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Jan 07

Outlaw Solomon Pico, was he the real Zorro?

Outlaws made travel by road on the Central Coast in the mid-1800s hazardous to your health.
The term outlaw implies that there is some form of capable law enforcement but in 1850 California was a newborn state. Though San Luis Obispo was a charter county the mechanics of government were not yet effective.
There were plenty of fortune seeking men who had immigrated to California and who found gold mining too strenuous.
Some had dubious backgrounds in their previous lives.
In addition the state had an population of Hispanic residents, some dispossessed and resentful in the wake of the violent change from Mexican rule to Anglo during the Mexican War.
Alisal Union School District trustees recently named an elementary school after Tiburcio Vásquez, a Monterey native convicted of murder and hanged in 1875. He was seen by others as a folk hero who fought against Anglo brutality and injustice.
Robin Hood’s movie would have a different screenplay if it had been written by the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Folk heroes or criminals, they were the bane of travel and commerce in the early days of the county until vigilantes drove them from the scene.
Some internet sources say the life story of Solomon Pico provided the template for the tale of Zorro.
His ranch was near Santa Maria. Living a dual life he would sell high priced cattle to buyers trying to profit selling to hungry gold miners. Solomon was also reputed to use his insider knowledge to rob would be cattle barons. For years bodies were found along the trail.
As time goes by and pursuit gets closer Pico moves further and further south. Eventually he ends up in Mexico. A Modesto Bee story from Oct. 10, 1962 claims Pico died in 1858, brought to justice by a Mexican firing squad. Wikipedia claims the year was 1860.
Some say ill gotten gold is buried somewhere on the mountain that bears Solomon Pico’s name.
This story comes from the Nov. 4, 1938 Daily Telegram.

From the Daily Telegram Nov. 4&5 special edition celebrating the opening of a Cuesta Grade expansion.

Early Pioneers Harassed by Desperate Outlaw Band
Death and danger lurked behind every turn of the primitive road between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara in the hectic period of the 1850s when Solomon Pico performed feats of banditry which made modern-day gangsters look pale in comparison.
Headquarters for Solomon and his hard-fighting, quick-shooting band of outlaws was a hiding place a few miles south of Santa Maria near a Forest Service lookout where Mount Solomon was named in remembrance of the notorious bandit. Commanding a view of the surrounding country, the mountain was a safe retreat in 1855-56 when enraged ranchers and tradesmen determined to rid the country of the desperado.
Preyed on Travelers
Solomon’s victims were usually wealthy “gringo” travelers who had the misfortune to run afoul of the gang and were slain by knife, gun or riata. Often their bodies, were left lying on the road to strike terror into the hearts of others.
But most of the early-day Californians were not easily terrorized and such was the temper of the people that Solomon found it “urgent” to leave his hideout near Santa Maria and depart to Southern California. Some historians say that he found some protection from angered citizens by a wealthy family in the Santa Maria-San Luis Obispo vicinity.
Pioneers of the region were forced to form bands of vigilantes to protect themselves from the armed outlaws during the formative days of the great central coast region. On one occasion they revenged the slaying of a prominent Santa Maria man by hanging his assailant to the rafters of “Tambo’s saloon, according to old timers. Later the proprietor of the saloon was tarred and feathered and run out of town.
Defies Vigilantes
Tambo—otherwise known as Michael Mullee, had repeatedly defied the vigilantes and bullied and scorned several individual members who were luckless enough to meet up with the tough saloon keeper at the wrong time. Enough was enough for the long suffering residents. They forcibly took Tambo to a spot near the present Santa Maria flagpole, gave him a generous covering of tar and feathers, escorted him to the bridge outside the city and allowed him to ride away.

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