On January 8, 1850 it commenced raining in the Sacramento Valley. The rain continued for ten days, and this after an already wet winter, with rains that began in October 1849.
Sacramento City, built on the riverside where the American and Sacramento Rivers joined, was inundated, with water extending a mile inland from the embarcadero. The streets were filled with water, tents and buildings were swept away, and thousands of dollars of merchandise were lost.
Here are a few quotations from an eyewitness report which appeared in the Daily Alta California, 16 January 1850:
Long before noon hundreds of boats were crossing every street, far and near, and bearing to the several vessels that lay at the river’s bank, women and children, the sick and the feeble; and as they arrived, the owners of the vessels were ready to offer them prompt aid and every comfort in their power; and when they were safely landed upon the decks, the shout of joy went up to heaven in loud cheers from those who landed them, for their safety, and these shouts were echoed back by the hundreds of voices that were in the surrounding boats, and within hearing of the response. During the entire day and until night, this work of humanity and mercy went on.
As an evidence of the power of the current, the new and valuable brick building, corner of J and 3d street, built at great cost by the Messrs. Merritt, having walls nearly or quite 18 inches in thickness, was undermined, and fell with a heavy crash, carrying with it the next store, Messrs. Massett & Brewsters, with which it fell into the flood a mass of ruin. The large iron store on K street, was lifted from its position, carried into the street, and then overthrown, and various others shared the same fate.
The City Hotel, where so many of our friends have enjoyed the excellent fare that was always provided by the proprietors, was so completely submerged as to compel the boarders to enter by boats, at the second story, the first being completely under water.
The full article can be read at the California Digital Newspaper Collection web page.
For the 49ers, this was their first winter in California. They had no idea whether this was normal or not. By 1862, when the floods were even more extensive than those of 1850, they knew that flooding at least once a decade was going to be the norm.