Tuesday, January 17, 2006

January 17, 2006
For the next issue of True West I’m working on an illustration of Californio Bandido Tiburcio Vasquez, and this is where my art director proclivities collide with my higher, historian aspirations. Call it “The Tale of the Two Tiburcios.”

Tiburcio was a legendary bandido who spread terror and awe all across California in the early 1870s (and despite being hanged by the “Americans,” he has a high school, a hospital and rock outcroppings named for him and is considered a hero by many hispanics today) and, so, it’s tempting to illustrate him with a high Spanish flair—a big sombrero, vaquero style leggings and waist coat, concho studded breeches and gunbelt. I can just see him astride a strutting, black stallion, his dark, black goatee glistening in the California moonlight, leading a large band of followers dressed just as dramatically, but not quite as dashing as El Jefe.

But when I asked my friend and author John Boessenecker if there are any contemporary descriptions of Tiburcio and the way he dressed, here’s his reply:

“Sheriff Harry Morse obtained a description of Vasquez in early 1872, and wrote in his diary that Tiburcio wore a black coat trimmed with a beaver collar, black trousers, and a black velvet vest decorated with floral designs from which protruded a silver watch chain and open face watch. By all accounts he always dressed like this—in fine and fashionable clothes, even while he was in the saddle and committing robberies.”

There is a photograph of Vasquez taken at about this time which bears out John’s description and he looks nothing like a Mexican bandido at all and more like a banker from Fresno. He’s even holding his hat, which is a flat-brimmed modest affair. It’s always tempting to rationalize that he dressed that way for the photographer but perhaps he got more funky out in the field, but the Morse diary entry negates that. So, I have to fight the urge to give him a stylish flair. Sometimes I hate being chained to historical accuracy!

My son Thomas was on TV last night. He appeared on the Fuse network on a show called “7th Avenue Drop.” The Strokes, a rock group he adores, were featured and the Bell kid was seen pumping his fist to the beat, not once, but twice (the son of a drummer is also a drummer). I asked him to describe the scene in the Manhattan studio where the show was taped and this is what he said:

“They kicked ass as usual. I'm not a big fan of their new single but the other songs they played from the new album were really good. They had to play one of them three times. Jules, the lead singer, was a funny guy and they were all very nice. He kept thanking us in between songs saying we were a great crowd. In between one song Frank [a male model and the guy who got T. in] said, ‘Whats up?’ Jules replied, ‘Not much, Buttercup.’ He basically just talked to us in between the jams. I had a brief conversation with them about what Albert (rhythm guitar) was drinking. Jules replied for him, ‘orange juice’ and then was immediately corrected by Albert saying it was grapefruit juice. It was a blast. Great music, the highlights of all the albums, and an intimate environment. As I told you before, there were only about 50 people in the crowd.”

“History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.”
—Abba Eban

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