Most of you know I grew up in America’s food basket, the San Joaquin Valley, just 20 miles south of Fresno. How many of you know much about the history of Joaquin Murrieta, the famous outlaw for whom the valley is perhaps named? I particularly like his nickname, “The Mexican Robin Hood.” He lived a short but colorful life, from 1829 to 1853. Most considered him a bandit, but some considered him a Mexican patriot.
The controversy is fueled by authors such as historian, Susan Lee Johnson: “So many tales have grown up around Murrieta that it is hard to disentangle the fabulous from the factual. There seems to be a consensus that Anglos drove him from a rich mining claim, and that, in rapid succession, his wife was raped, his half-brother lynched, and Murrieta himself horse-whipped. He may have worked as a monte dealer for a time; then, according to whichever version one accepts, he became either a horse trader and occasional horse thief, or a bandit.”
As he attacked and robbed settlers and wagon trains, he also killed up to 28 Chinese immigrants and 13 white settlers. He was considered a criminal by the state legislature in 1853. The state also passed legislation to create the California Rangers, who were paid $150 a month. An award of $1000 was established for the capture of the wanted men. The Rangers encountered a Mexican gang in 1853, one of whom was allegedly Murrieta himself. The Rangers provided proof of their capture as follows: they cut off Three Fingered Jack’s hand, as well as Murrieta’s head, and preserved them in jars of alcohol. Though Captain Love and his Rangers received their bonus, there continued to be much folklore, myths and sightings of Murrieta.
From this folklore and colorful history, Joaquin Murrieta has been widely used as a romantic figure in books, television, and movies. Film, books, and music form a considerable history of this colorful man. I even remember seeing an old black and white movie about him when I was in junior high.
So, why did they name the great Valley after him? Guess what? It was not really named after Murrieta, but from the Hebrew name, Joachim, and its religious (Hebrew) significance. San Joaquin County was one of the original counties created in California during statehood in 1850. Jojakim was the king of Judah in the Old Testament. San Joaquin is the Spanish name of St. Joachim, the traditional name for the father of Mary (mother of Jesus). That would seem to make more sense than naming the Valley after an alleged criminal.
The valley is made up of eight counties: Fresno, Kings, Kern, Merced, Stanislaus, and portions of San Luis Obispo, Madera, and Tulare counties. Unfortunately, six counties have the highest percentage of people living under the Federal poverty line. As a consequence, crime rates are higher here than the national average.
Famous valley people include: William Saroyan, Tom Seaver, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Charles Garrigus, Rafer and Jimmy Johnson, Kirk Kerkorian, Barry McGuire, Del Webb, Mike Connors (Mannix), Cher, Sam Peckinpah, and Bill Vukovich. And of course, all of you, my friends and family from the great Valley.
Growing up and never knowing what the outside world offered, we were happy and healthy kids. As we became exposed to more of the world, I decided to get out and see that world. Most of it centered on going away to college, in my case, the University of California, Berkeley. It was a journey for which I am forever grateful. It defines much of what I know and who I am. Need I say more?
But sometimes, a person thinks about going back to their roots. It was a happy time, mostly carefree, and full of great memories. Most of my childhood friends still live here. And I have much of my family here, including my dear brother and his wife. Would I ever consider living here again? Who knows?