An ambitious debut novel chronicles the making of an outlaw in frontier California.
Young Tiburcio Vasquez, the hero of Caraccio’s tale, was born in Mexico but raised in the United States, staying in the vicinity of Monterey, California. The year is 1854, and, as soon as the West Coast is conquered, “thousands of squatters are swarming all over the region, from Sacramento to San Francisco.” Tiburcio, a strapping vaquero, master horseman, and snappy guitarist, runs afoul of the new law in town when his cousin Anastacio Garcia shoots a constable in a bar fight. When the town’s vigilantes hold Tiburcio equally guilty, the young man flees to the mountains. Treated as an outlaw, he becomes one, rustling cattle and horses and encouraging his fellow natives to defy the invaders. “In the end,” he promises himself, “you will stand tall and they will cower like beaten dogs.” Tiburcio’s planned rebellion fails, but he proves to be a skillful bandit and spends the remaining 20 years of his life adventuring in the mountains, desert plains, and fields and fermenting insurrection in the jail cells of California (where he becomes a bit of a celebrity, because “he gave the ignorant brutes encouragement that life would improve once they were freed”). All the while, he pines for his true love, Anita, “the slender beauty whose dark eyes reflected the world right back to him.” Eventually, Anita becomes embroiled in the revolutionary politics Tibrurcio stirs up, involved enough to risk her own life and freedom. There is a good deal of truth in Caraccio’s fiction. Tiburcio was a real agitator and, later, an authentic legend in his home state. According to some sources, he was eventually memorialized as the pulp hero Zorro. In Caraccio’s story, the original proves more than a match for the famous avenger, so much so as to occasionally strain plausibility. The author’s research is impeccable, but this is a sweeping book, so necessary invention abounds. Readers come to know not only Tiburcio, but also the people around him: villagers, renegades, and gringos alike. The prose here is always clear and readable, and this 508-page book might have been even longer while still remaining every bit as enlightening and suspenseful.
A lively epic of love, invasion, flight, and revolt in the years following the Mexican-American War.