The American Wild West had its famous outlaws from Billy the Kid to Jesse James, Australia had Ned Kelly, England had the likes of Robin Hood, Dick Turpin and Jack Shepherd, so it’s only natural that Andalucía had its very own ‘bandoleros’.
Andalucia, mountainous and full of ravines, caves and hidden valleys, has always been a great place for people to make themselves scarce in times of conflict with authority. In the 9th century it was Omar ben Hafsun, a sort of Islamic Robin Hood, who ruled the roost from Cartegena to Gibraltar.
In the 19th century, it was the turn of the ‘bandoleros’, bandits who preyed on the rich and who became almost folk heroes of the time. It was the activities of these bandoleros that led to the formation of the Guardia Civil in 1844, and many bandoleros were subsequently forced into the service of the ‘caciques’ (local landowners) or even of the Guardia Civil itself.
Umar ibn Hafs ibn Ya`fár, better known as Omar Ben Hafsun, was born in the Ronda area and his parents were fairly wealthy landowners. His ancestors were converts to Islam after the conquest of the region by the Moors. Somewhat rebellious, he was involved in many disputes, but in one such incident in 879 he ended up killing one of his neighbours.
His father disowned him and, as a result, he gathered together a band of followers and headed for the hills and a life of banditry. He was captured but managed to escape to Africa.
In 884 Omar Ben Hafsun returned to the region and became part of a rebellion against the Emirate of Cordoba, making his base in the ruins of the old Bobastro castle high up in the most inaccessible area of the Guadalhorce mountains.
Rebuilding the castle, he dominated the provinces of Málaga and Granada, becoming a sort of Robin Hood figure to the locals as he ‘redistributed wealth and taxes’ in the region. Attempts to dislodge him from the castle all failed miserably, and in the end the Emirate had to recognise him as governor of the area.
Ben Hafsun made various beneficial alliances, with rebels in the Jaén area and various arab factions in North Africa. However, in 891 he suffered a rare defeat near Aguilar. He tried unsuccessfully to form alliances with Asturias, Zaragoza and Badajoz but, despite these setbacks, he managed to maintain his power although it was now in slow decline.
In 899, much of the region converted to Christianity and many of his followers departed, but once again he still managed to remain top dog, although somewhat more isolated than in the past. Omar Ben Hafsun never was decisively defeated and died in Bobastro in 918. His son managed to hold on to Bobastro until 928 when the ‘rebellion’ was finally squashed and the Hafsun family were forced into exile.
José Maria Hinojosa Cobacho, ‘El Tempranillo‘, was born in Juaja on June 21st 1805. He was born into a poor family suffering from the privations of the Napoleonic invasion of Spain at the beginning of the 19th century. He is widely believed to have killed his first man at the age of just thirteen, either as the result of an attack on his family or an insult aimed at his mother.
Evading capture, he joined a group of bandoleros who were based in a cave near the Despeñaperros pass on the main northern route into Andalucía. They were essentially highwaymen, collecting a sort of ‘toll’ from rich travellers to ensure their safe passage through the region.
El Tempranillo was somewhat of a charmer, and his fame soon spread. He was also likened, as others before him, to Robin Hood, as he redistributed his ill-gotten gains to the poor. He became a cult figure, not only in Andalucía but also farther afield. Some European tourists to the area even went so far as to pay to have themselves ‘held up’.
Don Vicente Quesada, Captain General of the armed forces in Andalucía, frustrated by the exploits of El Tempranillo, then offered a reward of 6,000 reales for his capture, dead or alive. For his part, El Tempranillo, by now minus one hand due to a shooting accident, announced that ‘while the King may rule Spain, El Tempranillo rules the sierras’. He even became referred to as the King of the Sierra Morena.
He married a young woman, María Gerónima Francés, from Torre Alháquime in the Cádiz region, but in 1831 she died during childbirth. Gathering together fifty riders, El Tempranillo rode into the mountain village of Grazelma, north-west of Ronda, to baptise their son in the church of Nuestra Señora de la Aurora. It was a daring, and brazen action which did nothing to endear him to the authorities, but they could only stand by, helplessly, as he carried it off, powerless to stop him.
Daring raids in broad daylight and an ever increasing popularity amongst the common people eventually forced King Fernando VII to offer El Tempranillo a pardon in exchange for switching sides and working for the state.
The pardon was formally granted in August 1832 and José Maria Hinojosa Cabacho was made Commander in Chief of the Escuadrón Franco de Protección y Seguridad Pública de Andalucía. He was at the head of sixty mounted guards who wore a uniform similar to that of Spain’s army and was probably the precursor to the Guardia Civil, formed in 1844.
In 1833 he was on the trail of another bandolero of the time, El Barbarello. Attempting to make an arrest on the road between Alameda and Mollina, he was seriously wounded during the ensuing shootout. The bandolero turned lawman was taken to the Parador de San Antonio in Alameda.
He was given the last rites by the local parish priest and dictated his last will and testament before a local notary, Jerónimo Orellana, leaving what little he had to his son, also named José Maria. He died the next day, September 23rd 1833, aged just 28 years, and was buried in a carved tomb in the church of Alameda.
Despite his many years as a bandolero, El Tempranillo left behind little more than two small houses and two horses, not much to show for a life of crime.
Juan Mingolla Gallardo, known as ‘Pasos Largos‘ (Large Strides), a nickname he inherited from his father, was the last of the bandits from the Ronda area. Born in Burgo, Ronda or Sentenil (accounts seem to vary) in 1873, he went for military duty to Cuba in 1895. Returning home a sick man and with his character changed, he finds that his older brother has died and his younger brother has moved away from the family home.
In 1901 his mother dies and Mingolla becomes more and more introverted, spending most of the time hunting or just roaming in the mountains. He starts gambling, and losing, and is often involved in fights, generally over money. He is then denounced following a robbery at a local cortijo and arrested.
After being badly beaten by his captors, he is full of hatred and wanting revenge. He attacks and kills his denouncer at El Chopo finca and then goes in search of the father of the man and kills him also.. It is a bloodthirsty killing and sets Mingolla on the outlaw path. He takes refuge in the mountains, which he knows like the back of his hand, making his home in the caves of Clavelito, Lifa and Sopalmillos.
Robbery and kidnapping are his forte, and his feats soon became the stuff of legend. The money he obtains is generally squandered on his favourite pastime, gambling, but his losses are always greater than any winnings. So time for another kidnapping. This time he chooses the rather famous Diego Villarejo, owner of the Cuevas del Becerro.
He receives 10,000 reales in exchange for his prisoner, but also brings himself to the attention of people in high places who give the order for his immediate tracking and capture. It is said that he actually built up a rapport, even a friendship with his important prisoner, receiving from him a gold chain and a watch.
Still in 1916, his hiding place is discovered by the wife of a goatherd and she informs the Guardia Civil in an attempt to collect the reward money offered for his capture. Pasos Largos, shoots it out with the officers of the law in time honoured tradition.
Badly wounded in the ensuing gun battle, he nevertheless manages to escape and elude capture. He collapses in the hills and passes out, but the Guardia Civil fail in their search to find him. When he wakes up, he decides to head into Ronda to the Café Sibajas in Calle la Bola, a place where he often used to gamble his time, and money away. He is captured and, after having his wounds treated, is sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1932, he is granted a pardon and is even offered a job by one time mayor of Ronda, Diego Villarejo, a man whom he had actually robbed many years before. But it doesn’t last, Pasos Largos yearning once more for the mountain life and he returns to a life of banditry.
In the beginning, his robberies are carried out without the use of firearms, but that changes when he robs the Cortijo de Liza and this marks the beginning of the end for Pasos Largos. Guardia Civil officers from many areas combine in a united attempt to bring him to justice once more and in March 1934 they discover his hiding place.
He is invited to ‘surrender or die’, but responds with ‘Pos máteme’ – a sort of ‘come and get me’ retort – obviously preferring to die in the mountains than spend the rest of his life behind bars. His wish is granted, and the last of the Andalucían bandits passes into history…..
José Ulloa was a gypsy and inherited the nickname ‘Tragabuches‘ from his father who, so the story goes, is said to have eaten a newborn donkey. He did marinade it first, apparently. Although José Ulloa was born in Arcos de la Frontera, he always considered himself a Rondeño, a native of Ronda.
He was a bullfighter, a contemporary of the world famous Pedro Romero, being schooled in the art of bullfighting by Pedro himself. Pedro Romero believed the young Tragabuches had a bright future ahead of him, but for some reason, perhaps due to an underlying general resentment of gypsies, soon lost interest in his pupil and passed him over to his brother, José Romero.
At the age of twenty, Tragabuches travelled to the south by Spain, performing in the ring as a banderillero. He travelled to Salamanca in 1802 where he was given his first real chance on the path to fame and glory. He duly seized the opportunity.
In 1814, King Fernando VII returned to Spain and a tournament was arranged in Málaga. José Ulloa ‘Tragabuches’ was selected to participate in this extravagant event. He set off on horse back from Ronda to Málaga but, due to an accident on the way, he interrupted the journey and returned to Ronda.
What a mistake to make. Arriving home he found his wife was with her lover, one Pepe El Listillo. Enraged, Tragabuches drowned El Listillo and threw his wife off the balcony of their first floor house which still exists today and is located in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Facing a double murder charge he fled and headed for the hills to become a bandolero. He formed an outlaw gang, the ‘Los Siete Niños de Ecija’ (the Seven Children of Ecija) and followed a path of crime.
In 1817, all but one of the Seven Children of Ecija were captured and subsequently executed. José Ulloa ‘Tragabuches’ was never caught, just simply vanished into the night and was never heard of again, except in a song sung by one of the six captured bandits as he sat in his cell awaiting execution. The song was called ‘La Copla de Tragabuches’:
Una mujer fue la causa
de mi perdición primera;
que no hay perdición de hombres
que por mujer no venga.