Soon after the murderers of Captain Snow were executed, Jim Hill, known to be a man of bad character, entered a store in nearby Campo Seco with a number of his rowdy friends and held a pistol to the head of the proprietor while his cohorts removed an entire iron safe and all its contents. A few days later Hill showed up at a house of ill repute in Sonora. There he got into a fight with a stranger, grabbed the man’s gun, beat him over the head with it, then took a shot at the man. The stranger managed to run into the street and sound the alarm. Sheriff George Work then went to the house, found Hill hiding under a bed and hauled the miscreant off to a cell.
The next morning a large crowd went to the jail and broke Jim Hill out, then took him back to Campo Seco where they tried him Lynch law style for the robbery at the store, and quickly convicted him. Because of an intense anger at the extraordinary amount of crime that had occurred in the area lately, Jim Hill was sentenced to die his crime. But that evening, as he was facing the hangman’s noose, Hill gave a passionate plea for mercy, admitting he had led a life of crime but vowed that he had never shed the blood of another man.
The crowd went into a frenzy, with half the people for granting mercy and the other half determined to carry out the execution. Confusion erupted. Hundreds of pistols were drawn. But after order was finally restored and several men had addressed the mob, Sheriff Work asked to be heard. He then pledged that if Jim Hill were delivered into his custody he would produce him for trial at the next session of the district court. Those in favor of the hanging cried “Thornley, Thornley” in reference to the killer who recently escaped the sheriff’s jail, was then recaptured and tried only to be declared innocent and set free by the court. In the commotion Hill was tossed into a carriage so quickly that no one in the crowd had time to prevent it and the wagon then headed back to Sonora.
But the news that Hill was on his way reached Sonora before the prisoner did and the people there were even more determined to hang Jim Hill than were those in Campo Seco. Several prominent men spoke out in favor of taking Jim Hill away from the sheriff and there were no voices of dissent from the angry, well-armed crowd. When the sheriff’s carriage pulled into town the crowd rushed it, causing a crash. The sheriff made a run for the jail with his prisoner in tow and managed to make it all the way up the steps to the door before he ran into a well respected merchant named Frank Cheatham, six-shooter in hand. Sheriff Work was restrained and Hill seized then hauled off to an oak tree behind the El Dorado Hotel. Hill was dead with fifteen minutes.
John Putnam is the author of Hangtown Creek, a thrilling saga of the early California gold rush. For more about John and his writing visit www.mygoldrushtales.com.