Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vásquez
by John Boessenecker, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2010, $34.95.
Since the medieval tales of Robin Hood, a select few criminals have operated with the benefit of a certain social stratum of the public who regarded them as heroic challengers of some established power against which they held a common grievance. Jesse James was perceived by many Missourians as a Civil War Rebel holdout as well as somebody striking back against bankers and railroad barons. Australian outlaw Ned Kelly left behind a trail of letters explaining his actions that had many residents of the outback covering his tracks from British authorities until his last stand in 1881. Similarly, Tiburcio Vásquez became an outlaw champion for Hispanics in California who harbored resentment toward the Anglos who had taken over their territory and often treated them as inferiors.
In Bandido: The Life and Times of Tiburcio Vásquez, San Francisco-based attorney and Western historian John Boessenecker draws on 41 years of research to present a detailed portrait of the man, stripped of the partisan mythologizing and rancor that followed him for much of his lifetime. To address Vásquez’s status vis-à-vis the Californios, Boessenecker traces the Vásquez family to the first settlement of Monterey County and examines the social forces that transformed Tiburcio from a well-educated, socially popular son of a landowning family into what the Chicago Tribune called at his death in 1875, “the most noted desperado of modern times.” Among the factors was an incident, related by Vásquez himself, in which the 15-year-old had an altercation with U.S. Army soldiers who were trying to kiss two of his sisters. Another was his failure to be as devout a Catholic as his mother and thus more inclined to let his resentments toward gringos fester. Above all, the author shows the extent of crime and official corruption in Monterey County during Vásquez’s formative years, practiced by Anglo-Americans, Australian penal colony alumni and Indian raiders, as well as Californios, from whom the budding bandit leader drew many role models. Accompanying Boessenecker’s usual readable and reliable text are good photos.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.