The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit, by John Rollin Ridge, set many precedents: it was the first novel published in California, as well as the first novel published by a Native American.
Bay Nature editor Eric Simons writes: “Pull up a modern map of the Diablo Range and look at the names of the places Murieta and his gang traversed: Valle de las Aguilas, Valle de Quien Sabe, Valle de los Muertos.”
“Today you can snake up into those hills, out of cell range for hours, only the wind for company, manzanitas growing 12-feet high over rutted washboard roads. It is a natural setting for one of the great bandit novels in literature. It is also a rocky spine separating some of the fastest-growing flatlands in California, and so a natural setting to consider the state’s future,” Simons writes.
Joaquín Murieta is now a staple in Chicano Studies classes, but other than that, his name largely exists in obscurity. Few know about his story, yet his influence bleeds into many facets of modern life, from pop culture to the Chicano liberation movement.
Eric Simons retraced Murieta’s path through the Diablo Range. He combines this with a critical analysis to better understand why Ridge’s novel never made it into mainstream media.
Read Simons’ essay in Bay Nature to learn more about the complicated history behind Joaquín Murieta and of the Diablo Range.
Top photo: Joaquín Murieta (1868) by Charles Christian Nahl / public domain; background photo of Del Puerto Canyon by Sean Burke.