The story of Modesta Avila, the first convicted felon in Orange County, California, is both a popular California legend and a potent metaphor used by scholars to illustrate themes of social injustice, ethnic intolerance, railroad intransigence, the decline of the Californios, and the treatment of Hispanics following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Because of its frequent use as a metaphor to explain serious historical themes, the accuracy of the story is important; however, key elements are inaccurate and need revision. New research—into original land titles, Mexican land grants, genealogy, trial transcripts, applications for appeals to governors Markham and Waterman, the personal notes of the historian Jim Sleeper, and hundreds of contemporary news articles—results in a revised and compelling story that has even stronger metaphorical import for historians and others to deploy in their work.

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