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  • "Rough Justice" for Farmworkers:The Specter of Joaquín Murrieta in Raymond Barrio's The Plum Plum Pickers
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James Luna. HALF INDIAN/HALF MEXICAN. 1991. Black-and-white photograph. Photograph by Richard A. Lou. 30" x 24" each. Courtesy of the artist.

The head, which for a long time retained a very natural appearance, was carried for exhibition over a large portion of the State and thoroughly identified in every quarter where its owner was known.

—John Rollin Ridge, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta (157)

Every camp, that had any civic pride about it, had its hang tree.

—Walter Noble Burns, The Robin Hood of El Dorado (202)

"Bang bang. Crash." An imposing and arresting noise opens Raymond Barrio's The Plum Plum Pickers (1969). Morton J. Quill, the manager of the Western Grande Compound labor camp, finds a broken window and a note that reads, "Quill boW Wowowo *Joaquín M.*" (figure 2). Pepe Delgado, a farmworker character, explains how this mysterious and disturbing note refers to "Joaquín Murrieta. … The Metsican Robin Hood, eh. The terror of the gringos" (32). Quill suspects the note signifies something more than a mere prank, namely that the workers are threatening to strike. Even though "at other times it was either Santa's Nose or Pancho [End Page 22] Villa or Luis Bananaz," this time the offending party has crossed the line: Quill says, "Strike, eh. Signing the note Joaquín M. was one big mistake" (34). With this exchange, Barrio begins incorporating into his novel of migrant agricultural laborers the legend of Joaquín Murrieta, the infamous bandit who terrorized Californians during the early 1850s in retaliation for crimes committed against him. Numerous robberies and murders were attributed to Joaquín and his gang before they were finally stopped by Harry Love's posse. In July of 1853, a man said to be Joaquín Murrieta was killed by Love's men, and his severed head was put in alcohol to be displayed throughout California. And yet, even as this clear proof would seem to confirm that Joaquín's terror had ended, disputes over the identity of the head and rumors that Murrieta was still alive suggest that the legendary bandit continued to haunt California.

Written in 1969, The Plum Plum Pickers is Raymond Barrio's sympathetic and timely novel about farmworkers' experience in the United States. In the background is the formation of the United Farm Workers (UFW), including the strikes, boycotts, and protests led by César Chávez, Dolores Huerta, and Larry Itliong. Barrio's novel emerged from the same context as Luis Valdez's innovative Teatro Campesino (Farmworker Theater), which featured farmworkers as actors and audiences. One could also situate Barrio's novel alongside Tomás Rivera's celebrated novel … y no se lo tragó la tierra (1971), a compelling picture of the lives of Texas-Mexican farmworkers from this period. The late 1960s were also important years for the Chicano student movement, when high school students walked out of their classrooms in the name of educational equality and demands were made for civil rights and political empowerment of Mexican Americans. Several of the young adult characters in The Plum Plum Pickers likely reflect Barrio's attempt to bring this generation into his novel.

In writing his social protest novel about farmworkers in the United States, Barrio uses the Joaquín Murrieta legend to draw out two salient meanings. First, Murrieta's story provides a way of remembering the Anglo conquest of western land, which provides the larger historical background of the story Barrio tells. Second, the legend helps uncover the racial politics and the visual spectacle of western lynching. In drawing on the Joaquín legend, Barrio suggests that the largely Mexican and Mexican American population of migrant farmworkers faces questions of justice that date back to California's annexation by the United States and persist into his day. The novel ends with the lynching of Quill, a scene that borrows from but also transforms parts of the Murrieta legend. This lynching scene serves as a troubling reminder of the past, emphasizing above all the reader's relationship to that history. [End Page 23]

Much of Joaquín Murrieta's story starts with John Rollin Ridge's 1854 novel The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta,1 which is considered the first novel written by a Native American (Ridge, who used his name Yellow Bird when he published the book, was a Cherokee).2 The legend then continues through many variations during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in novels, serialized accounts, stage plays, songs, and poems.3 Historians are divided about how much of the historical Joaquín Murrieta one can attribute to the various sources. The widespread fear of a bandit called "Joaquín" and the death of someone identified as "Joaquín Murrieta" by Love's posse were both real phenomena. However, the "Joaquín" bandit people feared was likely something more than an individual, as "Joaquín" was a name newspapers used to refer to virtually anyone considered a Mexican "bandit." Love and his posse were formed and financed by the California legislature through a statute that called for "capturing the party or gang of robbers commanded by the five Joaquíns" (qtd. in Leal xxiii). Nevertheless, the phantasm of a single, exceptional bandit called "Joaquín" took on a life of its own.

The folk legend that grew out of these events appears in different forms and carries multiple meanings. Barrio's use of Murrieta, therefore, can be placed within the disparate ways of telling Murrieta's story and representing western conquest and justice more generally: novels such as Ridge's The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta and Walter Noble Burns's The Robin Hood of El Dorado (1932), the Spanish-language ballad "Joaquín Murrieta," and even public spectacles such as the preserved head of Joaquín displayed around the state in 1853 and the Hangman's Tree dummy erected in 1934 in Placerville, California (figure 1).4 The novels and the ballad, differing in form and language, can be understood in their different ideological investments, specifically as those investments concern the West after US conquest. The preserved head and the hanging dummy that were displayed to the public in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, respectively, partake of the visuality of western lynching.

The different Joaquín texts draw out opposing perspectives within a fragmented society. The story of Joaquín Murrieta originates when Anglo American hegemony was actively being established in California after the US-Mexican War. The gold rush, occurring at the same time, spurred an influx of immigration of Anglos from the eastern United States and of people from around the world. Meanwhile, the Foreign Miners' Tax sought to exclude nonwhites from this transforming society by placing an extra burden of twenty dollars a month on people identified as "foreign." In this highly conflicted context, the popular story of Joaquín Murrieta satisfied a desire among Anglos for an image of a Mexican outlaw/bandit. In [End Page 24] addition to appealing to the public's attraction to sensationalism, stories of Joaquín's violent exploits worked to reinforce ideologies of race, criminality, and national belonging. Furthermore, in the account of injustices committed against Joaquín himself, in the pervasive scenes of lynching, and in the sense that Joaquín's death marks the beginning of an era of law and order, the story reflects the vexed state of justice in this period.

But there is another way of looking at Joaquín. Adapting historian Eric Hobsbawm's concept of the social bandit, Pedro Castillo and Albert Camarillo have theorized how the "Chicano social bandit" can serve as a source of pride in opposition to the wholly negative and dismissive views of Joaquín Murrieta and others as merely thieves, murderers, and the like. For Castillo and Camarillo, the Chicano social bandits were "victims of the Anglo-American invasion of Northern México … who refused to submit to this invasion" (2). It is useful to recall Hobsbawm's influential definition of social bandits from which these authors draw (and which, coincidentally, first appeared the same year as The Plum Plum Pickers). For Hobsbawm, social bandits are "peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported" (20). While Murrieta is regularly associated with other famous highwaymen and outlaws, novelist Walter Noble Burns evokes Murrieta's social bandit status by characterizing him in terms of the paradigmatic outlaw folk hero, calling Murrieta "the Robin Hood of El Dorado." Joaquín therefore appears alternately as a hero or bandit, a victim or an outlaw, according to one's ideological perspective. It is precisely this duality that Barrio reflects in his character's words, "Metsican Robin Hood. … terror of the Gringos." The Joaquín Murrieta story is often called a myth to differentiate it from factual history. But the truly mythic quality of the story is precisely the duality of bandit and social bandit, a quality based on Joaquín's indeterminable Janus face more than any neat division between myth and historical fact.

To maximize the tensions inherent in the two opposing readings of "Joaquín" and to suggest their far-reaching implications, Barrio names his antagonist "Frederick Turner." In this surprising choice, he makes his villain's namesake the historian Frederick Jackson Turner, famous for his frontier thesis of US history. In naming his agribusiness antagonist after the historian, Barrio offers a bold and ostentatious instance of what Linda Hutcheon has called the "historiographic metafictional" quality of postmodern fiction. For Hutcheon, such fiction "reinstalls historical contexts as significant and even determining, but in so doing, it problematizes the [End Page 25] entire notion of historical knowledge" (89). Postmodern fiction draws attention to the fact that history and fiction are human constructs, which, among other things, challenge any pretense to objectivity or neutrality on the part of history. Barrio extends his "fictional" approach seemingly to absorb not just the subject matter of history but also historians, the very producers of historical thinking. This imaginative counter-historiography invokes the textual creation of western US history and challenges that history's dominant forms. Specifically, the Joaquín Murrieta legend provides a dialectical answer or counterpoint to readings of the West that have naturalized the conquest of western lands and covered up oppositional narratives (a reading epitomized by the historian Turner's understanding of US westward expansion).

Joaquín vs. Frederick (Jackson) Turner: Remembering Conquest

In Barrio's novel, the most dangerous and oppressive characters interpret themselves as western heroes by utilizing a racially informed vision of the Anglo American conquest of the West. Near the end of the novel, as Quill has become increasingly hostile toward the workers, he decides to "become a modern vigilante himself" and wonders if "perhaps Mr. Turner would even let him keep his own magnificent spirited stallion nearby" (194, 205). Turner, who worked as a minor actor in Hollywood Westerns before becoming an agribusinessman and politician, has used stage props to decorate his labor camp as a western frontier town, fostering his and Quill's self-images as cowboys. Each of the Western Grande's migrant shacks is assigned a number and built with the appearance of a recognizable frontier town business: a cantina, a Wells Fargo, a post office, and so on. One of Quill's duties as manager is constructing this historical fantasy to appease Turner: at one point, we find that Turner, "sticky on … authenticity," complains that Quill has committed an anachronism by including a motorized barber's pole (190). The Hollywood Western provides a way for Turner to understand his own role as a self-made agribusiness capitalist, as he "liked indulging himself in fantasies such as imagining himself the avatar of a mighty bit of westernmania" (59). Through the figure of Turner, Barrio suggests that the myth of justified frontier violence in the West plays a psychological role in perpetuating a two-tiered society of growers/owners/managers and migrant workers.

As Quill and Turner interpret their own violent actions toward workers within the predominant Anglo-western mythology of dime novels and Hollywood Westerns, the Texas Rangers provide a ready symbol of Anglo [End Page 26] supremacy and violence. Quill admires "that brave Texas Ranger, Captain McAllee, … and his brave band of real tough Rangers" for having violently broken up a group of Mexican celery workers going on strike (33). The thought of the Ranger stifling labor organization encourages Quill after he receives the menacing message from "Joaquín M." Seeing Captain McAllee through the lens of the western myth of frontier violence, Quill believes that "the grand old western days were closing in again" (33). As laborers are associated with Joaquín, Captain McAllee, in providing a violent solution to the subversive power, is a substitute for Harry Love (it is worth noting that Love's posse was also called the "Rangers"). Turner and Quill's racial ideology and proclivity to violence reflect Richard Slotkin's contention in Gunfighter Nation (1992) that the western myth is fundamentally a social Darwinist view positing Anglo-Saxons as a superior race subjugating other races and "dangerous classes" on the frontier. In Barrio's novel, this western ideology supports another ideology, one of class hierarchy and the subordination of labor through violence.

In identifying his antagonist with the US historian Frederick Jackson Turner, Barrio engages the frontier thesis that for a long time has provided a foundation for US exceptionalist history. In his influential essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," Turner the historian envisioned the western frontier as a continually expanding space of open land in which the "democratic" personalities and institutions are formed. In his often quoted formulation, Turner asserts that the "existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development" (1). The similarity in names, however, alerts the reader to the contradictions that arise when farmworker experience is compared with this idea of western history. For instance, there is an obvious contrast between the historian Turner's insistence that "frontier individualism has from the beginning promoted democracy" and the way Barrio's character Turner establishes paternalistic and hierarchical relationships with the workers subordinated to him (14). Barrio's use of Turner's name primarily suggests that Turnerian history may not be the whole story of US development.

Furthermore, the Turnerian view of the West as open space erases the sovereignty of peoples inhabiting the land into which US territory expanded as well as of those who came to that land without the rights and protections of full belonging. In a rather stark contrast to the utopian view of virgin land waiting for the taking, Barrio's subaltern farmworkers encounter the land neither as an open field for settlement nor as resources to be appropriated. Their experience, rather, is one of national and transnational movement and migration along routes other than Turner's [End Page 27] westward settlement. As the farmworkers labor and survive within systems of global capitalism, they have a "bottom-up" perspective on the frontier thesis and the process of conquest it narrates. In Barrio's alternative historiography, the West is a dominant narrative and a collection of multiple perspectives that compete with the cultural dominant.

The Joaquín Murrieta story provides the main alternative perspective from which Barrio can challenge the dominant western historiography. The critique of the frontier thesis is, in fact, already latent in the Joaquín Murrieta story. Joaquín's voyage northward, for example, shows a different line of movement than can be conceived in a model of US westward expansion. In opposition to the idea of "an area of free land," furthermore, the Murrieta story focuses on the annexation of sovereign territory in the US-Mexican War, with the attendant problem of justice in the aftermath of conquest. The novels, for example, tell of the group of five white "American miners" who intend to force Murrieta off his mining claim in Saw Mill Flat and who, when Murrieta refuses to acquiesce, beat Murrieta unconscious and rape his wife. The scene is vicious and begins the long chain of brutal episodes that make up the rest of the story. Ridge attributes the initial scene of beating and rape to the "prejudice of color" and the "antipathy of races" prevalent among the "lawless and desperate men" forming the new dominant in California (9). In Burns's account, the "American miners" insist they are "good American citizens" who belong in a "white man's camp." They declare that "California belongs to the U.S. of America. The Mexican war done settled that. California's ourn" (12–13). Joaquín insists on his rights, replying that there are "plenty of Mexicans in Saw Mill Flat" and "there's no law barring Mexicans from this country and no law against their mining here" (13). Both novelistic accounts expose the racism that structured relationships in the newly acquired/conquered lands. This potential social criticism at the beginning of the novels, however, is diluted in both cases by the chapters that follow. Streeby points out that the initial opposition between Joaquín's gentlemanly nature and his partner Three-Fingered Jack's brutality gradually fades into a more generally racialized picture in which both bandits are viewed as naturally/essentially cruel (179). The novel versions waver back and forth between Joaquín's "civilization" and his "savagery," between his status as a social bandit and his status as just a plain bandit without redeeming qualities. At the beginning of his outlaw career, Joaquín kills most all of the twenty members of the mob who beat him and hanged his brother. By the end, however, Joaquín and his band have turned to committing countless acts of violence on innocent civilians, making it extremely difficult to maintain sympathy with him. Often the victims of the robbing and killing are members [End Page 28] of minority groups, such as the Chinese miners whom Joaquín's band repeatedly attacks.

If the novels, at least at their beginnings, raise the question of justice for certain racialized subjects in postconquest California and therefore point to omissions in the Turnerian view of the West, the corrido "Joaquín Murrieta" offers an even more drastic alternative. Like other corridos of borderland outlaws, "Joaquín Murrieta" is a Spanish-language ballad that transforms Murrieta's bandit/outlaw status into a heroic resistance to Anglo domination.5 The corrido shares with the novels some of the basic elements of the story's plot: a miner comes to California, his wife and brother are killed by Americans, and he seeks revenge through violence. The gruesome bloodshed that takes up much of the novels' chapters is presented in the corrido as swaggering bravado and hyperbole:

Cuando llegué a setecientos When I reached seven hundred [deaths]
ya mi nombre era temible. my name then was feared.
Cuando llegué a mil doscientos When I got to twelve hundred
ya mi nombre era terrible. my name terrified others.
Yo soy aquel que domina I am the one who dominates
hasta leones africanos. even African lions.
Por eso salgo al camino That's why I set out
a matar americanos. to kill Anglos.6

Tempering this boastful persona are qualities of the "social bandit":

Al indio pobre y sencillo I defended the poor and simple
lo defendí con fiereza. Indian with fierceness.
Y a buen precio los sherifes And the sheriffs put a good price
pagaban por mi cabeza. on my head.
A los ricos avarientos, From the greedy rich,
yo les quité su dinero. I took away their money.
Con los humildes y pobres With the humble and poor,
yo me quité mi sombrero. I took off my hat.

Despite the condescending characterization of the Indian as "poor and simple," Joaquín here is a defender of the people. The descriptions suggest a Robin Hood quality, robbing from the rich and respectfully treating the poor as equals (he likely shares the wealth with them, though this is not explicit).7 The corrido transforms the story in key ways, casting doubt on the novel versions' sensationalized accounts of Joaquín's brutality and opening up more room for the duality inherent in the story. [End Page 29]

In contrast to the novelistic representations of Joaquín, which take western conquest as a fait accompli and focus on the question of postconquest rights, the "Joaquín Murrieta" corrido questions the legitimacy of the conquest in the first place. One stanza, for example, contains these lines:

No soy chileno ni extraño I'm neither Chilean nor a foreigner
en este suelo que piso. to this land I tread.
De México es California, California belongs to Mexico
porque Dios así lo quiso because God wished it so.
Y en mi sarape cosida And in my stitched sarape
traigo mi fe de bautismo. I carry my baptismal certificate.

The corrido narrator's claim that "California belongs to Mexico" reverses (and by reversing, denies) the Anglo American rhetoric of manifest destiny, which posited a divine blessing on US expansion into the West.8 This rejection of the natural or inevitable conquest of northern Mexico reflects an awareness of historical dispossession of Mexicans after the US-Mexican War and the experience Ramón Saldívar describes as being an "ethnic minority in a conquered homeland" (13). Among the different individual forms and variations of the Joaquín Murrieta story, the corrido most strongly expresses the West as postconquest space and time.

In The Plum Plum Pickers, Barrio interrogates this sense of inhabiting postconquest space and time through several of his characters. In one striking passage, his protagonist, Manuel Gutiérrez, is associated with Gaspar de Portolá, the eighteenth-century Spanish explorer who led expeditions into Alta California. Referring to Manuel's view of his surroundings, a green alfalfa field, the Diablo mountain range, and the blue sky, Barrio's narrator states, "both don Gaspar and don Manuel were landlords and landless at precisely the same instant of viewing all this heady beauty. And both were equally dispossessed" (91). Barrio likens Manuel's view of the surrounding land to a mythic new world "discovery," specifically when Portolá and his expedition crossed Sweeney Ridge in 1769 leading to the legendary "discovery" of the San Francisco Bay by a European. The paradox of being simultaneously "landless" and a "landlord" seems to suggest that the very perception of the landscape is a kind of ownership in a higher, non-material sense. Manuel feels "this was all his. For a flowing, deceptive minute, all this rich, enormous terrain was all his" (90). Even though he recognizes the "deception" behind this sentiment, Manuel experiences this feeling of ownership-in-spectatorship as a liberating one, a feeling that contrasts with the constricting and repetitive work in the rows of fruit trees. Manuel and Portolá are "possessed of a keen sense of pride and natural absorption with the ritual and mystery of all life" (91). [End Page 30] Manuel becomes de-subjectivized, finding in nature a transcending of his own identity as he asks, "Why couldn't he just put the bucket down and open his arms and walk into the hills and merge himself with the hills and just wander invisibly in the blue?" (90).

At this point, the narrator takes over to show the limit of Manuel's consciousness and to include Manuel's perspective within an even broader one. Since "even the memory of history was also robbed of him," the narrator states that Manuel is unaware that "he was completing yet another arc in the unending circle that had been started by one of his Mexican forebears exactly two hundred years before" (90). Readers are left to speculate on the nature of this "unending circle," a circle that connects Portolá and Manuel despite their obvious differences. Putting aside the idea that Portolá's legacy itself was one of conquering and dispossession, Barrio creates a myth/history in which Portolá and Manuel are pre- and postconquest "landless landlords." This myth/history is one of cycle and symbol rather than history and cause. Portolá's "discovering" of the territory gives them both ownership of it. At the same time, Manuel's dispossession of the land on which he works, lives, and (importantly in this passage) aesthetically perceives, dispossesses them both.

Barrio's young farmworker character Ramiro Sánchez also reflects a sense of loss and dispossession attendant upon US conquest. As if to suggest the migrant only owns the land he or she can carry, Ramiro imagines a lump of dirt symbolizing the lack of control over the land the migrants work on but do not possess, thinking of how his "father had always admonished him, 'With corn, mi hijo, with corn you live.' Yes. Sure. Corn nourishes, keeps whole tribes and nations alive. But where do you plant it? Where, padre? In this here clod?" (132). He more explicitly connects the dirt clod with the dispossession of Mexican land in the West when he thinks of being "corn hungry. Corn thirsty. Corn desire. Corn corn corn. Men with no rancho of their own. The little ranchos all gone" (133). In this perspective, the Anglo "winning" of the West is a displacement of Mexican rancho economy by the Anglo agribusiness within which Ramiro currently finds himself. On the one hand, Ramiro's memory recalls the transfer of land from Mexican to Anglo hands through such processes as the testing of land titles in US courts after the US-Mexican War (Limerick 235–39). More broadly, his ideas reflect how modernized, large-scale agribusiness displaces all preindustrial forms of agriculture, including ones by which workers retain some autonomy in their relation to the land. On the other hand, Ramiro's nostalgia for the "little ranchos" blinds him to the hierarchical class systems of Spanish/Mexican rule in the West. This misrecognition is significant, as Ramiro's own subject position [End Page 31] as a migrant farmworker in the twentieth-century United States has more in common with the exploited and racialized laborers who worked on the ranchos than the elite class who usually owned the ranchos. At another point, Ramiro feels solidarity with his ancestors who "had fought off the greedy hacenderos, and before that, resisted the greedier Spanish gachupín conquistadores" (49). In the dirt-clod/corn passage, however, Ramiro gains a closer approximation of conquest than offered by the Turnerian narrative but misremembers the social relations of the rancho system that predated US conquest.

Ramiro's fantasy takes on an especially masculine tone when he reads himself into the pastoral myth of the preconquest rancho economy. Ramiro uncritically associates the desire to regain dispossessed land and wealth with the desire for the possession of women when he states, "He was hungry. Had no woman. Had no food. Had no land," and laments, "What could he grow. What good was his manhood. How could he build" (132). One can detect how Ramiro's train of thought reduces women to a material for males' possession, as if women were equivalent to land, food, or buildings. Alternatively, one might see Ramiro venerating women's generative capacity while mourning his own inability to produce as a male. This latter idea is reflected again when he sees the dirt clod as a symbol of the earth stripped from him and others. Ramiro imagines he "would inject it with his manhood and make it boom into the biggest single stalk of tall corn this side of the Rio Grande. And hire some rangers to guard it. Then float it out into space. And make his own planet. Why not" (132). Ramiro's over-investing the potency of his "manhood" in this impossible scenario has the reverse effect of turning his desire into a grandiose fantasy that makes him seem more impotent. That Ramiro wants to "hire some rangers to guard it" suggests how easily his fantasy reinserts the property rights and exclusionary structures that remove people from the land in the first place. Ramiro's frustration derives from the contradiction between his postconquest memory, the memory of the social bandit, and the patriarchal, masculinist interpretation that memory can take on.

The "Joaquín Murrieta" corrido, like many other corridos, provides an alternative to Anglo-American ideological constructions of the Mexican as subject and the erasure of that subject's rights. At the same time, the corrido's heroic picture of Joaquín is cast in conventionally masculine terms that reinforce patriarchal ideology and inhibit a woman character's identification, something scholars have noted in other traditional corridos (Limón 35–38; Pavletich and Backus 132–35). In the chapter following Ramiro's memory of the ranchos, Barrio depicts a young Chicana character, Margarita Delgado, whose experience provides a useful contrast with [End Page 32] Ramiro's. As if to draw out the tension within the traditional corrido hero, Margarita is portrayed as doubly alienated: first by the racism of Anglo American culture and then by the sexism within the patriarchal family structure. While her brother Danny's performance of masculinity wins him a large circle of male friends, Margarita is largely on her own. Even though Margarita and Ramiro are in love, when Ramiro visits Margarita's house, Danny occupies Ramiro's attention and intentionally excludes Margarita by saying, "Look here, sis. … Haven't you got any other goddamn thing to do somewhere? Sweep the floor or sew something or just get lost? Huh?" (137). What on its surface looks like teenage sibling rivalry also shows that Danny believes the woman's place is working on domestic chores. Considering his own marginality as an ethnic minority in the United States and also as a farmworker from a family of farmworkers, Danny should recognize the cost of marginalizing his sister. And yet his reaction to Margarita, which attempts to remove her presence and treat her as an object, shows he has naturalized the idea of women as domestic servants (a different kind of sexism than that expressed by Ramiro).

At high school, Margarita receives flirtatious taunts from Anglo boys that raise the ire of Anglo girls. She is affected by the racism built into the ideas of good looks and popularity that often preoccupy high school adolescents, thinking to herself how it is "lucky she wasn't ugly like some of the jealous güeras, but she sometimes felt it was better to be a repulsive, ugly blonde güera than pretty, Mexican, and dark skinned" (99). Furthermore, she finds that socially maintained gender privileges give her brother options for coping with racism that are unavailable to her. She notes that "Danny at least had his sports and the track team and the swimming team, and he could laugh and play big man and fight back and so they respected him" (100). For her part, however, "she didn't want to fight back. She was always being goaded and annoyed and insulted in mean little ways. Always having to smile back" (100). Not wanting to fight back and feeling the pressure of "always having to smile back," Margarita is torn between wanting peace and knowing that she is not free in choosing a passive response. When the Anglo girls at Drawbridge High School use racist slurs such as "spic" and "dirty Mexican" when warning her to "keep away from my Bill," she cannot resist these abuses in the ways her brother does, through the conventionally masculine forms of fighting or becoming an athletic hero (101). Even though she "wished she could stop smiling at them when they did it and show her anger," she has to keep her response internal, knowing but not saying her opinion that she is "bigger and stronger than this whey-faced hate-filled slut" (101). Margarita's complex encounter with patriarchy and masculine violence implicitly criticizes [End Page 33] what JoAnn Pavletich and Margot Backus identify as the "naturalized articulation … between Chicano patriarchal authority and resistance" in traditional corridos (129). One finds traces of this articulation in the dominating personality of the "Joaquín Murrieta" corrido. Similarly, in Ramiro's phallic interpretation of history and in Danny's adaptation to both Mexican and Anglo forms of manhood, the response to racism and conquest seems locked in hyper-masculinity. Since Margarita, by contrast, does not displace her experience of racism onto conventionally masculine symbols, she must confront that experience more directly.

Alienated from male Chicanos because of sexism and from female Anglos because of racism, Margarita is, in her own way, a "landless landlord." Furthermore, her postconquest historical memory does not fully make sense of her own position. On the one hand, she recognizes exactly what Ramiro does, that California "once was Mexico. … once belonged to her people, for hundreds and thousands of years. And now she didn't belong." On the other hand, Margarita feels that "Mexico was nowhere for her. It was as foreign to her as Belgium." Her idea of the foreignness of Mexico derives from her own experience, as she remembers how "in Mexico, on her two brief visits, the native Mexicans there always considered her as an American. … They also thought her family was very rich because she had pretty clothes" (102). Margarita's idea of Mexico as "nowhere" suggests that she does not share with Ramiro and the "Joaquín Murrieta" corrido narrator the feeling that Mexico offers an original and stable identity against which to compare postconquest experience. Estranged from California and Mexico, Margarita is doubly homeless. She lives in two cultures, but neither culture provides a complete and full self-understanding. Although both inhabit postconquest space and time, Margarita's subjectivity is irreducible to Ramiro's. Significantly, the romance story between Ramiro and Margarita remains unfulfilled: as Ramiro and Margarita never unite in love or marriage, The Plum Plum Pickers avoids the tendency to use characters' relationships to symbolically "solve" ideological or political problems.

The Plum Plum Pickers has an ending in two parts, representing two different kinds of justice. Quill's lynching constitutes the second of these two parts. The first part, by contrast, features elements of formal justice while also treating the history of conquest from a perspective informed by the Joaquín Murrieta story. In this scene, Ramiro dreams of a courtroom proceeding in which repressive figures such as the Texas Rangers and the fictional California governor Howlin Mad Nolan stand trial. The participants in the surrealist trial are divided between the protagonists Ramiro, Manuel, and Lupe, and an assembly of the secondary antagonists, such as Captain McAllee (the Texas Ranger whom Quill and the California [End Page 34] growers idolize) and Howlin Mad Nolan. Ramiro and Ranger KK, a subordinate of Captain McAllee's, plead their cases before an unnamed judge. The Ranger defends his use of violence against the striking celery workers, the event Quill idealized at the beginning of the novel. Ramiro, the plaintiff, attempts to hold these individuals accountable.

The dream becomes an occasion for postconquest history and memory, as Ramiro uses the court to address the forced annexation of Mexican territory, asking, "When you going to give us California back?" (221). Ramiro's question associates him with the Joaquín Murrieta of the corrido. This association is significant because earlier in the novel Ramiro doubts his own capabilities, thinking to himself, "Ramiro Sánchez, king of the vagrants, might even be able to help his own people too, and become a new kind of Paul Bunyan, a folk-hero himself. What a laugh" (134). By comparing himself not to Joaquín but to another folk-hero, Ramiro sets his expectations too high and can only laugh at the idea. But by the end of the novel, he takes on the populist, social bandit perspective of "Joaquín M." in his criticism of the exploitation of farmworkers and his awareness of conquest as a historical condition. Ramiro's critical memory is double-sided, as it is expressed in a dream rather than some actual venue where claims for justice can be made. In one sense, his dream is a very literal example of Saldívar's concept of the corrido as a "political unconscious" of Chicano narrative. For Saldívar, the political critique expressed relatively directly in the corrido becomes in various ways "repressed," or expressed only indirectly, in modern Chicano narrative (41). By opening the novel with Quill's sleep and closing with Ramiro's dream, The Plum Plum Pickers reverses the usual priority of waking reality over sleeping and dreaming. The dream provides an alternative, counterfactual location in which desires normally repressed can finally be expressed. In this location, Ramiro finds his calling as a folk-hero.

In this emerging political unconscious, the imaginary proceedings address the unresolved and repressed conflict dating back to US western territorial expansion and the US-Mexican War. Ramiro never receives an answer and the judge never issues a verdict. Instead, the dream-courtroom devolves into a chaos of conflicting claims. Even unresolved, however, the dream sequence can be contrasted with official US history, in which western conflicts are either presented as resolved and relegated to the past or covered up with a vision of Turnerian "open space." Barrio's novel would suggest that injustices and injuries do not disappear with time but rather continue, transformed, even as they are actively repressed. The history of western lynching, central to Barrio's novel, is one such open wound. [End Page 35]

Joaquín vs. Quill: The "Hangem tree"

The courtroom scene uncovers the claim for postconquest justice and provides the first ending. In the second ending, and the very final scene of the novel, Quill's death by hanging completes Barrio's adaptation of the Joaquín Murrieta story. Quill dies at the hands of an unseen agent of revenge, presumably someone acting in retaliation for his oppression of others. His death is described as follows:

Suddenly waaooooooooof! he felt himself grabbed from behind by a thick wad of greasy cloth jammed into his mouth.

Horror stricken—unable to make out his tormentors—he saw he was swiftly being, resolutely, determinedly being carried straight back toward the barely visible Hangem Tree, its brackish black branches etched against a barely visible buttermilk sky.


This scene, occurring on the novel's last page, is a reflection of the "*Joaquín M.*" note that arrives on the first page. The visceral description of Quill's death closes the distance a reader might feel from the brutal history of lynching, a history also strongly informing the Joaquín Murrieta legend. The Plum Plum Pickers utilizes the imagery of western lynching to implicate the reader in the very problems of postconquest justice the novel engages.

Throughout the novel, the "Hangem Tree" at the center of the camp has been the most conspicuous and foreboding part of the Western Grande's frontier-themed decorations. Reflecting some of the ritualized symbolism of lynching in the United States, the effigy hanging from the "Hangem Tree" wears a sign identifying it as "Black Bart" (61). This image of execution also mirrors the "tintype poster" Quill keeps on his wall featuring Turner in his Western movie costume, posed with his "nerveless hand on the hawser hanging Black Bart up by the neck on the old oak hangem tree" (195).9 As he keeps on his wall a poster of Turner in his role as executioner, Quill has assimilated and internalized the symbols of lynching. But when Quill hangs from the "Hangem Tree" on the last page of the novel, he is wearing the "Black Bart" sign (226).

The "Hangem Tree," we are told, has a plaque identifying it as the "'Hangman's Tree' of local fame" (61). Barrio almost certainly had in mind the California state landmark in Placerville, where the site of a gold rush–era "Hangman's Tree" has been a registered landmark since 1934 and where a dummy hung from a noose above the landmark for years before Barrio wrote his book (figure 1). The dummy likely appeared in [End Page 36]

Figure 1. California State Landmark #1414 and Hangman's Tree Historic Spot, Placerville, CA. 1954. Postcard. Photograph by Merle Porter. Courtesy of Royal Pictures, Colton, CA.
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Figure 1.

California State Landmark #1414 and Hangman's Tree Historic Spot, Placerville, CA. 1954. Postcard. Photograph by Merle Porter. Courtesy of Royal Pictures, Colton, CA.

[End Page 37]

1934 when the landmark was designated and when, after the cessation of Prohibition, the "historic spot" bar opened. At the time of writing, the dummy still hangs in Placerville, reflecting and masking the history of lynching in the West.10 Writing in a climate in which lynching can become the stuff of tourist traps and community "heritage," Barrio needs to undo a considerable amount of reification of these representations. One might even say he breathes life back into the effigy in order for people to recognize it as a person.

While the terrible history of lynching has been traditionally understood in terms of whites and blacks in the Jim Crow South, lynching in the West also worked to maintain a code of racial supremacy. Studies focusing on the lynching of Latinos in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century West have suggested that lynching of nonwhite subjects in the West should be compared and contrasted with lynching in the South (while acknowledging the specificity of each).11 The very image of the West, in the popular ideas of "frontier justice" and the "Wild West," has obscured the actual nature of western lynching and mob violence. In other words, while the use of lynching to maintain white supremacy has been clear in the case of southern lynching, lynching in the West has been, and continues to be, misunderstood as a supposedly inevitable outcome of frontier conditions and the lack of judicial institutions. A focus on attitudes toward formal justice and the development of legal institutions in the West, furthermore, need not be incompatible with a focus on the connections between racism and lynching. Michael Pfeifer, for instance, has shown how popular mistrust of formal judicial proceedings can be thoroughly compatible with the ideas and actions that uphold white supremacy (85–93).

The Joaquín Murrieta legend is and is not a story of western lynching. On the one hand, Joaquín is not killed by an extra-legal lynch mob, but rather by the state, specifically the hired posse authorized and funded by a legislative action of the California state government. On the other hand, Murrieta is lashed by the same Anglo lynch mob that hangs his brother. The novels are replete with stories of hangings, often with the casualness evident in the epigraph quoted from Burns. The story of Joaquín, therefore, expresses two competing kinds of "justice" in this transitional period: informal, "popular" lynching and the state's formal juridical power. The representation of Harry Love and his posse reflects both the state's impersonal and overarching powers for punishment and the personal, "embodied" violence of the lynch mob. "Heretofore," as Burns describes Harry Love's pursuit of Joaquín, "communities, countrysides, counties, had fought Murrieta. For the first time he was to feel the crushing power of the state as a state" (256). [End Page 38]

Many mainstream versions of the Joaquín Murrieta story have "bolstered U.S. ideology," observes John Carlos Rowe, "by maintaining Joaquín as the criminal 'outsider' whose romance depends crucially on his ritual exorcism by means of literary denouement" (171).12 Following Rowe's conception, one can observe how the novels' emplotment of the Joaquín Murrieta story, moving from violation/victimization to acts of revenge to Joaquín's death, too easily resolves into the stereotyped pattern of establishing law and civilization upon a wild frontier. In this pattern, the novels represent the subjection of resistance as a necessary and desirable process. Trudier Harris has argued that lynching is a ritual exorcism of threats to the racial social order, restoring and renewing that order through the symbolic punishment of the scapegoated victim (see esp. ch. 1). Many of the Joaquín Murrieta stories, in the repeated textual "punishment" of the notorious bandit Joaquín, should come under suspicion of being a similar ritual. There is a structural analogy between lynching's ritualized racial exorcism and the textual exorcism of the racialized bandit. Thus, the novel versions bolster US ideology in general and the ideology of racial lynching in particular. In this light, it is extremely significant that the corrido "Joaquín Murrieta," which I have presented as an alternative to the English-language novels, neither narrates Joaquín's pursuit by Love nor his death. When Joaquín of the corrido speaks to his audience, he is very much alive and thriving.

Writing on the history of racial lynchings in California, Gonzales-Day finds that the Joaquín Murrieta story is "symptomatic of one of the most turbulent periods in California's history, a period in which more Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and persons of Latin American origin or descent died at the hands of lynch mobs than in any other period" (175). For Gonzales Day, the textual and visual representations of Joaquín Murrieta are examples of the widespread visual epistemology of physiognomy. A visual epistemology that attributed inward character to outward appearances was necessary for creating the racialized image of the "Mexican bandit." The lynchings of greatly disproportionate numbers of non-Anglo bodies during this period relied on this visual and discursive paradigm. In addition to functioning as a spectacle for the morbidly curious and as evidence of state power, the preserved head of Joaquín reconfirmed a way of seeing that was greatly implicated in the racializing of certain bodies.

Working against the ritual killing of Joaquín in the novel versions is Barrio's revision of the Joaquín Murrieta imagery in The Plum Plum Pickers. Although Quill has not been a Joaquín figure at any time in the novel, he is hanged at the story's closing, making his death structurally parallel to Joaquín's. In his introduction to the Bilingual Press edition of Barrio's [End Page 39] novel, Francisco Lomelí finds that in Quill's death "poetic justice is accomplished by sacrificing the most immediate offender, and this marks the first purging act against those responsible for the workers' plight" (16). Lomelí's position is a powerful interpretation, since we know Quill to be a perpetrator of violence against the workers. Indeed, all the signs point toward Quill's death, and the violent, morbid symbols that decorate the Western Grande Compound are prefigurations of the final scene. When the novel opens with the "*Joaquín M.*" note crashing in on Quill, he has been dreaming of "driving his own hearse around carefully as usual," and when he looks outside into the darkness, he does so "as though fore-shadowing his own death" (31). The threatening note confirms an ominous feeling already residing within Quill's soul, as he feels "his solid, forbidding martyrdom lying heavily upon the land" (32).

In addition to the dark symbols associated with Quill, there are narrative events, specifically Quill's acts of repression of others, that make his death seem like "poetic justice." In his role as the manager of the Western Grande labor camp, he maintains a system of debts and confiscation that borders on sadism. Having convinced Turner to let him convert one of the western-themed buildings, Quill has even made his own company store in order to charge the migrants inflated prices. Since the beginning of the novel, he has tried to extract a late rent payment from Zeke Jonson by chaining and padlocking Zeke's car while Zeke eludes Quill by cutting the car free with an acetylene torch. When not locking up their cars, Quill confiscates the workers' belongings and stores them in the warehouse. Quill's draconian approach perpetuates a vicious cycle in which migrant workers fall behind on debt and find that their penalties further inhibit them from escaping that debt. His role as an unchecked authority in charge of distributing goods and justice eventually culminates in his sense of being "God" and the "Grandee" of the Western Grande (208, 205).

By the final chapter, Quill's despotic activity as manager of the compound becomes a megalomania. He receives reinforcement from Turner, who has promised to raise Quill's wages $1.50 per week in reward for the good work. All along, Quill's admiration for Turner has displayed oedipal ambivalence, combining identification with a jealous rivalry that bursts forth in the second chapter when Quill says to the absent Turner, "I will fix you good, sir, if it's the last thing … I ever do" (37). At the end of the book, the meager raise appears to Quill as validation from his father figure. With his ego inflated by Turner's approbation, Quill declares he will "show this scum, this riffraff, these migrating prune rotaters who really was boss around here. Mr. Turner was boss, thass who. Mr. Turner, and his Golden State Prune Pachydermal Packers Assn. Combined Inc., was [End Page 40] also who" (222). Because of the contradiction in his own status as a subordinate as well as a domineering taskmaster, Quill's identity is confused. He cannot distinguish his own harsh feelings toward the migratory workers from those he conveys as a mere proxy or representative of Turner and the agriculture corporations.

While Lomelí suggests that Ramiro is likely the "instigator of the collective act" of Quill's hanging, I propose that the Anglo American farmworkers who live on the Western Grande Compound, the Popes and Jonsons, are likelier candidates (24). As Quill chains up the Pope family's automobile, he feels "a thrill. A real thrill. A real sense of power" (224). Quill's power over the Popes is also bound up with his sexual desire for Mrs. Pope, even though he is too weak to articulate that desire and can only mutter to himself "maybe she would ask him if she he he if if if maybe … " (224). Mr. Pope forcibly makes Quill release his car by lifting Quill off the ground in a strangling bear-hug. In mad retaliation, Quill seeks out Mrs. Pope and declares to her, "I'm sorry, but you are going to have to leave your little boy behind here with us in The Warehouse as security for your good faith and will in paying us what you owe" (224). Even though Mrs. Pope runs away to seek comfort from "other delinquent ladies," Quill feels empowered by his demand to take her child. In his scrambled state of mind, he perceives himself to be "on top of this world. Ho ho. The Santa Claus of Santa Clara County at last. Swinging from the highest maypole"—words of dramatic irony from someone about to be hanged (224). Quill's request to confiscate Mrs. Pope's child is one of his last acts and his most inhumane. He is once again locking up the Pope family's car when he is grabbed and taken to his death. For all the interracial violence in Barrio's novel, the final conflict occurs ostensibly between Anglo-Americans of different class positions (but more similar to each other's than either is to Turner's). This is Barrio's variation on the pattern of interracial conflict of the Joaquín Murrieta story: rather than the racialized bandit, the Anglo "law" is hanged.

Quill, in his despotic activity on the Western Grande, has completely isolated himself, and hence his death matters little to anyone. At the sight of Quill's hanging corpse, Turner, "shaking his thin blue fist at the outrageous heavens," says, "drat your scurvy hide, Quill! I'll, I'll, I'll—" (226). Following this unfinished statement, Turner reveals his feelings about Quill's death are little more than worries about his loss of a labor contractor, asking, "How in hell was he going to find enough new prune pickers right away?" (226). What first looks like it will be Turner's cry of anguish turns out to be only his frustration with an inconvenience, a slight business setback, and feelings of animosity toward Quill. Quill's death gets [End Page 41] reduced to a quantitative measurement in Turner's investment and at most a public relations difficulty. He will simply be replaced by another functionary who will manage the labor camp.

Along with Turner's rejection, Quill is cast out by virtually every other character, enemies and allies alike. Other evidence reveals that the animus against Quill has intensified. At the end of the novel, Quill receives more written messages from anonymous sources, this time appearing to him as a mess of words painted on the back of his cabin like "some crazy abstract painting with crazy lettering" (193). As with the "*Joaquín M.*" note, Barrio includes these messages as illustrations depicting the words graphically on the page. Readers must go to the original Ventura Press editions of The Plum Plum Pickers to read these messages, however, as this set of illustrations does not appear in the more recent Bilingual Press editions. Unlike the claim for postconquest justice inherent in the "boW Wowowo" from "*Joaquín M.*" (figure 2), these new messages lack any significant political content. Instead, the messages are textualized epithets hurled upon Quill, such as "Fuckkkkkk Quill" (figure 3). The others include "Quills A goddem Queer," "Quill's a frigging whooooooor," "Whose a basturd? Quills ass who" (165–67). The messages use abusive, dehumanizing language drawing mostly from the age-old insult of sexual deviancy, as in the overtly homophobic "Quills A goddem Queer." They more resemble the lewd writing scrawled on the walls of public restrooms than any legitimate social protest. When one reads them against Quill's lynching, the sexual imagery takes on more historical significance: as the linguistic messages cast Quill as sexually deviant (queer, whore, etc.), his lynching recalls the common insertion of the lynching victim's body into the economy of sexual taboos, desires, and phobias, as when a male lynching victim is castrated.

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Figure 2.

With these insults in mind, one can propose an alternative to the poetic justice Lomelí sees in Quill's death and the explanation that Quill necessarily dies because of revenge for his oppressive acts. Quill's death can be understood as an example of what René Girard calls "sacrificial substitution," or, more simply, the scapegoat. In Girard's explanation of myth, the scapegoat's social function is the quelling of reciprocal violence, stemming the cycle of actions and reactions before they escalate into ultimate chaos (one might think of the revenge in the Joaquín Murrieta legend or the [End Page 42] interactions of Quill and the laborers at the Western Grande as such cycles). As punishing the actual violent perpetrator will only appear to that party as another instance of retribution, the members of society "instinctively seek an immediate and violent cure for the onslaught of unbearable violence and strive desperately to convince themselves that all their ills are the fault of a lone individual who can be easily disposed of" (79–80). The ritual of sacrifice, which for Girard subtends societies' deep-seated myths, stops reciprocal violence and reestablishes the social order that has been threatened. In The Plum Plum Pickers, Quill's status as a scapegoat functions to preserve the social order. His death solves none of the problems in the novel's plot or in the society represented. While Quill is the most immediate offender, he is also mostly a bureaucratic middleman. Upon receiving the "*Joaquín M.*" note at the beginning, Quill himself asks, "Since he was such a peaceful man, why did they pick on him to take … Mr. Turner's punishment? Why not … Mr. Turner himself ?" (32). In Ramiro's dream-courtroom, McAllee and Ranger KK are held accountable through a fantasy of due process. The messages in "crazy lettering," by contrast, reveal Quill's lynching to be a sacrificial substitution in Girard's sense, the lashing out of a community that identifies a threatening, poisonous influence to be expelled. Quill is "substituted" for the deeper, systemic causes of antagonism, causes such as Turner's monopolization of power and wealth, the racial division of labor within the agribusiness structure, or the historical legacies of conquest.

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Figure 3.

Quill's death has neither tragic meaning nor pathos for any of the characters. No one, including the reader whose own feelings have been turned against Quill, is particularly interested in saving him or avenging him. Any poetic justice a reader might feel, therefore, is actually the catharsis of sacrificial substitution. Just as sacrificial rituals restore the community by expurgating the evil or poisonous influence, so Quill's death restores the text to a status quo. The basic conflicts are still in place: between Turner and the workers, between Turner and Schroeder (a small-scale grower who challenges Turner to be fair to workers), between the workers and the contractors, between Anglos and Mexicans. Rather than finding systemic social change (e.g., the kind the farmworkers' movement encouraged), the novel makes the reader feel the effects of seeming justice: ostensibly, the poisonous influence has been expelled and harmony restored. That this feeling is merely illusory is briefly hinted at in [End Page 43] the last lines, which say the plums "keep right on ripening. Relentlessly" (226). The final word resonating at the novel's end, "relentlessly," suggests that the status quo indeed outlives Quill's murder. No real changes have occurred; the sacrifice is merely a substitute for the violence built into the structure of the society.

In the very act of reading, the reader participates in scapegoating and ritualistically sacrificing Quill. Specifically, the reader can be said to take on what Gonzales-Day calls "the wonder gaze." Lynching in the United States, including lynching in the American West, relied heavily on the spectacle and the participation of an expansive public. This public included not only the lynch mob and those for whom the body was meant to incite fear, but also the many gazing bystanders, such as the people who travelled to the lynch site as a diversion. The public also includes those who gaze on the lynched body as it circulates in photographs and in postcards mailed across the country. The lynching spectacle implied the gaze of virtually everyone and would not exist separate from that gaze. Uncovering the psychological effects of this visuality, Gonzales-Day suggests that the preserved head of Joaquín is connected to the hangings and their textual/technological reproductions by virtue of the way both "required the mandatory presence of the public, as a participant, as a spectator, as a consumer of images, or as a paying audience" (182). In reading a textual lynching, even Quill's, the reader is forced into the position of participating as a public gazing upon the lynched body. One ends the novel staring at Quill's body, described grotesquely in the sentence "the corpse swayed slightly, … its ratty little teeth exposed from the force of the rope's relentless pull, grinning" (226, emphasis added). Barrio's reader is called upon to feel justified revenge against the demi-villain and to participate in the scapegoating economy at the heart of the Joaquín Murrieta legend. It is an ethically disturbing position to be placed in. But Barrio wished to prevent the alternative, in which the reader feels detached, or neutral, toward the topics of lynching and justice in the postconquest West.

How is this complex inversion of the Joaquín Murrieta legend connected to the more specific historical context of Barrio's novel, which is the struggle for farmworkers' rights in the context of the formation of the UFW? There is a strong sense that as a protest novel its rhetoric is served by the warning that oppression breeds undesirable reactions, the idea that poetic justice may visit the oppressive. And yet as pure revenge violence, the scene of Quill's lynching inverts, like a photographic negative, certain qualities of the progressive movements within the novel's historical horizon, such as the nonviolence of the Chávez movement and the principled stands of self-defense articulated by the Chicano youth and student movement.13 [End Page 44] The novel's only solution is that the problems remain unresolved and urgent. The possibilities for true justice are repressed into the dream content of a single character, and we are left only with more unhinged violence, violence in which we as readers participate (figuratively). Readers of The Plum Plum Pickers find a social protest novel of migratory farmworkers that is also strongly, and appropriately, invested in exploring the unresolved and perplexing legacies of the US West.

Daniel Griesbach

Daniel Griesbach focuses his primary research on artists who have depicted migrant farmworkers in the United States, including photographer Dorothea Lange and novelists John Steinbeck, Raymond Barrio, and Helena María Viramontes. He has written essays on Steinbeck and an article for MELUS on US Hispanic folklore during the Great Depression. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington.


1. Note the variation in spelling Murrieta's name. Multiple spellings of Murrieta are part of the confusion about the "real" historical figure. I have retained the one Barrio uses except when discussing a source that uses an alternative.

2. Critics of Ridge's novel have noted the complex layering of Cherokee and Hispanic histories as well as the negotiation of nineteenth-century ideologies of US identity. See, for instance, Joe Goeke, "Yellow Bird and the Bandit," and John Carlos Rowe, "Highway Robbery."

3. For a comparison of versions, see Luis Leal's introduction to Life and Adventures of the Celebrated Bandit Joaquín Murrieta, and Shelley Streeby, "Joaquín Murrieta and the American 1848."

4. As the first novel of the Joaquín Murrieta story and the basis for so many that followed, Ridge's account is an obvious choice for comparison. Leal finds that Burns's book also stands out above the other dime novels, plagiarized versions, and embellishments for several reasons: Burns did a considerable amount of historical research to add to the story; he contributed to the image of Joaquín Murrieta in twentieth-century America (his book was the basis for a Hollywood film); and he adapted the story to the Robin Hood myth. Shelley Streeby gives us many reasons to pay attention to the sensational crime-writing accounts such as that published in the California Police Gazette.

5. Starting with the landmark study by Américo Paredes, the corrido has been recognized as a counter-hegemonic form responding to postconquest realities in the Southwest. See Paredes, "With His Pistol in His Hand."

6. Verses of "Joaquín Murrieta" are from Leal lxxix–lxxxi.

7. For Hobsbawm, redistributing wealth is one of nine attributes of the "noble robber" (see 49–51).

8. The translation Leal uses is crucial here, because other renderings of "De México es California" lose its sense entirely. Philip Sonnichsen's liner notes to Texas-Mexican Border Music translate the verse as "From Mexico is California / because God wanted it that way," which could [End Page 45] be taken to mean the exact opposite, that California naturally (divinely) comes from, is transferred from, Mexico to the United States (5).

9. In the specific choice of Black Bart, Barrio establishes a certain parallelism between the phony façades of the "pseudo-shops" in the Western Grande and Black Bart as a western icon. Not only are Turner's and Quill's western personae amalgamations of borrowed signs from the fictional West of dime novels and Hollywood, but Black Bart himself was to a large degree fictional. The "original" Black Bart was Chester Bolles, a sensational stage-coach robber who operated in northern California and southern Oregon, known for his gentlemanly politeness and leaving poetry at the crime scene. Bolles actually borrowed the Black Bart name from a futuristic western story, "The Case of Summerfield," written by William Henry Rhodes (under the pseudonym Caxton) and serialized in 1871 in the Sacramento Union (William Collins and Bruce Levene, Black Bart, 69–70; Lawrence Block, ed., Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves, 9–13).

10. I am indebted to the El Dorado County Library for providing helpful information about Placerville. It is also important to note that in recent years, Placerville, a town once known as "Hangtown," has been divided over its historical image and was embroiled over the proposal to use an image of a noose and/or the words "Old Hangtown" on public service vehicles (the latter was adopted and not the former).

11. See Ken Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 12–14, 26–34; Michael Pfeifer, Rough Justice, 85–91; and William Carrigan and Clive Webb, "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown)."

12. Rowe notes that the perpetuation of US ideology in the ritual/textual exorcisms is limited to "popular literature, folklore, and even place-names of modern California," distinguishing these versions from the "counter-discursive, often anti-colonial Chilean and Mexican versions," such as Pablo Neruda's Fulgor y Muerte de Joaquín Murieta (1967). And yet, the corridos of "Joaquín Murrieta" and, if I have made my case in the second half of this essay, Raymond Barrio's interpretation show evidence of traditional and innovative anticolonial (anticonquest) retellings within the United States.

13. For Chávez's philosophy of nonviolence, see Jacques Levy 269–71; Richard Griswold del Castillo and Richard Garcia 46–47. For documents of the Chicano student/youth movement, see, for example, "The Brown Berets" and "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán" in Luis Valdez and Stan Steiner, 303–5, 402–6. [End Page 46]

Works Cited

Barrio, Raymond. The Plum Plum Pickers. Sunnyvale, CA: Ventura Press, 1969.
———. The Plum Plum Pickers. Binghamton, NY: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 1984.
Block, Lawrence, ed. Gangsters, Swindlers, Killers, and Thieves: The Lives and Crimes of Fifty American Villains. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Burns, Walter Noble. The Robin Hood of El Dorado. 1932. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.
Carrigan, William D., and Clive Webb. "Muerto por Unos Desconocidos (Killed by Persons Unknown): Mob Violence against Blacks and Mexicans." In Beyond Black & White: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the U.S. South and Southwest, edited by Stephanie Cole and Alison M. Parker, 35-74. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2004.
Castillo, Pedro, and Albert Camarillo. Furia y Muerte: Los Bandidos Chicanos. Los Angeles, CA: Aztlán Publications, 1973.
Collins, William, and Bruce Levene. Black Bart: The True Story of the West's Most Famous Stagecoach Robber. Mendocino, CA: Pacific Transcriptions, 1992.
Girard, René. Violence and the Sacred. Trans. Patrick Gregory. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.
Goeke, Joe. "Yellow Bird and the Bandit: Minority Authorship, Class, and Audience in John Rollin Ridge's The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta." Western American Literature 37.4 (Winter 2003): 453-78.
Gonzales-Day, Ken. Lynching in the West: 1850-1935. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.
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