By Robert A. Kittle
Close by the desert badlands west of the lower Colorado River stands a stone historical marker that, due to its extreme remoteness, few people will ever see. The only way to reach it is on foot or horseback. The nearest paved road is a threehour hike away. No trail exists to guide the unlikely visitor. Overshadowed by the high ridgeline of the Santa Rosa Mountains, the site is inhabited by bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and black-tailed mule deer. The terrain is studded with protruding boulders, prickly barrel cactus, and spiny ocotillos, creating a barrier to man or steed. Unbroken footprints of slithering desert iguanas color this otherworldly setting. The only sound is the desert wind.
In this scraggy wilderness, nearly 2,400 feet above sea level, high enough to get an occasional snowstorm, a bronze plaque bears the name of Salvador Ignacio Linares. His story has been lost in the passage of generations, but the life of Linares—a very ordinary life, really—teaches us a great deal about the hardships borne by the steadfast settlers who occupied California in the name of the Spanish crown and the Catholic Church just as the American Revolution was erupting along the eastern seaboard. And Salvador’s progeny, a colorful cast of outlaws and respectable folk alike, illuminate the lawless era that ensued after California was wrested from Mexico and added to the Union three quarters of a century later
The tale of Salvador Linares began in the autumn of 1775, when a beleaguered expedition under the command of Juan Bautista de Anza gathered at its staging point, the garrison of San Ignacio de Tubac, on the middle Santa Cruz River south of present-day Tucson.
This was one of Spain’s riskiest ventures—an ambitious scheme to establish two new missions and a military outpost
on San Francisco Bay, thereby planting the banner of King Carlos III and staving off potential incursions by Russian explorers and English mariners. To pull this off, Anza led a sprawling caravan of 240 settlers, mostly young families with small children, across 1,200 miles of drought-hardened desert, mountains, and dangerous Indian territory. Among his charges were at least three pregnant women—including Salvador Linares’s mother—who were due to deliver before the colonizing train reached its destination. Many more mothers nursed their infants from the backs of mules as the expedition plodded along a sparsely marked trail that Anza had scouted the previous year.
Anza recruited his homesteaders, or pobladores, from the impoverished frontier pueblos of Sonora, Sinaloa, Fuerte, and Culiacán in northwest New Spain, as Mexico was then known. In those years the region was devastated by floods, epidemics, and recurrent Apache raids. The recruits, mostly poor families with large broods, were eager to embrace a new life in northern California and willing to brave the unavoidable rigors of five months on the trail. All of their expenses for the overland journey—the mules they rode, the food they ate, the tents they slept in, the undergarments they wore—were provided by the king’s viceroy in Mexico City, Antonio María de Bucareli y Ursúa. In addition, most of the adult males of the expedition were trained soldiers and were offered one peso a day for their services.1
The roster of recruits compiled by Anza in September 1775 included Ignacio Linares, age 30.2 When he signed on with Anza on April 14, 1775, Ignacio was a soldado de cuera, or leatherjacket soldier, at the Tubac presidio. The term leatherjacket referred to the heavy sleeveless smocks worn by Spanish soldiers. Typically made of several plies of deerskin leather, the jacket was impenetrable to Indian arrows except those fired at very close range. Ignacio had been baptized in the Catholic Church shortly after his birth in 1745 in San Miguel de Horcasitas, Sonora. His parents, Gregorio Linares and Manuela Linares, were converted natives, or indios, who practiced Catholicism. At the age of 26, Ignacio enlisted in the army at Guaymas, Sonora, on May 1, 1771.3
For the foray across the desert, Ignacio was accompanied by his pregnant wife, María Gertrudis Rivas Linares, age 22, and their three young children, María Gertrudis, 7, José Ramón, 4, and María Juliana, 3.4 Ignacio’s wife was born in Río Chico, Sonora, in 1752. Census records listed her as española, meaning she was descended from Spanish parents and likely was of fair complexion, in contrast to her darkerskinned husband.5 María was married to Ignacio around 1767 at Horcasitas. Their first two children were born in Horcasitas. The third was born in Tubac after Ignacio took up his duties there.
For Anza’s purposes, the Linares family was a perfect fit for the colonizing undertaking. Ignacio was a trained soldier and an experienced horseman who could defend the
expedition in the event of an Indian attack. Just as important, with a wife and multiple children, he was unlikely to prey on native women as unmarried soldiers had done in the early years of Spain’s incursion into California. Rapes of indigenous women by soldiers inflamed tensions on the frontier, highlighting the imperative for Spanish men to be accompanied by wives and children.6 Many Native Americans quite naturally viewed the initial, all-male Spanish explorers as outcasts from their own lands who came in search of Indian women. Never having seen mules before, some Indians mistook them to be the wives of the Spaniards, offering them human food and speaking to them tenderly
On October 23, 1775, Anza’s rambling convoy departed Tubac for California. Leading the file across the arid tableland of the Sonoran desert were Anza and Pedro Font, the Franciscan friar assigned by the viceroy as the chaplain and diarist of the expedition. Armed with a musket and lance, Ignacio Linares shepherded his wife and their little ones on mules. The entire party consisted of no fewer than ninety-two children under the age of 12, and ten children under the age of 1.7
Font worried that the settlers were vulnerable to Indian assault because the armed escorts were too occupied looking after their children. “If the Apaches had attacked, doubtless we would have suffered losses,” he recorded in his diary, “as our few soldiers were raw and inexperienced, and rode so constantly engaged with their little children that at times there would be one or another soldier carrying two or three young ones with him, and most of them rode with a child.”8
Not long after the sojourners set up their tents on the first night, 30-year-old Manuela Piñuelas Felíz went into labor. The delivery by candlelight in a field tent at nine o’clock in the evening was difficult, with the baby turned crossways and eventually delivered feet first. All the same, it was a healthy boy who let out a lusty cry. He was sure to survive. But in these primitive conditions, the afterbirth could not be extracted from the mother. At three o’clock in the morning, Manuela was in mortal danger. Font was awakened. He administered the last rites of the church. A few hours later, as dawn glimmered faintly over the desert, Manuela died. She left behind on the trail her husband and seven children, including the newborn, who would be nursed by another lactating mother.
For María Linares this was an ominous moment because she, too, expected to deliver her fourth child in the days ahead. Her time came in December, after all of the women and children had safely forded the broad Colorado River under Anza’s guidance and with the aid of the indigenous people who lived along the waterway.
At daybreak on December 14 a snowstorm accompanied by fierce winds struck Anza’s encampment near present-day Borrego Springs, California. Coming from the warm coastal areas of northwest Mexico, most of the settlers had never seen snow. The harsh turn of the elements exacted unexpected suffering on the women and children, especially at night when temperatures dropped sharply. Making matters worse, the barren terrain was devoid of essential firewood for cooking and warmth. Some soldiers experienced hypothermia, and many livestock driven along the trail as food for the pioneers froze to death. Still, Anza pressed on, and in his journal he praised his charges for their fortitude.
On December 24, as fog and frigid weather hampered the march, María Linares went into labor in the saddle. Anza ordered a rest for the night sooner than he had wanted.
The wayfarers called Christmas Eve Noche Buena, the Good Night. To mark the birth of Christ, Anza ordered that beef be served for dinner and that each man be given a half liter of aguardiente—“fiery water,” a strong brandy. Father Font priggishly protested that Anza was encouraging drunkenness on a solemn holy day, but the commander paid him no heed. In the evening, as the settlers noisily celebrated Chrismas Eve with singing and dancing, María Linares’s labor progressed. Remembering the awful death two months earlier of Manuela Piñuelas, she summoned Font to her tent to hear her last confession in case she did not survive the childbirth.
A uniquely poignant nativity scene now unfolded in the freezing wilderness. Not long before the stroke of midnight, as the cattle were lowing and the campfires were dying, María came through the delivery without harm. In her arms she cradled a boy.
A cold, dripping fog enveloped the expedition on Christmas morning and Anza ordered a day of rest. Font said Mass three times and used his sermons to castigate the settlers for the drinking of the night before. Then he baptized the newborn and named him Salvador (Savior) to commemorate the day of his birth. For a middle name, the child was given Ignacio after his father. The next morning, under a welcome bright sun, Anza resumed his trek, noting in his diary that María Linares “was better and had the pluck to march.”9 So it was that, just 36 hours after giving birth, the mother was back in the saddle, nursing her infant and herding along her older children with the help of her husband. Little could she know that Salvador, hoisted on the back of mule at such a tender age, was destined to become a cowboy and soldier like his father
At this point most historians lost interest in the story of Salvador Ignacio Linares. So, whatever became of the baby born in the high desert on Christmas Eve?
For many years he was thought to have been the first child of European descent born in California. But this belief did not lift him from obscurity. By contrast, consider the historical fame of Virginia Dare, the first offspring of English parents born in what is now the United States. Schoolchildren learn her name, even though she was born a full 21 years after the first child of Spanish lineage was delivered in St. Augustine, Florida. Born in 1566, Martín de Arguelles is a forgotten figure, while Dare has sealed an erroneous place in American folklore as the “first white child” born in the United States.10
Research done in the twentieth century by Elias J. Cota shows that Salvador Linares was actually the third child of Spanish ancestry born in California.11 The first was Juan Joseph García, baptized at Mission San Luis Obispo on November 11, 1774, thirteen months before Salvador’s birth. The sacrament was administered by Father Pablo Joseph Mugártegui, a Franciscan pioneer from the Basque country of Spain. He later became cofounder of Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California and, ultimately, was elected to the powerful post of guardian, or superior, of the College of San Fernando in Mexico City.12 The second birth to Spanish parents in California occurred at Mission San Diego de Alcalá in February 1775, when Joseph Francisco María de Ortega came into the world.
At 4:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, March 10, 1776, the Linares family and the rest of Anza’s caravan finally reached the safety of the Royal Presidio of Monterey, about 100 miles south of San Francisco Bay. At that moment Monterey was the northernmost outpost of the Spanish realm, offering only a meager existence, with chronic shortages of food and other supplies. The lack of soap was a particular sore point, denying the settlers the chance to adequately scrub away the accumulated grime of many weeks on the trail.
Ignacio, the head of the Linares household, signed on as a leatherjacket soldier, with the rank of private, at the San Francisco presidio upon its founding at the Golden Gate later in the year.13 This provided steady income for his growing family.
Despite the austere conditions and deprivations of the frontier, Ignacio and María prospered in the years ahead, raised eight more children, for a total of twelve—seven daughters and five sons. After Salvador, the next four children were born at Mission San Francisco de Asís, commonly known as Mission Dolores because Father Font discovered a fresh-flowing stream at the site on the Friday before Palm Sunday, known to the Franciscans as Viernes de Dolores, Friday of Sorrows. The Spanish census of 1790 enumerated Salvador Linares as a 15-yearold living at home with his parents and younger siblings—Mariano, 7, Santos, 6, Marcela, 9, Francisca, 8, Nicolasa, 5, María Antonia, 4, and Rosa, 2.14 (Rosa later married Don Leandro Galindo, a prominent mayordomo, or overseer, of the wealthy agricultural holdings of Mission Santa Clara. For years she faithfully attended to the daily needs of the mission church, washing and ironing the altar linens and silk vestments of the padres.15)
Starting in 1784, when the Linares family moved a short distance south to the new pueblo of San José, the last four of the children were baptized at Mission Santa Clara. María’s final pregnancy produced an unnamed son who died shortly after his birth. He was baptized at Santa Clara and buried in the mission cemetery on August 11, 1794—the first of many members of the Linares family to occupy a plot there.16
Like 27 percent of the colonists recruited by Anza from the provinces of northwest Mexico, the Linares offspring were a blend of Spanish and Native American blood.17 The father, Ignacio, was listed in the 1790 census as a fullblooded Native American, although that determination was usually made by a parish priest who may or may not have been accurate in his assessment. The mother, María, was listed as descended from Spaniards, also known as peninsulares, in reference to Iberia. Ignacio and María’s mixed-race marriage was nothing out of the ordinary.
Unlike the rigid, class-based society of Mexico City, the inhabitants of the northern borderlands were a rich mixture of interrelated racial and ethnic groups. The segregation of pure-blooded Spaniards from darker-toned peoples, which was widely practiced elsewhere in Spanish America, hardly existed on the frontier, where settlers of all stripes worked side by side in order to survive. Intermarriage among those of Spanish, African, or Indian descent was the norm. The children of these interracial unions perpetuated a multihued society in which, after a few generations, most citizens claimed some fraction of their ancestry from white Europeans, black Africans, brown Indians, and a range of combinations in between.
Nonetheless, a multilevel classification system was carefully observed in official Spanish records to denote the specific racial blend of any individual. This was in part a holdover from 16th century Spain, when Jews and Moors were expelled and Catholics hastened to prove their purely Spanish heritage. Known as the sistema de castas, or simply las castas, from the Spanish word for “lineage” or “breed,” the racial code covered scores of categories signifying a person’s blood mix. For example, a mulato was the offspring of a black father and a Spanish mother. A mestizo had one Spanish parent and one Indian parent. A lobo was the product of one Indian parent and one African parent. This hierarchy was not entirely benign. People of lighter-skinned castas were generally considered socially superior to those of darker-skinned castas and expected to be treated accordingly
A beautiful oil painting done by the celebrated viceroyalty artist Miguel Cabrera in 1763 depicts a loving husband and wife with their two small children, one riding on the back of a donkey, the other nestled in a rebozo, or shawl, on his mother’s back. The father has a heavy black beard common among Spaniards, and the mother has the delicate features and darker skin of a Native American. The painting is entitled, De Mestizo y d’India, Coyote—“from a mestizo man and an Indian woman comes a coyote.” Coyote was the casta classification for the child of an Indian mother and a father of mixed Spanish and Indian heritage.
With an Indian father and a Spanish mother, Salvador Linares was categorized as a mestizo. Upon reaching manhood, he followed the path of his father and became a leatherjacket soldier at the Monterey presidio. On September 26, 1795, at the age of 19, Salvador married María Bernarda Silvas, 21, a widow who was born in Villa Sinaloa, Mexico.18 The ceremony, performed by Father Pascual Martínez de Arenaza from Alava, Spain, took place at Mission San Carlos. Like her motherin-law, the bride was categorized in census records as española.
In 1781, as a child of about 7 years old, María had arrived in California with a colonizing expedition organized by Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada. She traveled on the march with her siblings and parents, José Miguel Silvas and María Pascuala Lugo. The Rivera party was the fourth major colonizing campaign in California. Its aims were to establish a pueblo at Los Angeles; to found missions at San Buenaventura (modern Ventura), at Santa Barbara, and at present-day Lompoc (Mission La Purísima Concepción); and to build a garrison at Santa Barbara.19
As Anza did for his 1775 expedition, Rivera recruited soldiers and families from Sonora and Sinaloa. The full complement set out for California from Real de los Álamos, Sonora, on February 2, 1781. The settlers, including Salvador’s future wife, reached California safely in the early summer. But Captain Rivera and a contingent of soldiers who remained behind at the Yuma crossing on the Colorado River were slaughtered by the Yuma, or Quechan, Indians in a three-day uprising in July. The native rampage was sparked in part because Rivera allowed his hundreds of livestock to trample and eat the crops cultivated by the Yumas along the banks of the river, destroying their winter food supply.
María Bernarda Silvas’s first husband was Juan Álvarez, a cowboy from the Yaqui River region of Sonora who became a soldier at Mission San Gabriel near Los Angeles.20 He died in Los Angeles in July 1792, three years before María’s marriage to Salvador Linares. Census records listed Álvarez as a coyote—the son of a mestizo father (mixed European and indigenous blood) and an Indian woman.21 He and María were married on April 26, 1789, at Mission San Gabriel. At the time of their nuptials, Juan was 48 and María was 16. Such May-December relationships were common on the California frontier, where life expectancy was short and a widower was always eager to resume family life with an eligible woman of child-bearing age. On July 10, 1790, the couple had a daughter, María Rufina Álvarez. She was counted in the 1790 census as a two-month-old mestiza, indicating she was of mixed Spanish and Native American parents.22 Eight months after her husband died, María Bernarda Silvas gave birth to her second child, a daughter christened María Eusebia, who was baptized at Mission San Gabriel on March 6, 1793. In the baptismal registry, Father José de Miguel certified that the infant was the legitimate issue of María Bernarda Silvas and her late husband.
After María Bernarda Silvas’s move from Mission San Gabriel to Mission Santa Clara with her two daughters, and her subsequent marriage to Salvador Linares, more children followed. On November 27, 1796, Father Mariano Payeras, newly arrived in California as a Franciscan missionary, baptized the couple’s first child, Josef Clemente Ramón Linares, in the chapel of the Monterey presidio. The boy lived only eight months and was buried on July 21, 1797, another casualty of the high infant mortality of the era. A second son, José de la Luz Linares, was born on January 20, 1800, and baptized the next day at Mission San Antonio de Padua, a short distance down El Camino Real from Monterey. The rite was performed by Father Jacinto López, a Franciscan from Zamora, Spain, who took up his duties at San Antonio only a few months earlier and let it be known he was unhappy with the discomforts there.23
Seven and a half years later, on July 24, 1807, María and Salvador were greeted with twins, Victor Pantaleón Linares and Francisco Santiago Linares. The infants were baptized the next day at Mission Soledad, south of Monterey, by Father Antonio Jayme, a Franciscan from Mallorca.
At the time of the twins’ arrival, Salvador was a soldier assigned to the Monterey garrison. Presidial soldiers often served their duty in surrounding missions and pueblos, and this likely was the case with Salvador. Beyond mundane tasks such as martial drills and sentry duty, the military men performed a host of other practical functions, such as rounding up cattle, branding, castrating bulls, and slaughtering. This meant soldiers also were vaqueros, accomplished horsemen.
Amid the joy and excitement of the birth of twin boys, unexpected tragedy loomed for the Linares family. Three weeks later, on Thursday, August 13, 1807, Salvador in spite of his well-honed skills as a horseman lost his life when he was thrown from his mount. The circumstances of this misfortune are unclear. His death record at Mission Santa Clara, recorded by Father José Viader, simply states that Salvador died “as the result of a fall from a horse.”24 He was 31 years old, and in keeping with the family’s Catholic faith, he was given last rites with holy oil.
A private burial took place the next day at the mission cemetery, near the grave of his father, Ignacio, who died two years earlier at the age of 60.25 He had been declared inválido, or retired from military service, in 1793.26 Six years after Salvador’s death, his mother, María Gertrudis Rivas Linares, was laid to rest next to her husband, on December 4, 1813.27
In the two centuries that followed, the Santa Clara cemetery was abandoned, the headstones lost, the graves forgotten. Today the site is a cultivated plot at the corner of Benton and Sherman streets in the city of Santa Clara. Owned by Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution, the land is tended by eager students who raise vegetables for a local soup kitchen. Tidy rows of lettuce, peas, cabbages, and broccoli line the garden. Plump chickens wander among the rows, pecking the dark brown soil for bits of food. Beyond the chain link fence surrounding the property is a neighborhood of pleasant bungalows and, two blocks away, the main campus of Santa Clara University
There is no trace of what occupied this patch of dirt in 1807. But a team of dogs trained to detect human remains uncovered the answer in 2004.28 The dogs, from the Institute for Canine Forensics in Woodside, California, were trained to identify the scent of human remains, and taught to sit down or stand at the exact spot of the scent. On two surveying trips, the dogs sniffed out and mapped a graveyard approximately 125 feet square. What they had found was the second cemetery of Mission Santa Clara, established in 1777, the eighth of the twenty-one missions founded in coastal California. Plagued by multiple earthquakes and fires over the centuries, the mission was moved to successive locations. From 1784 to 1826, this cemetery was used for the burials of Spanish homesteaders, soldiers, padres, and converted Indians.
Widowed for a second time, María Bernarda Silvas Linares was left to fend on her own with the newborn twins, a 7-year-old son, and two teenage daughters from her first marriage. After Salvador’s death, she returned to Mission San Gabriel and married for a third time on December 17, 1809. Her new husband was José Pedro Villalobos, a corporal at Mission San Diego. Born in Mexico in 1780, José Pedro was seven years younger than María. Like María, he came to California with the 1781 Rivera expedition, in the company of his parents and siblings. The wedding took place only after Father Esteban Tapis, a missionary from Catalonia who later became the third padre-presidente of the California missions, gave the couple a dispensation to marry, a necessary step because José Pedro was María’s nephew.
Together they had at least one child, María Dolores, born on April 15, 1810. The child died four years later and was buried at Mission San Diego. María Bernarda Silvas Álvarez Linares Villalobos died in Los Angeles on February 18, 1835, at age 62, after outliving three spouses. She was buried in the Los Angeles Plaza Church cemetery, another burial ground, or campo santo, lost to the sweep of time and urban development. In 2010 a building construction project in downtown Los Angeles unearthed the human remains interred there between 1823 and 1844. Rotting wooden coffins, rosary beads, and religious medals were among the artifacts uncovered. In the time that the cemetery was in use, 695 individuals were laid to rest, as documented by The Huntington Library’s Early California Population Project.29
Of the children of Salvador Linares and María Bernarda Silvas, their eldest, José de la Luz Linares, married María de Jesús García at Mission San Diego on July 19, 1819. At age 18 on January 8, 1826, one of the twins, Victor Pantaleón Linares, married Micaela García, a widow, at Mission San Diego. Five years later, on January 2, 1831, Francisco Santiago Linares married María de los Dolores de Grácia Alvarado at Mission San Diego.
In 1841, in an ironic turn of fate, Santiago Linares was buried in the same Plaza Church cemetery as his mother, but under circumstances that horrified the 2,240 residents of fledgling Los Angeles. The historian Hubert Howe Bancroft called it “the leading event of 1841.”30
On January 18, Nicholas Fink, a German shoemaker and shopkeeper who had come to California five years earlier, was found bludgeoned to death in his place of business, which had been robbed. His skull had been shattered by a blow from a gun barrel. After some of the stolen goods were found in the possession of Santiago’s “sweetheart,” according to Bancroft’s account, Santiago confessed and implicated his two accomplices, Ascención Valencia and José Duarte.31
The citizens of Los Angeles were both outraged and fearful after the murder. Volunteer guards were posted in the streets and residents were required to be in their homes by a 10 p.m. curfew. The three accused killers were confined in separate cells and guarded by citizen volunteers and a detachment of eleven soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Roberto Pardo dispatched from the Santa Barbara presidio.
A judge convicted the trio and condemned them to death. In March the case was sent to Juan Bautista Alvarado, California’s hard-drinking governor, in Monterey. The paperwork included a petition signed by 33 citizens of Los Angeles seeking prompt action and severe penalties for the perpetrators. Alvarado dispatched the matter quickly, ordering that Santiago Linares and his two codefendants be executed by firing squad within three days. He stipulated that the firing squad be composed of soldiers and volunteer citizens. After the governor’s declaration was read aloud in public, the executions were carried out at 10 a.m. on April 6. The bodies were carted off to the Plaza Church cemetery, where their victim had been buried three months earlier. For the next three days, a mounted citizens patrol guarded the streets to maintain order
Santiago Linares was not the only son of Salvador Linares to commit homicide. In April 1826, Santiago’s twin, Victor, killed a man while Victor was serving sentry duty at Mission San Diego. The details are murky. Victor was put before a courtmartial but acquitted of wrongdoing on grounds that he acted in accordance with his obligations as a sentry.32 On June 6, 1853, at the age of 45, Victor Linares was buried at Mission San Luis Obispo after dying of a fever.
By far the most notorious descendant of Salvador Linares was his grandson, Pio, born in Los Angeles on May 4, 1831, the second son of Victor and Micaela Linares. Leading a gang of murderous outlaws, Pio terrorized the residents of San Luis Obispo in the 1850s before meeting a violent end himself.
On December 1, 1842, Governor Alvarado granted Victor Linares a tract of land in what is now San Luis Obispo County, Rancho Cañada de los Osos (Bears Ravine Ranch), where he settled with his family, including his 11-year-old son, Pio. On May 17, 1851, Pio at age 20 married María Antonia Ortega, a widow.33
The 1850s were a turbulent era in California. The Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands of unsavory fortune seekers. The Mexican-American War, concluded in 1848, shattered the ruling order and brought in new generations of Anglo settlers who challenged the longstanding Spanish customs and property claims of the Californios, who had prospered under Mexican governance. Lawlessness, public drunkenness, and violence prevailed in many quarters, including remote San Luis Obispo, where vigilante committees were formed to enforce justice. Murders and lynchings were common. Many residents never went to sleep without a revolver nearby. In San Luis Obispo the decade was called the “bloody fifties.”
As the bad seed of the Linares clan, Pio took up with an infamous gang of bandits led by Jack Powers, an Irishborn gambler and highway robber. In the mid-1850s, the stretch of El Camino Real between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo was the most dangerous place in California, as Jack Powers and Pio Linares carried out a string of murders and hold-ups, dumping the bodies of their victims on the roadside. Corpses became a common sight along El Camino Real. San Luis Obispo Sheriff Francisco Castro was outgunned by the Powers-Linares highwaymen. The previous sheriff, Henry J. Dalley, had resigned in fear, saying the job was too dangerous. The gun-slinging Pio Linares, known as el pistolero, soon topped the list of most wanted in San Luis Obispo. His motto was “Dead men tell no tales.”34
On May 31, 1858, Governor John B. Weller, a veteran of the Mexican-American War, offered a $500 reward for the capture of Pio, accusing him of “several atrocious murders and robberies.” The wanted poster described him as having “a slightly dark complexion, is slender, has large sleepy eyes, and without beard.”35
Promptly taking the law into their own hands, the citizens of San Luis Obispo formed a vigilante committee of up to 150 armed men led by a dapper young attorney named Walter Murray, the future founder of the San Luis Obispo Tribune. The volunteers swore a vow to rid the county of Pio and his desperadoes, which the Santa Barbara Gazette branded a “ruthless band of assassins.”36 Pio merely taunted the vigilantes, claiming his gang was stronger. On June 13, 1858, sixty to eighty members of the Committee of Vigilance surrounded the adobe house at Rancho Cañada de los Osos, where Pio was hiding out, and burned it to the ground. Pio and his confederates escaped into the woods.
The next morning, Pio and two of his followers were cornered in a stand of willow trees. In an exchange of gunfire, Murray was shot in the arm and vigilante John Matlock was mortally wounded. Pio fell dead in a storm of bullets. His two allies were captured and hanged the very next day. By the time the vigilante committee was disbanded, it had hanged no fewer than six accused outlaws.37 Powers, who earlier had fled to Sonora to escape a Los Angeles lynch mob, was shot to death in 1860 in a quarrel over a woman. In the mountains northeast of Hermosillo, his body was disposed of in a fenced enclosure of starving hogs
Scholars overlooked quite a bit when they forgot about Salvador Linares after his birth on a raw Christmas Eve in the backcountry. Perhaps this was because Salvador’s life, and those of his descendants, followed the familiar patterns of early California—a time marked by hardships and the uncertainties of hunger and disease and endemic violence and dying before one’s time. Salvador and his generation merit our respect for the grit they showed in overcoming the implacable demands of the California frontier.
1. Herbert Eugene Bolton, Anza’s California Expeditions. Berkeley: University of California Press,
1966, V, 229.
2. William Marvin Mason, The Census of 1790/A Demographic History of Colonial California. Menlo
Park, California: Ballena Press, 1998, 31.
3. Hubert Howe Bancroft, History of California (reprint), Santa Barbara: Wallace Hebberd, 1963, I, 499.
4. Mason, 31.
5. Ibid., 101.
6. A Historical, Political, and Natural Description of California by Pedro Fages, Soldier of Spain, translated
by Herbert Ingram Priestly. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938, 43.
7. The ages were compiled by Anza historian Donald T. Garate. See the Tumacácori National
Historic Park website, U.S. Park Service, available at https://www.nps.gov/tuma/.
8. With Anza to California, 1775-1776: The Journal of Pedro Font, O.F.M., translated and edited by
Alan K. Brown. Norman, Oklahoma: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2011, 89.
9. “Anza’s Diary, 1775-1776,” in Bolton, Anza’s California Expeditions, III, 70.
10. Walt Whitman underscored this anti-spanish rhetoric in 1883, declaring that “we tacitly
abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States have been fashion’d from the British
Islands only, and essentially form a second England only—which is a very great mistake….
To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the
most needed parts.”Letter to Messrs. Griffin, Martínez, Prince, and other Gentlemen at SantaFe, 20 July 1883,
published in the Philadelphia Press, 5 August 1883; original in The Huntington
Library, San Marino, California.
11. Elias J. Cota, “The First White Child—What? Not Again!,” The Journal of San Diego History,
July 1957, Vol. 3, No. 3., 34.
12. Maynard Geiger, O.F.M., Franciscan Missionaries in Hispanic California, 1769-1848. San Marino,
California: The Huntington Library, 1969, 160.
13. Marie E. Northrop, Spanish-Mexican Families of Early California: 1769-1850. Burbank, California:
Southern California Genealogical Society, 1987, I, 192.
14. Mason, 101.
15. “Early Days at Mission Santa Clara, Recollections of Nasario Galindo,” California Historical
Society Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2, June 1959, 101.
16. Mission Santa Clara Sacramental Records, entry 1359.
17. Juan Bautista de Anza, “Report of the troops recruited in the provinces of the government
of Sonora….,” in Archivo General de la Nación, Provincias Internas 237, Año 1775, Captain D.
Juan Bautista Ansa (sic), Su Corresp de Barios Asumptos, ff. 75, 75v, 76, 76v.
18. Schwald Family Genealogy, http://www.schwaldfamily.org.
19. Mary Triplett Ayers, “The Founders of Santa Barbara: Who They Were and Whence They Came,”
La Campana, Journal of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Summer 2003, 19.
20. Mason, 28.
21. Ibid., 84.
22. Ibid., 84.
23. Geiger, 144.
24. Mission Santa Clara Sacramental Records, entry 3703.
25. Ibid., entry 3301.
26. Northrop, 194.
27. Ibid., 192.
28. Bev Peabody, Institute for Canine Forensics, paper presented to the South-Western
Anthropological Association, San Jose University, April 2004.
29. Steven W. Hackel, “Digging up the Remains of Early Los Angeles: The Plaza Church Cemetery,”
25th Annual W.P. Whitsett Lecture, California State University, Northridge, April 28, 2011.
30. Bancroft, History of California, IV, 629.
31. Ibid., 630.
32. Bancroft, II, 548.
33. Schwald Family Genealogy, http://www.schwaldfamily.org
34. History of San Luis Obispo County, California, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its
Prominent Men and Pioneers. Oakland: Thompson & West, 1883.
35. Los Angeles Star, 12 June 1858, p. 2, col. 5.
36. Ibid., July 10, 1858, p. 1.
37. Joseph Hall-Patton, “Pacifying Paradise: Violence and Vigilantism in San Luis Obispo,”
unpublished thesis, California Polytechnic State University, June 2016, 10.