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Jailhouse Interview with Tiburcio Vasquez
For Want of a Dance Partner: It All Started when the Americanos Monopolized the Native-born Women and Mom Said It Was OK to Go Marauding.


Major Ben C. Truman

Webmaster's note.

Benjamin Cummings Truman (Oct. 25, 1835 - July 18, 1916) was a prominent journalist who wrote for the New York Times in the 1850s and covered the Civil War for several papers. A friend of Collis Huntington and a confidante of most Army generals, North and South, Truman served as personal secretary to President Andrew Johnson, and as a Treasury agent, Army paymaster and Postal agent, among other things. Eventually settling in Southern California, he purchased the San Diego Bulletin around 1870 and became editor of the Los Angeles Express.

At the time of Vasquez's capture, Truman owned the Los Angeles Star newspaper, which he had purchased in 1873 from Henry Hamilton. He sold it in 1877.

Except for a brief intro and outro by Truman (from "A Sensation in the Orange Groves," 1881), what's reproduced here is just his Vasquez interview.[1] In the rest of his 1881 work (not reproduced here), Truman tells the story of Vasquez's capture and offers his observations of several of the parties involved.

The headline and subtitle at the top of this web page are our own.

Read a full biography of Ben C. Truman in his New York Times obituary.

NOTE. Compare this jailhouse interview to Vasquez's final statement as attested by Sheriff J.H. Adams.


[...]

The next day [May 15, 1874, the day after Vasquez's capture] I interviewed Vasquez. He seemed but little the worse for his wounds. Sheriff Rowland had provided him with a comfortable spring mattress, and the dinner which was brought to him during my stay in his cell, or rather room, was good enough for anybody. He laughed and talked as gaily and unconstrainedly as if he were in his parlor instead of in the clutches of the violated law.

In reply to my questions, he gave the following account of himself, substantially:


"I was born in Monterey county, California, at the town of Monterey, August 11th, 1835. My parents are both dead. I have three brothers and two sisters. Two of my brothers reside in Monterey county: one unmarried and one married; the other resides in Los Angeles county; he is married. My sisters are both married; one of them lives at San Juan Baptista, Monterey county, the other at the New Idria quicksilver mines.

"I was never married, but I have one child in this county a year old. I can read and write, having attended school in Monterey. My parents were people in ordinarily good circumstances, owning a small tract of land, and always had enough for their wants.

"My career grew out of the circumstances by which I was surrounded. As I grew up to manhood, I was in the habit of attending balls and parties given by the native Californians, into which the Americans, then beginning to become numerous, would force themselves and shove the native-born men aside, monopolizing the dance and the women. This was about 1852.

"A spirit of hatred and revenge took possession of me. I had numerous fights in defense of what I believed to be my rights and those of my countrymen. The officers were continually in pursuit of me. I believed we were unjustly and wrongfully deprived of the social rights that belonged to us. So perpetually was I involved in these difficulties, that I at length determined to leave the thickly settled portions of the country, and did so.

"I gathered together a small band of cattle, and went into Mendocino county, back of Ukiah, and beyond Falls Valley. Even here I was not permitted to remain in peace. The officers of the law sought me out in that remote region, and strove to drag me before the courts. I always resisted arrest.

"I went to my mother and told her I intended to commence a different life. I asked for and obtained her blessing, and at once commenced the career of a robber. My first exploit consisted in robbing some peddlers of money and clothes in Monterey county. My next was the capture and robbery of a stage coach in the same county. I had confederates with me from the first, and was always recognized as leader. Robbery after robbery followed each other as rapidly as circumstances allowed until, in 1857 or '58, I was arrested in Los Angeles for horse stealing, convicted of grand larceny, sentenced to the penitentiary, and was taken to San Quentin, and remained there until my term of imprisonment expired in 1863.

"Up to the time of my conviction and imprisonment, I had robbed stage coaches, wagons, houses, etc., indiscriminately, carrying on my operations for the most part in daylight, sometimes, however, visiting houses after dark.

"After my discharge from San Quentin, I returned to the house of my parents, and endeavored to lead a peaceable and honest life. I was, however, soon accused of being a confederate of Procopio and one Soto, both noted bandits, the latter of whom was afterwards killed by Sheriff Harry Morse, of Alameda county. I was again forced to become a fugitive from the law officers; and, driven to desperation, left home and family, and commenced robbing whenever opportunity offered. I made but little money by my exploits. I always managed to avoid arrest. I believe I owe my frequent escapes solely to my courage (mi valor). I was always ready to fight whenever opportunity offered, but always endeavored to avoid bloodshed.

"I know of nothing worthy of note until the Tres Pinos affair occurred. The true story of that transaction is as follows: I, together with four other men, including Chaves, my lieutenant, and one Leiva[1], (who is now in jail at San Jose, awaiting an opportunity to testify, he having turned State's evidence), camped within a short distance of Tres Pinos. I sent three of the party, Leiva included, to that point, making Leiva captain. I instructed them to take a drink, examine the locality, acquaint themselves with the number of men around, and wait until I came. I told them not to use any violence, as when I arrived I would be the judge, and if anybody had to be shot I would do the shooting.

"When I arrived there with Chaves, however, I found three men dead, and was told that two of them were killed by Leiva and one by another of the party named Romano; the rest of the men in the place were all tied. I told Leiva and his companions that they had acted contrary to my orders, that I did not wish to remain there long. Leiva and his men had not secured money enough for my purpose and I told a woman, the wife of one of the men who was tied, that I would kill him if she did not procure funds. She did so and we gathered up what goods and clothing and provisions we needed, and started for Elizabeth Lake, Los Angeles county. On the way there Leiva became jealous of me, and at once rebelled and swore revenge. He left his wife at Heffner's place on Elizabeth Lake and started to Los Angeles to give himself up, as well as to deliver me to the authorities, if he could do so.

"Sheriff Rowland, however, was on my track, and in company with Sheriff Adams, of Santa Clara county, and a posse of men, endeavored to capture Chaves and myself at Rock Creek. We fired at the party and could have killed them if we had wished so to do. We effected our escape, and arriving at Heffner's, I took Leiva's wife behind me on my horse, and started back in the direction I knew Rowlands and Adams and their party would be coming, knowing that I could hear them approaching on their horses. I did so, and as they drew near I turned aside from the road. The Sheriffs and posse passed on, and I took Leiva's wife to a certain point, which I do not care to name, and left her in the hills at a sheep ranch, while I went out and made a raid on Firebaugh's Ferry, on the San Joaquin river, for money to send her back to her parents' house. I did so, and have not seen her since. I provided for all her wants while she was with me. I tied ten men and a Chinaman up at Firebaugh's Ferry in the raid above referred to.[2]

"After sending Leiva's wife home, I went to King's River, in Tulare county, where, with a party of eight men besides myself, I captured and tied up thirty-five men. There were two stores and a hotel in this place. I had time to plunder only one of the stores, as the citizens aroused themselves and began to show fight. The numbers were unequal and I retired. I got about eight hundred dollars and considerable jewelry by this raid.

"I went from there to a small settlement, known as Panama, on Kern river, where myself and party had a carouse of three days, dancing, love-making, etc. El Capitan Vasquez was quite a favorite with the senoritas. It was well known to the people of Bakersfield, which is only two or three miles from Panama, that I was there, arid arrangements were made for my capture; but the attempt was not made until I had been gone twenty-four hours. Then they came and searched the house in which I was supposed to be concealed. When I left Panama, I started for the Sweet-water mountains, and skirted their base, never traveling along the road, but keeping along in the direction of Lone Pine. I returned by the way of Coyote Holes, where the robbery of the stage took place. Here Chaves and myself captured the diligencia and sixteen men. Chaves held his gun over them while I took their money and jewelry. We got, about $200 and some pistols, and jewelry, watches, etc.; also a pocket-book, belonging to Mr. James Craig, containing about $10,000 worth of mining stock, which I threw away. One man was disposed to show fight, and to preserve order I shot him in the leg, and made him sit down. I got six horses from the stage company, two from the station. I drove four of them off in one direction and went myself in another, in order to elude pursuit.

"I wandered around in the mountains after that until the time of the Repetto robbery. The day before that occurrence, I camped at the Pietra Gordo, at the head or Arroyo Seco. I had selected Repetto as a good subject. In pursuance of the plan I had adopted, I went to a sheep herder employed on the place, and asked him if he had seen a brown horse which I had lost; inquired if Repetto was at home, took a took at the surroundings, and told the man I had to go to the Old Mission on some important business, that if he would catch my horse I would give him $10 or $15. I then returned by a roundabout way to my companions on the Arroyo Seco.

"As soon as it was dark I returned with my men to the neighborhood of Repetto's and camped within a few rods of the house. The next morning about breakfast time we wrapped our guns in our blankets, retaining only our pistols, and I went toward the house, where I met the sheep herder and commenced talking about business. Asked him if Repetto wanted herders or shearers, how many sheep could he shear in a day, etc.; speaking in a loud tone, in order to throw him off his guard. I had left my men behind a small fence, and being told that he was at home, I entered the house to see if I could bring the patron to terms without killing him.

"I found him at home, and told him I was an expert sheep shearer, and asked him if he wished to employ any shearers; told him that my friends, the gentlemen who were waiting out by the fence, were also good shearers, and wanted work. All were invited in, and as they entered surrounded Repetto. I then told him I wanted money. At this he commenced hollering, when I had him securely tied, and told him to give me what money he had in the house. He handed me eighty dollars. I told him that that would do; that I knew all about his affairs; that he had sold nearly $10,000 worth of sheep lately, and that he must have plenty of money buried about the place somewhere. Repetto then protested that he had paid out nearly all the money he had received in the purchase of land that he had receipts to show for it, etc.

"I told him that I could read and write and understood accounts; that if his books and receipts, and they balanced according to his statements, I would excuse him. He produced the books, and after examining them carefully, I became convinced that he had told me very nearly the truth. I then expressed my regrets for the trouble I had put him to, and offered to compromise. I told him that I was in need of money, and that if he would accommodate me with a small sum I would repay him in thirty days with interest at 1½ per cent, per month. He kindly consented to do so, and sent a messenger to a bank in Los Angeles for the money, being first warned that in the event of treachery or betrayal his life would pay the forfeit.

"The messenger returned, not without exciting the suspicions of the authorities, who, as is well known, endeavored at that time to effect my capture, but failed. But you know all about the Arroyo Seco affair.[3]

"After my escape, I wandered for a while in the mountains; was near enough to the parties who were searching for me to kill them if 1 had desired so to do. For the past three weeks I have had my camp near the place where I was captured, only coming to the house at intervals to get a meal. I was not expecting company at the time the arrest was made, or the result might have been different."


The foregoing is a very fair paraphrase of the recital made to me by Vasquez, in the presence of Sheriff Rowland. Almost all of it, except his version of the Tres Pinos affair, is known to be true. Only the leading events of his long career of brigandage and outlawry are described. But my readers can draw their own conclusion as to what manner of man Tiburcio Vasquez was. He protested frequently throughout the interview, that he had never killed a man in his life.


1. There are minor discrepancies in spelling and punctuation between Truman's 1874 and 1881 transcriptions. This is the 1881 version. The most glaring discrepancy is the spelling of Vasquez's lieutenant's name (Abdon Leiva), which he spelled "Lava" in 1874 and "Leiva" in 1881. "Leiva" is the common spelling.

2. In "A Sensation in the Orange Groves," Truman interjects the following at this point: "Here I digress a moment, to tell what befell Sheriffs Rowland and Adams and posse. They went straight to Heffner's, found their game had broken cover. They found Vasquez' camp, captured thirty-six horses and the greater part of the goods, clothing and provisions, taken from the Tres Pinos, and then divided, Sheriff Rowland returning to Los Angeles with the horses, all of which had been returned to their owners except two. While at the camp Leiva came up and was arrested by Sheriff Rowland, on suspicion; was by him turned over to Mr. Wassou, the Sheriff of Monterey county. Sheriff Adams and his party kept up an unsuccessful search for the bandit for several days, and finally abandoned it."

3. Here Truman again interjects: "I do [know about the Arroyo Seco affair], and present it as follows: Mr. Repetto, fearing that his life would be taken, dispatched a boy to Los Angeles with a check for the above amount. The boy went to town as quick as ever man flew over the old Mission road, and proceeded at once to the Sheriff's office and gave a detailed description of the robbers and the affair. Mr. Rowland and Under Sheriff Albert Johnson at once made arrangements for a pursuit, entertaining no doubt but that it was Vasquez and his gang of freebooters. In less than a quarter of an hour a number of fleet horses had been procured and saddled, and a party, composed of officers Sands, Harris, Hartley, Redona, and Benites and Mr. Rodgers and Chautes, led by Mr. Rowland, proceeded out toward the neighborhood of the outrage. In less than half an hour the pursuing party arrived within sight of Mr. Reppetto's house, and quick as a flash five men mounted their horses, and galloped in the direction of the upper Arroyo Seco, the Rowland party giving hot pursuit.

"While all this exciting work was going on, Charles Miles and John Osborne, who had been hauling some piping material out to the lands of the Orange Grove Association, were quietly jogging on toward home. Now, if you had told these two gentlemen that Vasquez was within gunshot of them they would have laughed in your face. But all of a sudden, up dashed two men, cached armed with a Henry rifle and a six shooter, and, in English, demanded a halt. Osborne thought it was a joke, and carelessly dropped the rein on his sorrel, so as to increase its pace. In doing so be drove right into three more of the bandits, who gave him to understand that he proceeded further at great peril. Vasquez, quick as thought, made his appearance on the near side, and covered Osborne with a Henry rifle, which little maneuver caused the smiling face of Miles to elongate a trifle. Then he smiled again; and then, as a Henry rifle, seemingly as big as a Dahlgren gun, [coiled?] around his left ear, he drew on that Platonic countenance again, and began to view the scene from a 'business' standpoint. Two of the highwaymen dismounted, while Vasquez and the two men who did not dismount covered the victims in the wagon with their rifles and six-shooters. 'Hand out your money!' said Vasquez, 'and hurry up, for there are a dozen men coming this way.' Mr. Miles declared that he hadn't got a cent with him, which elicited from the accommodating knight of the road, 'Then I'll take that watch!'

"At this juncture the urbane City Water Collector looked first at his own English hunting lever, and then at Osborne's, because, you see, he didn't know exactly which chronometer suited the fancy of the California Duval. But the latter, in order to create no hard feelings or misunderstandings in the matter, took both of them. About three dollars and a half in United States silver coin, also, was donated, and then the outfit was permitted to depart, the robbers, in the meantime, perceiving the Harris and Sands party at the top of the hill about a thousand yards off, dashing off in a different direction.

"Los Angeles was wild during that afternoon, and all sorts of rumors gained credence, among which was shat 'James Pipes, of Pipesville,' had been killed.

"About three o'clock Rowland, after locating his forces as best he could, returned to town for reinforcements. Believing that, with a proper number of men at his command, he would succeed in effecting a capture. In a few moments General Baldwin and two other men, and Constable Bryant and three others, were equipped, and in the line of pursuit."

TIBURCIO VASQUEZ
IN CUSTODY 1874-1875

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Ben Truman Jailhouse Interview

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Jail Life

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Final Statement to Sheriff Adams

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