Riot at the Tigre


Tigre was a house of ill repute in the Spanish quarter of Sonora where all sorts of licentious things happened away from the prying eyes of the rest of the town, but when a disturbance erupted there in June of 1851 Marshal J. F. McFarlane and several deputies broke up the ruckus and arrested a man named Contreras. When an attempt was made by some at the Tigre to rescue Contreras a Chileno was shot and killed by someone in McFarlane’s posse.

A scene of wild violence followed the shooting, prompting reports that Sonora was the most lawless place in California. A hundred new deputies were sworn in and an armed cordon of guards soon surrounded the town to suppress any uprisings from the foreign population. McFarlane was shot at repeatedly, sometimes coming close enough to him to take off the buttons on his coat. The riot in Sonora caused a stir all across the country.

Sonora CA. 1866

In time, however, things quieted down. And some even thought that the affair would soon be forgotten, but the friends of the dead Chileno had sworn vengeance. They believed that a deputy named John Sheldon had fired the fatal shot and they dogged him for years, waiting for their opportunity at revenge. Sheldon worked as a night watchman and was well aware of his predicament, but he bravely carried on his duties, taking great care to remain alert. But on one moonless night in May of 1855, Sheldon must have dropped his guard. Three men jumped him, threw a cloak over his head and stabbed him. In their haste to get away one of the attackers dropped his hat. Sheldon, mortally wounded, staggered into the United States Hotel and collapsed. He died within a few minutes.


Several months later two men were arrested in Tuttletown. They were tried for Sheldon’s killing and convicted because of the dropped hat. On August 3, 1855 they were hanged in front of a crowd of three thousand spectators. This time the justice system had worked.


John Rose



  1. This was very interesting to read. Sometimes it’s hard to say who is right and who is wrong. According to the law they were right, but a man was killed by the law, for what reason? I liked reading this very much. Makes you think.

    • Great point, Robert, why was the man killed? It seems to have been an accident but now days that simply doesn’t work and the dead man’s friends didn’t accept it either. We’ve come a long way since the gold rush but we still struggle with similar things.

  2. Nathan C. Barbour says

    Only after growing up in Sonora can I look back at such a awsome place it really is. I have lived in Montana for the last 30+ years. After graduation from Sonora High in 1980 I moved to Montana with my parents. I have graduated from The University of Montana and been a pharmacist now for several years. I think about Sonora daily as most of my family still lives there. I want to move back home soon…I would love to read your book. please contact me with info to buy it. Thanks Nathan

  3. Barbara Trost says

    Love the picture of Sonora! Is that Washington Street? Great story. I am going to get the book now…..a Christmas present for me!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.