A typically effervescent performance on Def Poetry Jam (love that show) tipped me into checking out the tale of Joaquín Murrieta. Thus I came across "Joaquin Murrieta: Literary Fiction or Historical Fact?", by William Mero. From the conclusion:
The tradition in Latin cultures of the bandit as a social revolutionary is well known. Eric Hobsbawm in his classic, Bandits, discusses the social implications of the Joaquin Murrieta legend and how it fits into the traditional Hispanic view of rural banditry. In fact the Chicano movement of the 1970’s adopted Murrieta as a symbol of the fight against “Anglo” oppression. Sadly, because of protests from a few in the Mexican- American community, Harry Love’s burial site has been denied a proper historical marker while Tiburcio Vasquez, convicted leader of the infamous Tres Pinos massacre, in a nearby graveyard has his final resting place marked by an elaborate monument.
Joaquin Murrieta along with Jesse James and Billy the Kid is one of America’s most interesting examples of myth creation. In contrast to the original Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest fame, enough written material remains to enable scholars to trace the evolution of a short lived, violent outlaw into a defender of the oppressed and downtrodden. A scholarly investigation of this phenomenon probably tells us more about ourselves than it does about the real Joaquin Murrieta.
The Murrieta controversy does contain another lesson for us all. Historical truths are often elusive. The general public usually prefers a good story over verifiable facts from primary sources. Most popular histories are commonly viewed through the lens of current social and political prejudices. Perhaps that is another good reason why history should be studied and analyzed with as much care as any of the physical sciences.
But this is just wonderful. The slam poetry piece on Def Poetry Jam wove it all into a very tight and compelling piece (I'll have to hunt down the text for that performance some day). Sprinkled into the entire romantic arc were elements of Robin Hood, The Count of Monte Cristo, and even Spartacus. I expect that if this story is given another few centuries to percolate it will come to rival the hero tales of Jason and Theseus. Or is it the quoted article that exaggerates? Looking in other secondary sources, it seems everyone agrees that here has been some embellishment in the Murrieta legend, but Mero is the only one I've seen to claim such a complete divergence from historical fact.