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Examiner
  • Ted Stillwell: Sutter and his quest for an empire



  • When John Sutter landed in Jackson County, this was still the very edge of western civilization. Born in Germany of well-to-do Swiss parents, John was 31 when he arrived in New York City from Europe in July 1834.

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  • When John Sutter landed in Jackson County, this was still the very edge of western civilization. Born in Germany of well-to-do Swiss parents, John was 31 when he arrived in New York City from Europe in July 1834.
    The newcomer had heard that a man could make his dreams come true in America, but Sutter’s reason for leaving Europe was less noble than a search for opportunity. Sutter had boarded a ship in LeHavre, France, just one jump ahead of the law. He was a thief and a swindler, hardly the sort to inspire the confidence of the New York Immigration officials. But, Sutter gave them no chance to look closely into his record. He slipped ashore and lost himself in Manhattan.
    He was a strange man, a vagabond, and a man of many talents. He worked a number of different trades in New York, such as a boxer, taxidermist, druggist, dentist, and a teacher of mathematics in a mission school. There, he easily picked up on many foreign languages before getting the itch to head out West. At that point in history, the Missouri River landing here was the jumping off place for the West, and he did spend a short time working around our neighborhood before hopping a wagon train headed out on the Oregon Trail. His only companion was a shaggy sheep dog named Beepo that walked on his hind feet and smoked a pipe.
    Sutter’s dream at that time seemed to be the desire to enter California from the north and acquire enough land to build his own empire. But when he arrived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon he learned that the Indians in Northern California were on the warpath, and Sutter was advised to board a ship heading down the West Coast. Apparently, there were no ships heading south, so he and Beepo jumped one headed for Hawaii. Along the cruise Beppo and he enjoyed sitting on the sunny deck smoking their pipes.
    In Honolulu, he met a few businessmen he knew from New York. Sutter thought he could possibly swindle some money out of them for his California Empire. He had no luck with money, but they did promise to send him a shipload of supplies and some Kanakas – native islanders – to work for him in California.
    From Hawaii, Sutter took a Russian vessel to Sitka, Alaska, and then boarded another boat headed down the coast for a trading post in Mexico. They dropped him on the beach at what is now San Francisco
    On horseback, Sutter set out looking for a place to settle and fell in love with the lush soil of the Sacramento Valley. This would be the heart of his empire, but before he could arrange for any land, the first shipment of Kanakas arrived from Hawaii accompanied by nine armed guards.
    Page 2 of 2 - California was still Mexican territory at that time and was weary with the Indian unrest, so Sutter rode down to the capital at Monterey to try and swindle Governor Alvarado. Sutter claimed that he had an army of men and in exchange for land he would build a series of forts to bring the Indians under control by offering them well paying jobs.
    Alvarado apparently saw the value in Sutter’s plan and awarded him thousands upon thousands of acres along the banks of the American River, plus the title of “Commissioner of Justice” and “Governor on the Frontier of the Rio del Sacramento.”
    It was on this land where John Sutter built his considerable empire that his foreman James Marshall discovered gold in January 1848. Within a year the news had spread around the world and many of those fortune seekers crossed the Independence Square headed for Sutter’s Empire.
    Reference: “Men Who Opened the West” by Wyatt Blassingame and Richard Glendinning.
    Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.
    To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to teddystillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.
     

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