"Since the First World War Americans have been leading a double life, and our history has moved on two rivers, one visible, the other underground; there has been the history of politics which is concrete, factual, practical and unbelievably dull; and there is a subterranean river of untapped, ferocious, lonely and romantic desires, that concentration of ecstasy and violence which is the dream life of the nation."

Norman Mailer
"The whole work of healing Tellus depends on nursing that little spark, on incarnating that ghost, which is still alive in every people, and different in each. When Logres really dominates Britain, when the goddess Reason, the divine clearness, is really enthroned in France, when the order of Heaven is really followed in China--why then it will be spring."

"This new history of yours," said McPhee, "is a wee bit lacking in documents."

C.S. Lewis

Synchronicities this week

  • June 24 Midsummer/St. John’s Day
  • June 24, 1947 The first flying saucers are sighted over Mount Rainier by pilot Ken Arnold.
  • June 24, 1542 St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet, is born.
  • June 24, 1938 500 ton meteorite lands near Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • June 24, 1717 First Free Masons' grand lodge founded in London.
  • June 24, 1374 A sudden outbreak of St. John's Dance causes people in the streets of Aachen, Germany, to experience hallucinations and begin to jump and twitch uncontrollably until they collapse from exhaustion.
  • June 24, 1314 Battle of Bannockburn; Scotland regains independence from England.
  • June 24, 843 Vikings destroy Nantes.
  • June 23 Midsummer’s Eve
  • June 23, 1972 Nixon & Haldeman agree to use CIA to cover up Watergate.
  • June 23, 1942 Germany's latest fighter, a Focke-Wulf FW190 is captured intact when it mistakenly lands at RAF Pembrey in Wales.
  • June 23, 1888 Frederick Douglass is 1st African-American nominated for president.
  • June 23, 1848 Workers’ insurrection in Paris.
  • June 23, 1713 The French residents of Acadia are given one year to declare allegiance to Britain or leave Nova Scotia, Canada. They choose the latter, migrate to Louisiana, and become Cajuns.
  • June 21 Summer Solstice (11:28 a.m.).
  • June 21, 1964 Three civil rights workers-Michael H. Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James E. Chaney-are kidnapped and murdered by the Klan in Mississippi .
  • June 21, 1948 The 33 1/3 RPM LP record is introduced by Columbia Records.
  • June 21, 1944 Ray Davies of the Kinks born in London.
  • June 21, 1916 Mexican troops beat US expeditionary force under Gen Pershing.
  • June 21, 1877 The Molly Maguires, ten Irish immigrant labor activists, are hanged in Pennsylvania prisons.
  • June 20, 1947 Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, gangster, the “man who invented Las Vegas,” shot dead in Beverly Hills, Cal.
  • June 20, 1909 Errol Flynn, greatest of the swashbucklers, born in Hobart, Tasmania.
  • June 20, 1944 Congress charters Central Intelligence Agency.
  • June 20, 1943 Detroit race riot kills 35.
  • June 20, 1893 - Lizzie Borden acquitted in murder of parents in New Bedford Mass.
  • June 20, 1871 Ku Klux Klan trials began in federal court in Oxford Miss.
  • June 20, 1837 Queen Victoria at 18 ascends British throne ; rules for 63 years ending in 1901.
  • June 20, 1756 146 British soldiers imprisoned in the "Black Hole of Calcutta." Most die.
  • June 20, 1631 The Irish village of Baltimore is attacked by Algerian pirates.
  • June 20, 1214 The University of Oxford receives its charter.
  • June 20, 451 Germans & Romans beat Attila the Hun at Catalarinische Fields.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

This Week in the Secret History: The Avenging Angel of California

Joaquin Murrieta (1829–ca. 1853), also called the Mexican Robin Hood, was a semi- legendary figure in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. He was either an infamous bandit or a Mexican patriot, depending on one's point of view. Murrietta was partly the inspiration for the fictional character of Zorro. His name has, for some political activists, symbolized resistance against Anglo-American economic and cultural domination in California.

There is little historical evidence for the tale of Joaquin Murrieta. The only written source is a highly romanticized biography written a year or two after his death. The book says that Murrieta and his family went to California in 1850 to seek their fortune in the California Gold Rush. Instead of opportunity, he encountered racism and discrimination.

In the same year as their arrival, a Foreign Miners Tax was imposed in California and their Anglo-Saxon neighbors tried to run them off by telling them that it was illegal for Mexicans to hold a claim. Reportedly, the Murrieta brothers tried to ignore the threats as long as they could until they were finally forced off their claim. While mining for gold, he and his wife supposedly were attacked by American miners jealous of his success. They allegedly raped Murrieta's wife, flogged him, and killed his brother.

Angry and unable to find work, Joaquin turned to a life of crime, along with other disposed foreign miners, who began to prey upon those who had forced them from their claims.

In the novel, Murrieta sought justice through the legal system but was informed by a friend who was also a constable that there was no way to prosecute the crime because of a California law that prohibited Mexicans from testifying against Anglos. To avenge this injustice, Murrieta formed a gang from his family and friends to hunt down those that attacked his family. They killed at least six, and as they were then outlaws, they turned to a life of organized crime, stealing and using the money to help Californio's (Native Californians.)

On May 11, 1853, Governor of California John Bigler signed a legislative act creating the "California State Rangers," led by Captain Harry Love (a former Texas Ranger). Their mission was to capture Murrieta and his gang. The California Rangers stood a chance to share a $5000 reward for the capture of Joaquin Murrieta. On July 25, 1853, a group of Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men near Panoche Pass in San Benito County, 50 miles from Monterey. A confrontation took place, and two of the Mexicans were killed. One was claimed to be Murrieta.

The Rangers severed the alleged Murrieta's head as proof of their deaths and preserved it in a jar of brandy. The jar was displayed throughout California; spectators could pay $1 see the remains. Seventeen people, including a Catholic priest, signed affidavits identifying the remains as Murrieta's, and Love and his Rangers accordingly received the reward money. The preserved head was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

A plaque (California Historical Landmark #344) near the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 now marks the approximate site of Murrieta's headquarters in Arroyo de Cantua, where he was presumably killed.

For more on Joaquin Murrieta, see...

The Robin Hood of El Dorado: The Saga of Joaquin Murrieta, Famous Outlaw of California's Age of Gold by Walter Noble Burns

Searching for Joaquin: Myth, Murieta and History in California by Bruce Thornton

Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge


  1. I gotta say that the most interesting and most grizzly part of this post is the bit about the head. When did preserving heads in jars of brandy and charging admission to view the remains go out of fashion? Not that I'm morbidly curious or that I have spare change, but I'm just wondering when we, as a nation, got a conscience.

  2. Iwould say there's two things to remember. First, the mining areas of California are probably largely populated by the scum of the United States, and the law enforcement that sprang up in the wake of the miners was probably of a similar bent. Second, this was before the general forensic use of photography and fingerprints. Carrying a head around was a relatively easy way of getting positive i.d.'s, especially important since a $6000 reward depended on it. Finally, there's the racial thing, which as late as WWII had American serviceman eagerly harvesting Japanese heads for skulls to use for paperweights, ashtrays, memento's for the folks at home, etc.