The Joaquín Band


The Joaquín Band

The History behind the Legend

Lori Lee Wilson

336 pages
33 illustrations, 3 maps, 1 appendix


June 2011


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

After the U.S.-Mexican War, gold was discovered in northern California, a Mexican territory that had been ceded to the United States. Thousands of Mexican and American citizens traveled to the gold region and soon clashed. The ruling Americans enforced unjust laws that impelled some Mexicans to become bandits, Joaquín Murrieta among them. He became something of a media myth, with a few newspaper editors complaining that he was reportedly seen in two or more counties at once. In 1854 journalist John Rollin Ridge published a book about the legendary Joaquín band, with news accounts providing the foundation for Ridge’s story. In one newspaper, Murrieta was quoted as saying he had suffered abuse at the hands of Americans and so was justified in seeking revenge by trampling their laws under foot. Murrieta’s justification became an oft-repeated refrain among bandits, one designed to excite sympathy and gain followers.  

By digging up Spanish sources and revisiting English sources, Lori Lee Wilson discovered previously unrecognized cultural and political forces that shaped the Joaquín band legend. She reveals the roots of an American fear of a Mexican guerrilla band threat in 1850 and the political and societal response to that perceived threat throughout the decade. Wilson also examines how the Joaquín band played in the Spanish-language newspapers of the time and their view of the vigilante response. The Joaquín Band is a fascinating examination of the role of the Joaquín band legend in California and Chicano history and how it was shaped over time.

Author Bio

Lori Lee Wilson is an independent writer. She is the author of The Salem Witch Trials: How History Is Invented.


“Lori Lee Wilson has produced an eloquent, provocative, and compelling work. Her study will impress scholars and students alike, as well as contribute to our understanding about the life and politics of nineteenth-century California.”—Michael Gonzalez, author of This Small City Will Be a Mexican Paradise: Exploring the Origins of Mexican Culture in Los Angeles, 1821–1846

“This is a remarkable book showing tremendous scholarship and amazing facility in weaving stories together to present nuanced and sophisticated points of view. The author’s work on this theme will immediately be recognized by scholars as monumental. This work will become the most authoritative work on not just Joaquín Murrieta’s history but on the social history of early California.”—Richard Griswold del Castillo, coauthor of Competing Visions: A History of California and the editor of World War II and Mexican American Civil Rights

"Thorough and engrossing, this book will likely spark the interest of scholars and rabble-rousers alike."—Publishers Weekly

"Wilson's original contribution to the Murrieta literature is her analysis of how race, nationality, and partisan politics affected newspaper coverage of California bandits and vigilantes in the 1850s. . . . Readers looking for a place to enter the labyrinth of Murrieta studies would do well to start here."—Glen Gendzel, New Mexico Historical Review

"This is one of the best books about the real Joaquin Murrieta, and it does a great job of separating fact from fiction."—True West

"Wilson crafts a rich and nuanced history not only of the Murrieta bands, but also of a violent, ethnically diverse nineteenth-century California in which many groups were struggling to assert their identity and legitimacy as Californians and Americans."—Elisa Warford, Western American Literature

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations  

List of Maps     



1. The Legend and History    

2. Joaquín and his Countrymen as Depicted in Diaries 

3. The Perspective of the Los Angeles Star and La Estrella 

4. Northern Newspapers and the Politics of Bandit Hunting  

5. Joaquín Valenzuela and Others in El Clamor Público

6. Of Tiburcio, Procopio, Mariana, and Oral Tradition

Closing Thoughts 

Appendix: Outlaw Band Members Named in 1850s Newspapers    




Also of Interest