Fact #6

Tiburcio Vasquez was the true life leader of a gang of bandits that terrorized central and southern California from 1854 to 1875. He was born in Monterey on August 11, 1835 and descended from one of the earliest settlers of California. Unlike many bandits of the day he was educated as a boy. He could read, speak, and write English and was said to be charming as well as handsome.

His criminal life began as a teenager attending a party. There was a fight and a constable was killed. Whether Tiburcio was responsible for the murder is debated. Either way, his involvement in the conflict motivated him to flee with his cousin–a known outlaw named Anastacio Garcia. Tiburcio’s friend José Higuera did not flee and was lynched by vigilantes the next day. There was no turning back for Tiburcio.

He claimed his crimes were an act of revenge against whites for the discrimination against those of Mexican and Spanish descent, yet his thievery and violence showed no discrimination. His victims came from every class and every race. His crimes involved everything from rustling livestock to robbing stagecoach stations and even plotting to rob a train. Those who cooperated with him were typically left alive. Anyone who resisted was killed. Though there were exceptions. There is some debate as to whether he committed the crime of kidnapping a young woman. Some rumors claim she went willingly while others declare that she was a victim. Whatever the case, Tiburcio ultimately grew tired of her and she was abandoned.

Tiburcio spent time in jail on numerous occasions, and each time that he was released, he returned to a life of crime. One of his crimes, the robbery of Snyder’s store in Tres Pinos in San Benito County, is specifically mentioned in my novel Murmur in the Mud Caves. However, Tiburcio’s gang was far from the only group of bandits wreaking havoc in Southern California during this time. Therefore you will notice certain crimes mentioned in the novel which are not attributable to Tiburcio’s gang.

Nevertheless, Tiburcio’s gang was by far the most notorious and would eventually make its way onto the California governor’s most wanted list. Twice, special posses headed by some of the best lawmen of the time were formed at the governor’s request to search for Tiburcio and bring him to justice. (A fact that inspired Call in the Canyons, the sixth novel in my Chaparral Heart series.) In the end, however, it was Tiburcio’s lascivious nature which proved his downfall.

In May 1874, Tiburcio was hiding out in the hills near Los Angeles when he seduced and impregnated a young girl living nearby. (Some accounts say the girl was his own niece.) The girl’s family was so angry, that they contacted authorities and agreed to turn state’s evidence against Tiburcio. The states (at that time) most notorious outlaw was captured and eventually taken to San Jose for trial. From his jail cell during the trial, he posed for photographs, gave interviews, signed autographs, and otherwise entertained any who came to see him. He even sold some of his photographs to pay for his legal defense. His trial did not begin until January 1875. During the trial he admitted his involvement in many crimes but maintained his claim of innocence against every accusation of murder. Despite this, he was found guilty of two counts of murder in the Tres Pinos incident. On March 19, 1875, Vasquez was hanged for his crimes. He was buried in the old Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara, California.

It would be logical to believe that Tiburcio’s misdeeds ended with his death. However his influence lived on through his loyal lieutenant, Clodovio Chavez (alternately known as Cleovaro Chavez). It was with Chavez as leader that Tiburcio’s gang–with a couple new members–went on to plan a raid of Campo, California. However, Chavez chose to split from the gang before the raid took place, leaving Cruz Lopez in charge. (Something you will learn more about in, Call in the Canyons, the sixth novel of my Chaparral Heart series.)


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