County banditos couldn’t outrun death

June 29, 2013 

The creeks of San Luis Obispo County ran red with the blood of those who dared to travel in 1858.

That spring, the Jack Powers-Pío Linares gang struck again along San Juan Creek near Shandon in the northeastern section of the county.

Bartolo Baratie and M. Jose Borel, the owners of the Camate Ranch, were digging a well when they were surrounded by eight members of the gang. Borel was shot dead.

Then, Santos Peralta killed Baratie before the horrified eyes of his new wife.

Rafael Herrada, nicknamed El Huero (the blond or light-skinned one) was acting as leader of the gang. He ordered El Mesteño (Luciano Tapia was better known as “The Mustang” because of his strength) and Frolian Servin to take the two vaqueros into the hills and kill them. Instead, Servin and El Mesteño set the vaqueros free.

El Mesteño told Andrea Baratie to get on a horse and he would “save her.” He then boasted to his comrades that he was going to take the woman into the hills, have his pleasure of her, and then kill her. 

Instead El Mesteño took her to the adobe of Julian Chavez, a sheep rancher in Monterey County, who in turn put her on the northbound stage at San Juan Bautista.

The now widowed Andrea Baratie returned to her home in Oakland, nine days after the murders. It wasn’t until she felt safe in her family home that she would say anything about what had occurred.

On a happy note, Andrea Baratie later married San Luis Obispo Postmaster Alexander Murray, brother of Walter Murray, who is a major player in our story.

Meanwhile, the remaining members of El Huero’s gang murdered Jack Gilkey, a hunter living in Camate Canyon, to prevent his acting as a witness of their presence in the region. The party then returned to San Luis Obispo.

Then, Ysidro Silvas, the vaquero whose life had been spared, rode to the Huero-Huero Rancho of Captain David Mallagh (who also built the wharf at Cave Landing — now Pirates Cove), near present day Creston. Mallagh immediately took Silvas to San Luis Obispo where Sheriff Francisco Castro walked the vaquero through the town searching for suspects. Silvas spotted Santos Peralta. Peralta had stolen property in his possession, but steadfastly refused to identify the names of his associates. He was taken to the County Jail, which was then at the end of the Old Mission colonnade at Monterey and Broad streets.

Walter Murray later wrote, “That night we visited the jail and endeavored to make the assassin disclose his accomplices. He was silent as the grave. We left him hanging from the roof of his cell.”

The next morning Sheriff Castro and Mallagh formed a posse and spotted El Huero, Miguel Blanco, Frolian Servin and Desiderio Grijalva on Pío Linares’ ranch just outside of town. The four jumped from their horses and vanished in the thick chaparral. The posse then scoured the entire Central Coast looking for the miscreants. They discovered Joaquin Valenzuela working at the Rancho San Emigdio in what is now Kern County. He was arrested purely on the basis of his reputed associations with Powers and Linares in the past.
 
Later, the posse surrounded Pío Linares’ adobe, setting fire to it. Linares jumped from the flames, his rifle in his hand. He somehow managed to escape. Rewards exceeding $3,000 led to the capture of El Mesteño as he returned to San Luis Obispo.

Murray, Mallagh, merchants Sam Pollard, John J. Simmler, William Beebe and Pismo rancher John Michael Price formed a Committee of Vigilance to determine the fate of the “criminals” as they were captured. 

Eventually 148 men joined the vigilantes. Sixty-two of the names were Hispanic.  The community as a whole would no longer tolerate the endemic lawlessness of the “Barrio of the Tiger.”

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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