Shortly after the end of the Mexican-American War, William Rich Hutton recalled visiting Doña Angustias de la Guerra Jimeno in Monterey as a twenty-one-year-old volunteer with the U.S. occupation troops.
Doña Angustias came from a prominent Californio family and never reconciled herself to being a second-class citizen in a conquered territory. Nevertheless, Hutton described her as "witty in conversation, well read in the older Spanish literature, familiar with Calderon, Lope & Quevedo."
U.S. soldiers were not only calling on Doña Angustias for literary reasons, though. According to Hutton,
Her daughter Manuelita was a universal favorite — and several of the young officers were captured by her intelligence and the charming simplicity of her ways" .
The fact that Californio families were entertaining U.S. military officers speaks to the ambiguity of those families’ response to the U.S. invasion. Although they suffered defeat and occupation, they were already accustomed to friendly relations with Americans. Traders from the East Coast visited often during the years of the hide and tallow trade, some settling down and marrying Californianas and raising bicultural families.
Many influential Californios had expectations of cultivating the same types of relationships with Americans after the annexation. After all, did’t the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo promise that Mexican inhabitants of Alta California the same rights and status that they had before the war?
But in the years following, the rancho economy began to decline, and new immigrants who saw crop farming as more efficient and honorable than ranching began to arrive en masse. Soon the world of the ranchero and the vaquero began to lose its cachet, and with the rise of the cash-based economy, it also began to lose financial stability. For Californio families, dependent as they were on ranching for their living, the implications were stark.
As Deborah Moreno points out in her article "’Here the Society Is United’: ‘Respectable’ Anglos and Intercultural Marriage in Pre-Gold Rush California"*, many Californio families were able to maintain and even increase their social position by forming marriage arrangements between their daughters and American men of high standing, both before and after the annexation of the territory.
But for the sons of these families the opportunities were not the same.
Tiburcio Vásquez, also from Monterey, was the great grandson of a Spanish soldier and his wife who made the 1,000 mile trek to California with the Anza Expedition of 1776. Had he been born a generation earlier, Tiburcio’s status as descendant of pobladores would have placed him in the upper levels of the social hierarchy.
Instead, the famous Californio bandido expressed the feelings of many of his contemporaries who had been too young to enjoy the heyday of the ranchos.
As I grew to manhood I was in the habit of attending balls and parties given by the native Californians, into which the Americans, then beginning to become numerous, would force themselves and shove the native born men aside, monopolizing the dance and the women.
Unlike their sisters, the likelihood of marrying into a prominent American family was low for young Californio men. And the competition for eligible females was growing with every new American male who arrived.
Their abilities as vaqueros and horsemen — so prized and necessary during the rancho era — were no longer a source of prestige. And few opportunities for acquiring wealth and status were available to them. Either sell their skills for relatively low pay as vaqueros or ranch hands or try and learn another manual trade.
Vásquez instead chose another route, one where his skills as a horseman served him well. For two decades he roamed California as a cattle rustler and a bandido, gaining notoriety among Anglo-Americans and popularity among Mexican Californians. His fame and prestige increased with every successful robbery and his life became fuel for legends and tall tales.
In an interview he gave shortly before his execution, Vázquez was clear about what motivated his choosing a life of crime: "A spirit of hatred and revenge took possession of me."
For a deeper look into the life of Tiburcio Vásquez, read Bandido by John Boessenecker.
- California History. Vol. 80, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 2-17