Tag Archives: old west

Memorate: My Great-Grandparents’ Joaquin Murrieta Sighting


Informant J is a 73 year old Mexican-American man and is the collector’s grandfather. He is from San Jose, California, but his family moved there from parts of Texas and Mexico. For the majority of his life, J was a manager at a regional grocery store, and studied art in college with a focus in jewelry making. J is now retired and his hobbies include guitar playing, metal working, and reworking vintage cars.


(Please excuse typos, this is an unaltered text message from the informant): “My parents said they were just finishing up a picnic at Alumn Rock park on the East side of San Jose and were getting ready to head home when a man who looked like he had been dug up (his clothes was old and tattered and resembled clothes from the cowboy days. He came up to their car window and just stood there not saying a word but staring in a daze. They believe it was the ghost of Juan Murrieta who lived during the late 1900’s. He was famous for robbing people in that area of the park. My dad started the car and got the hell out of there! My parents were very scared and they were familiar with the legend of Juan Murrieta and never stopped talking about the incident!”

“Ps: The cowboy did have an old style revolver as well!”


I’d like to note that people often confuse Juan and Joaquin Murrieta, and that my grandpa was almost certainly referring to the latter. I did some research after being told this story, as I hadn’t heard of either figure until now. Juan was a pioneer, whereas Joaquin is a Mexican figure commonly known as the Robin Hood of the West. More specifically, stories about Murrieta rose in California during the Gold Rush. I find it interesting that my great-grandparents claim to have seen Joaquin Murrieta, because they associated something strange with something they already knew about (ghosts), and their knowledge of it is heavily influenced by culture. Even though my family was Mexican-Texan, they had heard enough about this specifically Mexican-Californian legend in the little time that they lived there that they assumed the figure was him. What’s more, this story hints at a combination of folkloric beliefs, as my great-grandparents claim to have seen a kind of undead version of Joaquin Murrieta, who is more of a legend than a popular ghost. There are debates over whether he existed, but stories of seeing him are rarer. But my great-grandparents seem to have believed in ghosts in general, so this memorate only furthered their personal view of the world.

Thoen Stone

J is 80 years old and grew up in Spearfish, SD. He told me about a local legend from the Black Hills, a region in South Dakota.

“The Thoen Stone story was always a part of the local folklore in and around the Black Hills of SD, where I spent part of my youth. A sandstone rock with names of some deceased gold prospectors carved or scraped into the surface of the sandstone was supposedly found on a hill called Lookout Mountain. In addition to the names, a story of hidden gold was part of the message on the rock. It was carved by one of the prospectors named Ezra Kind who was hiding from Native Americans who were hunting for him and the gold, which he claimed he had hidden on Lookout Mountain or in the general area. This story created a “search for the gold” mentality with the kids in the area. When my brother and I were growing up, we, along with friends, would spend many summer days searching for the hidden gold while hiking or riding horses. BTW we never found it nor has anyone else!”

This legend is a local legend of the area in which these people grew up. This legend like many others is a legend of gold to be found (similar to El Dorado). It’s interesting how most people probably know it’s just a legend since many have spent so much time and energy searching, but somehow the legend is still alive and the folklore persists. This is an example of childhood folklore that is exclusive to the Black Hills, as it is almost like a shared experience and a part of growing up in this region. The hope and possibility for gold remains.