Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
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
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
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
Numerous hiding places in this rough
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
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
Penfield, Guide To Treasure In California, True Treasure Library,
B. Secrest, Lawmen & Desperadoes, Arthur H. Clark Co., 1994
Klien, Where To find Gold In Southern California, Ward Ritchie
Leadabrand, Exploring California Byways II, Ward Ritchie Press,