Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

34. Bandido!

He stood five feet, six inches tall, weighed 135 pounds and had a light complexion, with thin moustache and goatee. He was courtly in his manners, inordinately proud of his handwriting, fairly well read, and considered something of a gentleman.

On the other hand, Tiburcio Vasquez brought to the state a literal reign of terror that lasted for twenty years. He robbed stages, ran off cattle and capped his career by completely taking over two towns and plundering them at will. In between "jobs" he rested at a weird jumble of rocks that now bear his name and are part of a county park.

Vasquez was born August 11, 1835, in a Monterey home that still stands. His family was wealthy, respected, honorable and God-fearing. At the age of eighteen he was involved in a fracas over a girl in which a constable was killed.

Not trusting Yankee justice, he took off for Pacheco Pass where he fell in with one Anastacio Garcia. Garcia took the young Vasquez under his wing and taught him the fine art of outlawry. Garcia had learned the trade from Joaquín Murrieta himself, the famed bandido of the Coachella Valley.

Vasquez started out by rustling cattle and robbing freight wagons. It is related that, in 1855, he ran off a herd of horses from Rancho Camulos and was caught trying to sell them to a relative of owner Ignacio del Valle. Del Valle was also the judge and sentenced him to a long term in the hoosegow.

Vasquez went over the wall one night, committed a few more petty thefts, was confined again and then released to ponder his past. Learning from his mistakes, the outlaw perfected the hit-and-run tactics of modern guerilla warfare that would earn him the title, "Scourge of California."

Vasquez would put together a gang to rob freighters, stagecoaches, travelers and isolated ranches up and down the state. When things got too hot, the members of the band would go their separate ways. After a few months, when the law gave up the chase, a new group would be formed, repeating the cycle. This went on for years.

Tiburcio had three brothers. One, Francisco, lived at Lake Elizabeth, while another, Claudio, resided in Soledad City. Sometime in 1871 while vacationing with his relatives, Tiburcio discovered the perfect fortress near Agua Dulce Springs. He used it as a hideout off and on for three years under the alias of Ricardo Cantuga, majordomo of Rancho Posa de Chane. Locals such as Suraco, Mitchell and Lang believed he was a horse buyer.

August, 1873 saw Vasquez and his men descend on the town of Trés Piños, take it over and loot it. During the operation three men were killed. After hiding out for five months they raided Kingston, tied up the citizens, then removed everything that was not nailed down. People throughout the state were outraged. Governor Newton Booth set a reward of eight thousand dollars on his head.

Tiburcio's fondness for women was legendary. He admitted to one illegitimate son and had many liaisons, the most famous being with a young lady in Los Angeles known only as La Coneja — "The Rabbit." He took Abdon Leiva into his band simply because Leiva had a playful wife named Rosaria. When Leiva deduced what was gong on he surrendered to Undersheriff William Jenkins at Lyon's Station and turned state's evidence against his former boss.

Vasquez's subsequent capture was, strangely, just the beginning of the saga.

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