Joaquín Murieta: Bandit of the Diablo Range

Painting of Joaquín Murieta

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 AguilasValle de Quien Sabe, Valle de los Muertos.”

Sunset behind trees in the Ohlone wilderness

Joaquín Murieta traversed the Diablo Range, perhaps even in what is the Ohlone Wilderness today. Photo by Scott Hein.

Oaks and wildflowers in the Ohlone wilderness

As the Diablo Range comes to more people’s attention as being ecologically valuable, the story of Joaquín Murieta is being uncovered as well. Photo by Scott Hein.

“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.

Still pond in the Ohlone wilderness

The Diablo Range can be vast and isolated but also beautiful. Photo by Scott Hein.

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.

Del Puerto Canyon

Joaquín Murieta may have traveled through what is now Del Puerto Canyon. Photo by Al Johnson.

Lone oak at sunset

The history of Joaquín Murieta is a complicated one, but it is intricately tied to the Diablo Range. Photo by Scott Hein.

Top photo: Joaquín Murieta (1868) by Charles Christian Nahl / public domain; background photo of Del Puerto Canyon by Sean Burke.

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