Juan Flores, along with Pancho Daniel, was the bandit leader of the Flores-Daniels Gang that operated in Southern California during 1856-1857.
Flores was born to a prominent family in about 1834 and by the time he was in his 20s was described as “a dark complexioned fellow of medium height slim, lithe and graceful, with vindictive-looking eyes.” In 1855, he was arrested for horse stealing and sent to San Quentin. However, he escaped in October 1856 and soon hooked up with outlaw Pancho Daniel to form the “las Manillas” (the Handcuffs), better known as the Flores-Daniels Gang,
Though viewed by the white settlers as thieves and murderers, Flores and his gang were seen by area Hispanics as folk heroes, much like Jesse James would later be viewed in Missouri. Raiding white settlers in the areas of San Luis Obispo and San Juan Capistrano, the gang quickly grew to over 50 men who rustled cattle, committed armed robbery, and murder. In January 1857 the gang made a raid on San Juan Capistrano, looting several shops and killing a shopkeeper and an assistant. Afterward, they continued to loot the town as they celebrated in a drinking spree.
Soon, Los Angeles County Sheriff James R. Barton rounded up a posse to go after the outlaws. However, on January 23, 1857, the posse was ambushed about 12 miles south of present-day Santa Ana, and Sheriff James L. Barton, Constable Charles Baker, Deputy Charles Daly, and Constable William Little were shot and killed, the first lawmen in Los Angeles County to lose their lives in the line of duty. The other three men were able to escape to tell of the ambush. Within two hours, another posse was formed with some 60 men, who once again went after the outlaws. Under the leadership of James Thompson, who would later become Los Angeles County’s new sheriff, the posse found the mutilated bodies of the four officers. With renewed enthusiasm, the posse continued the search for the bandits, arresting 52 of them. Another posse, led by General Andres Pico, immediately lynched two of the most notorious of the gang when they came upon them.
Juan Flores was condemned to death and was hanged on February 14, 1857, near the top of Fort Hill with some 3,000 people gathered to watch. The 22-year-old Flores stated he was “dying justly” before his execution was carried out. However, his noose was too short, and instead of having his neck broken during the execution, he died of suffocation. His partner, Pancho Daniel, would be hanged the following year on November 30, 1858.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated May 2019.
Bell, Horace; Reminiscences of a Ranger: or, Early Times in Southern California, Yarnell, Caystile & Mathes, Printers, 1881.
Enss, Chris; Outlaw Tales of California, Globe Pequot, 2008.