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Chapter 9: Capitan Vasquez.

The story of Tiburcio Vasquez is the legend of his race in light and shade.

Born in Monterey county, thirty-nine years ago, Vasquez is by birth a Mexican, and owes no fealty to the United States. His father, a mixed blood, like his neighbours, lived on a small farm called Los Felix, not far from Monterey. A poor school, kept by a drowsy priest, in Sleepy Hollow, offered him the only teaching he ever got. He learned to read a little, to recite his creed, and curse the heretics who came into his port for trade. Though ignorant of arts and men, he grew apace in animal strength and animal appetite. Like his Indian mothers, he was fleet of foot; like his Mexican fathers, he could catch a wild horse. Early in life, he learned to use the knife, and not one damsel in [78] a score could tire him in bolero and fandango. The fandango was his favourite dance.

The produce of Los Felix satisfied his father's wants; but the unhappy boy was fretting from a fever in his blood. White men came into Monterey, who took to building jetties, making roads, and opening schools. Such men were devils in his sight; intruders on his soil, and enemies of his Church. A rough and ready lot, with brawny arms and saucy tongues, these strangers pushed and shoved, and put on airs which drove the young hybrid mad with rage and hate. What right had they to come into his town, and edge their way into his drinking bars? A fretful spirit led him into strife; and when he flew at the “white devils” these white devils cuffed and kicked and hustled him to the wall.

“ As I grew up,” he says of himself, “ I went to balls and parties, given by natives, to which Americans came, shoving our men about, and trying to get our women from us. A desire for vengeance seized me like a demon.” The patriot, so jealous ,of his women, was fifteen years of age!

Next year, being now sixteen, he opened a saloon and killed his first White man. White men [79] came into his den, who quaffed his liquor, won his coin, and pattered with his girls. Speaking of these days, he says, “ The white men cuffed and kicked me. They took my sweethearts by the waist and kissed them to my face. I fought them in defence of what I felt to be my rights, and those of my companions, natives of the soil. I fled and hid myself. The officers of justice followed me. For what? For wanting to enjoy my own.”

His passion grew with age; a dark and sullen jealousy taking full possession of his soul. “For some time I went on doggedly, shoving those who shoved me, keeping my sweethearts at my side, and drinking where I liked and as I liked. One night there was a row, and then I left the town.”

A man was killed. Seeing a fight going on, an officer interfered, when Vasquez plunged a knife into his heart. The murderer fled from Monterey.

“ Getting a herd of kine,” he says, “I went to Mendocino county, in the north, three hundred miles from Monterey; but even in the north I was not left alone in peace. White men pursued me to my ranch; but I escaped unhurt and fled into the woods. Then I resolved to change my course. It [80] was their fault, not mine. They would not let me work — in future I would steal.”

A good Catholic, Vasquez set out for Los Felix, where his mother lived, to tell her of his purpose and invoke her blessing on his plan. “My mother loves me much, and will not fail me now,” he whispered as he pushed along. Arriving at the ranch, he slipped into her room, and falling on his knees told her his tale. “I am about to go into the world, and take my chance” --a Mexican way of saying he was going on the roads to rob mails and shoot passengers. His mother, Guadalupe Cantua, was a half-breed woman from the San Benito hills, above Los Angeles. She understood her son. He meant to live on other people, taking what he wanted from them, and she feared her boy might suffer at their hands. Like a true Mexican she blessed him to his task, and placed him under the protection of her saints.

“I got my mother's blessing,” says the brigand, “and from that day I began to rove and rob.”

Going into the hills of San Benito, where his kindred lived, he first fell in with Capitan Soto, and engaged to serve him in stealing mustangs. He [81] was soon a master of his craft, a favourite of his chief. With Capitan Soto, he was taken prisoner, and got five years in San Quentin. With Capitan Soto, he broke prison, but in three weeks he was again in jail. Six years of San Quentin failed to cool his blood. When he came out of jail, his cousin Leiva, and some other lads about Los Felix, preferring theft to labour, gathered at his heels and made him captain of their gang. Hating the whites as only the sons of white men and dark women do, these youngsters called themselves patriots, and talked of making California too hot for such “pale devils” to endure. They stopped a mail and stripped the passengers of watches, rings, and coin. A something new to the settlers in the method of this robbery made the name of Vasquez known in every ranch and mine in California. Dashing at the stage, he bade the passengers alight, sit down in a row some feet apart, and cross their feet and wrists. One fellow made a noise. “I shot him in the leg,” says Vasquez, “not to hurt him, but to keep up discipline.” Taking from his belts some leather thongs, Vasquez tied each pair of feet and wrists, and having [82] robbed his captives, rolled them on their backs and put blankets on their faces while he rifled the stage. He then galloped to the hills, leaving his prisoners tied and writhing on the ground.

It was a new and daring act, more grateful to the Half-breed natives, as they heard that the loss of money was forgotten in the burning sense of shame.

“With seven inside the stage, and two outside, the driver and the guard, how came you to sit down in the mire and let three robbers tie you up?” I ask a man who happened to have been riding with the mail that day.

“The cause is simple,” he explains, “so simple that it never fails. You know, we English and Americans are strangers in the land. No traveller can trust his fellow. Each of the seven persons inside the coach that day, believed the other six passengers were members of the band. Before we knew the truth, their thongs were on our wrists, their rifles at our heads.”

At twenty-eight, Capitan Vasquez was already the talk of every dancing-room from Santa Clara to Los Angeles. “ I did it all myself, by my own valour; I, the bravest of the brave!” he says. Dark eyes [83] looked up to him, and dusky arms were clasped about his neck.

Leiva, his cousin, followed him like a dog. Soto implored him to rejoin the band, horse-lifting for the Mexican markets being a profitable trade. By turns he played each game; now stealing horses from the herd, now robbing store and stage; but always squandering his ill-gotten gains on dice and drink. No scruple as to shedding blood arrested him. If any one stood out, he shot him through the heart. Among his deeds of blood was the murder of a poor Italian, whom he robbed and slew at the Enriquita mines.

For four years this brigand kept his country in alarm. As fleet of foot as other men are in the saddle, and as much at home in the saddle as other men are in easy chairs, he mocked at city rangers and defied the hue and cry. At length he fell into a snare; the charge was stealing horses; a third time he was sentenced to four years imprisonment in San Quentin. At the end of three years, a legislature, not too hard on robbers, passed an act of clemency which set him free once more. When he came out, more like a savage than ever, [84] a band was gathered about him and reduced to order. Vasquez took the chief command, with Leiva as his first lieutenant. Chavez was his second lieutenant, Castro and Morena were his principal scouts. Leiva had a young and pretty wife, Rosalia, who rode with them into the woods, and shared the pleasures and privations of their camp.

Senora Rosalia was a niece by marriage of Sefiora Cantua, and a gossip of the whole Vasquez family at Los Felix. Love led her into sin and crime. Fidelity to wedded vows is not a virtue of her race, and Vasquez was a hero in all female eyes. A fearless rider, an untiring dancer, a deadly shot, and a successful brigand, her cousin had nearly all the qualities most admired by Mexicans, whether male or female. Everybody talked of him, everybody feared him. Living by plunder, he had always men, and nearly always money, at his command. What Half-breed female could resist a man so gifted and so great?

“Capitan Vasquez never sighed in vain,” he says, “to either sefiora or seiorita.” A story, current since his capture, implies that he was [85] driven into his evil courses through the seduction of his young wife by a White man. This story is untrue. Though boasting of as long a list of amours as Don Juan, the Capitan smiles with scorn and pity when you ask him about his wife and child.

“A child, but not a wife,” he says; “I love my girls like a man; but never could be tied to any one female skirt.”

“ Then it is false that your wife was taken from you by an English settler?”

“ False; yes, false. I never had a wife.”

His scorn of married love is said to be one great element in his success with women.

Rosalia loved him as a brigand chief, and her attachment helped to keep him in the field. He wished to please her eye and gratify her pride. On leaving San Quentin with a pardon, given to him on a promise of good behaviour, his jailers believed that he intended to redeem his pledge. By staying at home, he might have put Los Felix into order; but the presence of his mistress in the neighbourhood unstrung his mind. Rosalia loved him for his daring deeds; and how, whilst drudging on a [86] farm, could he approve himself a hero in Rosalia's sight? To hold her, he must fly into the hills.

Choice led him to the heights above Los Angeles, in the vicinity of that San Benito peak from which his mother sprang, among the ins and outs of which Leiva and Rosalia were at home.

Some rival bands were in the district, led by Capitan Soto. On hearing that the rangers of Los Angeles were out, Vasquez joined his old leader, when a brush took place, in which the banditti were severely mauled. Vasquez fled across the frontier into Mexico, leaving Rosalia to her husband's care. On his return, after the death of Soto and the capture of Procopio, Vasquez rejoined Rosalia at Rock Creek, the caves and woods of which became his camp, proposing to avenge his slaughtered chief and captured friend. His plan was to announce his presence in the district by a sudden blow; a blow that should be echoed through the land. He had to rouse his people, and to show them they had still a leader in their front. A great crime, swiftly planned and promptly done, would tell his race what kind of man he [87] was, and raise up friends for him in every wayside hut and every mountain pass.

Rosalia and her husband w ere consulted on his scheme of robbery and murder, and they both assented to the deed which made the name of Tres Pinos roll and echo through the land.

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