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Claudio Feliz and the Raid on the Marsh Rancho

One of the most violent outlaw bands attacking the isolated ranchos of old Contra Costa was led by Claudio Feliz, Joaquin Murrieta’s brother-in-law. Claudio mounted an armed assault on Dr. Marsh’s rancho, Ranch Los Meganos, on December 5, 1850. After spending a pleasant afternoon as a guest of Dr. John Marsh posing as a Argentinean horse trader, Claudio returned that night with a dozen outlaws armed with guns and lances. They overran the rancho, captured Marsh, looted the adobe ranch house, and just for fun, speared to death William Harrington, an unresisting Anglo visitor. His body was found with eight lance wounds and one bullet hole. The bandits escaped with $300, gold watches and guns. However Marsh was luckier than he knew.

Two weeks after the Marsh raid, Claudio’s band made a quick thrust south to San Jose. Attacking the ranch of Digby Smith, they robbed Smith of $1500. After tying his helpless victims to chairs, Claudio Feliz crushed Digby Smith’s skull, split E.G. Barber’s head open with an ax and severed the cook’s head with a knife. Following the massacre, Claudio Feliz burned the ranchhouse to the ground.

Next Claudio attacked the rancho of Anastacio Chabolla a couple of miles from San Jose. But Anastacio and his vaqueros put up a stiff fight and the outlaw gang was driven off. With that defeat the Feliz gang retreated to the Southern Mines where he linked up with his brother, Reyes.

For the next two years Claudio preyed on the Sierra mining camps before returning to the East Bay. In 1852 an alert rancher’s wife on the Kottinger’s Rancho near Pleasanton became suspicious of the strangers. Seeing a knife she screamed and her husband shoved the outlaws out the door and sealed up the ranch house frustrating the attack by Claudio’s gang. After firing a volley of shots into the ranch house in frustration, the gang galloped off.

Shortly afterwards a largely Hispanic posse caught up with Claudio Feliz and his men on a ranch along the Salinas River. In his greed Claudio Feliz had made the fatal mistake of robbing a native Californio instead of his usual prey of Anglo and helpless Chinese miners. Claudio was tracked down and violently killed along with several of his murderous gang in a bloody gun battle. With his violent death, leadership of the outlaw band passed to his brother-in-law, Joaquin Murrieta.

Bill Mero