Dorothy Sloan -- Books

Auction 12: The Zamorano 80 Collection of Daniel G. Volkmann Jr.

Lots 64 & 64A

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Item 64. The exceedingly rare Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, written by Cherokee John Rollin Ridge (“Yellow Bird”)—“Ridge’s book immediately spawned the cult of Joaquín [and] created the first great California legend” (Kurutz).

64. [RIDGE, John Rollin (1827-1867)]. The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit. By Yellow Bird. San Francisco: W. B. Cooke and Company, 1854. 91 pp., 2 portraits (Murieta and Captain Harry Love) engraved by Anthony & Baker (possibly after Charles Nahl). 8vo, pale blue printed wrappers in expert facsimile (small strip of original upper wrap preserved). Title lightly soiled, text uniformly browned and with occasional foxing and staining, small marginal tears to blank margin of first few leaves neatly repaired, a few blank corners of text leaves lacking, overall a very good copy, with contemporary ink ownership inscription of “John Bornheimer/Tucker Bar Cal Sept. 23(29?), 1854.” The Clifford copy, preserved in a full red morocco folding box. The only other copy definitely traced is at Yale (the Cowan-Wagner-Streeter-Beinecke copy). The copy at the New York State Library in Albany was destroyed by fire in 1915. In a letter from 1973, Warren R. Howell mentions two other copies (in private hands), now lost. The “Yellow Bird” is the rara avis of the Zamorano 80.
First edition. Adams, Guns 1853: “Exceedingly rare.” Cowan I, pp. 275-76. Cowan II, p. 533. Dykes, Rare Western Outlaw Books, p. 23: “The rarest Murieta item is John Rollin Ridge’s The Life and Celebrated Adventures of Murieta.... You must admit that Ridge started something that caught on. Murieta lives on in prose and verse plus several plays and at least one movie.” Greenwood 494: “The first book published on Murieta, and the model for many subsequent titles to follow.” Howes R279a. Huntington Library, Zamorano 80...Exhibition of Famous and Notorious California Classics 64 (this copy): “This rare work is important for describing Yankee treatment of Mexican miners.” Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 533.1a. Libros Californianos (Cowan list), p. 22. Streeter Sale 1169 (illustrated at p. 899 and described as the “only definitely located copy of Yellow Bird’s classic”): “This source for the enduring legend of Joaquín Murieta was written by the Cherokee Indian John Ridge, who worked for many years on the staff of the Alta California in San Francisco.” Walker, San Francisco’s Literary Frontier, pp. 49-54. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush, p. 148n. Wright II:2039. Zamorano 80 #64. Regarding the portraits, engravers Anthony & Baker, who engraved many of the California pictorial letter sheets, often worked with noted California artist Charles Nahl. See Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers, vol. 1, pp. 190-92 & vol. 2, pp. 123-24.
One of the most interesting tales of book lore is about F. W. Beinecke’s acquisition of the “Yellow Bird.” By the time he reached the age of eighty, the only Zamorano 80 first edition Beinecke lacked was the Ridge. Streeter’s copy was coming up at auction, so naturally the increasingly frail Beinecke was extremely keen to obtain it. Parke-Bernet Galleries and Mrs. Streeter agreed to transfer the “Yellow Bird” from the October 1968 session of the auction, where it was catalogued with Californiana. They moved the book forward to the April 1967 session, placing it in the section on Georgia (Ridge’s birthplace). Beinecke purchased Streeter’s copy for $10,000. Thus a great collector’s final desire to complete The Zamorano 80 was fulfilled, enabling him to join one of the most exclusive circles of bibliophiles. ($75,000-150,000)

64A. [MURIETA, JOAQUÍN]. Lot of three editions on Murieta: (1) BELLE, Francis P. Life and Adventures of the Celebrated Bandit Joaquín Murrieta, His Exploits in the State of California.... Chicago, 1925. 8vo, original terracotta cloth. Fine. Adams, Guns 193. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 533.1j. (2) HOYLE, M. F. (compiler). Crimes and Career of Tiburcio Vasquez...Compiled from Newspaper Accounts of the Period... [with: RIDGE, John R. The History of Joaquín Murieta, the King of California Outlaws, Whose Band Ravaged the State in the Early Fifties]. Hollister: Evening Free Lance, 1927. 8vo, original red printed wrappers bound in red cloth. Monsignor Gleason’s copy, with his bookplate (see Talbot, Historic California in Book Plates, p. 99 [illustrated] & p. 213). Light ex-library. Adams, Guns 1855n. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 533.1e (note). (3) Joaquín Murieta, the Brigand Chief of California: A Complete History of His Life from the Age of Sixteen to the Time of His Capture and Death in 1853. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1932. 8vo, original green cloth over patterned boards. Endpapers browned, else fine, with original Grabhorn pamphlet on their Rare Americana series laid in. Adams, Guns 1574. Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 533.1k. (3 vols.) ($150-300)

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Joaquín Murieta (also spelled Murrieta or Murietta) ranks as the most famous California Gold Rush brigand. As the story goes, Joaquín, a native of Sonora, Mexico, came to the Mother Lode some time in 1848, suffered discrimination and violence because of his Hispanic heritage, and took vengeance on his American oppressors. With his horse gangs, he terrorized the countryside from 1851 to 1853. Newspapers up and down the state reported the bloody exploits of Joaquín and his band of marauding desperadoes. Finally, Harry Love and his California Rangers, motivated by a $5,000 reward offered by the State of California, killed two men they thought to be Murieta and his companion Manuel García (Three-Fingered Jack) in July 1853. As proof of ridding California of this scourge, Love caused the head of Joaquín and the hand of Three-Fingered Jack to be pickled and paraded around California.
John Rollin Ridge, aka Yellow Bird, the Cherokee journalist, was the first to make known the story of Murieta in book form. Published just one year after the outlaw’s death, he based his narrative on accounts found in the early California newspapers and interviews with those who actually knew the famed bandit, including Harry Love. With the publication of his book, he succeeded in creating one of the most celebrated and romanticized stories in California history. He also penned one of the first original works by an American Indian. Ridge, living in California at the time of the outlaw’s daring deeds, identified with Murieta and saw him as representative of all oppressed peoples including his own Native American tribe. Ridge had one important experience in common with Murieta, he had killed a man in a fight before coming to California in search of gold. Coincidently, Ridge’s physical description of Murieta resembled his own appearance.
In the conclusion of his narrative, a philosophical Ridge eulogized his subject and from his literary pulpit articulated the moral theme of his book: “He [Murieta] displayed qualities of mind and heart which marked him as an extraordinary man. He also leaves behind him the important lesson that there is nothing so dangerous in its consequences as injustice to individuals—whether it arise from prejudice of color or from any other sources; that a wrong done to one man is a wrong to society and to the world.” Murieta’s influence, partly because of Ridge’s quasi-biography, continues to this day. The “Robin Hood of El Dorado” has long been considered something of a martyred hero among Latino activists, symbolizing resistance to Anglo tyranny in the conquered land of Alta California.
According to Murieta authority James F. Varley, Ridge completed the manuscript late in the spring of 1854, and on June 3 the copyright was issued to Ridge and a Charles Lindley. The latter was Ridge’s employer at the time and may have provided the financial backing for its publication. Lindley, as reported by Varley, negotiated the contract with William B. Cooke and Company to print the book in an edition of 5,000 copies. This, however, does not account for the remarkable scarcity of the book. Another Murieta expert, Frank Latta, with information obtained from Ridge’s great-niece, states “The first book was no sooner off the press and Uncle Rollin paid the bill, than it was burned.” In contrast, Ridge, in a letter dated October 9, 1854, stated that over 7,000 copies had been sold and that he had planned to publish a second edition in response to popular demand. Perhaps the rarity is endemic with publication in fire- and flood-ravaged California. Ridge’s friend and colleague, Alonzo Delano (q.v.), for example, also wrote books that sold thousands of copies in the 1850s, and they too, are incredibly scarce.
At the time of publication, the wrapper-bound book received just one review and it was not positive. The Daily California Chronicle for August 7, 1854, chided Ridge, saying that the real bandit had escaped and that “the book may serve as very amusing reading for Joaquín Murieta.” The anonymous reviewer further commented that “the fancy of the author is undoubtedly equal to the style of writing.” This critique questioned Ridge’s credibility and raised the possibility that he had created the celebrated outlaw out of whole cloth. Others, however, accepted Yellow Bird’s account. The two pillars of nineteenth-century California history, Hubert Howe Bancroft (q.v.) and Theodore Hittell (q.v.), relying on the expanded third edition, swallowed whole Ridge’s work as fact. Ever since then, historians have hotly debated the reality and identity of Joaquín and the accuracy of Ridge’s narrative. Was his book a product of his imagination or a narrative history or a combination of the two? Ridge’s modern biographer, James W. Parins, characterized The Life and Adventures as a novel.
There can be no doubt that the young, struggling author saw in Murieta’s story a chance to make a name for himself. He wrote in a sensational tone, exaggerating the bandit’s deeds, and added dialogue to enliven the story. No doubt, author and publisher hoped that such a semihistorical approach in the dime-novel era would promote sales. In short, his effort is part fantasy, part history. Nevertheless, Ridge’s book immediately spawned the cult of Joaquín, created the first great California legend, and fostered a micropublishing industry in pirated and spin-off editions. In recognition of this victim turned bandit, Cincinnatus Hiner Miller (q.v.), the famed poet of the Sierra, changed his first name to Joaquin. Ridge’s story likewise inspired the greatest equestrian painting in California history, the Charles Christian Nahl oil of a knife-wielding Murieta on horseback, dashing up a cliff escaping his pursuers.
Francis P. Farquhar and Raymond Wood, in the notes to the Valley Publishers reprint edition (1969), provide the best analysis of the complex bibliographic history and the equally baffling authorship of the various Murieta titles and their editions. A pirated edition published by the California Police Gazette of San Francisco appeared in 1859, and in 1861 the Gazette issued a second edition. Following Ridge’s untimely death at the young age of forty, Fred’k MacCrellish & Company published an expanded “third edition.” At least in this case, the publisher credited Ridge as the author. Thereafter, Ridge’s text served as the wellspring for scores of new editions in multiple languages and formats. Even plays, poems, songs, and a film were created, inspired to a large degree by the dramatic story first told by Yellow Bird.

——Gary F. Kurutz

Additional sources consulted: Francis P. Farquhar and Raymond Wood, Notes in Joaquín Murieta: The Brigand Chief of California (Fresno: Valley Publishers, 1969); Humberto Garza, Joaquín Murrieta: A Quest for Justice! (San Jose: Chusman House, 2001); Frank F. Latta, Joaquín Murrieta and His Horse Gangs (Santa Cruz: Bear State Books, 1980); Remi Nadeau, The Real Joaquín Murieta (Los Angeles: Trans-Anglo Books, 1974), pp. 115-25; James W. Parins, John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), pp. 95-112; James F. Varley, The Legend of Joaquín Murrieta (Twin Falls, Idaho: Big Lost River Press, 1995), pp. 129-46.




Item 64. Portrait of Murieta, possibly by Charles Nahl—“The ‘Robin Hood of El Dorado’ has long been considered something of a martyred hero among Latino activists, symbolizing resistance to Anglo tyranny in the conquered land of Alta California” (Kurutz).


Item 64. Portrait of Harry Love, Los Angeles County deputy sheriff and alleged Texas Revolutionary soldier, who decapitated Murieta (or someone), collected a $6,000 reward, and paraded the pickled head of his victim around the countryside. Sometimes it is difficult to determine who is the lawman and who is the outlaw.


Item 64. Selected text from Yellow Bird’s Murieta.


Item 64. Selected text from Yellow Bird’s Murieta.



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