Pioneers ventured west by the thousands traveling for months, on foot and by wagon train, to complete a journey that today only takes a matter of hours. What they sought was opportunity...a chance for something new, something better. What they found was a land of violence...cowboys, Indians, outlaws, a few good law men and some really unique stories.
Today in the Old West: July 25, 1853
Petty larcenist, horse and cattle thief, bank robber, rapist, murderer, brother of Zorro or Robin Hood of El Dorado? Such is the mystery surrounding frontier bandit Joaquin Murrieta...in life and death. The truth surrounding history is often elusive with facts becoming distorted dependent upon their source.
Joaquin Murrieta legends are shrouded in mystery where he has become one of America’s most interesting examples of myth creation. Today's history lesson focuses on the killing of Murrieta and the gory exhibition of his severed head.
Early on the morning of this day in 1853, Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Harry Love and his rangers attacked the outlaw camp where they were told Murrieta was hiding. Caught by surprise and badly outnumbered, eight of the bandits were killed, including Murrieta and his right hand man, Tres Dedos (also known as Three Fingered Jack). To prove they had indeed killed Murrieta and deserved their award, the rangers cut off the head of the outlaw. They also took the distinctive hand that gave Three Fingered Jack his nickname. The rangers preserved the gory body parts in whiskey-filled vats until they could exhibit them to the authorities in Stockton. [Source: History.com]It is questionable to this day whether the severed head was actually that of Joaquin Murrieta. At the time, a party or gang of robbers guilty of cattle rustling, robbery, and murder were commanded by five different bandits all carrying the name Joaquin. Harry Love and his rangers did claim the reward however. Love further profited from the deal by taking Murrieta's head on a tour of California mining camps, charging $1 to see it. Eventually, the head ended up in San Francisco Museum, where it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906.
(ca. 1832–ca. 1853)
Such was life in the Old West. Can you imagine an exhibition of punishment for crime being of such gory nature today?