The Death of Salomon Pico

The man with whom Salomon had ridden to fight the Americans during the Spanish -American war was his friend and cousin Capitán José Castro. A loyal Mexican citizen, Castro had departed for Mexico once they were defeated. There, in Sonora, he was rewarded with a similar commission in the Mexican Army and quickly reinforced that small force with displaced Californios who had fought alongside him.

Life in California became increasingly difficult for less fortunate Californios who had lost land and become displaced. Due to a fear of banditry, laws were enacted to persecute any person of Mexican origin who appeared jobless and moneyless. A suspected, if not wanted man, Salomon could no longer count upon relatives and friends for sanctuary and departed to Mexico to serve with his old friend.

His short time in Mexico reveals an interesting side to the man, perhaps even of one who wished to demonstrate his true nature, such as the occasion when in the role of peacemaker he rescued an American from the wrath of a Mexican mob. But even in the distant outreaches of Sonora, politics changed, and with the death of José Castro, Salomon and other Alta California expats became a hindrance to rebuilding political bridges with America. The new regime decided to eliminate all such “criminals” from Sonora.

Salomon was, from all reports, an engaging character who played the guitar, sang, and danced well. He fathered children with at least four women, probably more, and cared for them as best he could within a life requiring fairly constant and spontaneous travel. He was popular with the Mexicans in California, and equally popular with the people in Mexico. As the politics shifted, Salomon began to ride with comrades for mutual safety. He would not be an easy man to eliminate.

His demise came at a celebration to which he had been invited, where there was dancing and lively music. During the evening Salomon was called upon to lead a dance for which he was particularly known. While he was thus occupied, soldiers surrounded the building and arrested him along with his men, took them all outside and summarily shot them. Salomon died in 1860 at 39 years of age.

Interestingly, my years researching Salomon Pico have revealed little actual evidence of crimes. He was suspected of much, at a time when Mexicans in California without political clout or wealth were marginalized by American administrations, but there was little proof. There were certainly bandits flourishing during the 1850s and on into the 80s, and some likely worked for Salomon during his cattle buying days. Salomon gained a reputation from the two times he was arrested and jailed on suspicion, despite the fact he was released both times. The newspapers happily ascribed to Salomon every stage holdup, every unsolved murder, and every robbery from Paso Robles to Los Angeles during his time in those regions. Was it true? Or was Salomon done a huge injustice?

We may never know.

Next blog: The real bandits of Santa Barbara County

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