July 25: Murrieta Está Muerto

MurrietaAs the old maxim says, heroes die, but legends live forever. It was on this day in 1853 that the California outlaw Joaquin Murrieta was killed and became a legend.

Murrieta’s story sounds like something from a pulp novel or blood soaked revenge flick. He was either a Chilean or Mexican who came to California during the Gold Rush and actually discovered a very rich mining claim. However, jealous Anglos came to steal his claim and proceeded to rape his wife, kill his brother and finally horsewhipped Murrieta. Murrieta quickly vowed to seek vengeance against the Anglos responsible for these heinous crimes and the government that let him down.

Murrieta formed a gang and committed murders and robberies throughout California, but also gave some of the stolen treasures to the poor, earning him the nickname “the Mexican Robin Hood.” However, Murietta’s gang was viewed as such a threat that the Governor and state legislature of California organized the California Rangers for the specific purpose of capturing Murrieta and his associates. 160 years ago today, Murietta’s gang of outlaws engaged in a final showdown with the California Rangers in which three of the gang members were killed, including Murietta. Shockingly, the story doesn’t end there.

The Rangers’ leader, Captain Harry Love had Murietta’s corpse beheaded and then kept the head preserved in a jar of alcohol to prove that the outlaw had been killed. After the preserved head was presented to the governor, it was taken on tour to Mariposa County, Stockton, and San Francisco where visitors could pay a dollar to see the head of the feared bandit.

Despite the seventeen signed affidavits that attested that this was indeed the head of Joaquin Murrieta, there were claims that he still lived: A San Francisco newspaper received an anonymous letter claiming that Love had actually killed an innocent Mexican rancher. Reported sightings of an older Murietta surfaced from time to time. On top of all this, every so often people would claim to have discovered some of Murietta’s hidden treasures. In an appropriately mythic fashion, Murietta’s head would disappear during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. Today, Murietta’s legend still lives, as writer Johnston McCulley likely based the pulp hero Zorro on the legends associated with Murietta.

At the Berkeley, California restaurant Comal, bartender Scott Baird has whipped up a drink in honor of Murietta. The Joaquin Murrieta is a tough tequila drink that Baird says is “definitely for the more — I’d say, experienced drinker.” Not a bad way to honor a legendary outlaw.

Joaquin Murrieta

  • 1 ounce Tres Agaves Tequila Reposado
  • 1 ounce Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
  • 1 ounce Amaro Montenegro

Stir with ice in a beaker, strain in to a small cocktail coupe and garnish with a lemon twist.

Tomorrow: The “Love”liest voice in rock and roll.

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