated to protect Anglos from immigrant miners who might threaten their claims. This lead to a series of crime sprees committed by several groups of bandits who were former miners that had been dispossessed by their American counterparts. These bandits preyed on those who had forced them from their mines. They stole cattle and horses, robbed, and even murdered.
Eventually, nearly every time a major crime was committed in California, Joaquin became the suspect. A feeling of terror swept over California. In May of 1853 a bounty was put on Joaquín's head. In July a group of rangers supposedly shot and killed him along with "Three-Fingered Jack" and they cut off his head which went on display.
The legend of Joaquín Murrieta did not subside that easily, however. For one, it could not be proven that the head was that of Murrieta. His popularity inspired a wave of literature and stories, as well as a Mexican ballad or corrido that has solidified this bandit as a historical social icon.
(The alleged head of Murrieta)