Santa Cruz County History - Crime & Public Safety

"Charole"-- Part 4
by Phil Reader


The action of the vigilantes may have put an end to Pedro Lorenzana's life, but it also effectively ended the murder case against Jose Rodriguez. They had hushed up the prosecution's only witness so that when his trial was held, the jury found Rodriguez not guilty of the charge of murder without even retiring for deliberations. No witness, no case. But this was not the last that Santa Cruz County was to hear from Jose Rodriguez.

Following his escape from the posse, Faustino Lorenzana lit out for southern San Benito County where he went into hiding near the Panoche Valley in an area known as Vallecitos. This was a favorite hang out for a number of the Spanish bandido gangs. From there, they could safely raid the ranches on both sides of the Coast Range and the San Joaquin Valley, for seldom would a lawman dare to venture into this rugged territory. A decade earlier, Joaquin Murrieta had brought his horse gangs to this hideout, and now Tiburcio Vasquez was a frequent visitor.

It was a common practice among these outlaws to assume a gang name or a nickname. So many of them were wanted men that it was deemed unwise to use their real names for fear of discovery. The nickname given to Lorenzana at this time was "Charole", said to mean "the lantern that leads."

He rode with Vasquez, Procopio, Juan Soto and others throughout the region stealing every head of livestock which they could get their hands on. A favorite target of the gangs was the Miller and Lux ranch which lay at the foot of the Coast Range. The spread was so large that they did not seem to miss the many dozen heads of cattle that the rustlers ran off.

Even though there was a price on his head, "Charole" would sneak back into Santa Cruz from time to time in order to visit his family. On these occasions he would usually stay at the ranch of his brother Mattias. During one such clandestine visit during the fall of 1865, he was holed up in an old cabin on the back side of the ranch. Sheriff Ambrose Calderwood received an anonymous tip telling him where "Charole" could be found. Wishing to collect the $800 in reward money, he rode up to the outlaw's lair.

It was dark by the time he arrived at the ranch and he found that the cabin was not lighted. Calderwood tied his horse to a nearby tree and proceeded to edge his way across the porch. Drawing his pistol, he cautiously entered the building. Suddenly Lorenzana pounced on him from out of the darkness and a fierce hand to hand struggle occurred.

The sheriff squeezed off one shot before being struck repeatedly with a large knife. The bullet took effect as "Charole" staggered during the attack. Unable to pull the trigger again, Calderwood swung the barrel again and again making contact with his assailant. But the wounded outlaw completely overpowered him, knocking him to the floor, and jamming the knife once more into his shoulder. By the time the lawman got to his feet, Lorenzana was gone.

Defeated, Sheriff Calderwood made his way back to town with blood flowing from three deep knife wounds in his body. It would be more than a month before he could get back on the job. The desperate encounter also left him partially blind in one eye.

"Charole" remained in hiding up in the Santa Cruz Mountains while he recovered from the bullet wound in his upper arm. His friends and family brought him food and ammunition, and kept him well supplied with information on the latest movements by the local law enforcement officers. He let his hair grow long and disguised himself with a heavy beard. He made an occasional trip down to Vallecitos to sell the horses that he would steal during his raids on the ranches around Santa Cruz and in the Pajaro Valley.

On the night of May 17, 1866, he corralled several horses and mules from the residence of the Widow Shearer near Waddell Creek and drove them to his mountain camp above the Laguna district, north of Santa Cruz. Upon getting a report of the crime, newly-elected sheriff Albert Jones, who knew Lorenzana by sight, decided to try his hand at collecting the reward.

He rode up the coast and tracked the bandit for a couple of miles back into the hills. Upon rounding a sharp turn in the narrow trail, he was taken by surprise when "Charole" suddenly stepped into the path, covering him with a pistol. He ordered the sheriff to throw down his weapon and dismount.

The lawman hastily complied with the demands as Lorenzana continued to point the pistol in his direction. Growling that he knew the sheriff was out to get him for the reward money, the desperado warned him never to attempt it again.

"It is not my intention to be captured!" he said,

at the same time acknowledging that he had indeed shot and killed Jack Sloan. Then gathering up the discarded arms, he brazenly mounted the sheriff's horse and rode away leaving the fortunate, and highly embarrassed Al Jones to walk most of the way back to Santa Cruz.

During the summer of 1869, "Charole" was leading a gang of horse thieves and cutthroats in the Santa Clara Valley. One day while driving a herd of stolen horses near the Alviso farm of John O'Hara, he spotted Mrs. O'Hara standing in front of the house. On an impulse, he rode up, threw a lasso around her waist, and began to drag the hapless woman down the road.

She probably would have died except for the fact that her cries for help were heard by her husband who happened to be working in a nearby field. He swiftly jumped on his horse and dashed after them firing as he rode. One of the bullets struck Lorenzana in the chest, causing him to drop the rope.

"Charole" beat a hasty retreat down to the Panoche Valley where he quickly recovered from the wound, the pistol ball lodging under the skin near the breast bone. He moved his operations to Santa Barbara County and went right back to work stealing livestock.

These activities quickly gained him the animosity of all the neighboring ranchers, especially that of Juan Rodrigues of Rancho La Carpenteria. The two men quarreled loudly whenever they met. Lorenzana boasted that he was going to catch Rodrigues alone sometime and kill him.

During the first week of August, 1870, "Charole" made one last trip up to the Santa Clara Valley. He returned driving about twenty head of the finest horses he could siphon from herds in the area. However, he didn't know that he was being followed back to Santa Barbara by a detective from San Jose.

The lawmen went to the court of Justice Cooley and had a warrant issued for the arrest of Faustino Lorenzana on a charge of grand larceny. It was then given to Deputy O. N. Ames to attempt to make the arrest.

Early in the morning of August 29, 1870, Deputy Ames gathered together a posse of eight men, who armed themselves and set out after their quarry. They had been informed by one of the vaqueros from La Carpenteria that the desperado had attended an all night fandango at Montecito about three miles south of Santa Barbara. After drinking heavily, he had gone up to a ravine near a ranch known as the "Grape Vine" and passed out under a tree.

When the posse arrived at the spot he was still asleep, but upon their approach he bolted upright and drew the two pistols that he carried in his belt. A running gun battle ensued as "Charole" backed up the ravine for about two hundred yards while exchanging shots with his pursuers. Just as he reached the bushes, he was hit squarely in the head with a bullet and fell over dead.

Later when the coroner examined the lifeless body, he found that the outlaw had been hit no less then sixteen times. He was covered with scars from numerous old knife fights and bullet wounds. "Charole" was then buried in an unmarked grave on the very spot where he had fallen. So it was that Faustino Lorenzana, the greatest of Los Bandidos de Branciforte, died with his boots on, fulfilling his pledge not to be taken alive.

But the Lorenzana story does not end here. There is a strange epilogue to this tale which occurred almost thirty years after the killing of Jack Sloan at Arana Gulch.

On the morning of July 17, 1895, a lady and her daughter, residents of the Live Oak district, were driving their buggy into town. While they were crossing the bridge at the bottom of Arana Gulch they witnessed the apparition of a man walk across the road and then disappear. Mother and daughter were startled and pale with excitement when they arrived in Santa Cruz and told their story.

Among those listening to them describe the man that they had seen and the clothes that he wore was Thomas A.Sweeney. Mr. Sweeney had been a member of the Coroner's Jury which had investigated the slaying of Jack Sloan on February 11, 1865. From their description, he recognized the apparition as the ghost of Jack Sloan.

The local newspapers picked up on the story and ran a whole series of front page articles which included interviews with old timers who remembered Sloan and his three killers. It was in one of these articles that "a pioneer" told, for the first time, how the vigilantes had disposed of Pedro Lorenzana.

Over the intervening years, as the century turned and one generation of Santa Cruzans replaced another, the memories of those exciting events became obscured by the passage of time.

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.

View similarly tagged articles:

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


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