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Moving to a New Homeland in California

Sutter: Moving to a New Homeland in California

In the spring of 1838, he joined a party of the American Fur Company under command of Captain Tripp in their headquarters in the Rocky Mountains. From there, Sutter, and another party of six men, set out across the mountains and made their way, via Forts Hill, Baisi, and Walla Walla, to Oregon, and descended to the Columbia river. After many hardships he succeeded in reaching Fort Vancouver. After learning that innumerable delays would elapse before he could reach California, he sailed for the Sandwich Islands, hoping to embark from there directly for the Pacific coast. When he arrived there no vessel was sailing in that direction and he traveled aboard an English cargo vessel bound for Sitka, Alaska. After disposing of the cargo the ship sailed down the coast to San Francisco bay. The ship anchored at Yerba Buena, the original name of San Francisco, July 2, 1839. Ordered by the provincial officer (then under Mexican rule) to leave Yerba Buena, as it was not a port of entry, he sailed for Monterey, ninety miles to the south, the only port on the western coast at that time. There he petitioned Governor Alvarado for permission to start a colony along the Sacramento River, which he thought a favorable site. As the land was in the interior, his request was granted, the only condition being that he return within a year. He was given a passport, the promise of citizenship, and the land he desired.

Sutter returned to Yerba Buena, then a settlement of about forty people, non of whom possessed any knowledge of the Sacramento river. Neither the failure to secure guides, nor the fear of hostile Indians, deterred Sutter from his hazardous undertaking. With his party of ten men and eight Kanakas (natives from the Sandwich Islands), he succeeded in reaching the mouth of the Sacramento river. They followed the river inland to the mouth of the Feather river, but fearing attacks from the Indians, it was decided best to return to the mouth of the American river. On August 16, 1839, on the south fork of the river, he landed his belongings, and subsequently erected Sutter's Fort. Temporary huts were built and the land cleared and cultivated. The chief source of annoyance to the colony was the Indians, who continually made attacks upon the settlement. Sutter informed one of the hostile chiefs who spoke Spanish that his mission was a peaceful one. Sutter gave the Indians some beads and other things as tokens of friendship.

On one occasion a party of men surprised an attacking band of Indians and chased them off. Many of the Indians afterwards became civilized and served Sutter as artisans or as soldiers in his fort. Sutter had brought with him about twelve pieces of cannon, which he had purchased from the Russians at Sitka, and mounted them at the fort. As a soldier, he knew that the safeguarding of his undertaking was one of the prime requisites under such adverse conditions in colonizing. He posted lookouts day and night, and thus laid the foundation for his settlement.

By virtue of a contract made with the Russian Government during Sutter's stay in Sitka, the former was bound to furnish him with iron, steel, and files to be used in his shops, including, 200 pounds of powder.

Next: The Expansion of his Ranch

Prominent Americans of Swiss Origin, Swiss-American Historical Society, James T. White & Co., New York 1932

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