On Thursday, June 26, 1851, James Hill, a desperate fellow, altogether too lazy to aspire to the dishonor of a full fledged desperado, entered the store of B. A. Mardis in Campo Seco armed with a revolver in one hand and a Bowie knife in the other. Mardis was in his bunk at the time and Hill told him as he came in that if he opened his eyes he would blow his brains out. Under the circumstances Mardis could do no better than to obey the command. Hill robbed the safe and decamped.
The local population had come to the conclusion that patience had ceased to be a virtue and they gathered in force for the purpose of making an example of this thief. The day after the robbery, they surrounded his cabin, arrested him and brought him before acting Judge John Ward at Campo Seco. The crowd acted as a jury, and after hearing the testimony, which they thought conclusively determined the guilt of Hill, the question was put to the vote and a verdict of guilty rendered against him, the judgment of the court being that he be hanged by the neck until he was dead, sentence to be executed upon him forthwith.
Hill was then carried into town, a rope procured, and an attempt made to hang him from the limb of a white oak tree, but it was discovered, after experimenting with the writhing wretch, that a better tree was needed. The doomed man was then dragged, with the rope around his neck, to a black oak standing in the rear of Victor Gallut’s tin shop. Here the rope was again thrown over a limb, and a long line of men drew the body up limp and lifeless, for in their first attempt to hang him, and their subsequent efforts to drag him to the black oak, they had choked him to death.
The crowd, satisfied with their terrible work, left the body swinging from the limb. And so died James Hill, the first man hanged within the city limits of Sonora.