Sacramento history is rich in fascinating facts that have the makings of a Hollywood movie.
In the Beginning
Thousands of years before settlements in Sacramento happened, a branch of the Maidu tribe of Native Americans lived in the valley now called Sacramento. It wasn’t until 1808 that Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga and his Spanish soldiers discovered the American and Sacramento Rivers. The Sacramento River was then called Jesus Maria and the Feather River was called the Sacramento.
In the 1820’s the Dutch settled in Sacramento. In the late 1820’s Jedediah Smith and other fur trappers traveled through Sacramento, and then again in the 1830’s. In the early 1830’s over 20,000 Indians died from a smallpox epidemic that spread through the area.
Sacramento’s history really began in 1839 when the Mexican Govenor Alvarado (who was running California) gave John Augustus Sutter (Swiss immigrant) a 48,000 acre land grant. John Sutter settled where the American and Sacramento Rivers join.
In 1834 John Sutter left Switzerland and made his way west. Sutter hoped to create a haven for European Swiss immigrants, by creating a new community he named Helvetia or New Switzerland. On the way he stopped in New York, St Louis, Hawaii and Alaska. King Kamehameha and Sutter became friends and the King gave Sutter eight men to help him get to his destination safely. He arrived on August 12, 1839.
Sutter received a gift of 2000 fruit trees in 1847, which started the agriculture industry in the Sacramento Valley. He built his trading post about a mile inland from where he landed. He hired James Marshall to build a sawmill in Colma, on the American River appx. 30 miles east of Sutter’s Fort. Gold was discovered by James Marshall on Jan 24, 1848, which was the beginnings of the Gold Rush. It wasn’t until Sam Brannan, a local SF merchant, rode through San Francisco shouting out “there’s gold in them thar hills,” that the rush really started. The largest human migration in history was recorded in 1948, as a result.
Sutter was deserted by his workers, and his creditors demanded their money, so although a commercial success, (Sutter’s Fort, Mill and the town of Sutterville eventually failed. Soon after, John Sutter Jr. arrived from Switzerland. He helped his father sell off some of the land and plan the City of Sacramento, which was, and still is a bustling city with incredible history and opportunity.
Due to the protection of Sutter’s Fort during the Gold Rush, Sacramento grew even faster. It was from Sutter’s Fort that teams of men went out to rescue the Doner Party and other stranded travelers.
The City Grows Up
Sacramento become a major commercial and agricultural center as well as the terminal for stagecoaches, wagon trains, riverboats, Pony Express, telegraph and the Transcontinental Railroad. Many of these historical places can be visited through tours you can find on our guide pages.
Sacramento is the oldest incorporated city in California, incorporated in 1850, California was also admitted to the Union. In 1854 the California State Legislature named Sacramento the state capitol.
Previous capitols were located in Monterey, San Jose, Vallejo, and Benicia successively. The State Capitol was completed in 1874.
The Sacramento River and the American river were key to the success of Sacramento, through taxes levied on goods unloaded from boats and loaded onto rail cars in the famous Sacramento Rail Yards.
With such prestigious titles, Sacramento continued to grow and became the western end of the Pony Express.
In 1863 the First Transcontinental Railroad began construction.
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