Photograph: Rudolfo “Cheyenne” Cadena – 1960’s
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This episode is the true account of “Cheyenne” Cadena, a Mexican Mafia Legend known in the prison underworld and told to PERPLEX NEWS by former member Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza. Here is Cheyenne’s story.
Rudolfo “Cheyenne” Cadena was born on April 15, 1943, in Bakersfield, California. In 1959, he and Bakers homeboy “Richie” Ruiz were convicted of stabbing a man to death outside a Bakersfield dance hall. Convicted gang murderers enjoyed a celebrity status behind bars and Cheyenne and Richie rapidly ascended the criminal corporate ladder as each joined the Mexican Mafia shortly after their 1960 arrival to San Quentin. Solidly from Bakersfield, many people mistakenly believed Cheyenne was from East Los Angeles. Some of the early EME members belonged to the Primera Flats gang in Boyle Heights. Cheyenne’s prison friendship with these men resulted in Cheyenne becoming an “honorary” member of the Primera Flats gang.
A charismatic person, “Chy” (as he was affectionately called by his Carnales) performed many prison “hits” on the EME’s behalf, most of them fatal killings of rival convicts. Most of his 12 years behind bars were served in solitary confinement and the name “Cheyenne” became a name to be feared but also respected. It was in the lockup units he learned to temper his wild ways with deadly precision and patience. He became an exceptionally good chess player and learned to play by memory without using a chessboard. Even his adversaries learned to respect Cheyenne and he treated his enemies with the same courtesy.
Cheyenne became one of La EME’s most respected leaders and eagerly co-signed the recruitment of Joseph “Peg Leg” Morgan who was sponsored for membership in 1968 by Mike “Acha” Ison at Folsom Prison. Together they led the Mexican Mafia to prominence in the California prison system by controlling the flow of drugs and black-market activities and by maintaining a constant pitch of fear among the inmate population. Cheyenne Cadena was different than the rank and file Mexican Mafia member. He was a social visionary who invited dialogue with prison reformists and members of the Black Guerrilla Family whose revolutionary ideology contrasted with the Mexican Mafia’s criminal mission statement. As Cheyenne mapped out elaborate plans for La EME, he began to look beyond the walls of Folsom Prison. His dream was to absorb all Chicano inmates, including the more aggressive members of the Nuestra Familia, into one statewide criminal monopoly.
Cheyenne began this self-ordained mission in 1971, during a layover at San Quentin Prison. He was being transferred from Folsom to a prison in Tehachapi, He was housed in B-Section, the prison’s Isolation unit. Sgt. Hankins, the IGI or institution’s gang investigator allowed NF leader “Chalo” Hernandez to meet with Cheyenne where the two carved out a peace between La EME and the NF. Ironcially, both men were from Bakersfield and they were also distant cousins! You could probably count on one hand the number of Mexican Mafia members who agreed with Cheyenne’s vision. A social activist and a gangster were two completely different animals and the overwhelming number of us saw ourselves as predators. We possessed a supreme arrogance and felt superior to any group who would dare compare themselves with us. When you place everything into its proper perspective, the Mexican Mafia rank and file had not yet evolved. We were pretty much glorified gang bangers, and talking peace with the NF or any rival was not on our agenda. But Chy was the OG word and the rest of us at San Quentin deferred to his tenure. We would wait for a better time to strike.
In the lockup units, Cheyenne and fellow EME Luis “Bala” Talamantes from Venice struck a similar alliance with George Jackson and members of the Black Guerilla Family. This was just before the 1971 Black August uprising in the Adjustment Center led by the BGF and George Jackson. Although the revolutionary and anti-establishment theme did not agree with the EME, Cheyenne was given some latitude by his EME Carnales and a shaky truce was adopted. During that period of time, it was in my DNA to battle the BGF wherever we met. On the yard, in the visiting room, on the way to a parole hearing, in the shower; it didn’t matter. The BGF felt the same about us. Now our respected leaders were talking peace. It was enough to make a grown man throw up. Cheyenne also became involved with Latino political and radical organizations such as the Brown Berets and Venceremos. He paroled in December 1971 as the EME-NF conflict was rekindling. Cheyenne was re-arrested three months later for violation of his state parole after being charged with possession of firearms found in the trunk of his car. In March 1972, he was returned to Folsom in time to discover the peace agreement he had forged with the NF was no longer in effect.
Despite opposition from his fellow EME Carnales, Cheyenne persuaded prison authorities he could successfully restore the EME-NF “truce.” On October 31, 1972, still convinced he could stop the bloodshed, Cadena arranged a transfer to Palm Hall, a high-security unit and Nuestra Familia stronghold at the California Institution for Men in Chino. In Chino, Cheyenne encountered a receptive audience with NF leaders Frank “Joker” Mendoza and Eddie “Crackers” Vindiola, who remained open to a peace solution. Joker had been instrumental in urging Cheyenne to author the peace treaty back in 1971. Unaware that Cheyenne’s influence with his EME Carnales had diminished, he was asked by Nuestra Familia members to reinstate the truce. During these discussions, radical attorneys from the San Francisco-based Prison Law Project (PLP) were in communication with Cheyenne and Joker in an attempt to lend their support in brokering this peace. The agenda of the PLP, comprised of many communist and anti-law enforcement sympathizers, was to utilize California prison gangs in an effort to turn them against the prison administration.
On December 12, 1972, Nuestra Familia member Mike “Huero” Nolan was stabbed to death at San Quentin by EME members Ruperto “Chino Dos” Sandoval and Joseph “Rebel” Barranday. Chino and Rebel were fellow homeboys from El Hoyo Mara. By this time, repeated messages had been sent to Cheyenne to not pursue any more talks with the NF as we were hitting NF members wherever we encountered them. From the Chino Guidance Center, fellow Mexican Mafia members Steve “Calote” Amador and Eddie “Sailor Boy” Gonzales, knowing Chy was vastly outnumbered in Palm Hall, communicated to Chy that he should “get off first.” Repeat, get off first, went the message.
On December 17, 1972, several members of the Nuestra Familia (some of them shown on this slide) proceeded to beat and stab Cheyenne to death at the Palm Hall security housing unit. He was confronted and attacked as he stepped out from his cell. Cheyenne was stabbed over 70 times and his body was tossed from the upper tier and landed on the concrete floor below. NF associate Ramon “Tiny” Contreras climbed down to the first tier and continued the stabbing assault to ensure Cadena’s death. In the fictional movie “American Me,” Cheyenne is played by Edward James Olmos as “Santana.” In the movie, Cheyenne is depicted as having been murdered by his Mexican Mafia Carnales. The historical significance of Cadena’s murder is put into motion immediately as California Department of Corrections officials hastily moved to separate the two warring factions for good. But the carnage was not quite finished.
On December 25, 1972 (Christmas Day), at the Soledad Central Facility following the breakfast unlock, Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood members confronted several Nuestra Familia members. In retaliation for the December 17th Cadena killing at Palm Hall, the Christmas Day Massacre claimed the lives of NF members Frank “Cisco” Villalobos from Fresno and Pablo “Paul” Najera from Stockton. In another housing unit, Joe “Benny” Garcia from San Jose is also stabbed and survives the attack. An inmate eyewitness in D-Wing, who chose to remain anonymous, overheard Cisco’s assassin announce to his victim as he stabbed him repeatedly, “Te manda saludes el Cheyenne!” (Translation: Cheyenne sends his regards!) The assailant then finished his victim. Across the hallway, in F-Wing, a foreboding inscription was carved on a cell door. In bold letters it read; “Feliz Navidad! Mundo de la Mafia Mexicana!” (Translation: Merry Christmas! Mundo from the Mexican Mafia!). I was gaffled up as a suspect and taken to lockup where Lt. Gomez attempted to interrogate me to no avail. The blood on my pants happened to match Cisco’s blood, or so I was later told, but the crime scene was such a bloody mess anyone could have stepped on the victim’s blood.
The Christmas Day Massacre officially culminated the most violent period in the history of the Department of Corrections in which over 50 killings were recorded in the California prison system in 1971 and 1972. The killing of Cheyenne Cadena, the only recorded made Mexican Mafia member killed by a rival prison gang, was enough for CDC administrators to initiate the process of separating validated Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia members for good. Their associates, who would later evolve into Sureños and Norteños, were likewise separated from each other and a new era was ushered in. It was also the official beginning of Security Housing Units (SHU) as they became known well into the 21st century.
The Cheyenne connection was still not quite finished. On October 9, 1975, in an incident directly connected to the NF’s murder of Cheyenne, I was arrested with fellow EME member Edward “Sailor Boy” Gonzalez for the residential executions of NF member Daniel “Woodsey” Reyes and his brother Ronnie. Woodsey Reyes was the main reason the EME and NF resumed their hostilities; he also had some disrespectful comments about Cheyenne after Chy had passed. Utilizing the services of a hard core female, Gloria “Cyclona” Perez became the first gang member to be utilized in a Mexican Mafia street murder. It was Cyclona who facilitated the entry into the residence as Ronnie Reyes already had the hots for her and she shared this intel with me. After executing Ronnie we waited for Woodsey to come home. After he arrived, we handcuffed him, led him to a room, I promised him he would see his brother Ronnie very soon and then Sailor and I proceeded to shoot him to death. Sailor handed the murder weapon to Cyclona, encouraged her to avail herself of the last bullet in the .38 and she fired once into Woodsey’s body. The last words he heard were: “Cheyenne sends his regards.” Before anyone goes running to the cold case guys, Sailor and I pleaded guilty and served our time for two counts of 2nd Degree murder in California state prison.
Although the murder of “Cheyenne” occurred 40 years ago, he remains a beloved icon of martyrdom for Mexican Mafia members. Many of today’s members are too young to know the details of his death, yet all Sureños and Carnales alike, are reminded by the old timers that he died for La Causa de La EME (the cause of the Mexican Mafia). It is impossible to estimate the number of North versus South altercations and murders, both in and out of the prison system, that have taken place since the death of “Cheyenne” Cadena. My role as the main instigator of the polarization of Sureños and Norteños will be covered sometime in the future with the approval of the people at Perplex News. Needless to say, today I consider my deeds and actions as a Mexican Mafia member a shameful display of evil. I pray you young ones do not repeat the sins of your gangster fathers and false heroes.