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Tiburcio Vasquez:
The Lost Bandido

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Tiburcio Vasquez: The Lost Bandido
Length: 60 Minutes


After the Mexican American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, much of the present day Southwest was ceded to the United States. The treaty for rights as citizens to the existing Mexicans living in the land, under the guise of friendship and peace, were soon forgotten. This situation created a racial conflict between Anglo Americans and the native-born Mexican community. Land and resources were the basis for the conflict. Through the life of Tiburcio Vasquez this documentary will focus on these conflicts in California.

Within this atmosphere, emerged one of most fascinating forms of Chicano resistance; the idea of the "social bandit.” These “bandidos” represented the racial and economic struggle over ownership of land during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Tiburcio Vasquez was one of the “bandidos” who refused to submit to the subordinate position forced upon Mexicans. Through the life of Tiburcio, we will examine and clarify misinterpretations of this era of United States history.

Tiburcio Vasquez was born in 1835 in Monterrey, California to a well-respected family. His grandfather was one of the first mayors of San Jose, California in the early 1800s. He was well educated for a man of his time, fluent in English, Spanish and two Native California languages. He also wrote poetry. His life as an outlaw began in 1852, when at the age of sixteen; he was accused of being one of the perpetrators in an altercation where a White sheriff was killed. Knowing well that White vigilantes would hang him without a trial, he and two other compatriots were forced to flee. One of his compatriots, Jose Higuera, was caught and hanged by White vigilantes the day after the incident. His other compatriot, Anastacio Garcia, was caught in Los Angeles six months later and brought to Monterrey, California and lynched by vigilantes. As a result, Vasquez began his life outside the law that spanned twenty-four years. In a newspaper interview, he stated, “A spirit of hatred and revenge took possession of me. I had numerous fights and in defense of what I believed to be my rights and those of my countrymen. I believed we were being deprived of the social rights that belonged to us.”

A highwayman, Tiburcio Vasquez’s activities varied from holding up individuals, stagecoaches and stores to cattle and horse rustling. During his life, he was captured and sent to San Quentin prison twice, the first time in 1857 for three years, from which he escaped twice, and the second time in 1863 for four years. He eluded his pursuers because of his horsemanship, knowledge of the terrain and protection provided by the Mexican and native community. Vasquez had a reputation of only taking from Anglo Americans. People helped him because they viewed him as “a man who robbed from the rich to give to the poor.” Vasquez also believed in the political ideology of Simon Bolivar who is considered the liberator of Latin America. He once stated that given $50,000 he would start a full-scale revolution and take back the land from the United States. However, to the authorities and White society he was no more than a murderous cutthroat.

His exploits took him through most of California. He had a reputation as a ladies man, gambler and dancer. The beginning of his downfall began in 1873 when his gang robbed Snyder’s Store in Tres Pinos, California. Three people were killed in the robbery, and an intense manhunt was initiated. Eventually, the reward for his capture was $8,000 dead or $6,000 alive, which was an astronomical sum at the time. While in the Los Angeles in 1874, Abdon Leyva, one of his lieutenants, informed the authorities of Vasquez’s whereabouts. Leyva did not turn in Vasquez for money or personal gain, but because Vasquez was having intimate relations with Leyva’s wife Rosario.

In May of 1874, Vasquez was captured and wounded in what is now Hollywood, California. He was eventually extradited to San Jose, California. Hundreds of people, mostly women, visited him in his jail cell. They brought gifts of flowers, food and wine. He took photographs while incarcerated and had postcards printed that he autographed and sold. The reporters who interviewed Vasquez were surprised by his display of fine manners and pleasant demeanor. However, not everyone was sympathetic to him. An editorial in a prominent San Jose newspaper described Vasquez as “…a vulgar, cowardly, assassin and robber.” His trial for murder in January of 1875 lasted four days and was a national sensation. He was never found guilty of murder but was sentenced to death because he was associated with the gang that had committed the killings. His hanging was scheduled for March 19, 1875 in San Jose.

Rampant rumors were spread that Mexican gangs were planning to attack San Jose to free Vasquez. None of these rumors proved to be true. On March 12, 1875 the Supreme Court of California refused his appeal and the only Latino Governor of California, Romualdo Pacheco, refused to commute his sentence. During the intense manhunt after the Tres Pino murders, Vasquez had become a national attraction. By this time an intercontinental telegraph lines was in place; and on March 20, 1875, the San Jose Mercury reported on how this affected the coverage, “The attendance of reporters was greater than any execution on the coast. Every leading newspaper had a representative,” included were several Eastern and Canadian newspapers.

On the day of the hanging thousands of people converged in San Jose for the hanging. His composure and courteous manner when he thanked his jailers for their kind treatment surprised even the most anti-Vasquez people. His last word on the gallows was, “Pronto.”

Tiburcio Vasquez was not alone in this resistance. In order for the audience to grasp the extent of the struggle for land and justice in the latter half of the nineteenth century, other outlaws will be briefly delineated. Juan “Cheno” Cortina lead a major revolt in Texas. His revolt was initiated when he stopped a White sheriff from physically abusing a Mexican. The revolt was well organized and significant enough that federal troops were brought in to quell the rebellion. Cortina was referred to by White Texans as the, “Red Robber Baron.” Eventually, he was forced to retreat into Mexico. Juan Jose Herrera from New Mexico was the leader of the Gorras Blancas. The Gorras Blancas was a clandestine organization whose primary purpose was to cut fences that were placed on former communal lands. Juan Flores from Orange County was hanged because he killed an abusive sheriff. Joaquin Murietta from California, the most famous of Mexican outlaws of this epoch, was allegedly killed by the California Rangers. His head was severed from his body and publicly displayed for an admission fee. A Mexican woman known only as Juana was the first woman hanged in California by a White mob for killing a White miner who had assaulted her.

The understanding of this era is complicated by myths, legends and racial biases. According to Langsford Hastings, written in 1845, “Ignorance and its concomitant, superstition, together with suspicion and superciliousness, constitute the chief ingredients of the Mexican character.” Consequently, for the purposes of this documentary, different perspectives from newspaper accounts and historians will be used. The narrator of the documentary will read quotes from books and newspaper to present the status quo perspective. Letters from members of the Mexican community and Spanish language newspapers will also be read to provide a contrasting political and cultural perspective. When Spanish is spoken English subtitles will be inserted.

Because of the wealth of newspaper interviews given by Vasquez after his final capture in 1873 a voiceover will read quotes from his interviews. This will allow Vasquez to “come alive” and dramatize in his own words his emotions, motives and reasons for his actions. Historians and writers will be interviewed to document the cultural and societal atmosphere of the times. The role law enforcement officials who were in involved in the pursuit of Vasquez, such as Sheriff Rowland from Los Angeles County, Sheriff Henry Morse from Alameda County and Sheriff Adams from Santa Clara County will also be dramatized. Vasquez’s descendents will also be interviewed to provide a historical link between the past and present day Chicano population.

Stills (i.e. photographs, postcards, illustrations and newspaper articles) from the mid-to-late nineteenth century will be utilized to provide the visual effects. Since archival footage is not available for this historical period, animation will be employed to create action and to reenact selected historical events. We will use 2D animation. This will be done by scanning hand-drawn illustrations and digitally manipulating them. Clips from Western films and television programs will be used to give examples of biases and stereotypes of Chicanos by the media and the entertainment industry.

Authentic music of the era will be composed to create a cultural atmosphere of musical styles and traditions for the period, one of which is a popular form of folk Mexican music known as the corrido (narrative ballad). Corridos will be used in selected scenes to aid in the progression of the narrative. Popular music and songs of Anglo Americans of the period will also be utilized. The sound design will also be composed for dramatization, atmosphere, and action and when appropriate, will reflect the musical styles of both Mexican and Anglo American cultures.


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