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Author tells tale of Wild West outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez

John Boessenecker to discuss book at SCV Historical Society Nov. 6

Posted: October 7, 2010 10:35 a.m.
Updated: October 7, 2010 10:35 a.m.

Missouri had Jesse James. New Mexico had Billy the Kid. And California in the 1870s had its own Wild West outlaw.

Tiburcio Vasquez was regarded by many as a dangerous thief and murderer, but many others idolized him and considered him a modern-day Robin Hood.

The many faces of California's outlaw will be discussed in a new book to be published this fall called "Bandido. The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vasquez."

Author John Boessenecker will discuss his new book and the life of Vasquez at a meeting of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6.

The talk and a book signing will be held at the Saugus Train Station at Heritage Junction within William S. Hart Park, located at 24101 Newhall Ave. (formerly San Fernando Road), in Newhall 91321.

Tiburcio Vasquez was born to a well-to-do family in Monterey, Calif. in 1835. As a teenager he was to witness the massive influx of Americans into California during the Gold Rush. Vasquez, along with many native Hispanic Californios, came to resent the American invasion as California was welcomed as part of the United States in 1850.

After being accused of killing a lawman at a fandango in the late 1850s, Vasquez began his life-long occupation as an outlaw.

After spending much of the 1860s in and out of San Quentin Prison for various offenses, Vasquez cemented his place in history when he led his outlaw gang on a raid of the town of Tres Pinos near Hollister, Calif.. 

After the sacking of Tres Pinos, the Vasquez Gang headed for the mountains of Southern California near Lake Elizabeth.

There Vasquez was caught romancing the wife of one of his gang members Abdon Leiva. Leiva turned himself in to authorities at Lyon's Station in the Santa Clarita Valley and would later testify against Vasquez.

Vasquez and his gang proceeded to stage renowned robberies in Kingston, Coyote Holes, and lastly at the Repetto Ranch in what is now Monterey Park.

There Vasquez forced a boy to go to downtown Los Angeles to cash a check for the robbers. The boy notified authorities who rode out to the ranch. Vasquez was chased through the Arroyo Seco near present day Pasadena, then over the San Gabriel Mountains in to the Santa Clarita Valley.

He eventually ended up at the home of his friend Greek George Caralambas on the Rancho La Brea (now West Hollywood). Los Angeles Sheriff William Rowland was notified of the outlaw's whereabouts, and sent out a posse which captured him while romancing yet another woman at Greek George's abode on May 14, 1874.

He was taken to jail in Los Angeles where he spent several days receiving celebrity treatment and visits by numerous women.

Eventually Vasquez was transported up to San Jose, Calif., where he was placed on trial in January 1875 and received the death sentence for his part in the killings at Tres Pinos.

He was hanged from a scaffold in San Jose on March 19, 1875. His last word was purportedly "pronto."

Vasquez has the distinction of being the only renowned convicted criminal in California history to have a state park and school using his name.

Vasquez Rocks near Agua Dulce was a possible hideout for the Vasquez gang in between robberies. Vasquez High School in Acton, while actually named for Vasquez Rocks, bears the name of the outlaw as well.

John Boessenecker's new book on Vasquez is described by the University of Oklahoma Press: "'Bandido' pulls back the curtain on a life story shrouded in myth - a myth created by Vasquez himself and abetted by writers who saw a tale ripe for embellishment."

Boessenecker traces his subject's life from his childhood in the seaside adobe village of Monterey, to his years as a young outlaw engaged in horse rustling and robbery.

Two terms in San Quentin failed to tame Vasquez, and he instigated four bloody prison breaks that left twenty convicts dead.

After his final release from prison, he led bandit raids throughout Central and Southern California. His dalliances with women were legion, and the last one led to his capture in the Hollywood Hills and his death on the gallows at the age of 39.

From dusty court records, forgotten memoirs, and moldering newspaper archives, Boessenecker draws a story of violence, banditry, and retribution on the early California frontier that is as accurate as it is colorful.

Enhanced by numerous photographs - many published here for the first time - "Bandido" also addresses important issues of racism and social justice that remain relevant to this day.

A San Francisco attorney, John Boessenecker has a B.A. degree in history from San Francisco State University and a J.D. from University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Since 1969 he has published numerous magazine articles on crime and lawlessness in the Old West.

He is the author of Badge and Buckshot: Lawlessness in Old California (1988); The Grey Fox: The True Story of Bill Miner (1992); Lawman: The Life and Times of Harry Morse (1998); and Against the Vigilantes: The Recollections of Dutch Charley Duane (1999), all published by the University of Oklahoma Press, and Gold Dust and Gunsmoke (1999), published by John Wiley & Sons of New York.

Boessenecker has appeared frequently as a historical commentator on PBS, The History Channel, A&E, and other television media.

The Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society is pleased to host John Boessenecker at the Saugus Train Station. The general public is welcome and admission is free.

For more information on this and other upcoming programs from the SCVHS, call Pat Saletore or Alan Pollack at (661) 254-1275 or visit


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