John Augustus Sutter (born Johann August Suter in 1803) claimed to have been a captain in the Swiss Guard, and to further that image, bought himself a uniform jacket in St. Louis, before heading westward. He may have served in the Swiss military, but he was never an officer. Fleeing debt and leaving behind in Switzerland a wife and five children, he emigrated to the United States in 1834.
After some time in Santa Fe and St. Louis, he joined a party of missionaries traveling to Oregon, arriving there in October 1838. Sutter wanted to settle in California, but he had to take a circuitous route to get to his goal. Rather than travel overland, he took ship at Fort Vancouver for the Sandwich Islands. There he found that the only ship going to California was sailing to Alaska first, so along with some Kanakas, as Hawaiians were then called, he embarked for Sitka. After a month there, the ship sailed for California, where John Sutter arrived on July 1, 1839.
A year later Sutter became a Mexican citizen in order to qualify for a land grant. By the summer of 1841, while the Bidwell-Bartleson Party was still trekking across the Great Basin, Sutter settled himself on 48,000 acres of land granted to him by the Mexican governor. His rancho was located where the Sacramento and Americans Rivers came together in central California. This was an area unsettled by the Mexicans, who clustered along the Mission Trail near the coast. Sutter named his settlement New Helvetia after his native land of Switzerland (Helvetia in Latin) and set about planning how to build his inland empire.