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Tempranillo’s Tomb

Diputación de Málaga

Tempranillo’s Tomb

1.The grave of one of the best-known highwaymen ever to roam the Málaga countryside, José María Hinojosa Cobacho, better known as "El Tempranillo" or “The Early Bird”, lies in Alameda churchyard.


Though not a native of Málaga, José María lived for many years, and carried out many of his most infamous raids, in the province, settling in the village of Alameda, where his grave can still be found today.

A small village in the province of Córdoba by the name of Jauja, founded in 1696 and given its own church and district mayor, who was in turn governed by the Mayor of Lucena, saw José María Hinojosa Cobacho come into the world on the 24th of June, 1805. He was baptised at the church of his native village by the parish priest, a man known as Don Francisco, who christened him José Pelagio. Pelagio was soon dropped and he became known as José María Hinojosa Cobacho. His father, Juan Hinojosa, better known as “El Gamo” (The Deer), supplemented his farm work with smuggling and poaching, while his mother, María Cobacho, was a typical woman of her time, self-sacrificing and hard-working both in the home and in the fields. So, his family worked on the land, just as José María himself would later on.

One terrible day, José María’s father was mortally wounded, and his family beseeched him to reveal the name of his aggressors and the motive for the assault, but he died without either naming his killers or revealing the reasons that had led them to take his life.

Thus José María’s mother was widowed and left in abject poverty. The parish priest, Don Francisco, took pity on mother and son and helped them as far as he could, taking charge of José María’s education and trying in vain to persuade the boy to study.

José María failed to acquire any form of education, something which was not unusual in these parts at the time. He was illiterate just like most of his neighbours. His ethical values were typical of those whose lack of education led them to follow a moral code completely alien to our times and educational standards. Thus, if a woman was unfaithful to her husband, the proper procedure, according to this “moral code” was that both the woman and her lover be killed. Where women were involved, a tragic ending was guaranteed, no court of law could be appealed to, justice here was meted out by the aggrieved party, even if this meant his being imprisoned. In the wake of this tragic denouement, those involved accepted the consequences of their actions and the offended party was considered a real man whose honour stood intact, even though on many occasions this meant strangulation by the garrote vil.

José María is known to have lived in Calle Santa Clara in the village of Montilla.

However, there are two different versions of his initiation into the world of the highwayman, one citing vengeance as the motive, the other pointing to an affront.

The first of these tales has it that one day, the village of Jauja was celebrating its local fair and pilgrimage in homage to St. Michael the Archangel; the streets were decked out in anticipation of the procession in his name, and all was laughter and song; for a few brief moments, the precariousness of daily life was put to one side to make way for celebration. At night, as was the custom, a dance had been organised in the village square. As in all villages in those days, this was one of the few occasions on which a young man could dance with a young lady.

On this occasion, José María was dancing enthusiastically with a certain Clara, an attractive young woman who had recently become his sweetheart. As the couple danced, another man suddenly took her by the hand, pulling her away from José María and shouting “she only dances with me!”

The argument escalated and the steely blades of Albacete knives were soon drawn. After a brief skirmish, José María proved himself to be more skilled than his opponent, stabbing him in the stomach and leaving him dead on the ground.

Aware of the fate that awaited him, the young José María fled to the safety of the Ronda mountains.

In reference to the tender age at which José María was forced to take refuge in the mountains, he was nicknamed "El Tempranillo" or “the Early Bird”.

It was not long before the exploits of the Jauja highwayman now known as "El Tempranillo" were sufficiently famous to be narrated in song.

The other version claims that a gipsy known as María de la Fuensanta, "La Niña de Oro" (the Golden Girl), lover of the quarrelsome gipsy "Chuchito", confessed to José María the secret behind the death of his father. She claimed that "El Gamo" had died at the hands of a local landowner. So, it seems José María’s father might have chosen not to reveal the name of his killer in order to avoid his son being drawn into a vendetta that would set his life on an errant course.

One of the songs that proliferated in the inns, taverns and watering holes that lined the roadsides tells, with no lack of gruesome detail, of the epic adventures of this fearsome highwayman, claiming that he had organised a band of outlaws numbering more than fifty men.

Nor is there any shortage of written documents bearing witness to El Tempranillo’s and epic deeds. Those who fed on his legend included a number of English travellers of the times and even the famous writer Merimée.

The story has it that El Tempranillo headed to the mountains along with Chuchito, under the instructions of La Niña de Oro, who initially accompanied them in their flight. However, Chuchito did not want La Niña de Oro to travel with them and told José María so. El Tempranillo did not approve of her abandoning them and a heated argument ensued, which ended with the gipsy man leaving, but not before vowing to kill José María. Knowing that a gipsy always kept his promise, José María decided to go after him and, having caught up with Chuchito, removed the threat by stabbing him through the heart with a sharp knife.

The head of the Cristo de las Tinieblas brotherhood, better known as “Christ of the Black Hand”, who went by the name of Celestino and was also secretary of the El Carpio fraternity, strove to capture José María, this evil man who carried out his raids under the protection of his social standing and who was famed for his covered-up murders and smuggling exploits. However, as hunting down “El Tempranillo” proved to be an impossible task, he decided instead to imprison his mother and sweetheart. And so it was that Celestino, of whom a popular saying of the time said “Send for me, for I am a lawyer’s clerk / if you are wanted for murder / give me a bag of gold / and another will hang in your place”, met his death at the hands of José María

His first accomplice on his raids was "Frasquito el de la Torre", a native of the Torre de Alháquime district of the village of Ronda. Frasquito became El Tempranillo’s brother-in-law when José María married his sister, a beautiful gipsy girl from Grazalema called María Jerónima. He later struck up a friendship with another highwayman, Juan Caballero, and together the three outlaws plied their criminal trade in the hills and mountains.

Anecdotes abound, though perhaps one of the best known tells how José María, hungry and thirsty after many hours on horseback, spotted a farmhouse in the distance and headed there for sustenance. As he entered, he saw some labourers sharing a pot of gruel and, having greeted them, asked if he might join them in their meagre feast. They laughed, saying that he could not eat with them as he had no spoon. José María grabbed a piece of bread and, fashioning a crude spoon from the crust, began to eat. The peasants attempted to stop him, but El Tempranillo, without batting an eyelid, drew his pistol and pointed at them with one hand while he continued to eat with the other. Once his hunger had been satiated, he stood up and told the men: “I am José María El Tempranillo, and you will now eat your spoons”. The men, both taken aback and frightened, began to eat their wooden spoons, and only when they had devoured them completely did the satisfied highwayman leave, laughing heartily.

Another tells of a raid on the inn at Gaucín, where, while over sixty royalist troops were eating and drinking, José María and his men stole all of their weapons.

When a certain Lieutenant Céspedes, of the military unit known as the Migueletes, shed his uniform to join them on their raids, he was met with intense distrust on the part of the other highwaymen. However, before long he had become a feared member of the group known simply as “Venom”.

One of the most interesting tales told goes as follows:

The Migueletes had concocted a plan to ambush the highwaymen and kill El Tempranillo. On the orders of the Lieutenant of Seville, José Manuel de Arjona, the Migueletes took advantage of the fact that María Jerónima was heavily pregnant to send a message purporting to be from her to José María, informing him that she was about to give birth..

José María, not wishing to endanger the lives of his companions, ordered them not to follow him. So, El Tempranillo made for the farmhouse where his wife was being attended to, fully aware that the Migueletes were probably waiting there to ambush him.

As expected, his arrival sparked off a violent affray in which a number of men were killed and injured. His unfortunate wife, María Jerónima, died during labour as a result of the lack of facilities available and the terrible events that unfolded around the village delivery room.

Fearing that all was lost, José María placed the lifeless body of his wife across the hindquarters of his horse, took his newborn son and tucked him as best he could inside the sash around his waist, ordering the women who were in the house to open the door. El Tempranillo shot through the door like an arrow on the back of his trusty steed, firing shots in all directions with both hands. The Migueletes were so startled and bewildered by his exit that José María managed to escape unscathed.

This episode is recounted in the chronicles of El Tempranillo’s feats written by José María’s friend, Juan Caballero.

José María made for the village of Grazalema, where the family of his deceased wife lived. Here, he gave his child to its grandmother, entrusting her with his upbringing, and ordered that his wife be buried in the church grounds.

The baptism of José María’s only son was set for the 10th of January in Grazalema. So, just two days after the tragic incident that heralded his birth, the newborn was christened.

At first, believing that José María El Tempranillo had seen the error of his highwayman’s ways, everyone assumed that he would not attend his son’s christening. But the people of Grazalema were astonished to see El Tempranillo appear at his heir’s baptism. It is said that he stood proud and arrogant, without a hint of fear in his expression.

There was no celebration in view of the recent death of the baby’s mother; the godparents were Juan Caballero and María Jerónima’s sister.

According to the chronicles written by Juan Caballero, a Royal Order was sent to the Captain General of Granada in 1832 which, in addition to mentioning the siege suffered by the highwayman, spoke of the insolence that he had displayed in showing his face in the village for his son’s christening. It went on to say that:

"Grazalema is crawling with outlaws and smugglers".

Years went by and José María, now tired, decided to make a new life for himself and settle down to live peacefully with his nearest and dearest. So it was that the man who had once declared, with utmost arrogance, that "The King may rule in Madrid, but in the Sierra Morena, El Tempranillo is the King", accepted the pardon extended to him by King Fernando VII and approved by the authorities. This pardon included his appointment as Security Squadron Leader of the Migueletes. This squadron had been formed with the precise intention of combating outlaws who, like José María himself, had taken to the mountains.

Time passed and José María lived a quieter life in the company of those closest to him.

One day, he was charged with suppressing the highwaymen of lower Andalusia, and in particular the exploits of a bloodthirsty individual nicknamed “El Barberillo” (the Little Barber), who had once belonged to José María’s own band of outlaws.

José María, knowing the location of the highwayman’s hideout, headed for Buenavista farm, just two kilometres north east of the village of Alameda.

El Barberillo knew that El Tempranillo would come looking for him and patiently awaited his arrival.

It is not clear exactly what happened that day when José María appeared before his former friend. We do not know if he intended simply to ask him to move on to pastures new or to attempt to capture him. What we can imagine is that El Barberillo would have been far from happy to see his one-time captain now working for the Migueletes.

Whatever happened, we can be sure that El Barberillo shot José María at point blank range, and that El Tempranillo was unable to defend himself as the pistol he was carrying jammed. The shots fired left him gravely wounded and he died the following day, the 23rd of September, 1833, at the age of twenty-eight, at San Antonio inn. Thus concluded the final chapter in the ill-fated life of this legendary highwayman.

A beautiful woman known as La Rubia (Blondie) who had been the unfortunate highwayman’s lover until his death, came to the inn visibly distraught, armed with a pistol, sobbing and shouting:

Damn you, because of you José María is dead!

In an interesting book by the author Antonio Pineda León, "Aproximaciones a la vida de José María El Tempranillo", I discovered the following details with which I have chosen to close this chapter:

As we know, José María "El Tempranillo" had a son who was named José María Hinojosa Francés, the same child whom El Tempranillo had carried away inside his sash. On the18th of September 1852, he married Araceli Reyes Cobacho. We know that El Tempranillo’s son lived in Torre del Alhaquime before moving to the Ronda area. He also lived in the village of Baldelatosa, were he worked in the mines.

José María’s son gave him a granddaughter, María Jerónima Hinojosa Reyes.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Historias antiguas de bandoleros y piratas en Málaga by Diego Ceano.

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