After Joaquin Murieta, Tiburcio Vasquez was probably the most notorious bandit California ever saw. He was born in Monterey in 1835. He attended school and could speak, read, and write English. He committed his first known crime at the age of 14, stabbing a constable at a party. The circumstances of this crime are not altogether clear; it may have been accidental but whatever the true facts, Vasquez from this point on embarked on a life of crime. He joined a gang of desperados, and in time became the leader of his own group which ranged up and down central and southern California.
He was captured and convicted of horse-stealing and sent to San Quentin prison in 1857. He briefly escaped in 1859, was recaptured for (again) horse-stealing and was finally released after serving his full term in 1863.
In 1873, after committing a string of infamous robberies and murders in the San Benito County area, Vasquez and some of his gang made their way to southern California. Over the course of several months, Vasquez managed to elude law enforcement officers by hiding in the canyons around the Tejon Pass. One of his favorite hiding spots was the rock formation now known as Vasquez Rocks. After a falling out with Vasquez one of his gang, Abdon Leiva, turned himself in to the authorities and agreed to turn States's evidence against Vasquez (it is believed that Leiva was motivated by jealousy, as Vasquez had been having an affair with Leiva's wife Rosaria). Still the bandit managed to elude authorities for several more months. He was finally captured in may of 1874 in the Arroyo Seco area of Los Angeles. he was moved from Los Angeles to San Benito County, then to san Jose for trial. His jail cell became a major tourist draw. Thousands, most of them women, came to visit. Vasquez was charming to all, posing for photographs and giving out autographs.
Convicted of two murders committed in Tres Pinos, he was sentenced to death. Before he was hanged on March 19, 1875 he dictated a statement explaining his actions:
"A spirit of hatred and revenge took possession of me. I had numerous fights in defense of what I believed to be my rights and those of my countrymen. I believed we were unjustly deprived of the social rights that belonged to us."The only word he uttered from the gallows was, "Pronto."
Beers, George. California Outlaw: Tiburcio Vasquez. Los
Gatos: Talisman Press, 1960.
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California's Age of Terror: Murieta and Vasquez. Hollister, Calif.: Evening Free Lance, 1927.
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Grave of Tiburcio Vasquez.
The Haunts and Hideouts of Tiburcio Vasquez.
Sawyer, Eugene. The Life and Career of Tiburcio Vasquez, The
California Stage Robber. Oakland: Bootbooks, 1944.
Special Collections HV6452.C3V3 1944
Truman, Ben C. Tiburcio Vasquez: The Life, Adventures, and Capture of the Great California Bandit and Murderer. Los Angeles: The Abbey San Encino Press, 1941. Originally published in 1874 by the Star Printing Co.
Special Collections HV6452.C3 V3 1941