Art & Literature

GIS & Mapping


Base Camp

Zorro - Robin Hood of the West

Further Stories of Zorro

Robin Hood is a famous legendary figure from the history of England who purportedly stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Robin Hood's supposed escapades took place from Sherwood Forest during the period where King … was away on the Holy Crusades, and his ill-suited brother Prince john ruled England. Prince John, with the help of the heartless Sheriff of Nottingham, raised taxes to an unbearable level to support his personal indulgences. The Robin Hood figure, in legend and not ever proven as fact, lived at this time and was distraught by the poor treatment of the people by the Prince and the Sheriff. He took revenge by robbing form the rich to help the poor who were suffering miserably. The Robin Hood story has inspired countless books and movies, games, costumes and theme activities for generations.

California also has a legendary fictional figure on the scale of Robin Hood - Zorro. The original Zorro stories, books, and film version of this character set the action in Alta California before the Mexican Revolution, when Spain still called California its colony. This period was before 1820, and it was a time when the pueblos - as the small towns were called - were watched over by their presidios (military forts) and missions (religious centers). The settlers came from Spain, and also from Mexico, to form communities that sought to establish Spanish rule in the new world lands of California.

What injustices did this Zorro fight? Who did he help? And how did he manage his adventures on behalf of the people?

To understand Zorro, a fictional character of the early 1800s, we need to look at a real legendary outlaw, Joaquin Murrieta, who lived in California during the Gold Rush, in the early 1850s. By this time in California History, Spain had lost California to Mexico, and Mexico had recently lost California to the United States. Gold had been discovered, and hopeful miners - called 49ers - had converged on the state at a rate of 80,000 men from all over the world in 1849 alone. A land that had known several hundred inhabitants from Europe, Mexico and America, was suddenly a landscape where tens of thousand of gold-crazy men were scrambling to discover their fortunes.

It is important to note that during he 1850s, the white miners and merchants who came to sell goods and make fortunes off the miners, felt themselves the true inheritors of the land and of its riches. These white men, primarily Americans, looked with scorn upon the men form other continents - from South America and the Orient, and upon the native Californians whose lands they were over running, polluting and scarring with their mining. They treated the Native Americans, Latin American and Chinese miners and laborers with disrespect, and often threatened their lives. This bigotry against foreigners was so extreme, that the California legislature passed a Foreign Miner's Tax that effectively made it impossible for foreign miners to keep their claims. A foreigner not only had to pay a large tax on his gold findings, he also had to go pay it in person in Sacramento, and had to leave his claim unattended during his trip. Other greedy miners took any claim left unattended, so either way the foreigners lost their claims. Either they didn't go to Sacramento to pay their fines and were found guilty of failure to pay, or they left their mines to pay the fines and lost their claims while on the road to comply with the law. The law specifically persecuted those of colored skin - the Latin Americans and Chinese.

Clearly, the goal of this legislation was to quickly squeeze out the foreigners and turn the mines and claims over to white Americans and white European settlers. One immigrant who lost his claim was Joaquin Murrieta, a man who had come to California from Latin America to seek his fortune in the gold fields. There is no confirmed historical record of who this Murrieta really was, what he looked like, or what his life actually was like. What existed then as well as today is a larger-than-life legend of a man wronged by the lawmakers and law enforcement agencies of gold rush-era California, a man who exacted revenge through robbery, assault, and murder. Some historians have suggested that the number of robberies and attacks by mysterious bands of outlaws, who holed up in the Sierra and coastal mountain backcountry and descended upon travelers and miners, must have been the work of many gangs of thieves, not just of one Joaquin Murietta. Historians have suggested that there were actually seven men named Joaquin striking fear in the hearts of the early settlers during the 1849-1853 time period.

This period of immigrant mistreatment, resulting in their rage at the injustices and their retaliations for this treatment. At the time, the white American landowners and business people apparently focused all vengeful acts by Spanish-speaking immigrants in the name of Joaquin. Joaquin was supposedly beaten, his brother hanged, and his sister attacked by California soldiers, and he vowed for revenge. Papers in San Francisco and Sacramento wrote of his savage band, some describing them as criminals threatening the United State's newest state, California. Others saw him as a hero of the poor and down trodden, as the gallant, brave soul who was trying to right the injustices delivered upon his people by the greedy powers in control of the government and military. Does this sound familiar? This is the Robin Hood of the West legend.

Soon California was so terrified of this roving band of what they considered thieves and cut throats that the State Legislature created a fund to send a group of California Marshals to track him down and bring back proof of his demise. These soldiers were offered a reward for his capture and given three months to perform their duty and receive the reward. On the lat few days of the three month period, Captain Love, the soldier in command, lead his men to the mountains near Tulare Lake, and there they trapped a band of Mexican bandits in the hills. The soldiers killed the men they found, claimed one was Murrieta, and took back to Sacramento a bandits head, and the hand of Three-Fingered Jack in jars to prove they had earned their reward. This ghoulish act not only earned them their reward - although no one could prove that it was indeed Murrieta as no one had ever seen him who would testify - the show went on the road for curious California spectators to view. This all took place in 1853.

In 1919, Johnston McCaulley wrote the first Zorro story and it was published as a running serial of stories in a magazine in California and soon became a national sensation. Several films followed - a silent move The Mark Of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in 1920, and then a sound remake with Tyrone Powers in 1940. In the 1950s, Walt Disney bought the rights to Zorro at a price of $3,500 a year, and as a means to finance the building of Disneyland theme park, Zorro became a popular television series starring Guy Williams, whose birth name was Armando Catalano.

For your reading assignments, we offer you several sources of reading and film materials on the themes of the Robin Hood of the West.

· In 1854 John Rollin Ridge wrote a well-received book "The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murietta". In his book, Ridge portrays a romanticized life of Joaquin Murrieta. It is from this viewpoint that the legend changed from outlaw to Robin Hood. Click here to read excerpts from that work. It is from this source that the Zorro character was eventually shaped and given life in magazines and movies.

· Joaquin Miller, a California writer who gained great fame in Europe, wrote a poem about Joaquin Murrieta published in 1871, and even took on his first name. Click here to read his long ode to Joaquin Murrieta.

· North of Solvang, California, there lived a son of a Mexican ranchero who supposedly took to highway robbery in the narrow pass between Solvang and Santa Maria. This man has also sometimes been suggested as the historical model for Zorro. Local historian what Tompkins offers a reference to this historical character from the early 1800s.

· Walt Disney studios produced two years of splendid Zorro stories in 1958 and 1959, and would have continued the top rated show except legal battles with the ABC television broadcasting company interfered and Disney pulled the show from the air. It later ran again as part of the Mickey Mouse Club 1960-65. Click here to read the actual plots of the Zorro television show - they are excellent California History vignettes of Alta California issues and challenges under Spanish rule. To read about the history of how the Zorro television show came to be, click here. To see pictures of the cast, producer, and writer of the Zorro show, click here. The show continues to run on the cable Disney Channel, and is recommended for all ages of viewers.

· In 1999, well-known writer Isabel Allende published as book titled "Hija de la Fortuna" in Spanish, translated into English as "Daughter of Fortune". In this book, she uses real life characters as the basis from some of the characteristics of her fictional characters. Joaquin Murrieta is portrayed as a Chilean social visionary who went to California to earn a fortune so he could return to Chile and marry the upper class woman he loved. The descriptions of life in early California, as told by Joaquin's beloved, who travels to California to find him, provide insight into life in Gold Rush California. The book is recommended for upper level high school to adult readers.

· The Mask Of Zorro, the most recent big budget film about he legendary hero was releases in 1998 and stars Anthony Hopkins as the elder Zorro, with Antonio Banderas as the protégé Zorro being trained to follow the master's footsteps. This film weaves the Murrieta legend into the Zorro story, making he protégé the brother of Joaquin, and blurs the time frame by placing Murrieta and a now-anglo Three Fingered Jack in the earlier 1830-40s while California was still under Mexican control. The film is suggested for high school level and up viewing due to suggestive, but discrete romance scenes.

· The Face of Zorro, an article written by acclaimed Chicano activist and playwright Luis Valdez. This article examines the history of the fictional character, compares him to real life bandits, and examines what the character and films of Zorro have meant to Chicano youth.
The Face of Zorro

Zorro Skits

Further Adventures of Zorro

Written Assignment