The Fate of the Sutter Gun

John Sutter’s little Russian 4-pounder wandered around a bit after the end of the Mexican War, from Monterey to Santa Barbara to San Francisco. When Captain Lippitt of the 7th New York Volunteers, in command of the garrison at Santa Barbara asked for an additional field piece, Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson refused, writing in his letter to Lippitt that “The piece which you now have is an excellent one, probably one of the best in the country, known as the Sutter Gun. It has the admiration of all the participants in the glories of the Mesa and San Gabriel conflicts.”

In 1848, when the 7th New York Volunteers were mustered out, Captain Joseph Folsom (for whom the city of Folsom is named) returned the gun to John Sutter as his property. Sutter used it to fire salutes from Sutter’s Fort.

At this point gold had already been discovered at Sutter’s Mill by James Marshall. In the subsequent rush for gold, Sutter was overwhelmed by the squatters and thieves who swarmed over his vast land holdings. Unable to hold onto his employees and facing mounting debts, Sutter retired to his Hock Farm near Yuba City.

He took the cannon with him and used it to fire salutes to passing steamships on the Feather River. I can picture him, at ease on his veranda, with a glass of brandy in his hand, waving to a passing ship and ordering the gun to be fired.

Sutter's Hock Farm

Sutter’s Hock Farm

In 1865 the house at the Hock Farm burned to the ground and Sutter and his wife retired to Washington, D.C. where for years Sutter fruitlessly pursued a request to Congress for compensation of his losses in the war and the Gold Rush. On his departure he donated the Sutter Gun to the Society of California Pioneers in San Francisco. These it remained on display until the 1906 earthquake, when it disappeared in the fire.

Did it melt into a heap of slag? Was it jumbled into the rubble that was dumped into San Francisco Bay? Or is it still resting somewhere in hiding?

The cannon that is fired nowadays each day at noon at Sutter’s Fort is a replica, cast from a sister gun that went back to Sitka when the Russians left Fort Ross. So if you visit Sutter’s Fort and watch them fire the gun, you are seeing the Sutter Gun  . . . . almost.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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