Joaquin Murrieta. Legends about him are legion, and so conflicting are these stories of his life, that it has often been asserted that there were as many as five outlaws by that name. Whatever the truth behind the lore, one curious anecdote has escaped the history books. William Henderson, the man who fired the shot that killed Joaquin Murrieta, and Alapoleno, the bandit/hero’s cook, both came to Madera County and lived out their lives.
It was way back in 1853, when the newspapers began blaming murder after murder upon Murrieta or his gang. As the Stockton Republican exclaimed, “No man dare travel a step unless armed to the teeth, or sleep without having a firearm already in his grasp.” The reporter speculated that Murrieta might be wearing a bulletproof vest, so invulnerable did he seem to hot lead fired at his chest.
Harry Love was placed in charge of the California Rangers and charged with the task of capturing the notorious bandit — dead or alive. He was given three months to do the job, which he claimed to have accomplished by overtaking a band of Mexicans in Cantua Canyon of the Coast Mountains and killing or capturing most of them.
The credit for firing the shot that killed Murrieta has been given to William T. Henderson. In the words of Steve Eng, Henderson’s biographer, “the Tennessean wore his pistol in a cross-draw, and once strung up a man from a tree single-handedly.” ...