Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Legendary bandit Joaquin Murrieta became a Robin Hood-like hero of Mexican-Americans in California. The facts of his life are few and elusive, and much of what is widely known about him is derived from evolving and enduring myth.
The popular legend of Joaquin Murrieta was that he was a Sonoran forty-niner, a vaquero and a gold miner and peace-loving man driven to seek revenge when he and his brother were falsely accused of stealing a mule. His brother was hanged and Joaquin horsewhipped. His young wife was gang raped and in one version she died in Joaquin's arms. Swearing revenge, Joaquin hunted down all who had violated his sweetheart. He embarked on a short but violent career that brought death to his Anglo tormentors. The state of California then offered a reward of up to $5,000 for Joaquin "dead or alive." He was reportedly killed in 1853, but the news of his death were disputed and myths later formed about him and his possible survival.
In 1919, Johnston McCulley supposedly received his inspiration for his fictional character Don Diego de la Vega—better known as Zorro—from the 1854 book entitled The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge. John heard about a Mexican miner who had turned to banditry and was intrigued by the story.