Song of Joaquin (Wakken), The
DESCRIPTION: "I suppose you have heard of all the talking Of that noted horse thief, Joaquin; He was caught in Calaveras, And he couldn't stand the joke; So the rangers cut his head off." His robberies and 24 murders are listed; the capture of his gang is described
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan)
KEYWORDS: homicide police thief crime punishment
FOUND IN: US(MW)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Burt-AmericanMurderBallads, pp. 195-196, "(The Song of Joaquin)" (1 text)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 135, "Wakken" (1 short text)
Cohen-AmericanFolkSongsARegionalEncyclopedia2, p. 647, "Joaquin, the Horse Thief" (1 text)
ST GC135 (Partial)
cf. "Corrido de Joaquin Murrieta" (subject)
NOTES [388 words]: The text in Gardner and Chickering, collected in Michigan but said to originate in California, was badly corrupt (as its title shows), and it is not possible to identify the villain. But it has enough in common with Burt-AmericanMurderBallads's text that I'm fairly sure they're the same song.
The real question is, is this Joaquin in fact Joaquin Murieta (c. 1832-1853, according to DAB, volume VII, p. 370)? The song never uses his surname, but the details fit very well: Murieta (or Murrieta, the spelling DAB prefers), was born perhaps in Sonora (DAB) and came to California around 1849, was the victim of anti-Mexican prejudice, and swore vengeance against all Americans (Benet, p. 751) -- which he carried out with brutal effect.
In 1853, California finally authorized a special company to catch him. They found him and his band in July, and Murieta was killed in the shoot-out. As the song tells, his head -- or, at least, someone's head; those who killed him never heard him declare his name -- was cut off and preserved in alcohol so it could be shown off around the state (YellowBird, p. xxiii). Three others of his band were killed and two captured; a handful escaped (DAB).
Benet, p. 751, says that he "has been portrayed in moving pictures in a sort of Robin Hood role." If there is any actual basis for this, I don't know what it was. But certainly a myth grew up around him, created by the biography by Yellow Bird -- a biography which has about as much truth as a Shakespeare history play (i.e. it has some of the names right, but the rest is effectively all imagination). YellowBird, pp. xi-xii, says that "It is not going too far to say that in this little book [author] Ridge actually created California's most enduring myth. It is true that in the early years of the gold rush there was a Murieta. But it was Ridge's Life of that outlaw, as preposterous a fiction as any of the Dime Libraries ever invented, that sent this vague banding on his way into the California histories...."
DAB's conclusion is that "Accounts of his life are contradictory, and few of the details given can be fully authenticated. By Latin-American writers and by [H. H.] Bancroft he has been invested with a considerable degree of romantic glamor, but the probability is that he was a ruffian, brutal, avaricious, and lawless." - RBW
Last updated in version 2.7
- Benet: William Rose Benet, editor, The Reader's Encyclopdedia, first edition, 1948 (I use the four-volume Crowell edition but usually check it against the single volume fourth edition edited by Bruce Murphy and published 1996 by Harper-Collins)
- DAB: Dumas Malone, editor, Dictionary of American Biography, originally published in 20 volumes plus later supplementary volumes; I use the 1961 Charles Scribner's Sons edition with minor corrections which combined the original 20 volumes into 10
- YellowBird: Yellow Bird (John Rollin Ridge), Joaquin Murieta, 1854; new edition with an introduction by Joseph Henry Jackson, University of Oklahoma Press, 1955 (I use the 1986 paperback edition)
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2021 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.