If you are driving on Highway 99, you will see a sign pointing to the small town of Nicolaus. It is situated just to the east of the highway on the south side of the Feather River. In the days of the Gold Rush it was an important and busy site. For a while it was considered the farthest spot on the river to which a sea-going vessel could be navigated, making it an important jumping-off point for the mines.
Nicolaus was the first name of its founder, Nicolaus Allgeier, a native of Germany born in 1807. He came to the United States around 1830 and became a fur trapper for the Hudson Bay Company in the Rocky Mountains. He met John Sutter at a mountain man rendezvous when Sutter was traveling to California in 1838 and signed up to travel with Sutter and seek their fortunes on the Pacific Coast.
In Oregon Sutter made for California by way of Hawaii, while Allgeier and his friend Sebastian Keyser traveled overland to central California. In 1840 they arrived at Sutter’s newly founded settlement of New Helvetia, or Sutter’s Fort, where they were employed as trappers and bodyguards. These men were rough and dangerous characters — Sutter claimed that “One of them, Big Nicolas, wanted to kill me one day and caused a great deal of trouble.”
In 1841 Sutter sent Allgeier to his Hock Farm to help build an adobe farm house. Since the road between the Hock Farm and Sutter’s Fort had to cross the Feather River, a ferry was needed, and Sutter deeded one square mile of land to Allgeier in payment for past and future work on the understanding that he would maintain a ferry there for Sutter and other travelers.
Nicolaus Allgeier lived in an Indian-style willow pole and grass hut until 1847, until he built himself an adobe house. He turned it into a two-story hotel in 1849 to accommodate the rush of gold seekers. He lived with an Indian woman and employed numerous Indians to operate the ferry and tend cattle.
John Bidwell was well-acquainted with Nicolaus, who sometimes called upon his aid in business matters. Nicolaus was illiterate and signed with an X, as in this letter: In the California State Library is a letter from Nicolaus to Bidwell which reads as follows:
Nicolaus July 7th 1851
Mr. J. Bidwell
My dear friend
I wrote you a few lines some three weeks past to come down as soon as possible on account of some Business I would like you to attend to for me here. I will expect you as soon as you receive this to come and see me if possible, for I have some Business matter to settle and can not well trust eny body els, you know well I can not read or write and I am trobled very much.
I would also beg of you not to make it know to eny one, that I have send for you for the above purpose, etc. I will expect you to spend a few days here. I will keap you at work, etc.
yours very Respectfully
Information taken from John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier, by Albert L. Hurtado, and the Yuba-Sutter Wiki.