Did legendary bandit escape SLO posse’s clutches?

May 11, 2013 

The posse, composed of some of San Luis Obispo’s leading citizens, stealthily surrounded the camp of the bandidos. They fully expected that “Joaquin” would be the leader of the gang.

David F. Newsom, San Luis Obispo County’s first superintendent of schools, was serving as deputy sheriff and acting-county clerk in 1853.

Newsom wrote his memoirs in 1899. By that time, the name “Joaquin Murieta” had become a California legend. Newsom refers to the bandit with the surname “Murieta.” He would have said simply “Joaquin” in the spring of 1853.

Newsom recalled:
“At this time Joaquin Murieta had the Estrella (the Estrella River district east of Paso Robles) of this county as a place of rendezvous and almost nightly alarm was given that Joaquin was coming. Men, women, children and old men would make a rush for the Casa Grande (the large, rented adobe, which served as a courthouse on what is now Court Street).
The men would turn out with their firearms, and there would be a great confusion.

“A committee was formed to serve as a sheriff’s posse. Romauldo Pacheco, William E. Borland, John Patton, Julian Garcia, myself and several others … were members of the committee.

“On one occasion, the sheriff of Monterey County came down and reported the loss of several valuable horses from that vicinity and thought that he had passed them on the road. Six of us started with the Monterey sheriff to intercept them. We went to Santa Margarita and upon inquiry found that they had passed a half-hour before on their way to San Luis Obispo. We had missed them on the Cuesta.”

There was not a regular Cuesta Road in those days. Riders got up or down the grade by whatever route seemed easiest or most appropriate. 

Newsom continued:
“We returned to San Luis Obispo on the double quick and found that they had passed on to the Corral de Piedra (in Edna Valley). On we pushed, and upon inquiry at the Ranch House … were informed that there were seven of them. (We were) shown the light of their campfire at the foot of the little hill … and were informed that they had just gone there.

“We dismounted, tied our horses, and with Pacheco as captain, quietly approached their campfire. Three men were busying themselves in camp, while the others picketed out the horses.

“(Romauldo) Pacheco, the Monterey sheriff and I were to secure these three while the others of the posse were to secure the horses and the other thieves.

“We approached their camp so quietly that they had no suspicion of being followed until we covered them with our pistols. Pacheco, with his natural suavity, informed the gentlemen that they were prisoners and demanded their arms. (These) were given up without a murmur. Pacheco requested them to keep quiet and go on with their camp work. Three of the others, not suspecting anything wrong, came into camp and were secured.

“ ‘Chips’ (the late William E. Borland of Avila) came with his man and the balance of the posse came with the horses.

“We took coffee with the horse thieves (who we found to be jolly fellows). (We) then proceeded to the ranch house, mounted our horses and were about to start to San Luis Obispo, when ‘Chips’ insisted on taking his man alone. So we proceeded with the other six.

“Borland was much elated and overconfident. … When passing a clump of bushes his man dodged into them and was out of sight and hearing before ‘Chips’ could bring his gun to bear on him.
“We arrived safely with the other six. They were taken to Monterey, tried and convicted and sent to the penitentiary.”

Could the one who got away have been Joaquin? ¿Quien sabe? amigos.

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.

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