Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1854 Californio bandido
Subjectbandido bandit
Culture: Californian-Mexican
Setting: Alta California mid-19thc
Evolution1846 Mexican guerrillero > 1854 Californio bandido

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Prassel 1993 p234-235
"A brigand may be regarded as a patriot or an anarchist or a maniac or a savior, depending upon the point of view. Identical offenses can represent defiance of oppression or deviance from fundamental morality. This dichotomy has occurred many times for different groups throughout United States history. In outlaw legend, however, contrasts have been sharpest in regard to Mexican Americans. No other minority produced a comparable assortment of bandits. And, probably because of a convenient border separating not only sovereign nations but distinctive cultures with different languages, none other produced desperadoes so simultaneously admired and despised.
    "Roots of disorder routinely extend back for centuries. The Mexican American variety began with the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, setting the stage for generations of class conflict. Some native warriors resisted long after Europeans established dominance in central Mexico. The Spanish called them bandoleros, to indicate those banned as outlaws. Centuries later the term became confused with bandoleer, for the cartridge belts worn by other desperate men and women struggling against a later Mexican tyranny.
    "Spanish settlement pushed slowly northward in American, carrying new legal formalities as well as criminal activities. Problems relating to the forbidden slave trade and conflicts between ecclesiastical and secular authorities were common. Within the small, isolated Spanish communities, however, ordinary violations against person and property rarely caused alarm. The Los Angeles region of California, even while used a kind of penal colony, recorded only 127 criminal cases from 1830 to 1846, about one every two months. Assault, cattle theft, and robbery were the typical charges, with banishment serving as a routine punishment. It may have been a necessity; all of California contained only six jails prior to 1849.
    "War with Mexico brought significant changes in law, agencies of justice, and social structure.  The United States expanded by more than a million square miles and acquired a new Hispanic facet to existing outlaw legend, beginning in California's fabled gold-rush region.  The principal manifestation became known first as Joaquín, then by the last name Murieta, and finally through the appelation El Patrio.  Although it is often translated as 'patriot,' the term really implies a paternalistic representative, not of a nation, but of a people.  To some Mexican Americans of California, Joaquín Murieta, El Patrio, came to represent a Robin Hood, the brightest side of outlawry.
    "His (or their) depredations began about 1850 southeast of Sacramento.  Within three years, widespread horse theft threatened the entire San Joaquin Valley, from the Coastal Range to the Sierras.  In May 1853 the California legislature authorized a special company of rangers under Harry Love to destroy not one but five Joaquíns (Carillo, Valenzuela, Bottilier, Ocomoreña, and Murieta) thought responsible for the banditry.  The governor offered a reward of one thousand dollars."

* Pitt 1966 p75
"The bandidos fully matched the worst expectations that the gringos had of all Spanish Americans, irrespective of sex or nationality.
      "Endless theories have arisen that refute, defend, or explain the bandidos. Outright bigots, of course, simply charged them with the 'innate depravity' of Mexico and let it go at that. Others saw in banditry the generalized, and perhaps justified, resentment of the Mexicans against their military defeat in 1847 or against the tax law and other injustices in the mines. In a sophisticated version of this rationale, Josiah Royce asserted that the Spanish Americans (including Californios) were an essentially amoral and childlike people who were not responsible for their conduct; the Yankees, a moral people, were to blame for provoking them. Carey McWilliams later speculated that the outbreak of crime in California came from a suppressed class struggle among Sonorans brutalized by cultural isolation and peonage. To these conjectures one might add as promising Margaret Mead's comment that crime among the Spanish Americans of the United States is often related to the destruction of village life. Florence Kluckhohn, in a similar vein, speculates that the sadism of some Spanish-American men represents the breakdown of the all-important relationship of brother to brother and father to son which pervades the entire culture."

* MacLean 1977 pvii
"From Monterey to Ventura, Central California was the last stronghold of the Spanish Californians in Alta California, hence a logical retreat for men of 'Mexican' origin wanted by 'gringo' lawmen.  Thus most of the legends of the Salinas Valley and environs deal largely with the California bandidos rather than their 'American' counterparts.'
    "From this distance in time, it is hard to separate the revolucionario from the bandido.  In fact, many of the south-of-the-border bandits of the gold rush years would seem to have gotten their start in the insurrections down in Mexico, before transferring their talents to Alta California."

​* Ridge intro. Jackson 1955 pxvi-xviii (Joseph Henry Jordan, "Introduction" pxi-l)
​"During what has been called the Pastoral Age of California -- the Spanish and Mexican periods -- the great ranchos supported among them thousands of hangers-on.  It was the Mexican habit to cluster in family groups, and every large ranch had attached to it hundreds of ostensible 'workers' who had little to do.  With cattle multiplying uncounted in the hills, and corn and beans producing several crops a year in the mild climate, their keep amounted to very little.
    "By the time of the gold rush, the great land grants were beginning to break up; the free and easy days were past.  And these thousands of vaguely employed Mexicans found themselves displaced persons without understanding quite what had happened to them.  Some could adjust, though in the new American California a Mexican could rarely find anything to do but the most menial work.  Others simply took what they needed as they could find it, and if this meant living off a society which, as it seemed to them, had refused them support, why that was how it was.
    "It is easy, then, to see how, in the mind of the Spanish-Californian, patriotism was equated with outlawry.  Here were men cut adrift by forces of which they had no notion, excepting that anybody could see that it was the fault of the gringo, wherefore it was perfectly reasonable to hate him for it.  Moreover, this hatred was fostered by Mexicans who, when the war was lost, wandered northward into California to join the native in his struggle against the new-come American who had done him down.  This injection of patriotism into the business makes it clear why even Mexican-Californians who remained honest, somehow found work to do, and were peaceably inclined, were yet friendly to outlaws, gave them information, and helped to confound the Yankee law-officers whenever possible."




* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p112 (Frederick Wilkinson, "American swords and knives" p104-121)


​* Coe/Connolly/Harding/Harris/Larocca/Richardson/North/Spring/Wilkinson 1993 p112 (Frederick Wilkinson, "American swords and knives" p104-121)
​"The navaja was another typically Californian implement, a legacy of Spanish rule.  Used as tool, weapon and table knife, it had a large, single-edged folding blade with a clipped back which looked very similar to the Bowie when open.  A catch at the back of the blade released it from the grip and engaged with a lug to lock it open.  The grip was often decorated with staghorn.  Navaja blades come in all sizes, the longest being 12 ins/30 cm."