Santa Cruz County History - Crime & Public Safety

"Charole"--The Life of Branciforte Bandido Faustino Lorenzana
by Phil Reader


In 1885 a reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel asked ex-sheriff Charlie Lincoln who was the most notorious character that he had encountered during his tenure in office. After a short pause the former "boy sheriff" reached back into his memory and called forth

"...Faustino Lorenzana, he made a regular business out of horse stealing, but we could never catch him"... "He and one of the Rodriguez boys were concerned in the killing of Jack Sloan. This was in 1865."

Indeed this was the case, because no sheriff's posse or vigilante mob could ever take Lorenzana, and any number of them tried. He fought it out with four Santa Cruz sheriffs: John T. Porter, Ambrose Calderwood, Albert Jones, and Charlie Lincoln.

Even Matt Tarpy and his hooded vigilance committee trailed him around the countryside but none could ever lay a hand on him. Sometimes operating with the Rodriguez brothers and sometimes in the company of his infamous cousin Tiburcio Vasquez, he roamed throughout central California doing just about whatever he pleased.

To the staid "yankees" of Santa Cruz he was a horse thief and murderer - plain and simple. His depredations were not to be tolerated. After the Sloan killing the State of California offered a $500 reward for his capture and the County of Santa Cruz added another $300, making him the most sought after man in the history of the County.

However across the San Lorenzo River, to the Spanish people of the Pueblo de Branciforte he was a son, a brother, a cousin, a childhood friend, and a neighbor. They secreted him in their homes when he was in the area, and brought food and other supplies up to his many mountain hideouts. He was called "Charole," said to mean the "lantern that leads."

In time he achieved a certain degree of stature as a hero and legendary bandit to the people of old Branciforte. Some of the Spaniards even named their children after him. He was a game fighter, loyal to his friends, and in the end, like most legendary bandits, he died with his boots on.

But just what was he really? A hero? Legend? A good boy gone bad? Or a cold blooded killer? The answer to this question may never be known because what he was depends upon whom you ask.

Faustino de Jesus Lorenzana was born January 15, 1835 at his parents adobe at Branciforte. He was the eleventh child of Macedonio Lorenzana and Romualda Lorenzana y Vasquez.

His father was a full-blooded Menteranea Indian who had been born at Mexico City in 1787 (?)]. Orphaned as a child, he was raised at the famous Lorenzana Orphanage in Mexico City. Like all other foundlings he was given the surname Lorenzana, a practice which was quite common at the time.

On June 2, 1800 he sailed, in the company of several other children, from San Blas for Alta California on the frigate Concepcion. Upon arrival he was placed in the home of Francisco Castro, a resident of San Jose. While still in his teens he joined the Spanish Army and was stationed at the garrison in San Francisco. On June 8, 1816 he married Maria Romualda Vasquez at Mission Santa Clara. She was the daughter of Antonio Vasquez and Maria Leocadia, an Indian neophyte of the Mission.

In 1828 the Lorenzana family moved to Branciforte where Macedonio served the pueblo in various capacities, including secretary in 1835 and 1839, a member of the council in 1838, and second alcalde in 1845 and 1846. Before his death in 1863, he sired sixteen children by Romualda.

Their son Faustino spent his childhood years in the company of his many brothers and cousins prowling about Branciforte. The pueblo was a sleepy little village which was the center of activities for the numerous ranchos which were spread out around it. The only formal education he received was from the padres at the small Mission school across the river from Branciforte. Even this was scant and of a religious nature.

His real education came at the hands of the vaqueros who tended the vast herds of cattle roaming across the area. From them he learned horsemanship, the use of a pistol, a riata, a branding iron, and the many other arts and sciences of the rodeo. When he was old enough, he went to work on his father's farm next to Branciforte Creek and at the Rodriguez' Ranchos in the Live Oak district.

The 1830s and 1840s were a good time for a Spanish boy to grow up in California. Indeed there was plenty of hard work to be done, but what young Lorenzana enjoyed most were the weekends in the pueblo. There were bear and bull fights which were held in a special ring down on the flats between Branciforte Creek and the San Lorenzo River, and scrub races along the main street of the pueblo. Gambling on these events was always heavy.

Photograph of Tiburcio Vasquez
Tiburcio Vasquez

The horse races attracted many of the young vaqueros from all around the central coast. One who rode over from Monterey was Faustino's cousin Tiburcio Vasquez. He was a superb horseman and always a popular rider during the matches.

Weekends at the pueblo would invariably feature a fandango complete with it's music, dancing, drinking, gambling, and general rough-housing. It was a special occasion filled with gaiety and merriment where quite often knives were drawn in anger as two young men squared off during the course of an argument over a card game or the attentions of a young lady. Pride played a great part in such quarrels.

The Lorenzanas, like most of the young men of Branciforte, were a rough and tumble lot, excitable, sometimes quick to anger, and always seeking an adventure. But they were a close knit family who always watched one another's backs and protected their own. Most of the boys found themselves in trouble with the law at sometime. Usually for some petty offense which they received a small fine or a few days in jail. But the eldest Jose Jesus was arrested twice on assault charges, Facundo, a talented musician, for grand larceny and assault, and Juan who served six years in San Quentin for the murder of George Wise at the Refugio Rancho in 1862. But it was Faustino who was to really to make a name for himself.

His first known brush with the law came in December of 1859, when he was 24 years of age. Sheriff John T. Porter was called over to Branciforte to break up a drunken brawl which was taking place at a Saturday night fandango. As he stepped in with his pistol at the ready, all of the belligerents backed down except Faustino, who was cursing loudly in Spanish. It was necessary for Porter and his men to jump Lorenzana and drag him bodily off to jail. This was to be the only time that he would ever submit to arrest.

At the time, the jail was a small wooden building located at the upper plaza near the old Mission. It consisted of two cells made of timbers about one foot thick and lined with sheet iron. There were no windows and only one door, fitted with a large lock. The County did not employ a jailor, so the key to the jail was in the possession of a citizen who would take the prisoners out to a restaurant twice a day for their meals.

While awaiting trial, Faustino Lorenzana and two fellow prisoners managed to pick the lock to their cells and make good their escape. After several days of freedom he returned to his family's home at Branciforte where he was recaptured and brought back to jail.

Charole, Part 2.

From: It Is Not My Intention to Be Captured. Copyright 1991 Phil Reader. Reproduced with the permission of Phil Reader. Photographs courtesy of Phil Reader.

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Arana Gulch, Branciforte, criminals, murder, trials, vigilantes


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