Monday, October 18, 2010

John Sutter: California Reenactment

This is a first person reenactment based on John Sutter.  John Sutter had an important part in California Pioneer History.  he is one of the individuals I am prepared to reenact for a fourth grade presentation.
John Sutter:
Hello! Let me introduce myself. I am Johan Augustus Sutter. You may know me as John Sutter of Sutter’s Mill and Sutter’s Fort. I was born in the country of Germany, where my family was visiting. I am actually of Swiss decent. It was for that reason I called my farming kingdom on the Sacramento River New Helvetia, New Switzerland.
I did not leave Switzerland until I was an adult. I served in the Swiss army as a Captain of Artillery. I guess that is why I enjoyed giving a salute by canon for dignitaries who visited the fort. After the military, I tried my hand at business. Some of my business dealings turned bad; so as to avoid creditors, I determined it would be best for me to leave my country and travel to America. I left behind my beautiful wife and our four children.
I worked in St. Louis, Missouri for a couple of years, but always had a dream of going west and creating a farming empire. In 1838 I finally had my chance, joining with a group of Mountain Men headed for Oregon. From there I was able to take the ship Columbia to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii.) I then boarded the brig Clementine which took me to the Russian colony New Archangel (now Sitka, Alaska.) The Clementine eventually carried me to Yerba Buena, (now San Francisco.)
Within a year of landing in Yerba Buena, I established myself at the fork of the Sacramento and the American rivers. I became a Mexican Citizen, as only citizens of Mexico were entitled to hold lands, and was granted by Governor Alvarado, almost 50,000 acres.
I hired many Native Americans to work at my estate. They were good workers, but generally not very permanent. Over time more and more Europeans came to the area, and they would also work for me.
My fort became the common point for most emigrants coming overland into California. I welcomed the Grigsby Ide Company, the Rhoades Company and many others. It was from Sutters Fort that rescue parties were sent to bring in the survivors of the Donner Party.
My Fort held a place in Bear Flag Revolt. Colonel John Fremont established a presence here, and for a time the Fort was under military rule. General Vallejo was sent here as a prisoner.
Thomas Rhoades first brought to my attention the presence of gold upon my lands. I had allowed he and his family to take up farming on my lands. I asked him to please keep the presence of gold a secret, but allowed him to extract gold for myself and his family.
I had plans for some time to build a saw mill as well as a flour mill. However the labor was not available. When over 100 Mormon Battalion men came to the area looking for work, I decided to proceed with these plans. James Marshall oversaw the construction of a sawmill at Colusa. Eight men worked with him. While building a trestle for the mill, they noticed a shiny substance in the water. This became the official discovery of gold, January 1848. Mr. Marshall brought me the news of this find, and I again asked him to keep it a secret. However Sam Brannon of the California Star newspaper got word of the find, and published it in his newspaper. He felt the cry of gold would bring people to our state, and economic prosperity. He sent 2000 copies of his newspaper to the East. It was also he who went through the streets of San Francisco yelling, “There is gold on the American River.”
I curse the discovery of gold. I knew that it would be the end of my farming empire. After the cry of “gold” I could scarcely get anyone to work for me. Everyone was looking for gold.
As the 49ers, as they came to be called, came to California, they trampled over my land with no regard for my propriety. They went so far as to file suit, saying as how they now lived on the land, they had squatter’s rights and the land was theirs. My title to these lands was deemed invalid. I was granted a monthly stipend for taxes I had paid on the land, which now were not mine. I was never reimbursed for the loss of my lands. So let me sing a little song in commemoration of the gold miners. I enjoy this song, as the ship Clementine brought me to California. “Oh my Darling”
I was able to bring my family to California. It was good to see my beautiful wife again. I gave my remaining property to my son, John Sutter and moved East with the hopes of convincing the government to reimburse me for my loss. The final insult was when the community I had established was named Sacramento for the river. I was hoping it would be known as Sutterville.


  1. Stephanie Larsen I used to be the County Administrator of Sutter County; the county seat is some 45 miles north of Sutter's Fort. Sutter established Hock Farm in what is now Sutter County in 1841, which he intended as a large agricultural operation and his future retirement home. All that is left now is the facade of one building; his mansion was burned by arson in 1865. Sutter died penniless back east.

    As a side note, when I first started working for Sutter County, the Clerk-Recorder showed me one of the county's oldest vital records: the marriage license for Sutter's daughter, Anna.