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Expansion and Importance of Sutter's Fort

Sutter: Expansion and Importance of Sutter's Fort

The erection of the fort, a quadrangular adobe structure capable of housing a thousand men, was begun in 1841 and com-pleted in 1844. The building of this fort showed the forethought of Sutter. It established his strength, and in time proved a godsend to numerous caravans of immigrants using the overland route. In 1843, the expedition under the command of Captain John C. Fremont, found refuge there and was saved from the rigors of the cold mountain weather, and the attacks of hostile Indians.

In 1846 the fort mounted twelve pieces of artillery, and his garrison consisted of forty Indians. His military equipment was superior to anything on the Pacific coast, and gave him a very considerable military prestige. It made him master of the neighboring Indians, and at the same time, he could defy any attempt the Mexican authorities might make to banish him from the settlement.

The fort finished, he undertook a great variety of activities, and tried all sorts of experiments, some of which proved more detrimental than advantageous. He planted large areas of wheat; built a flour-mill; diverted water from the American river for irrigation purposes; grazed large herds of cattle and horses; sent hunters into the mountains and along the rivers for furs and elk skins; set up a distillery (which he later abandoned because the Indians took too quickly to its product); began the weaving of coarse woolen blankets; regularly operated a boat for freight and passengers between New Helvetia and San Francisco Bay; employed nearly all foreigners who came to him for work; administered justice as an official of the provincial government; and, in short, made his colony the nucleus of all activity, whether political or economic, of what then was the only settled portion of Northern California. At any given time the number of people living at the fort ranged between 200 to 500 people.

R. G. Cleland, in his History of California, says:

In addition to the varied activities with their decided local and personal interest, Sutter contributed in a much larger way to the making of California history than his aid to American immigration into this Mexican province. Few people today realize how large a part this hospitable, visionary, improvident land baron of the Sacramento played in the American advance to California. His fort occupied the most strategic position in all Northern California, so far as overland trails were concerned. At Sutter's fort, these immigrants, exhausted and half starved, found shelter, food and clothing and had an opportunity to learn something of the new land and people to which they had come. More than one company caught in the mountain snows was saved from destruction by a rescue party sent from Sutter's fort. So long as Sutter maintained his possessions on the Sacramento, the passes and trails of the Sierras lay open to Americans.

In 1844, Sutter applied to the new governor, Micheltorena, for an additional land grant of 22 leagues in order to feed his constantly growing herds. The petition was granted, mainly because Sutter had assisted in putting down a rebellion against the governor.

Sutter exchanged the Mexican flag for the American one in 1846 when General Fremont visited the fort. Then Sutter remained loyal to the United states in the war between Mexico and the United States. He became a citizen of the United States.

Next: The Discovery of Gold in 1848

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

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