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MUSEUM TOUR : A Tale of Banditry : Historian Richard Senate will tell the story of the daring Olivas ranch robbery and the gold that was never found.

December 05, 1991|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There is something irresistible about tales from the California Gold Rush days, especially if they involve a notorious bandit and a fortune in gold that was never found.

Kids love the intrigue. This Saturday they can hear the story of the daring 1850s robbery at the ranch of Raymundo Olivas, one of Ventura County's richest ranchers of the day.

Historian Richard Senate will tell the story during a walking tour of the Olivas Adobe, now one of Ventura's museums. The tour from 1 to 2 p.m. is free, and also will give families a chance to see the large restored adobe that was home to Olivas, his wife, Teodora, and their 19 children.

According to Senate, crime was rampant in those frontier days, with bandits terrorizing local folks. Olivas was a likely target. He was making the equivalent in today's money of a quarter-million dollars a year selling beef to the miners in the Sierra gold fields.

Historians can agree on virtually nothing about the famous robbery, except that the gold--worth anywhere from $3,000 to $75,000--was never found. Speculation about what happened to it still buzzes. In fact, some visitors to the adobe bring along a metal detector to comb the grounds in hopes that it is buried nearby.

Even the date of the robbery is the subject of speculation-- sometime between 1850 and 1855. The leader of the bandits, by some accounts, was Joaquin Murrieta, notorious throughout the state.

The bandits attacked at night while the family was sleeping, or after a big fiesta, or while Olivas was playing cards. No one really knows. The leader of the bandits knew where Olivas hid his gold, but the stories say it was anywhere from a sack on a kitchen beam to a hollowed-out watermelon.

How much the outlaws terrorized the family is also open to dispute. Did one of the bandits rip the earrings from Teodora Olivas' ears and cut the gold buttons from her dress?

What happened to the gold has remained a mystery. One theory is that it is buried in Ventura and that a dying convict gave a priest directions to it. When Senate re-enacts the robbery Saturday, he may have a treasure map of possible sites for kids.

After the robbery, one thing is sure. Olivas added security measures to make the home bandit-proof. He had a wall built around the adobe and courtyard. Not only that, he installed a cannon at the gates to his property. It was a move that backfired when one of his 12 sons accidentally fired it, sending a cannonball crashing through the house.

Senate is loaded with colorful stories about Olivas, as well as Murrieta and other bandits of the day. Olivas was said to despise American paper money so much that he used dollar bills to light his cigars.

"He was a very intelligent, remarkable man," Senate said. It only took him three months to regain the money he lost in the robbery.

OTHER KID DOINGS:

* Children's entertainer Charlotte Diamond will perform Friday, 7 p.m., at Buena High School, 5670 Telegraph Road, Ventura. Advance tickets are $4.50 for kids, $6.50 for adults, $1 more at the door. Tickets available at Adventures for Kids in Ventura. For information, 650-9688.

* Kids ages 4 to 7 years can learn about dinosaurs through slides, games and crafts, Saturday, 10 to 11:30 a.m., at Albinger Archaeological Museum, 113 E. Main St., Ventura. Fee, $5. For information, 658-4747.

* The city of Moorpark will have a tree-lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. Thursday at Moorpark Community Center, 799 Moorpark Ave. The Flory School Chorale and community services dance classes will perform. Santa will be there too.

* Moorpark's holiday party will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the community center. Theatre of the Puppets will perform. Cost, $3 per person. For information, 529-6864.

* Parents can shop for the holidays Dec. 14 while children ages 4 to 7, are entertained in Moorpark Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with games, videos, crafts, stories and lunch. Cost $12. Preregistration required. Call 529-6864.

* Gemini, twin brothers originally from Hungary, will perform at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road, Ventura. They not only sing but play nearly a dozen instruments during the family show.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Local historian Richard Senate will give his "Bandits and Bad Men" walking tour at the Olivas Adobe, 4200 Olivas Park Drive, Ventura, on Saturday, from 1 to 2 p.m. There is no fee.

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