Sins of Omission

California’s Mythologized Bandido

On the wintry morning of February 20, 1853, more than a hundred Chinese miners were working their claims near Rich Gulch.  Without warning, five mounted and gun-brandishing bandidos swept down upon the Chinese.  Taken by surprise and without arms themselves, the Chinese could do little but comply when ordered to hand over their gold.  An American who happened to be in the Chinese camp refused and made a rush for the bandidos.  He was joined by two Chinese.  The bandidos opened fire, killing the three men instantly.  Stray bullets wounded five others.  The bandidos collected some $10,000 worth of gold dust and nuggets and left as suddenly as they had come.  Two days later, the same gang hit another Chinese camp with equally bloody, if less profitable, results.  The robbers killed three Chinese, wounded five more, and got away with $3,000 worth of gold.

Charlie Clarke, the leader of a small posse on the trail of the killers, described them as “five well dressed Mexicans, well armed and mounted on beautiful animals.”  Their leader was Joaquin Murrieta.  Probably the most mythologized figure in California history, Murrieta has been portrayed as a social bandit who waged war against the hated gringos by robbing and killing them.  In truth, there was nothing social about his banditry.  He robbed and killed those who had money,...

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