Gunfight at Holdens Gardens

Crime was rampant in the area around Sonora and the more responsible members of the community were determined to stop it one way or another. In the incident over the Green’s Flat murderers the accused would likely have suffered serious consequences had not the rowdy and intemperate actions of the crowd and their open hostility to foreigners not produced a strong opposition from the better class of miners. And, because the new judicial system had just assumed office under a new state constitution, many people were willing to give them an opportunity to show how well they would protect the community. But it would soon be found that due to the technicalities in the criminal law and with the courts as they were then constituted, it was next to impossible to convict anyone, no matter how guilty, of anything as long as they had money or friends sufficient to secure a lawyer. And it was this reason that many people used as the justification to continue the application of summary justice, or Lynch law, outside the judicial system.

A Peep at Washoe, My Claim Sir !

In February of 1851 Joshua Holden had a parcel of land known as Holden’s Garden under cultivation along Wood’s Creek when a party of miners called the Washington Company staked off a mining claim on the grounds. Holden proposed an arrangement where he would receive compensation for the damages done to the soil and crops but at a miners meeting he was voted down. The next day a heated exchange occurred between Holden and two men of the Washington Company. A number of by-standers stepped in on Holden’s side while more members of the Washington Company rushed in to aid their companions. Pistols were drawn but no shots were fired. But later in the day fourteen of Holden’s men were prepared to jump the Washington claim and hold it against all odds, but when they reached the gardens they found the Washington men well armed and waiting for them. One hothead named Alexander Saloschen on the Holden side fired his gun and in no time every weapon at the scene had been discharged, amounting to some sixty or seventy shots fired. Another Holden man, Leven Davis, was killed outright while Saloschen and three Washington men were wounded, two of whom later died.

Soon after the fight a rumor surfaced that some of the area’s gamblers who had sided with Holden had now taken up arms against the miners and a mass meeting was held in Sonora to prepare for such an emergency. But those at the meeting, acting only on rumor and suspicion, characterized Holden and his entire party as a gang of cutthroats and gamblers and, with no evidence, pronounced them guilty of an attempt at premeditated murder. They proposed that the entire lot of Holden supporters should be arrested and tried by the county. They went on to pledge themselves to help in the arrests, and in the event of any future aggression by Holden or his friends to rid the region of their presence. But the violence of the language and the prejudices of those who were at the meeting entirely defeated their purpose and in the end nothing was accomplished. While several men were arrested and Holden himself openly invited the most rigorous investigation, no one appeared in court to testify against him, either because there was nothing to be said against him or that by now no one had any confidence in the court or it’s proceedings. Holden was exculpated from all blame in everything that had happened.



  1. Such tales seem to pepper the news from the mining camps. Sometimes there is violence and death and sometimes the story dies a nature death. Interesting post. Having worked in the justice system for a time, things haven’t changed to much. Smile.

  2. Robin Holden says

    Amazing to discover that my 3rd great granduncle, Joshua Holden, was in the Sonora area; the same area I graduated from.

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