Tiburcio Vasquez (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 after him.
Tiburcio Vasquez was born in Monterey, Alta California, Mexico (present-day California, United States) on April 11, 1835 to José Hermenegildo Vasquez and María Guadalupe Cantua. In accord with Spanish tradition, Vasquez's birth was celebrated on the feast day of his namesake, St. Tiburtius. Thus, he always referred to his birthday as August 11, 1835. His great-grandfather came to Alta California with the De Anza Expedition of 1776. Vasquez was slightly built, about 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm). His family sent him to school, and he was fluent in both English and Spanish.
In 1852, Vasquez was influenced by Anastacio García, one of California's most dangerous bandits. In 1854, Vasquez was present at the slaying of Monterey Constable William Hardmount in a fight with Anastacio García at a fandango. Vasquez denied any involvement and fled, becoming an outlaw. Vasquez later claimed his crimes were the result of discrimination by the norteamericanos and insisted that he was a defender of Mexican-American rights. Vasquez and García played leading roles in Monterey County's murderous Roach-Belcher feud, which ended when García was executed by hanging in 1875.
By 1856, Vasquez was 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. 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. His "trademark" was "binding [his victims'] hands behind their back and leaving them face down in the dust."
In 1870, Vasquez 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.
In 1873, he gained statewide, and then nationwide, notoriety. Vasquez and his gang stole $2,200 from Snyder's Store in Tres Pinos, now called Paicines, in San Benito County. Three were killed, but not by Tiburcio. 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; Vasquez escaped after a gunfight.
Vasquez 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 Hefner's ranch at Elizabeth Lake. Vasquez's brother, Francisco, lived nearby. After resting, Vasquez rode on to Littlerock Creek, which became his first Southern California hideout.
Vasquez 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 eventually led to his downfall.
Vasquez 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.
Governor Booth was now authorized by the California State Legislature to spend up to $15,000 to bring the law down on Vasquez. Posses were formed in Santa Clara, Monterey, San Joaquin, Fresno, and Tulare counties. In January 1874, Booth offered $3,000 for Vasquez'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 Vasquez.
Heading towards Bakersfield, Vasquez and gang member Clodoveo Chávez 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 Vasquez shot and wounded a man who did not 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. Vasquez was believed to be hiding out at Vasquez Rocks. 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 (46 m) 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, Vasquez and his men escaped.
Vasquez took up residence at the adobe home of "Greek George" Caralambo in the northwest corner of Rancho La Brea, located 200 yards (183 m) 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, Vasquez seduced and impregnated his own niece. Either the girl's family or Greek George's wife's family betrayed Vasquez to Los Angeles Sheriff William R. Rowland. Rowland sent a posse to the ranch and captured Vasquez on May 14, 1874. Greek George's adobe was situated near the present-day Melrose Place in West Hollywood, very close to where the movie industry set up shop a few decades later.
Vasquez 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.
In late May, Vasquez was moved by steamship to San Francisco. He eventually stood trial in San Jose. Vasquez 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 Chávez, one of his gang members, was dropped into a Wells Fargo box. Chávez wrote that he, not Vasquez, had shot the men at Tres Pinos. Nevertheless, at his trial Vasquez 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 Vasquez actually pulled the trigger was legally irrelevant. In January 1875, Vasquez was convicted and sentenced to hang for murder. His trial had taken four days and the jury deliberated for only two hours before finally finding him guilty of one count of murder in the Tres Pinos robbery.
Visitors still flocked to Vasquez's jail cell, many of them women. He signed autographs and posed for photographs. Vasquez 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. Vasquez calmly met his fate in San Jose on March 19, 1875. He was 39 years old.
Even today, Tiburcio Vásquez remains controversial. He is seen as a hero by some for his defiance of what he viewed as unjust laws and discrimination. Others regard him as a colorful outlaw. To this day, many continue to visit and pay respects to Vasquez's grave. He was buried in Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara, California.
His grave is very difficult to find, but visitors to Santa Clara cemetery have managed to find it for years. The groundskeeper directed Vasquez relative Patrick McAnaney to the grave in 1980, telling him "Vasquez lived at odds with the people, and he was buried at odds with them." This was in reference to his gravestone being set at an angle relative to the other gravestones.
Online photos show his grave beside two large cacti and in front of a palm tree, no longer standing. His carved granite headstone is the only stone in the entire cemetery to stand at an angle. All the rest are in uniform rows, and many other graves surrounding Vasquez's grave are flat to the ground as if no one else wanted to be interred near the famous bandido until decades later when his notoriety had died down. Vasquez's ghost is said to haunt many places, including the cemetery, some of his hideouts, areas where gruesome crimes were committed, and the prison cells where he was held.
With his upper-class Californio background, Vasquez is thought to have been one of several sources for the bandit-hero character Zorro.
The actor Anthony Caruso played Vasquez in Stories of the Century.
Armand Alzamora (1928–2009) played Vasquez in the 1957 episode, "The Last Bad Man" of the syndicated anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. The segment focuses on Vasquez's early life of crime, his hatred for the US takeover of California, the prison escape, and his hanging at the age of 39.
The trunk and knife that belonged to Tiburcio are on display at the Andres Pico Adobe in Mission Hills, part of the San Fernando Valley Historical Society collection.
Places named for Vasquez
- Vasquez Rocks, an area of distinctive rock formations in the Sierra Pelona Mountains that is popular as a filming location for movies and television
- Vasquez Canyon in Saugus, California
- Vasquez Tree, outside of the 21-mile house, in Morgan Hill, California
- Vasquez day use area in the Angeles National Forest
- Tiburcio's X and (Vasquez's) Monolith, two rock faces popular with climbers in Pinnacles National Park, were named for the legend that Vasquez hid out in a cave below the Monolith.
- Robbers Roost, also known as "Bandit Rock", in Kern County, is named for Vasquez and his gang, who used it as a hideout.
Buildings and facilities
- Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center, Hayward, California and Union City
- Vasquez High School in Acton, California
- The Alisal Union School District near Salinas, California named a new school Tiburcio Vasquez Elementary School in 2012. The choice of name attracted much criticism and the school was renamed to Monte Bella Elementary in 2016.
- "Our History: What's in a name?". Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center. Retrieved July 7, 2014.
- Acuña, Rodolfo F. (2011), Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (7th ed.), Boston: Longman, ISBN 978-0-205-78618-3
- Boessenecker, John (2012). "Bandido: The Countless Love Affairs of Tiburcio Vasquez" (PDF). Bulletin. California State Library Foundation. pp. 6–11. Retrieved 2014-07-28.
- Boessenecker, John (2010), Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez, Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN 978-0-8061-4127-5
- McLean, Angus, Legends of the California Bandidos, Arroyo Grande, CA 1989.
- May, Ernest, "Tiburcio Vasquez," Furia y Muerte: Los Bandidos Chicanos, eds. Castillo, Pedro & Albert Camarillo.
- Roddy, W. Lee (1970). Wanted! Black Bart and Other California Outlaws. Ceres, California.
- Rubine, David (1995), Climber's Guide to Pinnacles National Monument, Globe Pequot, ISBN 9780934641890
- Said, Samira (January 3, 2013). "Villain or hero? Flap over California school named for bandit". CNN. Retrieved January 3, 2013.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Thrapp, Dan L. (1990), "Vasquez, Tiburcio", Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Spokane, WA: The Arthur H. Clark Co.
- Deutch, Joann (August 10, 2008). "In The Hills Truth Meets Fiction". Canyon News. Archived from the original on May 9, 2016.