8.8.7 Tiburcio Vasquez
Portrait of California bandido Tiburcio Vasquez gazing off into the distance.
Tiburcio Vasquez was born in Monterey in 1835, when California was under Mexican rule. Beginning in the 1850s and for the next 20 years, when California was part of the United States, Vasquez committed a series of burglaries, cattle and horse thefts, and highway robberies. He broke out of prison multiple times. Vasquez admitted to these crimes, arguing that they were justifiable given the hardships that he and other Californios faced under American rule. Vasquez and multiple others, such as Joaquin Murrieta and Salomon Pico, were angry that so many Californios had lost their property and their political freedom and were often treated as less than equal by Anglo Americans. Though he was accused of murder, Vasquez denied that he had ever killed anyone. Vasquez and others like him appeared to have the sympathy of most of the state’s Californio population. Spanish-language newspapers like El Clamor Publico editorialized numerous accounts of injustice. This portrait photograph was most likely taken while Vasquez was under arrest and ultimately on his way to execution. What does this photo tell you about Vasquez, and perhaps about his feelings as well?
Vasquez likely enjoyed the sympathy of many of his fellow Californios because they, like him, felt frustrated by the changes brought by the US government. Vasquez and others like him across the Southwest (former Mexican territory) were seen as violent bandits by the Anglo population and freedom fighters by Mexican Americans. The Gold Rush had brought hundreds of thousands of new residents to California, along with US statehood, and the political and economic importance of Californios diminished as a result. Moreover, racist attitudes among many new residents made life more troubling and difficult for the Californios. For many Californios, Vasquez’s deeds seemed an appropriate response to the troubling changes brought by US statehood. Vasquez has been remembered by many Mexican Americans as heroic for his resistance to US rule. For three years, an elementary school in Monterey County was named after Vasquez, though the school has since changed the name. A teacher who was involved with the naming of the school expressed what the name meant to her: "The community does not see Tiburcio as a thief or a murderer ... we see him as a fighter for social justice of the Mexican-Californio whose rights have been deprived." (from https://www.kcet.org/shows/departures/the-hunt-for-tiburcio-vasquez-a-chase-through-a-californios-la)
Bradley & Rulofson. Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1874, by Bradley & Rulofson, in the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington. San Francisco.