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John Sutter
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    (February 23, 1803-June 18, 1880)
    Born in Kandern, Baden, Germany
    Birth name was Johann Suter
    Left Europe for America
    Settled in California (1839)
    Built Sutter's Fort and established New Helvetia near the site of present-day Sacramento
    Gold was discovered at the sawmill on his land (January, 1848), triggering the California Gold Rush
    He left Europe to avoid going to debtors' prison.
    In America, he falsely claimed to be a captain in the Swiss Guard.
    Many of the American Indians 'employed' at New Helvetia were effectively slaves: they were housed in locked, barren rooms with no sanitation, and if they refused to work, they would be whipped or executed.
    He kidnapped Indian children and sold them into slavery, until Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado intervened. (Not due to moral scruples, but out of concern that Sutter's activities might trigger an Indian uprising.)
    He was ticked off when his son, John, Jr., named the town he founded Sacramento instead of Sutterville.
    He spent his last days unsuccessfully petitioning the governments of California and the US for reimbursement of the losses he incurred during the Gold Rush.
    He provided food, shelter, and clothing to immigrants arriving in California.
    John Bidwell, who led the first party of American settlers to travel overland to California, wrote that he was 'one of the most liberal and hospitable of men.'
    After gold was discovered on his land, his settlement was overrun by gold seekers.
    In addition, the European and American workers at his settlement abandoned their jobs to search for gold.
    Adding insult to injury, his land grant -- made when California was part of Mexico -- was eventually declared invalid by the US Supreme Court (1858).
    One of the more unlikely tributes to him: the Sutter's gold rose, a hybrid tea rose first bred in 1950.

Credit: C. Fishel

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