The Greatest Manhunt in American Frontier History

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The cowboy, the quintessential symbol of the American frontier, circa 1887

The survivors of the Barton Posse got fresh mounts at Rancho Sepulveda. Hardy rode for Los Angeles and Alexander headed to El Monte to sound the alarm.

Fear of a race war swept Los Angeles. On January 24-25, 1857 City Marshal Billy Getman and 40 Los Angeles Rangers arrested 52 men suspected of being Insurrectos. Eleven were hung.

A Militia was organized to patrol Los Angeles. With the town secured Marshal Getman lead the Rangers to the scene of the ambush.

All four of the lawmen had multiple post mortem gun wounds. Their bodies had been stripped. The Rangers found an abandoned camp and a loaded pack horse. A detail returned the bodies to Los Angeles. The rest of the posse went to San Juan Capistrano.

The gang had returned to San Juan; boasted of the murders, looted what they needed and rode out of town. After four days of futile searching the Rangers returned to Los Angeles.

At the Campo Santos cemetery in Los Angeles on January 27, 1857 a Masonic Funeral was conducted by Jacob Elias, Master of Los Angeles Lodge No. 42 F&AM for Sheriff Barton and Constable Little. The Master adjusted the words for Constable Baker and Deputy Daley who were not Masons.

Barton’s son, Jose Santiago, was three years old.

The Greatest Manhunt in American Frontier History was Under Way

Messages had been sent to the south and the east. The U. S. Military mobilized to close the Mexican Border.

To the east Apache Scouts led by Geronimo and Navajo Scouts led by Manuelito were patrolling.

Jim Thompson organized a posse of 27 men to close the northern escape routes. The posse joined with Federal troops from Fort Tejon. Military patrols with civilian scouts guarded the passes and the coast road to Santa Barbara.

Doñ Tomas Sanchez and General Andres Pico mobilized a posse of 51 Californios. They considered Flores a criminal.

The Californios rode in hot pursuit of the Manillas. Another posse of twenty-Six Anglo men led by Deputy Frank Burns from El Monte joined them.

Mission Tribes had been recruited to scout the mountains surrounding San Juan Capistrano.

Wild Pursuit, Gunfire and Escape in Santiago Canyon

On January 29 a scout spotted the outlaws in Santiago Canyon. The Californio posse entered the canyon from the south and the El Monte posse entered from the north.

The Californio posse spotted and chased the outlaws, gunfire was exchanged. The rugged terrain and thick chaparral gave Flores and his gang cover.

The outlaws were in what is now Modjeska Canyon. Sanchez led a charge uphill against the outlaws. The lawmen discovered that the gang had fled up the slope of a tall hill. The posse pursued them.

At the top of the hill Flores faced a 300 foot near vertical cliff face. With the posse closing in Flores rode his horse over the edge, then jumped off of the falling animal and began grabbing chaparral branches to slow his descent. Two of the outlaws followed Flores down the cliff; two outlaws were captured on the top.

Doñ Tomas Sanchez seeing the outlaws escaping shoved a revolver into his belt and led the posse down the cliff grabbing chaparral branches as hand holds.

During his desperate escape Flores’ colt came out of its holster, landed on a rock and exploded wounding Flores in the right arm. At the bottom of the cliff the three outlaws evaded capture by hiding in the rocks and chaparral.

The hill was named Flores Peak.

Pancho Daniels and Andres Fuentes are Captured and Escape

From the prisoners General Pico learned that Daniels, Fuentes and others had left camp early that morning and were riding to attack Los Angeles.

The exhausted posse made camp in the canyon. In the morning the El Monte posse quickly picked up Fuentes’ trail and closed in. The outlaws opened fire. The posse outgunned the desperados and drove them into a cave. The posse blocked the entrance and maintained a withering fire on their quarry.

Fuentes and Daniels surrendered. Among the items seized was Barton’s gold watch.

The posse took the prisoners to Rancho Yorba for the night where they were bound and placed in a small adobe under guard. The guard fell asleep and the prisoners escaped.

The humiliated posse told Andres Pico what had happened. Pico became furious, declared there will be no more escapes and hanged his two prisoners.

Meanwhile back in Los Angeles

On January 29 Los Angeles vintner William Stockton was being robbed by Las Manillas gang member Miguel Soto, Cyrus Sanford and two friends came upon the crime. With the tables turned Soto fled and the four men chased Soto into a marsh.

A posse from El Monte set fire to the brush in the marsh, flames surrounded Soto; he refused to surrender. Soto was shot. The navy Colt Soto used to rob Stockton had been taken from the corpse of Sheriff Barton.

There were multiple lynchings in Los Angles. Four suspected outlaws were lynched by the people of San Gabriel. In Ventura a posse lynched Encarnacion Berreyesa for suspicion of aiding Flores.

Flores was captured in the Santa Suzanna pass by Army troops on February 3, 1857.

22 year old Flores was tried in a Los Angeles town meeting and convicted by popular vote. On February 27, 1857 all of Los Angeles gathered on Fort Hill to witness the hanging.

Pancho Daniels was captured on January 19, 1858, by the Santa Clara County Sheriff. Daniels was in possession of a navy Colt taken from Sheriff Barton.

Attorney Kimball H. Dimmick defended Daniels’ against conviction through three trials. On November 30, 1858 Daniels was hung by vigilantes.

Fuentes escaped to Baja California; he was executed by a Mexican firing squad in 1860.

Sources:

  1. Six Gun Sound, Sven Crongeyer 2006 Linden Publishing, Fresno
  2. The Irvine Ranch, Robert Glass Cleland 1978, Huntington Library Publications, San Marino