[William Secrest's book] will be the standard biography for years to come...
By Mark Dworkin
December 19, 2005
By necessity a biographer of legendary California Ranger Harry Love must deconstruct numerous myths surrounding the man Walter Noble Burns called the Robin Hood of El Dorado, the undeservedly romanticized Joaquin Murrieta. Such an author must also tell of the brief history of the California Rangers, and of the lawless atmosphere of the early years of California statehood. Distinguished California historian William B. Secrest does all this for Harry Love, a figure long overdue for a proper biography.
Secrest shows the one-time Texas Ranger Love, by virtue of his Rio Grande experiences, to be the ideal choice of the California legislature to lead a group of twenty Rangers in tracking down the elusive "Joaquin." Murrieta by then was, in Secrest's words, a man whose "hands were stained with the blood of dozens of victims." Whether Murrieta was killed by Love's Rangers has always been questioned by some, despite the identification of his severed head (in a bottle) by many who knew him. In his most compelling writing, Secrest methodically presents a mountain of documented evidence that Love did end Murrieta's life of crime, and that Murrieta's preserved head was convincingly and unmistakably identified by those who knew him.
Love has been called a "drunken brute," a lying braggart, and a fraud, but Secrest portrays a complex and multi-dimensional pioneer figure. Love came to California as early as 1839, and returned to stay during the gold rush. This followed his stalwart service as a volunteer and employee of the U. S. Army along the Rio Grande during the tumultuous 1840s. Love was an imposing figure who could organize a hunt with purpose and tenacity. Yet he was capable of appallingly bad choices in many aspects of his personal life, particularly in his glory-less final years. He made poor business decisions in later life while attempting to prosper at his sawmill and farm, and he especially erred in his choice to settle down with the `wife from hell.' This last poor choice cost him his life, when he provoked his own killing by the mysterious Christian "Fred" Eiversen.
Lavishly illustrated, there are other riches to be found between this book's covers. The author refers to "cleaning up the loose ends of the Murrieta story," and does just that. The myth of Murrieta as a Robin Hood or social bandit is thoroughly discredited. The author calls on Hispanic historians to bring to bear on Murrieta's story the special insights of their heritage and culture, in order to create a truly in-depth study of Murrieta. He lays to rest his bogus image as a nationalistic Chicano liberator and folk hero. This characterization Secrest correctly labels as "insulting to the thousands of decent Hispanic pioneers to whom he caused great distress, grief, and shame." The lengthy epilogue includes the interesting if bizarre story Mariana Andrada, a purported wife of Murrieta.
On a final note, the author relates how Harry Love's long-lost grave was marked with a new and detailed headstone in 2003. William Secrest fittingly was chosen to speak at the dedication of Love's new monument. This book makes a persuasive case that such a monument was deserved for this colorful pioneer Californian.