) was a 19th century Mexican bandit who, with Pancho Daniel
, led an outlaw gang throughout southern California during the 1850s. Although regarded by historians as a thief and outlaw, Flores was considered among Mexican-Americans
as a folk hero
akin to Jesse James
who was thought of as a defender against vigilante movements
in the years following the American settlement of California and its incorporation into the United States
. However, the activities of Flores and other insurrectos
such as Tiburcio Vásquez
, Pío Lenares
and Joaquín Murrieta
against American and foreign-born settlers not only created long-lasting suspicion and hostility towards Mexican-Americans but also divided the traditional Spanish class structures of the Californios
and the poorer peasants as well.
Flores Peak, part of Santiago Canyon located in Orange County, was named after the outlaw leader to commemorate the capture of much of the Flores gang although Flores himself escaped.
Although born to a prominent family, Flores was first arrested in 1855 for horse stealing and imprisoned in San Quentin
. However, he soon escaped in October the following year (although other sources claim he served his prison term ) and joined forces with Pancho Daniel and a dozen or so ranch hands, miners and other Angelinos
such as Anastasio García
, Andrés Fontes
, Chino Varelas
, Faustino García
, Juan Cartabo
and "One-eyed" Piguinino among others. During the next two years, Flores and his "los Manilas"
gained a following among the Mexican-American population in the San Luis Obispo
- and San Juan Capistrano
-areas with his numbers growing to over fifty men. One of the largest gangs in the state, Flores terrorized the area for the next two years primarily stealing horses and cattle but also committing armed robbery, murder and conducting raids against towns and homesteads in the area. Due in part to attention by newspapers, opposition to what became known as the "Flores Revolution" began to take form by public officials and law enforcement as well as upper-class Californios
such as Andrés Pico
, Juan Sepúlveda
and Tomás Sánchez
all of whom later participated in the capture of Flores.
Raid on San Juan Capistrano
In late-December 1856 or early-January 1857, Flores attempted to pursue and rob a wagon traveling from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano. Missing the wagon somewhere on the road, Flores instead led a group of outlaws on a raid against San Juan Capistrano looting the shop of a local Russian-Polish merchant Michael Krazewski. Wounding a store assistant, they carried nearly all the goods in the store on two horses promising to return to the town. The next day, Flores made another raid on the town in which German shopkeeper George Pflugardt was murdered and several stores were looted. They had been after an informant who had previously testified against him for horse stealing years earlier and, when the man was able to escape before their arrival, they proceeded to loot the town and spent the night "in drunken revelry"
until leaving sometime around 2:00 am. When authorities in Los Angeles were alerted of the incident, they dispatched Sheriff James R. Barton
and a posse of six well-armed men and set out to apprehend Flores.
Later that month, Flores was visiting a female companion "Chola" Martina Burruel in the Burruel Adobe outside San Juan Capistrano. During his stay, Sheriff Barton was killed along with police constables William H. Little and Charles R. Baker while traveling down the road to San Juan Capistrano. Only 12 miles south of San Joaquín Ranch
, Barton and his posse were on their way to apprehend Flores for George Pflugardt's murder before being ambushed at Barranco de los Alisos
and killed by Flores and members of his gang. The surviving members of Barton's posse who managed to escape the massacre made their way back to Los Angeles.
Barton's death caused a backlash against outlaw violence in the region as members of Flores' gang were hunted down and captured by authorities, a large group of them being apprehended by Andres Pico and Tomas Snachez at Sierra de Santiago although Flores himself managed to escape. Numbers ranging from fifty to seventy Mexican-Americans were arrested on having connections with Flores and between February 1857 and November 1858, eleven others suspected of being members of the Flores gang were lynched. According to historian John Boessenecker, only four of these men were confirmed as members of the gang.
After eleven days on the run, Flores and Pancho Daniel were brought in by a 120-man posse led by Andres Pico and included American merchants, Californio ranchers, Native American scouts and members of the Texan vigilante gang the "El Monte Boys". With "practically every man, woman and child present in the pueblo" numbering an estimated 3,000 people, Flores was tried for murder and hanged near the top of Fort Hill in what would later be present-day downtown Los Angeles on February 14, 1857; Pancho Daniel would later be hanged on November 30, 1858. Addressing the crowd from the scaffold, he stated "he bore no malice, was dying justly, and that he hoped that those he had wronged would forgive him". When his execution was carried out, his noose being too short, Flores instead died from suffocation instead of having his neck broken as intended.
The last surviving member of the Juan Flores gang, Andrés Fontes, was believed to have instigated the events leading to the shooting death of Barton and his party due to a personal disagreement with Sheriff Barton. Fontes was reportedly killed in Baja California by either F.R. Esparza or Solomon Pico.