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Vasquez Rocks

By Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff

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Vasquez Rocks

In January 1874 the scared people of the normally complacent California had seen enough of the antics of this daring and bold bandito. They wanted action. The bandit must be stopped. Governor Newton Booth managed to secure $5,000.00 from the California legislature to use as he saw fit to capture the outlaw. It is believed that there was a total of $8,000.00 reward out for his capture or $6,000.00 for his death. The people of California did not care which it turned out to be as long as he was out of their lives forever.

The Governor put in charge of the operation Alameda Sheriff Harry Morse who was known for relentlessly hunting down criminals until they were either chased from the county, arrested, or shot and killed. There had been dozens of posse's over the years trying to catch the outlaw but few had ever even caught a glimpse of the elusive outlaw. However Morse was good. He followed up every lead and along with his lieutenant Sheriff Tom Cunningham of San Joaquin County, and seven other Deputies; they chased the outlaw for over 2700 miles in a period of sixty days. The posse had come as far south as Fort Tejon when they got a lead on the whereabouts of the criminal.

Harry Morse told Los Angeles Sheriff William Roland that the bandit was hiding in an abandoned cabin belonging to Greek George in Hollywood. Roland not wanting to miss out on any glory, appointed Los Angeles first detective Emil Harris to lead the posse to Greek George's cabin there by beating Harris to the punch

The Outlaw was actually quite comfortable in the abandoned cabin as it was a step up from the nights he'd spent in the saddle. He had learned not too be too comfortable though, for even though he had often bragged that his great escapes from the law were due to 'mi valor' (my bravery), he knew deep down that a lot of luck was involved. He sat at a small wooden table smoking a cigarette, playing solitaire by lantern light. It seemed quieter then it should have and he was alert.
Harris in the meantime arrived at the cabin of Greek George along with seven other posse men. He stationed the men around the house and prepared to enter.

As Harris eased across the porch towards the door it creaked just enough to set the outlaw into motion, and Harris smart enough to realize that, kicked in the door and took a shot at the outlaw missing.

The outlaw, veteran of many escapes bolted towards the window. In a flash wood and glass were shattering and flying everywhere. The outlaw burst threw the other side and onto the ground. He rolled to a standing position coming face to face with wide-eyed officer Frank Hartley and reporter George Beers. He threw up both hands and cried, "No shoot! No shoot!"
It was too late, for as soon as Hartley saw the flying man crashing threw the window, his shotgun was being leveled at the escapee. By the time the outlaw was on his feet a load of buckshot was on its way, delivering a blow that knocked him back and off his feet. In seconds they were all upon him binding him so he could not get away again. He was wounded in the leg and shoulder. The outlaw bandit that had raised hell all over California, Tiburcio Vasquez, was under arrest and this time they would not let him get away.

Tiburcio Vasquez was born in Monterey, California in 1835 to a respectable family that he shared with three brothers and two sisters. He learned how to read and write English in school but really wasn't interested in that kind of an education. Instead he hung out with the local tough guys and criminals. This was a time in California's history when the Mexican people were getting their first glimpses of what it was like to be a minority group. Tiburcio learned from his friends to hate the gringo.
His first run in with the law was in 1854 when he was 19 years old. At a dance hall he was said to frequent someone insulted his sister and a brawl ensued. The local constable, William Hardmount, was killed when he interfered. It is not certain who killed him but the three young men in the brawl were sought after by the authorities. Tiburcio Vasquez and his friend Anastacio Garcia escaped but the other young man Jose Higuerra was caught and lynched. So from here the young man was on the run and to survive started a career of thievery that few would ever rival in the state of California.

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Numerous hiding places in this rough terrain.

In 1857 he stole a herd of horses and was caught while trying to sell them. He was sentenced to five years at San Quentin. His education was growing. In two years at San Quentin he was beaten and mishandled quite often. Prison reforms had not yet been set in motion. His hate grew, for the gringo and the law. In 1857 he participated in a mass escape during which guards and prisoners were killed. After two years of freedom he was returned to prison for a larceny conviction. Finally in 1863 he was set free and returned home to Monterey. His intentions at the time were to go the straight and narrow but his prison education brought him back to the streets to brag of his exploits and soon enough he was back in prison for another larceny conviction. He stayed in prison until 1870.

He was now 35 years old and knew what he wanted to do with his life at last. He wanted to be a professional outlaw. His skill was honed in prison, gaining the best knowledge from the best criminals in the state.

Tiburcio was a natural leader, a take-charge individual. The people that knew him personally loved him. Many Mexican people thought of him as a patriot, in fact Tiburcio entertained the idea that he could somehow help the Mexican government regain California. Tiburcio played the people of
California like a twelve string guitar, strumming soft sweet melodies for the many senoritas in his life, playing lively tunes for the children as he passed out candy, and pouring out sympathetic ballads that
led people to believe he was one who was wronged by the gringo and did only what he had to do. But not all the people listened to his tune. During his reign of terror from 1870 to his capture in 1874, he was the most feared bandit in California. In 1873-74 immigration to California was seriously hampered by the news of Tiburcio Vasquez's robberies and killings. During this time he developed his trademark for robbery. He would steal herds of horses and pick the best for himself. His small group of inner circle friends would pick their mounts and then they would sell the rest. Upon robbing a stage he would tie up the passengers telling them not to move or they would be shot. He was serious and professional in his endeavors, however the occasional hero would pull a gun and Tiburcio or his gang would then blast away leaving bodies behind. During this time he was said to have taken part in as many as 40 killings, although if you asked Tiburcio he would say he never shed the blood of another man.

This possessed outlaw was spending most of his time now around the Los Angeles area. The canyons of the San Gabriels proved to be an excellent place to retreat to after a raid. His favorite spot was between the San Fernando and Antelope Valleys along the northern edge of the San Gabriel Mountains. The area consists of large sandstone slabs protruding at a slant out of the ground up to a height of over 200 feet. It is a maze of mystery and wonder that upon entering you immediately feel lost. Tiburcio Vasquez felt at home here. The towering slanted slabs provided not only a hiding place but also natural eaves for sleeping quarters and shade from the hot desert sun.

No one felt safe from his wrath. He partook in horse stealing, Stage robberies, Blackmail, and extortion all at a pace that made people wonder when he was able to spend all the loot he had stolen. The entire area in pock marked with holes. Perfect places for hiding a bag of coins, the watches or jewelry of the passengers, and even one of the last things he stole, a 500 pound ingot of silver! That's right, a five hundred pound ingot of pure silver.

The huge ingot was cast by Senator William Stewart when he heard there was going to an attempt to steal his first shipment from his newly acquired mine. The Senator had won the mine in a game of faro and the losers were very bitter. The Senator had been behind by $60,000.00 when he offered to double his debt against the silver mine. He had lost the previous six hands and went so far as to say to the gamblers that the odds were in his favor. They took the bet and lost.

A Mexican card dealer from Panamint warned the senator of the plot but was unclear as to his motives for warning him. Senator Stewart decided to thwart the planned heist he would make two 500 pound ingot of the metal. He stored it in a shed and sure enough the next day as the Senator and the card dealer watched, the two bitter ex-owners of the mine showed up to steal the silver. They struggled for hours with no success using slings and finally an a frame trying to hoist it up onto their mules back. When after four hours of trying they got it onto the back of the mule, the poor mule collapsed under the weight. The men left disgusted and were never seen again. The card dealer acting amused by the whole affair asked slyly how the silver would be shipped to Los Angeles. The Senator replied, "Remi Nadeau."

Remi Nadeau was the boss teamster of freighters in California. He had hauled everything from ore to borax with his twenty mule teams. He was the best and most reliable man for the job. The only problem with dear Remi, which no one in the Senators camp knew, was that Remi was close friends with Tiburcio Vasquez. Howeve,r even Remi didn't know what was about to happen. The buckboard driver picked up the two silver ingots from Stewart and drove them into Panamint where they were loaded onto the freighter. The driver then fastened the buckboard to the rear and towed it behind. A curious thing to do that no one questioned. Just outside Tiburcios roost the freighter rolled by and Tiburcios gang swooped down on it, loaded one ingot on the buckboard and took off into the rocks that hid him so well. The next day a posse found the buckboard but no sign of the gang or the silver ingot.

Within three weeks of this incident Tiburcio was involved in an extortion attempt at the Repetto Ranch, and shortly after was shot and captured at the cabin of Greek George. Vasquez was taken to San Jose to await trial for his crimes. He had a few visitors while he was incarcerated; one was his friend Remi Nadeau. "I saved your life once mi amigo, and we had an agreement that you would never rob my freighters, why did you do this?" Remi asked of Tiburcio. "A card dealer friend had tipped me off to the silver and I also had an obligation to him, that is why I only took one ingot from you." The honest Remi really didn't understand the thief's logic so he just let the matter go.
Shortly before he was hanged in March of 1875, Senator Stewart came to visit Tiburcio Vasquez, and he asked the villain what had happened to his ingot. Tiburcio told him it was in a hole in the rocks and would say no more.

There are other stories of loot buried in the area of the rocks and a few miles to the east are sandstone caves also, which may still hide treasures. On a treasure hunt to the area an iron kettle was found filled with copper coins dating from 1600 to 1777. The kettle was found buried three feet deep in a dry creek bed. Along with the kettle was found a skull with an ax imbedded in it! This treasure was probably the remnant of a Spanish and Indian encounter.

With the death of Tiburcio Vasquez much of the bandit activity in the San Gabriel Mountains started to decline. The mountains and canyons were know being explored by the general public and the hiding places were fewer and fewer. The slanted sandstone rock area that covers over 1000 acres was eventually named Vasquez Rocks and the nearby caves, Vasquez Caves. I find it amazing that he would be so honored.

In the early part of the twentieth century Vasquez rocks became the backdrop for hundreds of western movies, a tradition that sill continues. Movies like The Bengal Lancers and Atilla the Huns still bring a smile to my face as I see the hoards rushing by the slanted rocks to attack their foes.
Today Vasquez Rocks is a county park visited by many, who hike the trails, climb the rocks, and picnic in the shade of the rocks. If you come upon a cave, the roof will most likely be blackened from an outlaw's campfire and if you find a small hole that looks curious and untouched, check it out carefully for it may contain the loot of one of California's worst criminals Tiburcio Vasquez.
You can reach Vasquez rocks by taking highway 14 east from Interstate 5 towards Lancaster.
Just a few miles up the road you won't be able to miss the rocks. Follow the signs to the park and have fun.


1. Brad Williams and Choral Pepper, Lost Treasures of the West, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1975
2. Thomas Penfield, Guide To Treasure In California, True Treasure Library, 1972
3. William B. Secrest, Lawmen & Desperadoes, Arthur H. Clark Co., 1994
4. James Klien, Where To find Gold In Southern California, Ward Ritchie Press, 1975
5. Russ Leadabrand, Exploring California Byways II, Ward Ritchie Press, 1968

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