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Wanted Dead or Alive: Tiburcio Vasquez, Part Two

The Santa Clarita Valley had all the color of the early west – the cowboys, Indians, range wars, gunfights, oil wildcatters, gold panners, as well as the saloons, temperance leagues, stagecoaches, cattle, railroads, earthquakes, and floods. It also had its share of bad guys, including the legendary Californio outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez.

Today we showcase the second and final part of the story of Vasquez, as told by Dr. Alan Pollack, the President of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

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By April, 1874, Vasquez emerged from his hideouts to take up residence at the Rancho La Brea home of Georgias Caralambo, better known as Greek George, a former driver for Edward Beale’s camel corps in the 1850’s. Modern historians think that the ranch was located in present-day West Hollywood, near the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Kings Road.

It was here that Vasquez’s penchant for women ended his outlawing days.

After one final robbery at the Repetto Ranch in May, 1874 in modern-day Monterey Park, Vasquez was chased by a sheriff’s posse up the Arroyo Seco into the San Gabriel Mountains. He crossed over the mountains and possibly camped out again at Vasquez Rocks before returning through Lyon’s Station to the ranch of Greek George.

Vasquez made the fatal error of remaining at Greek George’s ranch to continue a liaison with a señorita after his friends had urged him to flee to Mexico. Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse had gotten word of his whereabouts and relayed the information to Los Angeles County Sheriff William Rowland. On May 13, Rowland sent a posse led by Under-Sheriff Albert Johnson to capture Vasquez at Greek George’s ranch.

The posse hid out and observed the ranch from Nichol’s Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. The next day, they apprehended a wagon driven by two Mexicans and forced them to drive to the house occupied by Vasquez. They surrounded the house just as a woman opened the door and shouted a warning to him. The ever wily Vasquez leaped out a kitchen window but was shot several times by posse members and was finally captured. He was brought to a Los Angeles jail where he spent the next nine days. He was an instant celebrity, with throngs of reporters and women clamoring to see him.

Vasquez was charged with the murder of Leander Davidson at Tres Pinos and was brought to San Jose to stand trial. Vasquez denied ever killing anyone, but his testimony was contrary to that of eyewitnesses from Tres Pinos and his own gang member Abdon Leiva (possibly in retaliation for the affair Vasquez had with his wife).

His celebrity status continued in San Jose, especially among the Spanish population who treated him as a hero. The trial took place in January, 1875, and Vasquez was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.

As would be the fates of Jesse James and Billy the Kid after him, Tiburcio Vasquez met his untimely end on March 19, 1875, when he was hanged in San Jose.

His final word was reported to be “pronto.

(You won’t find any bandits at Vasquez Rocks these days, but you may run across the occasional bug-eyed monster.)


Wanted Dead or Alive: Tiburcio Vasquez, Part One

One of the things that I love most about the Santa Clarita Valley is its double-layered Old West heritage – double-layered because it was not only the place where the events most associated with the Old West took place, but where those same happenings were later portrayed to the rest of the world in thousands of westerns shot since the beginning of cinema.

One of the sites in the valley seen in hundreds of westerns and science fiction films over the years is Vasquez Rocks, named after the outlaw Tiburcio Vasquez, who was said to have used its other-worldly landscape as a hideout.

The first part of the story of Vasquez, who met his end at the bottom of a hangman’s rope during this week in 1875, is today told by the President of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, Dr. Alan Pollack.

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While he never gained the same level of fame during the 1870s as bad guys Jesse James and Billy the Kid, California had its own legendary outlaw during the same era in Tiburcio Vasquez.

Vasquez was born in 1835 and grew up during California’s romantic Spanish Rancho period, and like most Mexican Californios, felt that his culture was being increasingly marginalized by the rapid influx of Americans from the East during and after the California Gold Rush.

Vasquez began his life of crime after being accused of stabbing and murdering Monterey County Constable William Hardmount during a fandango in 1854. In the early days of his career he stole cattle and horses, and robbed freight wagons and stagecoaches before spending most of the 1860’s in and out of San Quentin prison, from which he was finally released in 1870.

Vasquez was just getting started.

In August, 1873, Vasquez led a gang of eight men into Tres Pinos, (modern day Paicines, south of Hollister, California) taking over the town and killing three men in the process. After Tres Pinos, Vasquez became a most-wanted outlaw with a posse chasing him all over the state.

Vasquez had a fatal flaw which eventually ended his career … he was a womanizer.

After Tres Pinos, he had fled to a ranch at Lake Elizabeth near the Antelope Valley. There he had a tryst with the wife of Abdon Leiva, one of his own gang members. After Leiva caught the illicit couple together, he angrily quit the gang and turned himself in to William Jenkins, who brought him down to Lyon’s Station in Newhall and turned him over to Los Angeles officers. Leiva would eventually testify against Vasquez at his murder trial in San Jose.

Vasquez committed another infamous robbery, sacking the town of Kingston in Fresno County in December, 1873. The following month, California Governor Newton Booth offered an award for the capture of Vasquez to the tune of $2000 dead, or $3000 alive (the amounts were subsequently increased to $6000 and $8000).

During the next few months, Vasquez would elude capture as he was chased by Los Angeles County Sheriff William Rowland and Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse. He robbed a stagecoach at the Coyote Holes stage station on the road between the Cerro Gordo silver mines in the Owens Valley and Los Angeles. He then headed south, eventually ending up in Soledad Canyon where he hid out in a strange geologic formation that today bears his name – Vasquez Rocks.

Tomorrow, Alan will complete the story of Tiburcio Vasquez’s criminal career.


Star Trek: Part 2

Vasquez Rocks, near Agua Dulce, California.

To continue with our celebration of the 44th anniversary of the debut of the original Star Trek television series this week, we will take a look at Vasquez Rocks, a Los Angeles County park near Agua Dulce that was used as a filming site in just about every series and film in the long Star Trek franchise.

Vasquez Rocks is a 900-acre collection of jagged rocks jutting out of the ground at 45-degree angles like compound fractures piercing through the Earth’s skin. The rocks were named for legendary bandit Tiburcio Vasquez, who was said to have used the area as a hideout during his reign of crime in the mid-1800s.

The area has been used for motion pictures since the earliest days of filming and has been seen literally thousands of times on film. Every cowboy of note filmed here including John Wayne, who began his career as “Singing Sandy,” the very first singing cowboy, in a series of B-Westerns shot here in the 1930s.

More recently, the rocks have served as backdrops for dozens of films, television episodes, and commercials. A host of music videos have been shot here as well, including a portion of Black or White by Michael Jackson.

Vasquez Rocks has functioned as something of a totem for Star Trek, having shown up in three of the films, and in episodes from at least four of the television series. The rocks appeared four times in the original series, including the episode called “Arena” in which Kirk has to battle the reptilian Gorn.

Bad acting meets lousy special effects. Captain Kirk battles Gorn.

In Star Trek, last year’s reboot of the film series, the rocks modeled for the planet Vulcan, which imploded due to a black hole placed inside the planet and claimed the life of Spock’s mother (played by Winona Ryder). Although the area is only seen in the movie for a matter of moments, park officials claim that the filming took several weeks.

Vasquez Rocks has become so linked to the Star Trek franchise, that whenever news leaks out that a new movie is in the works, fans have been known to show up at the gates to catch a glimpse of the filming, merely on the assumption that the park will be used in the film.