TRUCKEE, Calif. — The Truckee Library, the Friends of the Truckee Library, and the Truckee Donner Historical Society are greatly honored to welcome a prominent and influential Californian from the early history of the Golden State. Swiss emigrant and early settler Capt. John A. Sutter will visit to talk about his early days in California.
David Fenimore will portray Sutter in the first Truckee’s History Alive! series on Thursday, March 27, 7 p.m. at the Veteran’s Hall, located at 10214 High St. in Truckee.
RICHES TO RAGS
If not for the discovery of gold, he might have died a rich man.
Capt. John A. Sutter (1803-1880) emigrated from Switzerland, and in 1839 founded the first European settlement in the interior of the Mexican territory of Alta California, at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers, where the city of Sacramento lies today. The Mexican government granted him citizenship and tracts of land, and the office of “Military Governor of the Northern Frontier.”
As the proprietor of Sutter’s Fort, then the western terminus of the overland trail, he used regional Native Americans for labor and organized some into his personal fighting force: The largest army California had ever seen.
He traded his produce and other goods down the river to Yerba Buena — now called San Francisco — and he generously aided the overland emigrants who had begun to arrive in large numbers, later cooperating with the U.S. government in its war of conquest against Mexico.
Sutter envisioned creating a personal agricultural empire in California, but in 1848, when gold was discovered at his lumber mill in Coloma, he hastily revised his plans and converted his fort into a rooming house and commercial center.
Lacking a head for business and increasingly intemperate in his personal habits, he rapidly lost control of events and sank deeply into debt. Although he served as a delegate to the 1849 state constitutional convention in Monterey, hordes of squatters overran his land grants, which were later nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1865, after an arsonist burned his last remaining residence, a farm on the Feather River, he relocated to southeastern Pennsylvania and spent the next 15 years until his death petitioning Congress for redress of his losses and repayment for his assistance to United States citizens and armed forces. Although the memorials to his name in the Sacramento Valley and the Gold Country are too numerous to count, his legacy remains controversial: Some honor him as an enterprising pioneer and founder of California, while others accuse him of genocidal exploitation of the tribal peoples of the state.
FENIMORE’S MANY CHARACTERS
Fenimore has taught writing, literature, storytelling, and core humanities at the University of Nevada, Reno, since 1989. In 2009 he received the College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Award for Teaching and was also named the university’s Academic Advisor of the Year.
During the past 20 years Fenimore has traveled throughout the U.S. portraying western writer Zane Grey, Donner Party survivor Lewis Keseberg, New York editor/publisher/politician Horace Greeley, and political activist and folksinger Woody Guthrie.
He has taken both Zane Grey and Woody Guthrie to the University of the Basque Country in Spain, and as 1872 U.S. presidential candidate, Greeley has made campaign stops in Reno, Fort Collins, and — where else? — Greeley, Colo.
Fenimore has lived in North Tahoe and Truckee, though he currently resides much of the time in Reno. In his spare time he skis, bicycles, messes around in rivers, and tries to expand his guitar abilities beyond the three or four chords Woody Guthrie was known to play.
Join Capt. Sutter on Thursday, March 27 at 7 p.m. at the Veteran’s Hall. Carpooling is encouraged, and a $10 donation is suggested.
Capt. Sutter’s visit will be followed by the appearances of Virginia Reed Murphy on June 27, and the old mountain man Caleb Greenwood on Sept. 18, for continuation of the Truckee’s History Alive! series.
Contact the Truckee Library at 530-582-7846 for more information.
“If not for the discovery of gold, he might have died a rich man.”