The court system in Sonora began in 1850 after a state constitution was written and the legislature began creating laws to replace the previous Mexican system.
The judges were intelligent but pragmatic men. One such judge was Richard Barry, an ex-Texas Ranger elected in 1850 who had little patience for what he considered trifles. He described one ruling in his court as follows: “The lawyer for the sheriff insolently told me there was no law for me to rule to. I told him I didn’t care a damn for his book law, that I was the law myself. He continued to jaw back. I told him to shut up, but he wouldn’t. I fined him $50, and committed him for 5 days for contempt of court for bringing my rules and discussions into disreputableness and as a warning to unruly persons not to contradict this court.”
Judge Barry, in another case involving the fraudulent weighing of gold-dust, served conscienciously as both judge and detective. Until the U.S. Mint was built in San Francisco in 1854, gold dust was the primary money. Miners used it to buy supplies, and were dependent on the scales merchants used to weight the gold. One miner was surprised at the amount of dust he was required to put on the scale for a fifty-cent purchase. Instead of completing the transaction, he took the dust to other merchants for weighing, and then went to the judge. Judge Barry watched as the merchant weighed the dust again, with the same result. Barry took the dust to be weighed elsewhere, and found that it weighed in at three dollars and twenty-five cents. He ordered the fraudulent merchant’s scales seized, and discovered that the scales had been filed and lead added so as to undervalue the amount of gold weighed. The merchant was fined $200. When the arrogant merchant asked for his scales back, the judge refused.
There was increased lawlessness after June, 1850, when the Foreign Miner’s Tax was put into effect. There were frequent rumors of Mexicans and other foreigners murdering Americans, and there were incidents of vigilantes seizing Mexicans on the flimsiest of evidence and taking them to authorities. If the authorities were slow to act, the vigilantes would try to seize the prisoners back and hold a trial themselves. The sheriff would sometimes take suspects that he believed were innocent to jail, just to protect them from vigilantes.
Across Yaney Street from here is a county office building, named after Albert Francisco, the editor of the Sonora Union Democrat during the 1850s. The building is on the site where the newspaper was first published in 1854. On the 3rd floor of the present building is a small museum devoted to the previous history of the site that you may want to visit. It is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4 pm.
(Verify chispa says 1898-99, what does building say?)