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Many New Mexican towns have their legendary criminals, but few match the violence and fear gang leader Vicente Silva brought to Las Vegas.

In 1893, while burying the body of the wife he just murdered, two of Silva’s gangster associates who were hired to help him, decided it was a good time for Silva to go too. He was shot and buried not far from his wife in an arroyo about thirty miles from town. About two years later, one of the murderers, seeking a pardon for cooperating with investigators, led them to the bodies.

Good Citizen Silva

Silva came to Las Vegas as a young man in 1875. Tall, well built and mannered, he became a successful saloonkeeper on the Plaza where he did good business from day one. Cattlemen, sheepherders, cowboys, silver miners, wool and cattle buyers found Silva’s Imperial Saloon on Moreno Street a welcome distraction after a hard day’s work.

While liquor flowed downstairs, there was the excitement of gambling upstairs. This could be a rough crowd. And it wasn’t long before the well-liked citizen saloonkeeper who gave openly to charity, fell in with a bad lot. Unbeknownst to the entire community, Silva became the leader of a different, more lucrative enterprise. His saloon became headquarters for a ruthless gang of thieves, rustlers, robbers and rogues.

Bad Citizen Silva

Well-organized for gangsters of the time, they were known by several names such as Silva’s White Caps, Forty Bandits and Society of Bandits – the most feared group of outlaws anywhere in the region.

Silva’s White Caps indulged in a crime wave of robbery, plunder and when necessary, murder. Every Las Vegas merchant, rancher, trader and herder lived in fear that they might be the next victim of Silva’s ruthless marauders.

No Honor Among Thieves

The beginning of the end for Silva came in 1892 with the arrest of gang-member-turned-informant Patricio Maes. Fearing he would be hanged for his part in the Silva’s mayhem, Maes made a deal with local lawmen to disclose information that would lead to the arrest of the clandestine gang leader. Unfortunately for Maes, word got out to the gangsters, and he was summarily hanged in the dark of night from the Gallinas River Bridge.

Disturbed by Maes confessions, Silva began to suspect that others might be ready to turn on him as well. In particular, his brother-in-law Gabriel Sandoval who “suddenly disappeared” with the help of three crooked lawmen tied to Silva.

What Goes Around…

Next on Silva’s list was his wife, who was increasingly curious about the death of her brother. In a fit of paranoia, Silva robbed her of $200, stabbed her to death and ordered the same trio of crooked cops to bury her. Each was offered ten bucks.

As they were digging, Silva arrived with his wife’s lifeless body. After burying her, Silva got into an argument with the gravediggers who, upon seeing his bulging money belt, were disgruntled over Silva’s stingy pay for such a dastardly deed.

The argument turned ugly, and deadly for Silva. He was shot point blank in his left temple, robbed and hastily buried not far from his wife in a remote arroyo near Las Vegas.

So it goes.

Epilogue

Confessions from Silva’s White Caps proliferated now that Silva was dead and a growing fear of hanging for their crimes. As such, the long arm of the law was able to capture and punish many of the gang with sentences from four years to hanging.

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