SALINAS, Calif. -- Central Coast News went to find out why school leaders chose to name a new elementary school in Salinas after a man, who was on many "Wanted" posters nearly 200 years ago.
According to historical records, Tiburcio Vasquez was an infamous murderer and one of the first gangsters in California.
But the Alisal Union School District Board of Trustees gave the name the "stamp of approval" for the new school on 1300 Tuscany Blvd.
Historians said the death of Vasquez marked an end to a violent era in California history, following the state's independence from Mexico.
Vasquez is known to be one of the most notorious bandits California has ever seen; there is even a book written about his life.
But Francisco Estrada, who sits on the naming committee for the new elementary school, disagreed and said Vasquez is a good man who should be a model to the youth of East Salinas.
"Mr. Vasquez, number one, was not a murderer. He was framed by the system at that time," he said.
Estrada said Vasquez shouldn't be remembered for what the history books claim.
"He took from the rich and gave to the poor. He was your inspiration of Zorro," he said. "They took everything that he owned, and he tried to live the life of a peaceful citizen."
Incoming Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter is out of state, and talked with Central Coast News over the phone about his disappointment in the name choice.
"We're a city fighting crime," he said. "We don't want to be honoring people who are criminals. We want to honor good people."
Gunter said the district needs to rethink naming the school after Vasquez, and said there are plenty of good people in the community that are better fits.
But Estrada said Vasquez is misunderstood.
"The history was written by mainstream whites. It wasn't written by Californians, or people of Mexican descent. When do we have our history written by us? When do we stop having our heros branded as villains?"
Neither the Alisal Union School District nor the Alisal Board of Trustees commented about the name choice to Central Coast News as of Tuesday evening after numerous attempts throughout the day.
According to the University of California's historical records, Vasquez was born in Monterey around 1835 and by the age of 14 was already living a violent life of crime.
Vasquez's list of murder victims in his lifetime include fellow and rival gang members, and a central coast law enforcement officer.
At 19, Vasquez was sentenced to San Quentin Prison where he managed to escape, only to be re-arrested and sent back to the prison until 1863 when he was released.
USC's records show Vasquez killed at least six more people until a decade later when he was finally caught and hung for his crimes in Santa Clara where his tomb still remains in the cemetery.
School Districts with schools named after people on the central coast:
SALINAS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT
Everett Alvarez High School --- Navy commander who was prisoner of war during Vietnam. Spent about 8 years in captivity, second longest POW held in history. Found info on Wiki, confirmed with school.
John E. Steinbeck School --- American writer who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book the Grapes of Wrath. He also wrote Of Mice and Men, and a total of 25 books. In 1962 received Nobel Prize for literature.
Martin Luther King Junior Academy
PAJARO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Ann Soldo Elementary School --- Former mayor of Watsonville who died at age 90 in 2011. She was also a teacher according to Watsonville Patch. Our scripts say she was a principal in Watsonville for 30 years and was Watsonville's first female mayor.
Ohlone Elementary--- named after the Native American people of the Central Coast
MONTEREY PENINSULA UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Walter Colton Middle School -- According to School is was one of the first mayors of Monterey. He was also a school administrator and Colton Hall in Monterey was also named after him. According to Google/Wikipedia Rev. Walter Colton was a Chaplain for the United States Navy, the Alcalde of Monterey (combo of mayor/sheriff/judge after he came to Monterey (1845ish), and the author of Three Years in California and Deck and Port. He was also co-publisher of California's first newspaper, The Californian. It says he died in 1850.
CARMEL UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Captain Cooper Elementary School -- Wikipedia says John Bautista Rogers Cooper was born in England, raised in Massachusetts and came to California on the ship 'Rover' and "was a pre-gold rush pioneer of Monterey CA."
PACIFIC GROVE UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Robert Down Elementary School --- was the principal of the Pacific Grove Grammar School 1914-1945, and taught at several other schools throughout his life. http://www.robertdown.org/
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