Santa Cruz County History - People

A Walk Through Time: Robert Liddell
by Janet Krassow and
by Randy Krassow

Robert "Bob" Liddell was a hard-bitten lawman who shot it out with the infamous bandit chief Tiburcio Vasquez, and lived to tell about it. As a matter of fact, he was standing on the scaffold when the desperado was hanged at San Jose in 1875.

Liddell was the scion of a pioneer Santa Cruz family who came from England in 1851 and built a sawmill near Davenport along the creek that now bears the family name. Always a man of action, Liddell was named the town night watchman during the 1860s, at a time when Santa Cruz had some tough characters roaming the streets after dark.

Photograph of the Memorial for Robert Liddell
The Memorial for Robert Liddell

His encounter with Tiburcio Vasquez occurred on the night of September 10, 1871. Vasquez and his gang were hiding out in the Santa Cruz Mountains after robbing a stagecoach near Hollister. One of his band, Santa Cruz native Narciso Rodriquez, had been captured in Salinas and was sitting idly in the Santa Cruz County jail awaiting trial.

Vasquez decided a jailbreak was in order, so he and two gang members, Francisco Barcenas and Garcia Rodriguez, rode into town heavily armed. At the corner of Ocean and Water Street, they stopped at a brothel for a little entertainment. The madame of the house refused to let the ruffians in , so they drew their weapons and opened fire on the building, shooting out all of the windows before riding off.

Across the San Lorenzo River, Bob Liddell was on duty, and at the sound of the gunshots, hurried to the scene and then followed the bandits' trail into town. Just as Liddell entered the lower plaza -- the junction of Pacific Avenue, Front Street and Water Street -- Vasquez and his men rode into view. At this, everyone pulled out their guns and bullets began to fly.

During the shootout, Liddell took a pistol ball in the upper leg and fell to the ground, but just as he went down, he took aim and shot Vasquez though the chest. Seeing their leader wounded, the gang retreated down Front Street, firing wildly at the buildings as they rode out of town. Meanwhile, Liddell was taken to a nearby saloon where his injury was treated.

Within a few weeks, Liddell's leg had healed and he was back on the job. In later years, he moved to the city of Fresno, where he died on November 14, 1917 at the age of 79. His body was returned to Santa Cruz for burial at Santa Cruz Memorial Park.

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