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SUTTER, John August (1803-1880)

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SUTTER, John August (1803-1880). The California pioneer John Augustus Sutter (originally Johann August Suter), b. Kandern, Germany, Feb. 15, 1803, d. June 18, 1880, gained fame when gold was discovered on his property in 1848. He immigrated to the United States in 1834; with trading parties to Santa Fe (1835, 1836) and to Oregon region (1838). Landed in San Francisco Bay (1839); became Mexican citizen (1841) and received from Governor Alvarado a grant of of 49,000 acres at the junction of the American and Sacramento Rivers, where the city of Sacramento stands today. Fort Sutter was completed in 1844 as a frontier trading post. There, Sutter established the colony of Nueva Helvetia, which became a center for the trappers, traders, and settlers in the region. In the Californian revolt (1846) against Mexico, Sutter sided with the Americans. Within a few years he was prospering, with thousands of head of cattle, horses, and sheep. On Jan. 24, 1848, one of Sutter's workmen, James Marshall, went out to a sawmill he was building on the ranch. There he discovered gold. Ironically, Sutter's good fortune ended when the great American gold rush began. Gold-seekers from all over the United States and abroad inundated Sutter's land. In the subsequent rush, his workmen deserted, his sheep and cattle were stolen, and his land was occupied by squatters. This was the beginning of the first, and still most famous, gold rush of modern times. Within a year, the "Forty-niners" flooded by the thousands into California seeking wealth, and in the process they built up northern California and the city of San Francisco. Sutter became bankrupt (1852). Given pension of $ 250 a month by state of California (1864-78).

More about Sutter can be found on our gold rush pages, including letters written by him describing his life in California and the events leading to the loss of his land.

Bibliography:

Dana, Julian, Sutter of California (1934; repr. 1974);
Dillon, Richard, Fool's Gold: The Decline and Fall of Captain John Sutter of California (1967) and John Sutter (1981);
Ottley, A. R., ed., John A. Sutter's Last Days (1986);
Zollinger, James P., Sutter: The Man and His Empire (1939; repr. 1967).

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