Big Jim: El Tejano the stage robber

2013-06-25T00:00:00Z 2013-07-11T11:52:19Z Big Jim: El Tejano the stage robberJim Griffith Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

This story takes us back into those times that can only be reached through oral tradition, when Tucson was a small, mostly Mexican village in the midst of an active mining area.

The protagonist was a highly successful stage robber known in memory only as el Tejano — The Texan. (This use of nicknames is still common in Mexican Tucson: I have known several people for years without discovering their “real” names.)

El Tejano plied his trade in the 1870s or ‘80s, and does not match up with any figure known to the historical record. But older Mexicans on Tucson’s west side know about him and can tell stories about him — the kinds of stories that are best heard while sitting under a ramada on a summer evening.

El Tejano robbed the stages, especially those carrying payroll to the mines. Some say that he shod his horse backwards so as to fool his pursuers. And so he continued until, according to the late Pedro Castillo, the stage company sent a really sharp detective from Califronia. He had a suspicion as to el Tejano’s true identity, so he went to the Picacho stage station where the bandit’s wife was working and asked to speak with her husband.

“He’s not here.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot — I just saw him in Phoenix. He was winning a lot of money at the tables and making a big hit with the ladies.”

“Why, the no-good so-and-so — he told me he was going to rob a stage!” Oops. And that’s the way they got on his trail.

El Tejano was never captured, but was shot — some say with a shotgun — on Cat Mountain. People lined up for blocks to see his coffin. But that wasn’t the end.

For he has been seen at least in the 20th Century — looking things over near Sasabe, or galloping his horse near El Picacho (with no dust puffing from under his horse’s feet) or heard at night, leading his horse through the rushes to water by the banks of the deep, dry Santa Cruz River. And his treasure has never been found.

But that’s another story.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

About this blog

Jim Griffith is the former director of the Southwest Folklore Center at the University of Arizona, and co-founder of Tucson Meet Yourself. He’s also the author of seven books on the folklore and folklife of our region, most recently “A Border Runs Through It.” His books can be purchased at

If you have questions or suggestions for Jim Griffith or this blog, e-mail

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