The Real Zorro Was a Woman

Also, she lived in the middle of Mexico, not California, and her preferred blade was a machete, rather than an epee or rapier.  Aside from that, I think the similarities outweigh the differences, so this story is an example of how closely truth can mirror fiction.

Anyway, I heard this a few months ago, while working on the project in my previous message.  Since it happened right after the Franco-Mexican War, which I wrote about in 2012, I added it to that section, in Chapter 4 of my Latin American history series.  It goes like this:

Before we move on to the next section, there is one more story that Mexicans like to tell. Leonarda Emilia (1842-73) was a young woman from the state of Querétaro, and during the recent war, she fell in love with a French soldier. Unlike the rest of the French, this soldier chose to stay in Mexico; we don’t know whether it was for Leonarda or because he believed in the cause of Emperor Maximilian. Consequently he was also captured and sentenced to death. Leonarda sent letters pleading that her boyfriend be spared, but he was shot anyway.

To get revenge, Leonarda turned herself into a female bandit, La Carambada, meaning "The Amazing Lady." The name was fitting, because she was great at riding horses, and could use a pistol and a machete effectively. In this way she became the leader of an outlaw band, and went on a crime spree from 1870 to 1873, mainly robbing travelers in Querétaro and Guanajuato, but also killing corrupt officials, and shooting at government troops when she got the opportunity. A ballad composed about La Carambada later on claimed that like Robin Hood, she stole from the rich and gave to the poor. And while her uniform of choice was baggy men’s clothing, she liked to flash her breasts at her male victims after robbing them, so they would know they had been bested by a woman. In the macho culture of nineteenth-century Latin America, that really hurt. Finally, there is a rumor that she poisoned both President Juarez and Querétaro Governor Benito Zenea.

We can ignore the poisoning bit, because Juarez was already in poor health from a stroke he had nearly two years before his death, while Zenea lived until 1875, two years after the game ended for La Carambada. As for her, she was caught in a shootout; hit by five bullets, she was then taken to a hospital for the official autopsy. When it discovered that La Carambada was not dead yet, a priest was brought in, and she confessed her story before dying from the gunshot wounds. However, the priest did not do anything with the story after writing it down, probably because as I said above, this was a macho culture. If the padre had lived more recently, you know he would have tried turning the story into a novel or a movie script.  And the movie would probably have Catherine Zeta-Jones in the leading role, instead of Antonio Banderas.

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