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TRACEY JORDAN Joaquín Murieta, Cherokee Outlaw-Hero: Yellow Bird's Vindication of Cherokee Nature Yellow bird, otherwise known as John Rollin Ridge, claimed that his novel, The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit (1854), told part of the history of the state of California, although most readers have since concluded, with David Farmer and Rennard Strickland, that Yellow Bird's story of the youthful and charismatic Mexican bandit is a "strictly literary work" (25). Yet, Farmer and Strickland's collection of the author's journalistic writings provides essential personal, historical and anthropological context for understanding Yellow Bird's novel, which, although it has a clear literary source, nevertheless finds both its aim and motive force in history. For recent writers aware of the "paradoxical logic at the heart ofRidge's relentlessly ironic and, therefore, ambiguous novel," Yellow Bird's imagined, fictional history consciously "undermines the project of 'history '" itself (Mondragón, 173, 176).1 Neatly collapsing Western distinctions between fiction and the "realities" recorded in unauthored "history," Yellow Bird presents his Mexican bandit as a brilliant "author who act[s] out his own tragedies" (Life 109), orchestrating various "scenes" and expanding the "theater" of his operations in such a way as to suggest that he is nothing if not the brilliant and inventive author of the events enacted in his history. The Cherokee author shows us his hero shaping his life as a story, planning its "grand climax" to the "loud Arizona Quarterly Volume 60, Number 3, Autumn 2004 Copyright © 2004 by Arizona Board of Regents TSSN 0004-1610 2 Tracey Jordan applause" of his men, who, we are told, realize that they have hitherto had "no adequate idea of the splendid genius which belonged to their chief" (75). The climax ofJoaquin's career is to be "a deed ofdaring and ofpower which would redeem with its refulgent light the darkness of his previous history and show him to aftertimes, not as a mere ouûaw . . . but as a hero who has revenged his country's wrongs and washed out her disgrace in the blood of her enemies" (80, emphasis added). Itself a message necessarily encoded within the simple binary of light and dark, Joaquin's life is lived quite literally to "write" a truthful history of himself and his people just as Yellow Bird's story is constructed in opposition to those histories he knew the whites would write "to screen and justify themselves ."2 Yellow Bird's desire to vindicate his Cherokee/Mexican hero and the nation he represents dominates and controls his fiction precisely as Joaquin's "innumerable lines of action . . . [are] all concentrated upon one point and directed to one purpose" (109-10). To this end, Yellow Bird's novel employs the same strategy of ironic masquerade scripted with such brilliance by its hero. Yet for any reader familiar with Cherokee history and with the moral implications, present for Cherokee and Western readers alike, of the chiaroscuro imagery permeating the novel, Joaquin's dark history clearly encodes Cherokee removal as exile from the light of true Cherokee nature. A counternarrative challenging those histories written by whites, Joaquín Murieta is quite firmly rooted in the history of Cherokee-American relations, as reflected through the lens of internal Cherokee politics in the brutal aftermath ofremoval. Joaquin Murieta, the first American Indian novel, is thus also the American Indian novel of exile. Removed from his Cherokee homeland, then forced to flee the relocated and chaotic Cherokee Nation, Yellow Bird constructs his national narrative in the form of an allegory expressing Cherokee exile as the loss of Cherokee character, or nature: Yellow Bird's Mexican/ Cherokee hero, Joaquin Murieta, is forced to live in exile from his own "nobility of soul" as a result of racist American deeds and policies that have made him an outlaw instead of the noble hero "nature ... intended to make him" (14, 12). Joaquin's contact with American civilization essentially de-natures him, American "civilization" seen as inimical not only to nature but to Joaquin's true character. For Yellow Bird, nature lies both within man and without, his novel demonstrating Joaquín Murieta, Cherokee Ouüaw-Hero 3...


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