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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bandits in our Backyard


A couple years ago we were hiking up by Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary and learned about Flores Peak (pictured above) where the bandit, Juan Flores, wanted for the murder of LA Sheriff James Barton made his daring escape by leaping over its precipice in 1857.

After some digging around I found a book by Hubert H. Bancroft titled, Popular Tribunals Vol. 1, that gave some account of the murder of Sheriff Barton, Juan Flores and his capture and botched hanging. Here are some snippets:
Insecurity of life, and immorality, prevailed to an alarming extent in Los Angeles in the year 1854. The mission natives had retrograded since left to themselves, and continually gambled, drank, and quarrelled with each other; so that in the morning when natives were found dead in the streets the matter was not considered of sufficient importance to require investigation 

It being a dark night they were obliged to wait until early morning when as they were making an advance they saw Juan Flores watching their movements from an overhanging rock. He was beyond the reach of attack and proceeded on farther and higher with his men of whom all but two were on horseback. The mountains in which the Mexicans had taken refuge were almost inaccessible, even on foot, and while the Americans were following they were eluding pursuit by most reckless daring. Juan Flores, Jesus Espinosa, and Leonardo Lopez, on mounted horses, slid down a precipice to a kind of projecting ledge fifty feet below where, abandoning their animals, by the aid of brush growing upon an almost perpendicular wall, they descended five hundred feet. 

What's most fascinating is that much of it happened locally here in Orange County. You can see it for yourself up by Harding Truck Trail and also at Dripping Cave, aka "Robber's Cave", in Aliso & Woods Canyon, which was reportedly used as a hide-out by Juan Flores and his gang.

It didn't take long after looking around for info on Juan Flores that I came across Joaquin Murrieta, a Northern California bandit from around that time whose head was cut off and kept in a jar of whisky along with the hand of one of his gang members named "Three-fingered Jack" and exhibited for years.


JoaquinMurrieta-headflyer-02.jpg



According to Wikipedia, Murrieta was likely the original inspiration for Zorro.

There's even a poem about him in Joaquin Miller's Songs of the Sierras;







This poet himself has somewhat of a story. According to the LA Times, he was born "Cincinnatus Hiner Miller" who took on the name of Joaquin Murietta for marketability:

"He ditched his Indian bride and daughter, got jailed as a horse thief, busted out, shot a sheriff in Northern California. Then he turned up, just a couple of years later, as a judge in southern Oregon. Still largely unknown as a writer, he sailed across the Atlantic and sold himself to London's literati, with the aid of spurs and a sombrero, as the preeminent poet of the American West."

He was apparently a liar criticized by his contemporaries, but the writer of the Times article "Poetry from a Scoundrel's Pen" defends him:

"It's easy to forget that in the 1870s, much of California was a bloody mess of fugitives, liars, land-grabbers and mercenaries. Yet here was Miller, pausing between pillages to rhapsodize about the mountains and decry the effects of mining on the stream water."

In any case, I've ordered Songs of the Sierras and may replace a term of our AO poetry with it. 





2 comments:

  1. Fascinating! I remember seeing Flores Peak with you and yet I had forgotten all about the bandit. It was fun following the threads of your research.

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  2. How very intriguing! I don't live in CA but it was fun to learn that JM may have been the model for Zorro.

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