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John Augustus Sutter

Sutter, John Augustus, 1803–80, American pioneer, b. Kandern, Baden, of Swiss parents. His original name was Johann August Suter. He emigrated to the United States in 1834, went to St. Louis, then to Santa Fe. Fired with a desire to go to the Pacific coast, he went to the Oregon country and entered the coast trade in the Northwest, going to the Hawaiian Islands, to Sitka, Alaska, and finally (1839) to California. He settled in the Sacramento valley and obtained large grants of land from the Mexican governor of California. There he established his colony, known as New Helvetia, and built Sutter's Fort (see Sacramento). Rich and powerful, Sutter helped many newcomers to California. In 1848, James W. Marshall found gold while building a sawmill on Sutter's land. The news spread, and gold-mad crowds poured across the continent in the rush of 1849. They killed Sutter's cattle and swarmed over his lands hunting for gold. He struggled against them in vain, and moved E to Pennsylvania, a ruined man, in 1873. He had earlier been granted a pension from California, and to the end he hoped that the U.S. Congress would reimburse him for his losses.

See Sutter's New Helvetia Diary (1939) and his Statement regarding Early California Experiences (ed. by A. Ottley, 1943); see also biographies by J. P. Zollinger (1939, repr. 1967) and R. H. Dillon (1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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