Tiburcio Vasquez was born Jose Jesus Lopez in 1835 in Monterey, California. He attended school in Monterey. In 1854 Jose and a friend, Anastacio Garcia, were engaged in a fight in a saloon which resulted in the death of a local constable. The two men fled the scene but another friend, Jose Higuera, was lynched the next day for the crime. Jose Lopez changed his name to Tiburcio Vasquez and launched into the life of a bandit. He was arrested in July 1857 for horse theft in Los Angeles and sentenced to San Quentin for five years.
On June 25, 1859 Vasquez escaped from San Quentin only to be arrested in July 1860 for stealing horses in Jackson. He was sent back to San Quentin but once again tried to escape. In September 1860 a group of prisoners including Vasquez captured a guard and tried to flee across San Francisco Bay via boat. Their attempt was thwarted, but the guard and several convicts were wounded and two were killed. Vasquez was put in irons and tossed into a dungeon. He served his term without further efforts to escape and was released in August 1863. There followed a long string of crimes associated with Vasquez but he was not arrested again until January 1867 when he was convicted of a failed attempt to rob a store in Mendocino. Again he went back to San Quentin.
Vasquez was released in January 1867. He returned to Monterey and was badly wounded in a fight with Abelardo Salazar over Salazar's wife. Vasquez fled to Cantua Creek in the Coast Range and recuperated from his wounds. On August 17, 1871, Vasquez and two of his associates robbed the Visalia stage coach between San Jose and Pacheco Pass. A posse led by Sheriff Charles Lincoln caught up with the outlaws and killed one of Vasquez gang and captured another. Vasquez was badly wounded, but escaped to his Cantua Creek hideout. Upon recovering from his wounds he gathered together a new gang and launched a new wave of robberies. On August 26, 1873, the gang robbed Snyder's Store in Tres Pinos and killed three innocent bystanders in the process. A posse led by Santa Clara Sheriff John H. Adams followed after them but to no avail. Vasquez and his gang escaped.
Vasquez string of robberies and violence continued through the end of the year and into the next. On February 25, 1874 he and his gang robbed the Bakersfield stagecoach at Coyote Holes in the Mojave Desert. Thereafter Governor Newton Booth authorized a party of man-hunters to go after Vasquez. Alameda County Sheriff Harry Morse was picked to lead the party and the state put a bounty on Vasquez head - $8,000 alive and $6,000 dead. Vasquez and his gang parted ways and Vasquez went to ground near Los Angeles in the cabin of "Greek George" Caralambo, a former camel driver. While there Vasquez seduced and made pregnant his own niece. The girl's family betrayed him to Los Angeles Sheriff William Roland and he was captured on May 13, 1874.
Following his arrest, Vasquez was photographed in a prestigious studio in San Francisco and gave innumerable interviews to writers and reporters. In one of his interviews he claimed discrimination against him and the molestation of his girl friend by Anglo-Europeans were part of the reason he turned to crime. While in jail in San Jose awaiting trial he was visited by hundreds of people. On one of the busier days he was visited by 673 people, 93 of whom were ladies. In his trial, Vasquez admitted his involvement in many of the crimes attributed to him, but denied that he had ever killed anyone. In spite of his testimony he was convicted of murder during the Tres Pinos robbery and was hanged on March 19, 1875 by Santa Clara Sheriff Adams.
It is intriguing to speculate whether Joaquin Murrieta influenced Vasquez in any way. Certainly the young Jose Lopez had heard stories of his famous predecessor. Like Murrieta before him, Vasquez had a following within the Mexican community where he was seen as a somewhat flawed Robin Hood stealing mostly from rich Anglo-Europeans and friendly toward fellow Mexicans. Unlike Murrieta, there was never any doubt that Vasquez was executed. His name did not become legend. He was buried in the old Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara and few today realize that he was once one of the most famous bandits in California.