On this date in 1853, notorious California bandit Joaquin Murrieta's head is placed on exhibit in the Northern Californian town of Stockton.
The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murrieta: The Celebrated California Bandit by John Rollin Ridge, gave rise to much of Murrieta's legend. According to this unsubstantiated story, he had come to the Stanislaus River near San Francisco to prospect for gold during the great gold rush. However, Murrieta's Mexican heritage caused him to be beaten and severely whipped, his wife raped, and his brother-in-law killed in an unprovoked attack by racist Americans working their own claims. Vowing revenge, Murrieta formed a gang of Mexicans who roamed the frontier towns and terrorized prospectors and new communities. Ridge's book was so successful that it inspired several copycat works. Murrieta was characterized as a Robin-hood type figure, a Mexican rebel leader, or a vicious outlaw, depending on the author's perspective. In the 1997 film Mask of Zorro, Murrieta appears as Zorro's brother. In Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune, he is a Chilean hero. Stories about Murrieta have continued to this day.
On this date in 1917, Mata Hari is sentenced to death by a French court for spying on Germany's behalf during World War I.
Under interrogation by French military intelligence, Mata Hari herself admitted that she had passed outdated information to a German intelligence officer, yet she claimed that she had also been paid to act as a French spy in Belgium (then occupied by the Germans), though she had not informed the French of her prior dealings with the German consul. She was apparently acting as a double agent, though the Germans had apparently written her off as an ineffective agent whose activities had produced little intelligence of value. Mata Hari was tried in a military court and sentenced, on July 25, 1917, to death by firing squad. As the Times of London reported on October 15, 1917, the day of her execution, "She was in the habit of meeting notorious German spy-masters outside French territory, and she was proved to have communicated important information to them, in return for which she had received several large sums of money since May 1916." Her trial was riddled with bias and circumstantial evidence, however, and many believed the French authorities, as well as the press, trumped her up as "the greatest woman spy of the century" as a distraction for the huge losses the French army was suffering on the Western Front. Viewed by many as a victim due to her career as a dancer and courtesan and the French need to find a scapegoat, Mata Hari remains one of the most glamorous figures to come out of the shadowy world of espionage, and the archetype of the female spy.