True West Historical Society

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May 18, 2011

   One of the things I love about my job is getting to do due diligence on Classic Gunfights. As I mentioned early last week, I called John Boessenecker in San Francisco to ask him the location of Cantua Creek where California Ranger Harry Love and his men surprised Joaquin Murrieta and his gang in an early morning raid on their camp on July 25, 1853.


   John informed me it's just north of Harris Ranch and just off I-5. I had stopped at Harris Ranch last summer and was surprised that this is where the infamous and controversial fight took place. That part of California is quite arid and unlike what we out-of-staters imagine a hideout of Joaquin Murrieta to look like. I always want to get the locale correct, both with terrain and vegetation (I hate saguaros showing up in Texas based movies. Seems real dumb to me).


   Robert Ray did his due diligence and looked in the True West archives, finding this photo by Bill Secrest of Cantua Creek:



When I mentioned this to John Boessenecker, he informed me that Bill's location is not correct (both he and Bill have been seeking out these sites for decades and at the time of the article, 1960s, this was thought to be the site). John told me they poured over old records and finally figured out where it is. He told me, that somewhere he has a photo. He found it and overnighted me this photo:


Joaquin's camp was up on the bluff where the two guys are standing. The California Rangers rode into camp in the wee hours of the morning (I want to say at dawn) surprising the bandit gang, who were likely in bed, or just getting up. One of the bandits got up and addressed the mounted men pointing guns at them and said, "I am the leader of this band."


One of the rangers yelled out, "It's him! It's Joaquin Murrieta." At this, the bandits pulled up their serapes and pulled iron and the gun battle began. Incredibly, Joaquin was unarmed, but he had a lariat, and he roped an unsaddled horse, climbed aboard and jumped off a 15 foot embankment (see above) into a wash. Here is that scene, which I whipped out this morning:


One of the rangers, Henderson, followed Murrieta down the embankment while another ranger fired at him from the top of the bank. Joaquin fled eastward on horseback. Here is that scene:



Nailed the lansdscape but tubed the ranger coming down the slope. Had such high hopes. May not use it in the final, but I came close. I'd like to have this one over again, but it all goes to the printer tomorrow.


Heard back from the California producer who wants to do a 3'D Western. He told me that he is very impressed by the Mickey Free story and thinks that it could make a really original story.


Uh oh.


"In Hollywood, nothing is harder to get financed than an original idea."

—Roger Ebert, in Newsweek on the current glut of sequels

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Comment by Bungalo Bill on May 19, 2011 at 8:03am

I researched the story of Joaquin several years ago and wrote another of my failed screenplays based on the legendary tales. One story about him describes how he and his gang were being chased across the desert by the Rangers, with a lead of about a mile or two.  Joaquin's gang  encountered a small village, halted long enough to rob all the men in town and then resumed their escape from the approaching Rangers. I included this tale in my screenplay.

One of my readers told me that this was too unbelievable; that no criminal gang would do that.  Never mind that actually happened.


If all the killings attributed to Joaquin were actually done by one man, he would be the worst serial killer in history.

Comment by Bob Boze Bell on May 19, 2011 at 9:02am
Yes, I just read a similar incident (or, perhaps it's the one you mention) where Joaquin and his gang are robbing some Chinese they have waylaid on the roadway. A posse approaches and the leader of the lawmen said they continued robbing the Chinese miners until the posse, coming at a gallop, was within 400 yards, then they casually mounted up on their splendid horses and easily outran the attackers. The lawman later reported: "They were so well mounted that they beat us running all to hell."
Comment by Bungalo Bill on May 19, 2011 at 10:08am

Your account is probably more accurate. I believe it was actually an encampment and not a village, but the robbery may have been on the road as you describe. My previous description was from memory and now that I think about it, is the way I wrote it in my script, not necessarily the way it actually happened, but close enough. :)


Joaquin was notorious for attacking Chinese mining camps and killing all the miners.  The Chinese were known not to have firearms and made easy victims.  A friend of mine is related by marriage to Joaquin Murieta and one of his relatives was extremely angry that anyone would try to make a movie about him.  Joaquin was a horrible, vicious killer who murdered for sport and profit, and by some accounts, something of a coward.  (Incidentally, my screenplay was a comedy about a man named Joaquin who is mistaken for the real Joaquin Murieta and gets into all sorts of trouble.)


I'd like to know more about this outlaw, but it is not easy to discern the truth, especially since there were a number of outlaws named Joaquin at the time, and Murieta was blamed for many crimes committed by others.

Comment by Terri Smiley on June 3, 2011 at 10:56pm
Hey Bob, nice post.  I just wanted to share that I have been to Cantua Creek where the battle took place. My 3rd great grandfather, Antonio Lopez, had just sold some wild mustangs to some of Joaquin Murrieta's men the day before the battle.  He was camped near Tres Dedo's (3 fingered Jack's) camp when the battle took place.  He got up early and was hunting rabbits for breakfast before he headed home to his wife and children in Pueblo de Las Juntas when Harry Love and his rangers came upon his encampment. He and another man, Jose Maria Ochovo, were captured during the battle. Antonio was tied on his horse (even his feet were tied beneath the horse's belly). During the treck to Fort Miller, Antonio's horse became entangled in the swamp grass and both horse and rider drowned. Friends and neighbors found him still tied to his horse the next day. He was buried on the banks of the slough near where the old San Juan School used to be. I have documents and historical family accounts to these events. Family accounts record Joaquin Murrieta visited the family to pay his respects after the battle. Gifts were exchanged that remain in the family today.


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