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Although no pictures of Salomon Pico are known to exist, this photo is of his cousin, Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California.

Orcutt's Connection to Pico Salomon, the Inspiration for the Legendary Character of Zorro

“Laughing, chivalrous, and fierce, he challenged destiny and refused to set bounds on his limits.”          
                                          - The Mark of Zorro, by Johnston
McCulley

          With the aftermath of the Mexican American War in 1848 and influx of Americans seeking gold in California, the original Spanish colonists, known as Californios, lost land, fortunes, and influence. The shift of power was often obtained through fraud. Some Californios resorted to lawlessness, fueled and justified by their resentment of the Americans. 

          In 1919, author Johnston McCulley, inspired by his interest in the real-life tales of bandit Californios during the mid 1800s, began his series of Zorro stories: tales of a dashing masked gentleman-rancher turned outlaw vigilante. 

          One such assailant of unsuspecting gringos was the notorious Californio, Salomon Pico. Salomon was the cousin of Pio Pico, who holds the distinction of being the last Governor of Mexican California. 

          The hills that reach from Orcutt to Los Alamos were later called the Solomon Hills (misspelled by an early geographer) as a nod to Pico. The lofty bank above the valley provided advantageous vista views for Pico and his gang of marauders. Stagecoaches traveling between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, carrying gold to buy herds of cattle, often fell victim to the robbers. Folklore tells of stolen gold buried in the hills. While stolen gold treasure lay hidden in the hills, numerous skulls were recovered…some with obvious bullet holes. This accounts for the many cattle traders reported missing during that time.

Despite his thieving and murderous ways, fellow Californios, and Americans with ties to Californios, saw Pico as a gallant hero railing against injustice. They provided shelter and obscurity from authorities, allowing Pico to evade punishment for several years from around 1849 to 1851. Pico eventually fled the Central Coast for Baja California where he, and 14 other notable outlaws, were eventually executed by the Commander of Baja California in May of 1860. 

          Fifty years after Pico perched in the hills near Orcutt, gold was, indeed, found. On December 2, 1904, liquid gold, from a well, nicknamed “Old Maud,” shot 150 feet into the air. Old Maud became the most prolific gusher in the nation, producing a million barrels in the first 100 days. The lucky strike brought laborers of various skills to the area, at first inhabiting tent cities in the Orcutt Hills. Later, tents were upgraded to cottages, and a burgeoning community, both in the hills and down below, grew up and flourished. 

          The Union Oil hill community’s Newlove schoolhouse, built in 1908, still graces the Solomon Hills. Nearby are the Newlove picnic grounds, a historic oak studded gathering place. 

          On August 17th the Old Town Orcutt Revitalization Association (OTORA) is hosting a special 21 and over event at this celebrated hilltop property.  Tickets to the function include a delicious lunch and “welcome”  glass of a bubbly libation. The event will feature a local historian telling tales of Orcutt’s beginnings. Come and celebrate Orcutt at the spot where the town first took root. For more information and tickets visit OTORA.org.

                                                               Kirsten Spallino contributing

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