He was an infamous cutthroat bandit. Or he was a 19th century Robin Hood. One thing was certain, Joaquin Murrieta was a notorious figure in California during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s, and he was well outside the law. Maybe he was twins, the good twin who was driven by Anglos from a rich mining claim, his wife raped, his half-brother lynched, and Murrieta himself horse-whipped (they knocked him down, stepped on his face, slandered his name all over the place). Or the evil twin, an occasional horse thief and a bandit who attacked settlers and wagon trains in California, killing over 40 people in the process.
By 1853, California authorities had had enough of him. In a bill passed in May 1853, the legislature authorized hiring 20 California Rangers, veterans of the Mexican-American War, to hunt down the so-called five Joaquins — Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomorenia, Joaquin Valenzuela and Murrieta.
Early on the morning of July 25, 1853, the rangers attacked Murrieta’s outlaw camp. Caught by surprise and badly outnumbered, eight of the bandits were killed, including Murrieta and his right hand man, Three-Fingered Jack (presumably his three fingers were on his left hand). To prove they had indeed killed Murrieta, the rangers cut off his head along with Jack’s three-fingered hand, preserving them in whiskey until they could exhibit them to the authorities.
The rangers received a $6,000 reward, and made some nice residual profits by taking Murrieta’s head on tour throughout California, charging a buck to see it (it’s uncertain if they charged extra for Jack’s three fingers).
Eventually, the head ended up in San Francisco Museum, where it was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1906. Today all that remains is a plaque near the intersection of State Routes 33 and 198 marking the spot where the outlaw lost his head.
“The executioner’s argument was that you couldn’t cut off something’s head unless there was a trunk to sever it from. He’d never done anything like that in his time of life, and wasn’t going to start now.
The King’s argument was that anything that had a head, could be beheaded, and you weren’t to talk nonsense.
The Queen’s argument was that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time, she’d have everyone beheaded all round.
It was this last argument that had everyone looking so nervous and uncomfortable.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland