1843 — The first wagon train takes the Oregon Trail

The first major group – large enough to be called a wagon train – of settlers to tackle the Oregon Trail departed Elm Grove, Missouri, on May 16, 1843. Numbering between 700 and 1000 souls (accounts vary), they would not be the last. It would take another year or so for the trail to really become popular, but for more than twenty years, the trail, and its various offshoots, would be one of the most popular routes to the Californian coast. More than 400,000 people would travel it – most of them after the discovery of gold in California in 1848.

That first group took six months to traverse the approximately 2000 miles to the Oregon Territory, but they left behind them a rough yet passable trail that others were quick to follow, and over the next fifty years, enough Americans would go west that the government would eventually declare the frontier closed, so settled had it become.

Referenced in:

Oregon Trail — C.W. Call
Oregon Trail — Woody Guthrie

1853 – Joaquin Murrieta, the Robin Hood of El Dorado, is shot and killed by the California State Rangers

Joaquin Murrieta was a Mexican bandit who is widely considered the be the inspiration for Zorro. Between 1850 and 1853, he led a bandit group called the Five Joaquins (the other four members were Joaquin Botellier, Joaquin Carrillo, Joaquin Ocomorenia, and Joaquin Valenzuela).

In the four years or so that they were active, they stole more than $100,000 in gold, more than 100 horses, and killed 19 people, including three lawmen. Much like Robin Hood and his men, they were helped and sheltered by the locals, who regarded them as revolutionaries.

By 1853, they weren’t the only ones.

On May 11, the Governor of California John Bigler created the “California State Rangers,” with the mission of capturing the “Five Joaquins”. On July 25, 1853, a group of Rangers encountered a band of armed Mexican men, and two of the Mexicans were killed. One was claimed to be Murrieta, and the other was thought to be Three-Fingered Jack. The Rangers severed Garcia’s hand and the alleged Murrieta’s head as proof of their deaths and preserved them in a jar of brandy.

Referenced in:

The Bandit Joaquin – Dave Stamey
Archangel, the Murderer – Fortune & Spirits
Joaquin Murrieta, 1853 – Bob Frank & John Murry
Time-sick Son of a Grizzly Bear – The Mother Hips
The Ballad of Joaquin Murrieta – The Sons of the San Joaquin