Tiburcio Vásquez

Tiburcio Vasquez
Born (1835-08-11)August 11, 1835
Monterey, Alta California, Mexico (present day Monterey, California, United States)
Died March 19, 1875(1875-03-19) (aged 39)
San Jose, California
Criminal penalty Death by hanging
Criminal status Executed
Conviction(s) Murder

Tiburcio Vásquez (April 11, 1835 March 19, 1875) was a Californio bandido who was active in California from 1854 to 1874. The Vasquez Rocks, 40 miles (64 km) north of Los Angeles, were one of his many hideouts and are named for him.

Early life

Tiburcio Vásquez was born in Monterey, Alta California Mexico (present day California, United States) on April 10, 1835 to Jose Hermenegildo Vásquez and Maria Guadalupe Cantua.[1][2] In accord with Spanish tradition, Vásquez's birth was celebrated on the feast day of his namesake, St. Tiburtius. Thus, he would always refer to his birthday as August 11, 1835.[3] His great-grandfather came to Alta California with the De Anza Expedition of 1776. Vásquez was slightly built, about 5 feet 7 inches in height. His family sent him to school, and he was fluent in both English and Spanish.

In 1852, Vásquez was influenced by Anastacio Garcia, one of California's most dangerous bandits.[4] In 1854, Vásquez was present at the slaying of Monterey Constable William Hardmount in a fight with Anastacio Garcia at a fandango. Vásquez denied any involvement and fled, becoming an outlaw. Vásquez would later claim his crimes were the result of discrimination by the norteamericanos and insist that he was a defender of Mexican-American rights.[5] Vásquez and Garcia played leading roles in Monterey County's murderous Roach-Belcher feud, which reached its end when Garcia was executed by hanging in 1875.[6]

By 1856, he was actively rustling horses. A sheriff's posse caught up with him near Newhall, and he spent the next five years behind bars in San Quentin prison. There he helped organize, and participated in, four bloody prison breaks which left twenty convicts dead.[7] After his release, he committed numerous burglaries, cattle thefts, and highway robberies in Sonoma County in 1866. He was captured after a store burglary in Petaluma and sent to prison again for three years.[8] His "trademark" was "binding [his victims'] hands behind their back and leaving them face down in the dust."[9]

Final years

In 1870, Vásquez organized a bandit gang which included the notorious Juan Soto, and later, Procopio Bustamante. After numerous bandit raids, he was shot and badly wounded in a gunfight with Santa Cruz police officer Robert Liddell. He managed to escape and his sisters nursed him back to health.[10] In 1873 he gained statewide, and then nationwide, notoriety. Vásquez and his gang stole $2,200 from Snyder's Store in Tres Pinos, now called Paicines, in San Benito County, killing three innocent bystanders in the process. Posses began searching for him, and Governor Newton Booth placed a $1,000 reward on his head. Sheriff John H. Adams from San Jose pursued the band to Southern California; Vásquez escaped after a gunfight.[11]

Vásquez hid for a while in Southern California, where he was less well known. With his two most trusted men, he rode over the old Tejon Pass, through the Antelope Valley, and rested at Jim Heffner's ranch at Elizabeth Lake. Vásquez's brother, Francisco, lived nearby. After resting, Vásquez rode on to Littlerock Creek, which would become his first Southern California hideout.

Vásquez was popular in the Mexican-American community, and had many friends and family members from Santa Rosa in Northern California to Los Angeles in the south. He was handsome, literate, charming, played guitar, and was a skillful dancer. Women were attracted to him and he had many love affairs. He enjoyed reading romantic novels and writing poetry for his female admirers. He had several affairs with married women, one of which would eventually prove his downfall.[12]

Vásquez returned to the San Joaquin Valley. On November 10, 1873, he and his gang robbed the Jones store at Millerton, in Fresno County. On December 26, 1873, he and his band sacked the town of Kingston in Fresno County, robbing all the businesses and making off with $2,500 in cash and jewelry.[13]

Governor Booth was now authorized by the California state legislature to spend up to $15,000 to bring Vásquez to justice. Posses were formed in Santa Clara, Monterey, San Joaquin, Fresno, and Tulare counties. In January 1874, Booth offered $3,000 for Vásquez's capture alive, and $2,000 if he was brought back dead. These rewards were increased in February to $8,000 and $6,000, respectively. Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse was assigned specifically to track down Vásquez.[14]

Heading towards Bakersfield, Vásquez and gang member Clodoveo Chavez rode to the rock promontory near Inyokern now known as Robbers Roost. Near that spot, at Coyote Holes, they robbed a stagecoach from the Cerro Gordo Mines, silver mines near Owens Lake. During the robbery Vásquez shot and wounded a man who didn't obey his orders.

The gang moved to Elizabeth Lake and Soledad Canyon, robbing a stage of $300, stealing six horses and a wagon near present-day Acton, and robbing lone travelers. Vásquez was believed to be hiding out at Vasquez Rocks.[15] These rock formations proved a formidable hideout for him and his gang. Shallow caves, deep crevices and numerous overhangs created a maze for any posse to thread. The tallest rock, 150 feet high, provided an excellent lookout point.

For the next two months, he escaped attention. However, he then made an error that led to his capture. On April 15, 1874, he and his band held the prominent sheepman Alessandro Repetto for ransom. Pursuing posses from Los Angeles almost trapped the gang in the San Gabriel Mountains, but once again, Vásquez and his men escaped.[16]


Vásquez took up residence at the adobe home of "Greek George" Caralambo in the northwest corner of Rancho La Brea, located 200 yards south of the present-day Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Greek George was a former camel driver for General Beale in the Army Camel Corps. Allegedly, Vásquez seduced and impregnated his own niece. Either the girl's family or Greek George's wife's family betrayed Vásquez to Los Angeles Sheriff William R. Rowland. Rowland sent a posse to the ranch and captured Vásquez on May 14, 1874. Greek George's adobe was situated near the present day Melrose Place in West Hollywood. This was coincidentally very close to where the movie industry would, in a few decades, set up shop.[17][18]

Vásquez remained in the Los Angeles County jail for nine days. He had numerous requests for interviews by many newspaper reporters, but agreed to see only three: two from the San Francisco Chronicle and one from the Los Angeles Star. He told them his aim was to return California to Mexican rule. He insisted he was an honorable man and claimed he had never killed anyone. He was photographed by Valentin Wolfenstein behind the jail on May 18, 1874.[19]

In late May, Vásquez was moved by steamship to San Francisco. He would eventually stand trial in San Jose. Vásquez quickly became a celebrity among many of his fellow Hispanic Californians. He admitted he was an outlaw, but again denied he had ever killed anyone. A note purportedly written by Clodoveo Chavez, one of his gang members, was dropped into a Wells Fargo box. Chavez wrote that he, not Vásquez, had shot the men at Tres Pinos. Nevertheless, at his trial Vásquez admitted participating in the Tres Pinos raid. Since all the participants in the robbery were equally guilty of any murder that took place during its commission, whether Vásquez actually pulled the trigger was legally irrelevant. In January 1875 Vásquez was convicted and sentenced to hang for murder. His trial had taken four days and the jury deliberated for two hours before finally finding him guilty of one count of murder in the Tres Pinos robbery.[20]

Visitors still flocked to Vásquez's jail cell, many of them women. He signed autographs and posed for photographs. Vásquez sold the photos from the window of his cell and used the money to pay for his legal defense. After his conviction, he appealed for clemency. It was denied by Governor Romualdo Pacheco. Vásquez calmly met his fate in San Jose on March 19, 1875. He was 39 years old.[21]



Even today, Tiburcio Vásquez remains controversial. He is seen as a hero by some Mexican-Americans for his defiance of what he viewed as unjust laws and discrimination. Others regard him as a colorful outlaw. To this day, many people - primarily Mexican-Americans - continue to visit and pay respects to Vásquez's grave in Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara, California.

With his upper-class Californio background, Vasquez is thought to be one of several sources for the bandit-hero character Zorro.[22]

The actor Anthony Caruso played Vásquez in a 1954 episode of the syndicated western television series, Stories of the Century, starring and narrated by Jim Davis.

Places named for Vásquez

Geographical features

Buildings and facilities


  1. Acuña 2011, p. 140
  2. Boessenecker 2010, p. 13
  3. Boessenecker 2010
  4. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 46–48
  5. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 49–53
  6. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 54–69
  7. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 70–101
  8. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 102–120
  9. Roddy 1970
  10. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 165–172
  11. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 213–241
  12. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 139–140, 206–207, 233–234
  13. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 250–268
  14. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 271–285
  15. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 289–290
  16. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 293–302
  17. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 309–319
  18. "Vasquez Captured At Last.". Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
  19. Boessenecker 2012, p. 6
  20. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 327–348
  21. Boessenecker 2010, pp. 349–366
  22. Deutch 2008
  23. Rubine 1995, pp. 12,55,62
  24. Our History: What's in a name? 2013
  25. Said 2013


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