Tag Archives: Sierra Nevada

The End of Vasquez

In the early seventies, while the Southern Pacific Railway was building from San Francisco to San José, some twelve or fifteen bandits, carousing at a country dance in the Mexican settlement, Panamá (about six miles south of Bakersfield) planned to cross the mountains and hold up the
pay-car. They were unsuccessful; whereupon, they turned their attention to the village of Tres
Pinos, robbed several store-keepers and killed three or four men. They were next heard of at little Kingston, in Tulare County, where they plundered practically the whole town. Then they once more disappeared.

Presently various clues pointed to the identity of the chief bandido as one Tibúrcio Vasquez, born in Monterey in the thirties, who had taken to the life of an outlaw because, as he fantastically said, some Gringos had insolently danced off with the prettiest girls at fandangos, among them being his sweetheart whom an American had wronged. With the exception of his Lieutenant, Chavez, he trusted no one, and when he moved from place to place, Chavez alone accompanied him. In each new field he recruited a new gang, and he never slept in camp with his followers.

Vasquez Rocks

Vasquez Rocks

Although trailed by several sheriffs, Vasquez escaped to Southern California leading off the wife
of one of his associates—a bit of gallantry that contributed to his undoing, as the irate husband at once gave the officers much information concerning Vasquez’s life and methods. One day in the spring of 1874, Vasquez and three of his companions appeared at the ranch of Alessandro Repetto, nine miles from town, disguised as sheep-shearers. The following morning, while the inmates of the ranch-house were at breakfast, the highwaymen entered the room and held up the defenseless household. Vasquez informed Repetto that he was organizing a revolution in Lower California and merely desired to borrow the trifling sum of eight hundred dollars.  Repetto replied that he had no money in the house; but Vasquez compelled the old man to sign a check for the sum demanded, and immediately dispatched to town a boy working for Repetto, with the strict injunction that if he did not return with the money alone, and soon, his master would be shot.

When the check was presented at the Temple & Workman Bank, Temple, who happened to be
there, became suspicious but could elicit from the messenger no satisfactory response to his
questions. The bank was but a block from the Courthouse; and when Sheriff Rowland hurriedly
came, in answer to a summons, he was inclined to detain the lad. The boy, however, pleaded so
hard for Repetto’s life that the Sheriff agreed to the messenger’s returning alone with the money.  Soon after, Rowland and several deputies started out along the same trail; but a lookout sighted the approaching horsemen and gave the alarm. Vasquez and his associates took to flight and were pursued as far as Tejunga Pass; but as the cut-throats were mounted on fresh horses, they escaped. Even while being pursued, Vasquez had the audacity to fleece a party of men in the employ of the Los Angeles Water Company who were doing some work near the Alhambra Tract. The well known Angeleño and engineer in charge, Charles E. Miles, was relieved of an expensive gold watch.

Greek George

Greek George

In April, 1874, Sheriff Rowland heard that Vasquez had visited the home of “Greek George”—the Smyrniot camel-driver to whom I have referred—and who was living about ten miles from Los Angeles, near the present location of Hollywood. Rowland took into his confidence D. K. Smith and persuaded him to stroll that way, ostensibly as a farmer’s hand seeking employment; and within two weeks Smith reported to Rowland that the information as to Vasquez’s  whereabouts was correct. Rowland then concluded to make up a posse, but inasmuch as a certain clement kept Vasquez posted regarding the Sheriff’s movements, Rowland had to use great precaution. Anticipating this emergency, City Detective Emil Harris-four years later Chief of Police-had been quietly transferred to the Sheriff’s office; in addition to whom, Rowland selected Albert Johnson, Under Sheriff; B. F. Hartley, a local policeman; J. S. Bryant, City Constable; Major Henry M. Mitchell, an attorney; D. K. Smith; Walter Rodgers, proprietor of the Palace Saloon; and G. A. Beers, a correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle. All these were ordered to report, one by one with their horses, shortly after midnight, at Jones’s Corral on Spring Street near Seventh. Arms and ammunition, carefully packed, were likewise smuggled in. Whether true or not that Vasquez would speedily be informed of the Sheriff’s whereabouts, it is certain that, in resolving not to leave his office, Rowland sacrificed, for the public weal, such natural ambition that he cannot be too much applauded; not even the later reward of eight thousand dollars really compensating him for his disappointment.

By half-past one o’clock in the morning, the eight members of the posse were all in the saddle and silently following a circuitous route. At about daybreak, in dense fog, they camped at the mouth of Nichols’s Canyon-two miles away from the house of Greek George-where Charles Knowles, an American, was living. When the fog lifted, Johnston, Mitchell, Smith and Bryant worked their way to a point whence they could observe Greek George’s farm; and Bryant, returning to camp, reported that a couple of gray horses had been seen tied near the ranch-house. Shortly thereafter, a four horse empty wagon, driven by two Mexicans, went by the cañon and was immediately stopped and brought in. The Mexicans were put in charge of an officer, and about the same time Johnston came tearing down the ravine with the startling statement that Vasquez was undoubtedly at Greek George’s!

Greek George's place

Greek George’s place

A quick consultation ensued and it was decided by the posse to approach their goal in the captured vehicle, leaving their own horses in charge of Knowles; and having warned the Mexicans that they would be shot if they proved treacherous, the deputies climbed into the wagon and lay down out of sight. When a hundred yards from the house, the officers stealthily scattered in various directions. Harris, Rodgers and Johnston ran to the north side, and Hartley and Beers to the west. Through an open door, Vasquez was seen at the breakfast table, and Harris, followed by the others, made a quick dash for the house. A woman waiting on Vasquez attempted to shut the officers out; but Harris injected his rifle through the half-open door and prevented her. During the excitement, Vasquez climbed through a little window, and Harris, yelling, “There he goes!” raised his Henry rifle and shot at him. By the time Harris had reached the other side of the house, Vasquez was a hundred feet away and running like a deer toward his horse. In the meantime, first Hartley and then the other officers used their shotguns and slightly wounded him again. Vasquez then threw up his hands, saying: “Boys, you’ve done well! but I’ve been a damned fool, and it’s my own fault!” The identity of the bandit thus far had not been established; and when Harris asked his name, he answered, “Alessandro Martinez.”* In the meantime, captors and prisoner entered the house; and Vasquez, who was weakened from his wounds, sat down, while the young woman implored the officers not to kill him. At closer range, a good view was obtained of the man who had so long terrorized the State. He was about five feet six or seven inches in height, sparely built, with small feet and hands-in that respect by no means suggesting the desperado-with a low forehead, black, coarse hair and mustache, and furtive, cunning eyes.

By this time, the entire posse, excepting Mitchell and Smith (who had followed a man seen to leave Greek George’s), proceeded to search the house. The first door opened revealed a young fellow holding a baby in his arms. He, the most youthful member of the organization, had been placed on guard. There were no other men in the house, although four rifles and six pistols, all loaded and ready for use, were found. Fearing no such raid, the other outlaws were afield in the neighborhood; and being warned by the firing, they escaped. One of Vasquez’s guns, by the way, has been long preserved by the family of Francisco Ybarra and now rests secure in the County Museum.

Eliazbeth Lake

Elizabeth Lake

Underneath one of the beds was found Vasquez’s vest containing Charley Miles’s gold watch, which Harris at once recognized. The prisoner was asked whether he was seriously hurt and he said that he expected to die, at the same time admitting that he was Vasquez and asking Harris to write down some of his bequests. He said that he was a single man, although he had two children living at Elizabeth Lake; and he exhibited portraits of them. He protested that he had never killed a human being, and said that the murders at Tres Pinos were due to Chavez’s disobedience of orders.

The officers borrowed a wagon from Judge Thompson—who lived in the neighborhood—into
which they loaded Vasquez, the boy and the weapons, and so proceeded on their way. When they arrived near town, Smith and Mitchell caught up with them. Mitchell was then sent to give advance notice of Vasquez’s capture and to have medical help on hand; and by the time the party arrived, the excitement was intense. The City Fathers, then in session, rushed out pellmell and crowds surrounded the Jail. Dr. K. D. Wise, Health Officer, and Dr. J. P. Widney, County Physician,administered treatment to the captive. Vasquez, in irons, pleaded that he was dying; but Dr.  Widney, as soon as he had examined the captive, warned the Sheriff that the prisoner, if he escaped, would still be game for a 458 long day’s ride. Everybody who could, visited him and I was no exception. I was disgusted, however, when I found Vasquez’s cell filled with flowers, sent by some white women of Los Angeles who had been carried away by the picturesque career of the bandido; but Sheriff Rowland soon stopped all such foolish exuberance.

Vasquez admitted that he had frequently visited Mexicans in Los Angeles, doing this against the
advice of his lieutenant, Chavez, who had warned him that Sheriff Rowland also had good friends among the Mexicans.

Among those said to have been in confidential touch with Vasquez was Mariano G. Santa Cruz, a prominent figure, in his way, in Sonora Town. He kept a grocery about three hundred feet from the old Plaza Church, on the east side of Upper Main Street, and had a curiously-assorted household. There on many occasions, it is declared, Vasquez found a safe refuge.

Robber's Roost near Freeman Junction

Robber’s Roost near Freeman Junction

Five days after the capture, Signor Repetto called upon the prisoner, who was in chains, and
remarked: “I have come to say that, so far as I am concerned, you can settle that little account with God Almighty!” Vasquez, with characteristic flourishes, thanked the Italian and began to speak of repayment, when Repetto replied: “I do not expect that. But I beg of you, if ever you resume operations, never to visit me again.” Whereupon Vasquez, placing his hand dramatically upon his breast, exclaimed: “Ah, Señor, I am a cavalier, with a cavalier’s heart!”—¡Señor Repetto, yo soy un caballero, con el corazón de un caballero!

Tiburcio Vasquez

Tiburcio Vasquez

As soon as Vasquez’s wounds were healed, he was taken by Sheriff Rowland to Tres Pinos and there indicted for murder. Miller & Lux, the great cattle owners, furnished the money, it was understood, for his defense—supposedly as a matter of policy. His attorneys asked for, and obtained, a change of venue, and Vasquez was removed to San José. There he was promptly tried, found guilty and, in March, 1875, hanged.

Many good anecdotes were long told of Vasquez; one of which was that he could size up a man quickly, as to whether he was a native son or not, by the direction in which he would roll a cigarette—toward or away from himself! As soon as the long-feared bandit was in captivity, local wits began to joke at his expense. A burlesque on Vasquez was staged late in May at the Merced Theater; and the day the outlaw was captured, a merchant began his advertisement: VASQUEZ says that MENDEL MEYER has the Finest and Most Complete Stock of Dry Goods and Clothing, etc.”


from :
Sixty years in Southern California, 1853-1913, containing the reminiscences of Harris Newmark. Edited by Maurice H. Newmark; Marco R. Newmark

Tiburcio Vasquez

Vasquez Rocks

Elizabeth Lake

Robber’s Roost

Camel Expedition



The Story of Convict Lake

from The Story of Inyo – W.A. Chalfant -1922

The most desperate prison break in the history of the West occurred at the Nevada penitentiary at Carson on the evening of Sunday, September 17, 1871. Twenty-nine convicts, murderers, train robbers, horse thieves and others of like ilk, gained temporary liberty after killing one man and wounding half a dozen more. The bravery of the handful of prison guards, the action of a life prisoner in opposing the escape and fighting the convicts, and other details make an interesting story, but one outside the field of this history. Inyo’s interest in the affair became direct when one of the gangs of desperadoes started with intent to recuperate in Owens and Fish Lake valleys, as a preliminary to raiding a store at Silver Peak and escaping with their loot to seek refuge among the renegades, Indians and whites, who had established themselves in the far deserts.

Convict Lake

Billy Poor, a mail rider, was met by the convicts, who murdered him in cold blood, took his horse and clothing and dressed the corpse in discarded prison garb. When news of the occurrence reached Aurora, the boy’s home, a posse set out ill pursuit of the escapees. The trail was found at Adobe Meadows, in southern Mono, and word was sent to Deputy Sheriff George Hightower, at Benton. Hightower and ten others from Benton trailed the fugitives into Long Valley. Robert Morrison, who came to Owensville in 1863 and was at this time a Benton merchant, first sighted the men, in the evening of Friday, the 23d. The pursuers went to the McGee place, in southern Long Valley, and spent the night, and the following morning went up the stream then known as Monte Diablo Creek, but now called Convict.

As the posse neared the narrow at the eastern end of the deep cup in which Convict Lake is situated, a man was seen running down a hill a hundred yards ahead. The pursuers spurred up
their horses and soon found themselves within forty feet of the convicts’ camp. Three convicts
took shelter behind a large pine tree on the south side of the stream, and began firing. Two of
the horses of the posse were killed and two others wounded, and one of the posse was shot through the hand. Morrison dismounted, began crawling down the hillside to get nearer, and was shot in the side. The rest of the posse fled. Black, convict, went after Morrison, passing him until Morrison snapped his gun without its being discharged; Black then shot him through the head.

Mt. Morrison

The convicts went up the canyon to where an Indian known as Mono Jim was keeping some of
the citizens’ horses. Thinking that the approaching men belonged to the posse, Jim announced that he had seen three men down the canyon. As he saw his mistake Black shot him. Jim returned the fire, wounding two of the horses the convicts had, and was then killed. Morrison’s body remained where it fell until Alney McGee went from the house in the valley that evening and recovered it. The convicts had left. Morrison’s body was taken to Benton and buried by the Masonic fraternity.

“Convict” was thenceforward adopted as the name of the beautiful lake and stream near the
scene. A mighty peak that towers over the lake bears the name of Mount Morrison.

Word had been sent from Benton to Bishop, and a posse headed by John Crough and John
Clarke left the latter place, after some delay due to failure of the messenger to deliver his letter.
The trail was picked up in Round Valley, which the convicts had crossed. The latter had made
their way into Pine Creek Canyon, and were so hard pressed that they abandoned one of their
horses and lost another over a precipice. News that the men w^ere located, and the fact that they were armed with Henry rifles, superior to the weapons of the citizens, was taken to Independence by I. P. Yaney. The military post was at that time commanded by Major Harry C. Egbert, who afterward became General Egbert and lost his life as a brave soldier in the Philippines. Major Egbert selected five men to accompany him in the hunt, and also provided a supply of arms for any citizens who might wish to use them for the main purpose. They made the trip to Bishop in seven hours, which was rapid traveling in those days.

Convicts Morton and Black were captured in the sand hills five miles southeast of Round Valley, on Wednesday night, ten days after their escape. They were taken by J. L. C. Sherwin, Hubbard, Armstead, McLeod and two Indians. A few shots were exchanged before the fugitives threw up their hands in token of surrender. An Indian mistook the motion and fired, the shot striking Black in the temple and passing through his head, but strangely not killing him. The two were taken to Birchim’s place in Round Valley. Black was able to talk, and laid the killing of Morrison on Roberts, a nineteen-year old boy. After hearing his story a posse resumed the hunt for Roberts in Pine Creek Canyon.

This posse was eating lunch in the canyon on Friday when they observed a movement in a  clump of willows within twenty yards of them. The place was surrounded and Roberts was ordered to come out and surrender. He did so, saying that if they intended to kill him he was ready if he could have a cup of coffee. He had been five and one-half days without food. When he confronted Black at Birchim’s, the conduct of the older villain satisfied all that he and not Roberts had slain Morrison.

The three prisoners were placed in a spring wagon Sunday evening, October 1st, and with
a guard of horsemen started from Round Valley for Carson. Near Pinchower’s store, where the
northern road through West Bishop intersected the main drive of that vicinity, the escort and
wagon were surrounded by a large body of armed citizens. ”Who is the captain of this guard?”
was asked. “I am; turn to the left and go on.” But the mob did not turn to the left nor was there any resistance. Morton, who sat with the driver, said: “Give me the reins and I’ll drive after
them ; I’m a pretty good driver myself.” Roberts, who had been shot in the shoulder and in the foot in the encounter in Long Valley, was lying in the bottom of the wagon. He offered objections to going with the citizens, but without effect, and with Black driving to his own hanging, the wagon and its escort moved across the unfenced meadow to a vacant cabin about a mile northeasterly. On arrival there. Black and Roberts were carried into the house, both being wounded. Morton got down from the wagon with little assistance and went in with them.

Bishop Creek Sierra Nevada

Bishop Creek

Lights were procured, and all present except the guards over the prisoners formed a jury. The
convicts were questioned for two hours before votes were taken, separately on each prisoner. It
was decreed that Black and Morton should be hanged at once. The vote on Roberts was equally
divided for and against execution, and his life was saved by that fact.

A scaffold was hastily set up at the end of the house, one end of its beam resting on the top of
its low chimney, the other supported by a tripod of timbers. Morton hoard the preparations going on, and asked: “Black, are you ready to die?” “No, this is not the crowd that will hang us,” replied Black. “Yes, it is,” said Morton; don’t you hear them building the scaffold”?” Morton was
asked if he wished to stand nearer the fire which had been made to modify the chill of- the late
autumn night. “No, it isn’t worth while warming now,” he answered; and turning to Roberts
he said: “We are to swing, and I mean to have you swing with us if we can ; we want company. ” Black was carried out and lifted into a wagon which had been driven under the scaffold; after
being raised to his feet he stood unsupported. Morton walked out and looked over the  arrangements calmly, climbed into the wagon, and placed the noose over his own head. He asked that his hands be made fast so that he could not jump up and catch the rope. Black asked for water ; Morton asked him what he wanted with water then. When asked if they had anything to say, Black said no. Morton said that it wasn’t well for a man to be taken off without some religious ceremony, and if there was a minister present he would like to have a prayer. Whether it seems strange or otherwise, there was a minister present by request. He spoke a few words, after which Morton said: “I am prepared to meet my God—but I don’t know that there is any God.” He shook hands with the men on the wagon, and then the minister prayed. Only his voice and a sigh from Black broke the stillness. As “Amen” was pronounced the wagon moved away. Black was a large and heavy man and died without a struggle. Morton, a very small man, sprang into the air as the wagon started, and did not move a muscle after his weight rested on the rope.

Young Roberts was taken to the county jail at Independence, and after partial recovery from his wounds was returned to the Carson prison. Others among the escapes were believed to have
come this way, and hard search was made for them through the mountains. That one named
Charley Jones had come to Bishop Creek and had probably received some assistance was a general belief, but what became of him was never known unless to a select circle. Four of the escapes were captured on Walker River while they were feasting on baked coyote. Eighteen of the twentynine were captured or killed within two months of the prison break.

— end —

Also see:

Convict Lake

Convict Lake (elevation 7,850 feet (2,393 m)), is a lake in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada. It is known for…