The Best of Days for John A. Sutter


John A. Sutter in 1850, the earliest photograph.

1847 was a good year for Captain John Sutter. Things were going well and prosperity lay all around. Here is a letter written from John A. Sutter to Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo on October 31, 1847. (The original letter, in the Bancroft Library, is in Spanish.) He relates that the wheat crop is good, cattle trading is fine, the building of a saw mill and a flour mill are going well, he has hired skilled workmen, and by the end of the year he expects to have finished up the year’s work successfully.

Immigrants are coming into California from the United States, but not so many as to be a problem. (According to George R. Stewart in The California Trail, there were less than half as many immigrants in 1847 as there were in 1846. Maybe less than 100 arrived overland to Sutter’s Fort.) He writes:

                                                                                               New Helvetia, 1847 – October 31

Senor Don Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo at Sonoma

My dear Sir and Friend:

I regret very much that I cannot come to visit you in Sonoma – for I have had an inflammation in my eye for the last two weeks.

I have received 150 head of cattle, cows, bulls and calves. Do me the favor to tell me the price of this cattle. Mr. Reading, who has 60 or 68 head will come to see you in a short time. I will send you the bricks when I finish delivering the wheat that I have to deliver. I still have much wheat outside. The saw mill was made in a few weeks, and with the large flour mill we are getting ahead with the work, and by the end of the month of December we shall finish up everything.

The Mormons are the best workers I have, without them the mills could not be made. In a short time I will send you some ramrods to try, for I have workmen who know the trade well. If you need strong shoes for your vaqueros I can send them to you, for I have good shoemakers – all Mormons.

As a Mormon myself (though not of pioneer stock) I am glad to hear these fellow Saints commended for their talents and industry. The letter continues:

Have you jerked meat for sale? How many vine stocks can you sell me in the months of January and February?

The sick are recovering everywhere on the Sacramento. It seems that in many other parts of the country there was much sickness, in Monterey, San Francisco, Napa, etc.

I received a letter from a gentleman in Switzerland. He wishes to come with a company of colonists or emigrants, when I send him a reply favorable to the country. I am certainly going to write him to come, for all of those people are industrious.

Excuse my bad Spanish.

I am, with the highest consideration,

Your very attentive and obedient servant,


P.S. Do me the favor to give food to Olimpio and his brother, the messengers.

Olimpio was an Eastern Miwok Indian and the head of Sutter’s vaqueros. He often acted as a courier and in 1848 became keeper of the keys at Sutter’s Fort.

October 31, 1847 — everything is about to change for Sutter. In three months gold will be discovered at his new saw mill, his workers will leave for the goldfields, and he will soon be overrun with exhausted forty-niners and land-hungry squatters. Nothing would ever be this good again.

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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