On a warm January day in 1848 James W. Marshall discovered a speck of gold in the water near Sutter’s Mill in Colma, California. Over the next ten years, the period known as the California Gold Rush would result in one of the largest human migrations in history as hundreds of thousands of people made their way to the area in search of fortune.
Ten years prior to this fateful day, John Augustus Sutter received a land grant from the Mexican Government (who at the time owned all of the land in what is now California) and established a fort that he named after himself. The fort was located in what would become modern day Sacramento. It served as a base of operations for the industrial empire that Sutter hoped to build in the West. During this time many people from all walks of life found their way to the fort to rest, work, and explore the area. The now famous Mill was constructed in support of the efforts of the fort.
Today, Sutter’s Fort is a State Historic Park and “Living History Museum” that attracts thousands of visitors each year to learn about the history and significance of the fort in the development of California. Most of the fort has been recreated, but a single original building (pictured above in the cover photo; building on the right) remains in the center of the complex.
The museum contains replicas of a general store, a mill, a blacksmith shop, barracks, offices, and even an executive bedroom that shows how people of the era lived. We have to remember that during the time of the gold rush, California was undeveloped. It was challenging to get supplies from the East. Overland routes were dangerous and took months, and the sea route around Cape Horn was not much shorter. The Transcontinental Railroad wouldn’t even be started until 1863. This meant that everything that settlers needed in order to survive had to be grown, raised, and made by hand.
The fort itself was abandoned not long after the gold rush as the city of Sacramento experienced a period of explosive growth around the fort. The property transferred ownership several times before finally being owned, rebuilt, renovated, and administered by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. In 1961 it was designated a national historic landmark. It is one of the best ways to truly experience the life and times of early California pioneers and will serve as a place to educate future Californian’s about their history for generations to come.
You can see more photographs of Sutter’s Fort along with other photographs from Sacramento in the Sacramento album on Flickr.