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Wild West Western Facts

John Sutter

John Sutter(February 15, 1803 – June 18, 1880)

John Sutter was a Swiss pioneer best known for his association with the California Gold Rush and for establishing Sutter's Fort in the area that would eventually become Sacramento, the state's capital.

Born in 1803 in Germany of Swiss parents, he served in the Swiss Army, and later went into the dry-goods business and also married. Neither of these ventures turned out as his marriage was unhappy and his business failed leaving him in debt.

In 1834 he emigrated to America and traveled first from New York to St. Louis, then to Santa Fe, and some other cities before arriving in San Francisco in 1839. At that time, northern California was the farthest piece of Mexican territory and Sutter offered his services to the Mexicans to establish a fort at the junction of the American and Sacramento rivers. He became a Mexican citizen and the Mexican Governor made him a land grant of 50,000 acres.

Sutter planted wheat, fruit trees, and vineyards, and built an impressive fort. He called the settlement New Helvetia (New Switzerland) and encouraged immigrants to join him. He also made a deal with the Governor's political enemy for future land grants and also bought up Russian holdings at Bodega and Fort Ross.

In the 1840's Sutters Fort was a key stopping point for wagon trains from the east. Sutters endorsements of American interests led to suspicion of him by the Mexicans. The bad times for Sutter were not from political side changing but from another source, GOLD!

His partner James Marshall found some bright stones while constructing a sawmill on the American river, Sutter tried to keep the word from leaking out, but it did spread and started a world-wide rush to the California Gold fields.

Sutters workmen left him for the promise of easy riches, and California became a U.S. Territory only nine days after gold was discovered.  Sutter's title to the land was disputed and he could not protect the land that was now being overrun by prospectors. He petitioned in vain for redress for his stolen land to Congress but he was awarded a pension of $250 a month from 1862 to 1878 from the California State Legislature,.   After the pension ended, Sutter died two years later.

Sutter died impoverished and mainly due to the greed of people who as this case shows, ran roughshod over white men and Indians alike when it was Gold to be had,.  Of course the government looked the other way, and his fate not mentioned too much in history.


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