Vigilante justice on the Central Coast

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneJuly 6, 2013 

The Committee of Vigilance transformed Mission Plaza into a public court and a place of execution in June 1858.

The first thing the committee did was to build a makeshift outdoors “courtroom” and gallows.

Then it placed the noose around Joaquin Valenzuela’s neck. His death warrant states that “The San Luis Obispo Executive Committee of Vigilance, after hearing the evidence in the case of Joaquin Valenzuela, alias Joaquin Ocomorenia [sic], do find him to be the same person for whose apprehension a reward was offered by the Governor . . . and who was one of the objects of the search made by Harry Love’s company of rangers.”

Our vigilantes believed that Valenzuela was one of the notorious “Five Joaquins” pursued by Capt. Harry Love, who claimed to have captured and killed Joaquin Murieta. Love claimed to have killed Valenzuela in the battle on Cantua Creek in the San Joaquin Valley on July 25, 1853.

Perhaps he lived to be killed another day in San Luis Obispo, five years later.

El Mesteño (Luciano Tapia) was the next to be tried. Andrea Baratie identified him as a member of the bandit gang. He was found guilty and signed a confession, He was given last rites by Father Juan Comapla, the priest from the Mission. He was then strung up on the gallows at the southwest end of the Mission.

Doña Ramona Carrillo de Pacheco de Wilson was the grand dame of our mission pueblo.

Her two story adobe with its Monterey-style balcony stood on the corner of Broad and Monterey streets, directly across from the Mission at the site of our present-day Carnegie Library and History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

Doña Ramona considered it her Christian duty to protect the children of the pueblo in this time of violence. She invited each and every child to her home.

An oral tradition about this was passed on to me by Dorothy Unangst Bilodeau, the granddaughter of Walter Murray.

Dorothy recalled the story as related to her by her mother, Anita Murray Unganst: “When the time came to hang the bandidos, Doña Ramona urged the children to come out onto the balcony. She told them to cover their eyes and pray for the souls of the unfortunate men who were fated to slowly strangle in the wind.

“The makeshift gallows was scarcely more than spitting distance from the children.

“Each child dutifully covered his or her eyes, leaving ample space between each finger permitting a full view of the gory proceedings.”

Another posse captured Jose Antonio Garcia, and his fate was identical to that of El Mesteño’s.
 
On June 9, 1858, with at least two posses in the field searching for them, Pío Linares and his henchmen, Blanco, Grijalva and El Huero fled to the Los Osos rancho of Captain John Wilson. On the morning of June 10, El Huero tried to bribe one of Wilson’s shepherds to bring him some food. The shepherd quickly informed Wilson. Wilson sent word into San Luis Obispo.

Three days later, Capt. David Mallagh organized a fresh posse of vigilantes. The posse pursued the bandits into the thick brush of a wooded area on the west side of Los Osos Valley Road near Turri Road, not far from where the Portola Expedition killed three bears in 1769.

An enormous gunbattle ensued. Linares was finally struck in the head. Blanco and Grijalva were captured. El Huero disappeared without a trace.

Nieves Robles was captured by Romauldo Pacheco Jr. in Los Angeles. On June 28, he made a confession before the Vigilante Court in San Luis Obispo and was summarily hanged.

In 1875, Pacheco became first person of Mexican-American descent to serve as governor of California.

Frolian Servin, Rafael Herrada, nicknamed El Huero, Jesus Valenzuela and Jack Powers disappeared. Powers was the real ringleader of the bandit gang that had terrorized the El Camino Real from San Juan Bautista to Santa Barbara.

A form of justice awaited each.

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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