First explored by Spanish Army troops
From Mission San Juan Baptista,
Led by Jose de Guadalupe Cantua,
Son of a prominent Californio Ranchero
In the 19th-century Mexican era
Of early California history,
Who first explored Arroyo Cantua
Searching for runaway Native slaves
From servitude at the Mission.
His sons, Lupe and Domingo had a ranch
On the arroyo. They were ex-officio members
of bandit Joaquin's gang and their ranch
In the mountains, a gathering place
For the herds of stolen horses and mustangs
Driven south to Sonora, Mexico.
With water eight months of the year,
100 yards above El Camino Viejo,
Where the oxen-cart road north crossed,
Murrieta Springs flows from the south bank
Of the Arroyo de Cantúa, forming a pool (aguaje)
Where it rises from the foot of the mountain.
The source of the Cantúa Creek begins
On the northern slope of Santa Rita Peak,
(Elevation 5,164 feet), lower Arroyo Leona,
A tributary, through a narrow canyon,
Obstructed by large rocks and waterfalls,
Called the “Horrors of Cantúa.”
Dividing the Big Blue Hills
From the narrow ridge of the Ciervo Hills
Emerging from the Diablo range,
Thirty miles into the San Joaquin Valley,
From barren loma muertas at the head-end
To an oak woodland, and salt brush.
Once or twice a decade, there is a deep
And lasting snowfall on the former tributary
Of the Fresno Slough,
Cantúa Creek passes into the sand
Of the streambed, somewhere near US Interstate 5,
Four miles south of the town of Cantúa Creek.
Where Harry Love and his Rangers
Rode down into the valley of the Cantúa arroyo,
Found members of Joaquin’s gang, killing three.
(There were no less than five bandits named Joaquin,
looking enough alike to be mistaken for one another,
in the early 1850’s in California)
Californios, living in small adobe dwellings,
Their fenced ranchos and goat farms
Spread across the wide, barren San Joaquin Valley,
Were sympathizers of Joaquin at night.
Seeing him as a vengador,
Having suffered grave injustices
At the hands of the Americanos,
He turned against them.
Rancheros welcomed him and his gang
Providing horses, supplies,
Nourishment, and likely recruits.
Joaquin, from Sonora, Mexico,
A horse thief, gambler, outlaw leader,
Expert drover, El Famoso,
As legend and myth have it.
Monte dealer in Sawmill Flats,
Martinez, Murphy’s, and Camp Seco.
A handsome young fellow, black eyes
And black hair, a face of ivory pallor.
Outlaws and their pursuers treated life
As though it was cheap,
Excused their acts as justifiable
Given the circumstances.
Hispanic bandits and gang members,
Former Mexican soldiers (cholos)
From the Mexican-American War (1846-48)
Out-of-work, resorted to stealing
Horses and robbing people,
Murdering Chinese miners,
Stealing their gold from them,
Not patriots at war with Americans.
Joaquin, a reckless daredevil,
An adventurer who spurred his horse
Down the slope to destruction,
Leading a band of ruthless murderers
Robbers, and horse thieves,
Including his uncle, “Three-Fingered Jack,”
Knowing full well his foolhardy
And immoral, lawless conduct
Could cost him his life.
Joaquin, a good Mexican who went bad
Because of the abuses suffered
At the hands of unscrupulous Americans?
The lynching of his half-brother,
Rape and murder of his heart’s treasure,
His young Sonoran wife, “Rosita,”
The whippings inflicted on him,
A near-death beating.
A hunger for justice?
Joaquin robbed and murdered,
Because his own bad passions compelled him.
Arriving first in Pueblos de Los Angeles
In 1849, with a Mexican Maroma company,
Rope-dancers, somersault acts,
And circus performers.
Joaquin worked as a “horse-trainer,”
Sporting vaquero attire,
Stealing fine horses he trained
And mules, committing highway robbery,
Murder, and burglarizing homes
Joaquin was captured once
At a place called La Centrinella,
Five or six big cottonwood trees there,
South of Arvin, his band
Having stolen horses and saddles
From Rancho Orestimba, Merced County,
Were pursued all the way to Tejon
By Mexican vaquero, Yrener Corona.
Chief Zapatero, of the Tejon band,
Sent a dozen of his men,
With the guns and ammunition,
And waited for nightfall to come.
Santiago Montez went for help,
Brought back a party of 22 Indians.
By the light of the moon, they advanced.
Some men crept up to the horses,
Leading them quietly away.
Others poked gun muzzles
Into the ribs of sleeping bandits,
Then began stripping them, tied them up.
“There were three woman and five men.”
Everyone left naked and unattended
While the captors divided up the loot,
That took until sunrise.
When they returned at dawn
All the prisoners were gone.
The loot: fifteen horses, some saddles.
Other goods: “a fine pair of spurs
With some gold and silver on them,
A first-rate watch with a chain,
A decent revolver,
And a black silk scarf with fringe,
Three golden nuggets
And two women’s rings.”
Joaquin was arrested in Stockton
For stealing a pair of boots
From Hyman Mitchell’s dry-goods store.
He claimed the boots were a gift,
Served a short jail sentence
Then was “flogged” before his release.
He slipped quietly out
Of the Los Angeles County jail
In June 1852, just ahead of
Captain Harry Love and his posse.
Twenty-year-old Joaquin enjoyed
The company of Ana Benitez
Before returning to the Tres Piedras.
The more restrained he was,
The worse he became, he ran away,
Fled in the July night.
Driving mustangs to market,
Was his company, his business,
The horse-corrals of Sonora, Mexico.
His escape was made by riding high
On the narrow trail at Three Rocks.
Avelino Martinez, in 1935, was absolutely certain
That the legendary bandit Joaquin
Was not killed by Captain Harry Love’s Rangers
In a near-ambush at his camp on Cantúa Creek,
But escaped to his pre-gold-rush home
In the state of Sonora, Mexico.
In 1877, Martinez was herding sheep
At Rancho La Liebre, in the Ciervo Hills,
He was camping when approached
By an old, white-haired man
Who was riding a fine horse,
And leading a pack animal.
Avelino invited the man to join him
In a meal of which he partook.
The old man claimed he was Joaquin,
Returned to Alta California to recover loot
He buried in the vicinity of the Tres Piedras
Near the Arroyo de Cantúa.
Fresno County, circa 1850’s
To the north and northwest
Across the valley plain over sandy soil
Often cut by arroyos and washes
And places smooth and grassy
Covered in sage brush and creosote bush,
In 1850, wild horses ran free on the prairie.
Chico Martinez, a Mexican pioneer,
Regarded far afield as
The King of the Mustang Runners,
Built corrals on the creek
Bearing his name:
El Arroyo de Chico Martinez,
At a large waterhole on the bottom
Of high sandstone outcroppings,
Natural stone corrals at Bajia de Matrano.
Guadalupe Cantúa, head of a detachment
Of Spanish army troops
From Mission San Juan Bautista,
First explored the Arroyo de Cantúa,
A back wood and isolated territory
In the arid lands of San Benito County,
Discovered a natural hideout and corrals
For livestock in Joaquin Canyon,
A watering hole on La Vereda del Monte,
Used by the five Joaquin gangs
Driving their stolen horses southbound
To the hideout at Arroyo de Cantúa.
The Cantúa brothers, Lupe and Domingo,
Guadalupe’s sons established a ranch,
Rancho de Cantúa, on the arroyo.
Accomplices with the Joaquin rings,
Their ranch in the mountains
Was a gathering place for the gangs,
Holding pens for captured animals,
Herds of stolen horses and mustangs,
Corralled and prepared
For an organized drive to the south
To their ranch in Sonora, Mexico.
Many bands of wild mesteñas
In the wealth of perennial grasses,
Crafty ravens, copper hawks, and bee martins,
25,000 horses ran in remudas
Of 30 mares, and a stallion.
Small, tough, and good saddle horses,
In great demand by intrepid Vaqueros.
Mustangs were pursued by men on horseback,
Taken from free-roaming wild bands.
Saddled horses could outrun the wild ones.
Mesteñeros determined the direction
The wild horses would be driven,
Riders were earlier stationed
Every two or three miles
Over a distance of twenty miles.
At a preset time, two men started
After the wild horses as fast
As their mounts could run.
The frantic herd became confused
By fresh horsemen previously placed,
That sprang up on either side
Urging an increase in speed
With wild shouts and whistles.
After two or three hours,
The mustangs became exhausted.
Vaqueros were able to subdue them
By roping their front legs.
Young stallions were saddle broke,
Driven south and traded for top-peso.
Deep grooves were burnt
Into the sizeable oak horn
Of their Mexican saddles.
Keep the horses ears in sight,
Movements show thoughts and intentions.