Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

35. Reign of Terror

Tiburcio Vasquez had been the object of the greatest manhunt in California history. Not only were local peace officers gunning for him, but a sort of super-posse was put together by Governor Booth and led by the sheriff of Alameda County, Henry N. "Harry" Morse. For twenty-seven days, riding one thousand miles at the head of his select eight-man troop of deputies, Harry Morse relentlessly pursued Vasquez.

Meanwhile, Sheriff William "Billy" Rowland of Los Angeles discovered that Vasquez had crossed into his county. Rowland would not recognize Morse's authority in his territory and sent out his own troops. When this failed he relied on spies to ferret out the outlaw.

Vasquez had counter-spies of his own to keep him appraised of Rowland's movements. This game of cat-and-mouse continued until May 14, 1874 when a posse surrounded the desperado, capturing him at the Hollywood Hills home of camel driver "Greek" George Allen. The Greek was away at the moment, unwittingly leaving his wife to entertain Vasquez.

Los Angeles went wild when "The Scourge" was brought into town, stretched out on blood-stained hay in an ox-cart. After he was tossed into a cell, someone brought Vasquez a bottle of whiskey, which he cheerfully accepted and, with the first gulp, toasted the president of the United States.

Gushing ladies presented him with bouquets of flowers. A photographer set up a camera, took some pictures and hawked them on the street for twenty-five cents each. The Life of Vasquez played to standing-room-only audiences at the Merced Theatre, where the principal actor was coached by Tiburcio, who even loaned him his clothes. Everyone wanted the outlaw to play himself — everyone but Billy Rowland.

Vasquez was transferred to San Jose where he was convicted of murdering a hotel keeper during the Trés Piños "outrage." He was hanged March 19, 1875, at 1:35 p.m. His last word was "pronto."

The number two man in the Vasquez organization was Cleovaro Chavez. For three years they rode together, perpetrating increasingly bolder crimes. Chavez was about two years younger than his jefe and considerably taller. He stood five feet, eleven inches in height and was very muscular, weighing about two hundred pounds.

Chavez took off for Mexico as soon as Vasquez was captured but returned to Hollister to demand the release of his comrade. Otherwise, he said, he would "unleash a reign of terror the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Murietta."

True to his word, as soon as Tiburcio was hanged, Cleovaro put together a gang and raided the back country in the best Vasquez tradition. Once again Californians feared every stranger and every thump in the night, and slept with their rifles.

The Los Angeles Star cried out, "Let us, if need be, turn out horse, foot and dragoon . . . and scout the country from Oregon to Cape Horn, if necessary, until Chavez and his league of plunderers are chained to the walls of some dungeon. . . . Will the authorities let us know who rules California?"

Chavez no doubt read these lines with glee as he rested at his old hideout near Agua Dulce.

Late in October, Chavez broke up his guerilla band. He headed into Arizona Territory and took a job breaking horses sixty miles north of Yuma on the Colorado River. There, on November 25, 1875, two bounty hunters caught up with him and nearly cut the unarmed outlaw in half with their shotgun blasts.

For this noble deed, the adventurers collected a $2,000 reward.

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