The California Land Claims Act of 1851 was one of the major events that forced many Mexican Americans from their land. As a result, many Mexicans who fought against this forced expulsion were alternately called "bandits" by some and "freedom fighters" by others.
It is a mystery as to whether or not Joaquin Murrieta truly existed. It was the name describing an infamous bandit during the California gold rush around 1850. To Spanish-speaking people he became a hero who stood in the face of the Foreign Miners Act.
In July of 1853, California rangers killed two Mexicans, one of whom was sketchily identified as Joaquin Murrieta. The legend of Murrieta achieved grand status after John Rollin Ridge published the book Joaquin Murrieta, The Celebrated California Bandit in 1854. In the book, Ridge describes Murrieta as a peaceful miner who turned into an outlaw after white Americans stole his claim and attacked his family. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda would later write a poem about Murrieta.
Tiburcio Vasquez was another Mexican American who took the law into his own hands when the U.S. government failed to protect his people from aggression.
Kingston, Arizona in 1873 was the equivalent of a modern truck stop. It had the only store for hundreds of miles and was a destination on the stage line that ran from San Francisco to Memphis, Tennessee. Vasquez had a plan to raid and sack Kingston which was known to be prosperous. On Christmas Eve, 1873, Vasquez and his supporters appeared in this sleepy little town.
According to records, he and his group of 15 men rode into town and robbed the first two men they encountered in a hotel, tied them up, eventually skipped town. While they were robbing the men, however, the hotel cook fled out the back door and quickly spread the word of the crime occurring. The townspeople armed themselves with rifles and quickly attacked Vasquez. Vasquez and his men were chased out of town.
As a result of this and Vasquez’s other alleged crimes, California organized a posse that eventually captured Vasquez in Southern California. In March of 1874, Vasquez was hanged for his crimes.
Return to Timeline