|Born||September 5, 1821
Rancho del Rey San Pedro (Salinas, California)
|Died||May 1, 1860
|Cause of death||Execution|
|Known for||19th century Californio bandit|
Salomon Maria Simeon Pico (Sept. 5, 1821 – May 1, 1860) was a Californio, a cousin of former governor Pío Pico, who led a bandit band in the early years following the Mexican-American War in the counties of the central coast of California. Pico was considered by some Californios to be a patriot who opposed the American conquest of Alta California and its subsequent incorporation into the United States. He was hated for his banditry by the newly arrived Americans but protected by some as a defender of his people.
Salomon Pico was born on the Rancho del Rey San Pedro near Salinas, California and baptized at Mission San Juan Bautista. His father was José Dolores Pico, a soldier with the Presidio of Monterey. Antonio Maria Pico (1809–1869) and José de Jesús Pico (1806–1892) were his brothers.
José Pico had spent a long career with the military, but by 1821 was partially retired as a manager for the King’s Ranch, which provided food, leather, and other supplies to the Presidio. Salomon’s mother, Maria Ysabel Cota, came from Santa Barbara. Salomon spent his early life on the Rancho del Rey, but returned to Monterey pueblo with his mother when his father died in 1827. Monterey was the capital of Alta California, and here Salomon was exposed to education and international influences not available on the Rancho.
By 1840, Pico was courting a young lady who lived near his brother’s home in Pueblo de San José. On December 13, 1840 Pico married Juana Vasquez at Mission Santa Cruz. They made their home at first in Monterey, where children began arriving regularly. In 1844, Pico received a Mexican land grant of 58,000 acres (230 km2) in the San Joaquin Valley, somewhere near the Stanislaus River and the San Joaquin River in what is now Stanislaus County. The couple's fourth child was baptized at the Santa Clara Mission.
Mexican American War and the Gold Rush
Pico probably fought with the Mexican army against the United States during the Mexican American War, but his role is not clear. There are family stories that indicate he served as a scout and soldier during this time. By the time California had been annexed to the United States, he was probably back on his ranch with his family. With a population of around 10,000 non-Indians in the territory of California, it was still a small community in 1847. On January 24, 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill. In August of that year, the gold rush flooded onto Pico’s land. Exactly what happened isn’t known, but Juana did not long survive. Salomon took her to Monterey to get medical help, but on November 19, 1848 she died there.
Salomon Pico is said to have vowed revenge. Avoiding the gold fields, he moved to the vicinity of Rancho Los Alamos in what is now Santa Barbara County. By day, he became a stock dealer, trading in horses and cattle. In southern California, there was little gold mined, but great numbers of cattle were raised, giving the area the name the "Cow Counties". Where formerly cattle were raised mostly for their hides, now with the high demand for food in the northern mines, the price of cattle there made it very profitable to drive these same cattle north. Men would ride south with the large amounts of gold dust, to buy stock, then drive them north to sell for a profit. Salomon Pico was in a perfect position to meet and discover the plans of these men.
By night, Salomon Pico with his gang, worked El Camino Real south of what is today Santa Maria, ambushing the men riding south from the gold fields, who were often carrying gold to be used to buy herds of cattle. Many of these parties of two or three, were never heard of again after passing San Luis Obispo. In later years, numbers of human skeletons were found in the countryside with a bullet hole in the skull, accounting for the mysterious disappearances of so many cattle traders. The victims were mostly Americans whom the Californios felt were enemies, and the crimes which the gang committed were never divulged by the locals, or if brought to trial, resulted in an acquittal because in this region the Californios were still in the majority and Pico was connected to its influential members.
The gang avoided conflicts with county officials, who in turn seemed to let the bandits alone. Although on one occasion, when delivering a writ to a local rancho, the Sheriff of Santa Barbara came face to face with Salomon Pico who had been waiting for him on the trail, thinking him a possible target for robbery. For some hours the two maneuvered to get or retain the advantage. Pico tried to get behind the Sheriff, the Sheriff maneuvered to keep Pico before him; until Pico realized he was recognized and was dealing with a formidable opponent. The Sheriff identified himself and ordered Pico to ride away and after getting out of pistol shot, bid the Sheriff "Adios" with a wave and rode away.
Pico had a land grant he could not enforce against the many squatters on the land he couldn’t use, he wasn’t ready to remarry yet, and his lifestyle precluded luxury. It is not known exactly what happened to all that gold he took, but it is known that his popularity soared very quickly among his own people. By 1851 he was fully established as a flamboyant outlaw with a loyal gang and a following among his people. He had become so popular, that with a knock on the door and an urgent request for shelter, he could ride his horse right into people’s homes and so elude the pursuit of any posse.
Salomon Pico's career as a bandit around Rancho Los Alamos came to its end in 1851, after John Caldwell, a mail rider between Monterey and Los Angeles, was murdered in the lower Salinas Valley on June 8, 1851. A party of volunteers pursued the murderers, and near San Luis Obispo, captured a group of men, that included Solomon Pico and William Otis Hall, an American. These men were tried at a vigilante court and were sentenced to be hanged but the civil authorities rescued them before the sentence could be carried out. Pico, because the standing of his cousin Pío Pico in the community, was freed on bail. The other captured Californios were also released on various pretexts, only Otis Hall remained in custody. On the night of August 9, vigilantes broke into the jail and enforced the ruling of their court. Otis was hanged on the door of the jail, becoming the first known lynch mob victim in the central coast region. Under the threat of a similar fate Pico quickly fled the region. However members of his gang and others continued to plague the central coast region for many years, under new leaders like Jack Powers and Pio Linares.
Los Angeles County
Salomon Pico thought to have moved south to Los Angeles County and been protected by local Californios. On the evening of December 12, 1851, he attempted the assassination of Judge Benjamin Ignatius Hayes. Judge J. S. Mallard, Justice of the Peace and of the Court of Sessions had issued an arrest warrant for Benito Lugo, Francisco Lugo, and Mariano Elisalde, accused murderers of some Americans in the Cajon Pass. Hayes believed the Lugo's had hired Pico to dispose of the Judge and mistook Judge Hayes for Judge Mallard who shared the same office. Pico was wounded in the arm later that night when Sheriff James R. Barton discovered his hideout and exchanged shots with him. The following morning Pico had his arm dressed in Los Angeles without the Sheriff being alerted, protected by his Californio and American friends.
In November 1852, following the murder of Major General Joshua H. Bean, renewed efforts were made to rid the county of a suspected gang of highwaymen infesting it. A determined effort was made to arrest the leaders and break up the organization of the gang. The Vigilance Committee of Los Angeles caused the arrest of several Mexicans belonging to Salomon Pico's band, including Reyes Feliz, who made a confession of his crimes, including the murdering of a Mexican, but professed ignorance of General Bean's death, or of any person accessory to it. Reyes Feliz was convicted and executed. Finding Southern California too hot for him, pursued by the Los Angeles Rangers Pico fled to Baja California to avoid capture. The New York Times of April 26, 1853 reported news from San Diego on March 17:
- Solomon Pico, the notorious horse thief, whose robberies and acts were at one time almost as notorious in the lower country, although not so bloody, as those of the celebrated Joaquin have been above, is lying very sick at the town of Santo Tomas, in Lower California.
Life in Mexico
Pico had made frequent visits south of the border, and by 1857 he moved to Santo Tomas, Baja California, Mexico, where he accepted a position as captain of the guard for the military commander of the frontier of Baja California, Colonel José Castro. Castro made many land grants in Baja California to friends and supporters including a grant to Salomon Pico of 11 Leagues of vacant lands of La Frontera.
It was in his official capacity that Pico was guarding the jail when four American businessmen from San Diego were placed there to await trial. Emotions on both sides of the border were running at fever pitch, and the threat of a race war was on everyone’s mind. When a mob of Mexicans marched on the jail to lynch the Americans, Salomon Pico alone stepped between them, and talked the mob into going home. He had made the final step to become a defender of justice not only for his own people, but for all peoples.
On April 14, 1860, Col. Castro was killed by a man named Marquez, who was under indictment for murder at Los Angeles. His successor in command of the Baja California frontier, Feliciano Ruiz de Esparza, decided to rid La Frontera of California outlaws infesting the region. On May 1, 1860, he rounded up and executed 15 such men including Solomon Pico.
Some have claimed the resemblance of Salomon Pico to the fictional Zorro is strong, but how much Salomon Pico contributed to the legend of Zorro must remain conjecture. Like Zorro, Salomon lived a dual life, defending justice by night, riding a powerful steed and trusting to the loyal support of his people. Some of the stories from his outlaw years connect clearly with certain aspects of the Zorro legend, though the connection may be circumstantial.
In contrast with the heroic image, a newspaper article published in 1925, claimed Pico carried with him a string of ears, removed from his victims to mark them forever; proof that they had met him. Contemporary accounts of Pico make no such claims. Collecting the ears of his victims seems to have been borrowed from Hubert Howe Bancroft's account of the conduct of Domingo Hernandez, a Californio bandit contemporary with Pico, that operated from the vicinity of Monterey northward.
For Further Reading
See Gold Dust and Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters, Lawmen, and Vigilantes (1999) by John Boessenecker.
- Mission San Juan Bautista baptism #2901
- Dana, Rocky and Marie Harrington. The Blond Ranchero. Los Angeles, Dawson’s Book Shop, 1960.
- J. D. Conway, Monterey: Presidio, Pueblo, and Port, Arcadia Publishing, Charlston, SC, 2003, p.49
- Mission Santa Cruz, marriage #844
- Land Commission records, BANC MSS Land Case Files 245 NDL and Case 245 ND Eleven Leagues, San Joaquín and Estanislao Rivers (also called "Land, Tuolumne") (Stanislaus County). Claimant: James L. Ord, Grantee: Soloman Pico, Associated Case Numbers: Docket 632, 245 ND, Associated Maps: None, Coordinates: Unknown, Rancho Name: None. Land Case 246 ND 246 ND transferred to 286 SD. See 286 SD.
- Tristan Maria Simeon Pico, Mission Santa Clara baptism #10524
- Jackson, Joseph Henry. Bad Company: The Story of California’s Legendary and Actual Stage-Robbers, Bandits, Highwaymen and Outlaws. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1949. and Nevis, David. The Mexican War. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1978.
- Mission San Carlos death record
- Gregory, Jim. “California’s Legendary Robin Hood was a Guerrilla-Bandit in the Santa Barbara Hills,” The Santa Barbara News and Review, May 18, 1973.
- Tompkins, Walker. Santa Barbara’s Royal Rancho: The Fabulous History of Los Dos Pueblos. Berkeley: Howell-North, 1960.
- Reproduction of Thompson and West’s History of Santa Barbara & Ventura Counties California, Published 1961 by Howell North Books, Berkeley, California. Transcribed by June Worsham – Pages 84–87
- Geiger, Maynard. History of Santa Barbara County, California. Oakland: Thompson & West, 1883. and Phillips, Michael James. “Salomon Pico, Bandit”, Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1925.
- Hill, Laurance L. Santa Barbara, Tierra Adorada. Los Angeles: Security-First National Bank of Los Angeles, 1930. and Waid, Beverly Hendrickson. Dynasty of the Dons. Communication from the Los Angeles Historical Society.
- Phil Reader, A Brief History of the Pajaro Property Protective Society: Vigilantism in the Pajaro Valley During 19th Century – Part 2, Copyright 1995 Phil Reader. Originally published by Cliffside Publishing, 1995. accessed on Feb. 7 2011, on Santa Cruz Public Libraries website http://www.santacruzpl.org/
- Storke, Yda Addis, A Memorial and Biographical History of the Counties of Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura, California Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago, 1891, p.41
- New York Times April 26, 1853
- LA Star 8/29/1857
- Wagner, Henry Raup. “Annals of Los Angeles”, Calif. Histo. Soc. Quarterly. San Francisco, Dec. 1939.
- Benjamin Ignatius Hayes, Pioneer notes from the diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes, 1849–1875, Privately Printed at Los Angeles by Marjorie Tisdale Wolcott, 1929, p.248
- El Clamor Publico 9/9/1857
- An opinion expressed by Judge Benjamin Hayes in "El Clamor Publico", 9/9/1857
- Hayes, Pioneer notes, p.198
- Magill, Frank N. “Magill’s Survey of Cinema: Silent Films”. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press, 1982. and Tompkins, Walker. Decade of the Desperado. Santa Barbara Magazine Vol. 8 No. 4, Santa Barbara. 1982.
- e.g. see Bell, Alexander, Reminiscences of a Ranger. Santa Barbara: Wallace Hebberd, 1927.
- Phillips, Michael James. “Salomon Pico, Bandit”, Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1925.
- Hubert Howe Bancroft, The works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Volume 34, California Pastoral 1769–1848, SAN FRANCISCO: THE HISTORY COMPANY, 1888. pp.684–686.