Murder at Greens Flat Diggings

On July 10, 1850 four Americans showed up in Sonora, Ca. with a Mexican and three Mexican Indians in tow who they accused of a horrible murder at Green’s Flat, some eight miles away. It was the third or fourth murder in the area within the last week and people were on edge. An angry crowd gathered and cries to hang the men were heard all around. They had been found burning a tent that held the bodies of two other men, but they claimed that it was their custom to burn the bodies of the dead and besides the two men had been dead for several days and the odor had become offensive.

Sonora, CA 1866

Inside the courtroom nearly every man called to serve on the jury refused to do so, but outside the mob had elected a judge and empaneled their own jury and when opportunity presented itself they rushed the prisoners and seized them. Throwing a noose around each man’s neck, they led them to a nearby hill where all four were tried and sentenced to death. The Mexican, chosen to be the first to hang, was given time to pray and meanwhile the district judges Marvin, Tuttle, and Radcliffe, together with William Ford, the county clerk, managed to create a diversion and the proper authorities retook the prisoners. A trial was scheduled for several days later but on that day eighty armed men from Green’s Flat showed up to demand justice while more men from Jamestown, Shaw’s Flat, Columbia, Wood’s Creek and other places joined them until the mob numbered nearly two thousand men.

When a rumor arose that the Mexicans had colleagues in a camp close by, Sheriff George Work went there with twenty men and arrested almost the entire male population and kept them under guard in a cattle corral. Later, during the arraignment, someone dropped a weapon that accidentally fired setting off pandemonium in the courtroom as everyone bolted for the exits. Nearly every man drew a gun or knife and at least one more pistol was fired. The trial was postponed until the next day and the intervening night was filled with serious rioting. But by morning things had quieted down and the trial resumed. Then, after all the hoopla, it was found that there was not enough evidence that any of the accused had committed a crime but instead it seemed more likely that they had been victims of the popular prejudice against foreigners. They were acquitted and released.


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