Visit Sutton County Jail in Sonora, Where the Wild West Was Tamed

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A visit to the town of Sonora, on the western brink of the Hill Country, offers the chance to tour small-town Texas which is still rich with heritage and history. Sonora is recognized as the county seat of Sutton County, and it’s home to the historic Sutton County Jail. No longer used to house prisoners, this is one place you’ll definitely want to see as part of a western historical tour. Giving great insight and depth to what this locale would’ve been like at a time when the west was still truly wild, this recorded Texas Historic Landmark is located approximately 2.5 hours northwest of San Antonio, off Interstate 10.

Being located on the eastern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and the western tip of the Hill Country has its advantages. The unique environs in which this town developed gave rise to a tremendous amount of history, of which Sonora is quite proud and rightfully so. Heavily involved in ranching, the town became a hub of activity, which attracted many industrious individuals and some of questionable morals. As a result, a jail such as this became a necessity. This jail housed more than a few old west desperadoes.

Visit Sutton County Jail in Sonora, Where the Wild West Was Tamed
Photo: Cat Jennings Creative

A Texas historical marker outside the Sutton County Jail reads as follows: “Soon after Sutton County was organized (1890), the commissioners authorized the Pauley Jail Building and Manufacturing Co. of St. Louis to erect this jail. Construction was begun in Feb. 1891 under the supervision of Judge J. L. Dunagan. Completed in Sept. 1891, the two-story native stone building had a jailer’s residence in addition to cells for lawbreakers. The first prisoner here was gambler and gunman John Denson, a cousin of outlaw John Wesley Hardin.” Although his infamy was solidified with this marker, Denson isn’t the only outlaw who made his presence known in Sonora.

On April 2, 1901, following a robbery in Montana, George Kilpatrick and Will Carver, of Butch Cassidy’s “Wild Bunch,” rode into Sonora looking for oats for Carver’s horse. It’s said that on a visit to Jack Owen’s Bakery, Sheriff E.S. Briant’s posse met up with the pair and attempted an arrest on suspicion of murder in Concho County. Carver immediately went for his weapon, and the pair were promptly shot by the area lawmen, with Carver sustaining six shots. Both were seriously wounded and taken to the Sutton County Courthouse, where Carver passed away of his injuries. He’s buried at the Sonora Cemetery, where his grave marker simply indicates the date of his death as the same day he rode into town.

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