Sutter County History

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California Genealogy and History Archives


Sutter County History


A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California
Chicago, Lewis Publ. Co., 1891



        This county, named in honor of the distinguished pioneer, General John A. Sutter, is bounded on the north by Butte and Yuba counties, on the east by Yuba and Placer, on the south by Sacramento, and on the west by Yolo and Colusa counties.

        When the Americans and foreigners began to settle in the Sacramento Valley during the early gold-mining period and enter or squat upon lands here, Captain Sutter was made to show papers for his immense claim of eleven square leagues. Like many other old Mexican documents of the kind, the description of boundary lines was vague, and Sutter's map included even a larger area than the grant entitled him to. It lay mostly in what is now Sacramento County, and partly in Sutter County. This matter is noticed more at length on page 192.

        When in 1850 Captain Sutter delivered over his Sacramento property to an agent, he retired to "Hock Farm," in Sutter County, west of Feather River and south of the Butte mountains. Here lived Theodore Chicard (or Sicard) and Mr. Dupont. In 1843 John Bidwell took charge of the farm. During the summer he built a house there of adobe. Near the close of the year J. C. Bridges came from Kentucky, and died during the following winter. On this farm Sutter had about 5,000 head of cattle and 1,200 head of horses, and he employed about twenty-five Indian vaqueros in herding animals and breaking the horses. General Bidwell remained about fourteen months, namely, to the early part of the summer of 1844, and during that time planted some trees and otherwise improved the place. William Bennitz then took charge and continued there for a year, to the summer of 1845. Major Hensley followed, remaining to the spring of 1846, when nearly all Sutter's force went into the Mexican war, the farm being left in charge of Kanaka Jim, whom Sutter had brought from the Sandwich Islands.

        Sutter moved to this farm in the spring of 1850, leaving Peter H. Burnett at Sacramento as agent for the sale of his property there; and when he was elected governor, H. H. Schoolcraft was appointed in his place. Sutter fixed up the house on Hock Farm and built the iron structure. It was erected for a store house and bought from parties who had come around the Horn. The floods of 1862 ruined this farm, and since then it has been a barren waste of sand and debris.

        Theodore Sicard had been a French sailor and first came to California in 1835. At a later period he remained in the country and worked for Captain Sutter, superintending the Hock Farm in 1842–'43. He obtained from the Mexican government a grant of four Spanish leagues, extending from opposite the mouth of Dry Creek, ten miles up the south side of Bear River, about half a mile above Johnson's Crossing.

        In 1844 a Mexican, Don Pablo Gutierez, who had been in the employ of Captain Sutter, obtained a grant of five leagues on the north side of Bear River, now known as the Johnson grant. Gutierez built a mud house at the place afterward called Johnson's crossing. He was killed in 1844 or '45, and his grant and cattle were sold at auction by Captain Sutter, as magistrate of the region, being purchased for $150, by William Johnson and Sebastian Keyser, who settled there the same year. Johnson was a sailor, and had made voyages to California quite early, and for several years previous to this purchase had traded between Sandwich Islands and Yerba Buena. Keyser had traveled with Sutter from Missouri to Oregon, and stopped there while Sutter went to the Sandwich Islands. After the purchase the grant was divided, Johnson taking the east half and Keyser the west. In 1846 they built an adobe house a short distance below the crossing.

        In 1845 George Patterson settled on the south side of Yuba River, opposite Cordua's, under a lease from Captain Sutter, and constructed an adobe house. Jack Smith lived with him a while. This was known as Sutter's Garden, and the occupation of the tract was by his proxy, Patterson. Jack Smith, an old sailor who had been in Sutter's employ, obtained from that gentleman in 1844 a grant of land on the south side of Yuba River extending from the site of Linda three miles up the stream and one mile back. He settled there in 1845 and built a cabin on the location of the subsequent town of Linda [Yuba County]. In 1846 Smith sold the central mile of his tract to George Patterson. The purchaser had come to California in 1841, in one of the ships of the Hudson Bay Company. He escaped from the vessel in the night and took refuge on Goat Island, in San Francisco Bay.

        An attempt was made that night by John Rose to rescue him in a boat, but it was unsuccessful. Patterson found his way from this vessel and entered the employ of Sutter.

        In 1847 Michael Nye bought a portion of the Sutter grant adjoining Smith on the west. This tract was one mile in extent along, the south bank of the stream and a mile and a half in depth.

        In the latter part of 1847 William G. Murphy moved from Cordua's rancho to Nye's place, and they had many cattle and horses.

        October 18, 1846, there arrived at Bear River a company of immigrants, including Claude Chana, who afterward became a prominent citizen here. In that company were 500 wagons and 1,000 men, starting from St. Joseph, Missouri, and scattering along the Pacific coast as they progressed westward.

        In 1847 Baptiste Rouelle, the discoverer of gold in the mountains near the Mission of San Fernando, settled near Sutter's Garden on the south bank of Yuba River.

        During the spring of 1847 the survivors of the Donner party arrived, many remaining at the settlements of this city; also some members of the Murphy family stopped here.

        Gold was first discovered north of the American River, and on the Yuba River in the vicinity of Marysville, by Jonas Spect, in April, 1848. Mr. Nye and his company made discoveries of the metal on the same river about the same time. Mr. Spect was, at least until recently, a resident of Colusa.

        In 1849 what is now Sutter and Yuba counties were simply a part of the great Sacramento District."January 4, this year, Cordua, the original proprietor of the site of Marysville, sold his half-interest to Michael C. Nye and William Foster, while Charles Covillaud retained the other half. Nye and Foster also put into the partnership their previous possessions. Nye managed the ranch and stock business, while Covillaud had a store at Sicard Flat, and Foster one near Foster Bar. The name of the main ranch was then changed to Nye's Ranch.

        Cordua moved to the mines, opening a store at Cordua Bar. In the spring Rose Reynolds and George Kinlock purchased the whole tract owned by Nye and Sicard on Yuba River. Kinlock's father was a Scotchman who had come to California about 1825; his mother was a native of California, and George received his education in the Sandwich Islands.

        September 27, 1849, Nye and Foster sold to Covillaud, for $30,000, all their title and interest in the lands, improvements, etc., which had been conveyed to them by Cordua; but a few days afterward Covillaud sold half his property to J. M. Ramirez and J. Sampson, for $23,300. During the same month he sold half the remainder to Theodore Sicard.

        At the beginning of the year 1850 there were three towns in what is now Sutter County. Vernon, the oldest established north of the Sacramento River, had become a thorough business place. Nicolaus had become a flourishing settlement, though the town was not laid out until January of this year; and Yuba City had been laid out the preceding fall.

        George C. Johnson came to the town in a full-rigged bark belonging to the Government of the United States. This vessel had come around the Horn with Government stores for the United States troops. Johnson was Commissary; and, after discharging part of her cargo at Benicia,—which was the principal military post at that time of this coast and a self-asserted rival of San Francisco,—he brought the vessel to Nicolaus to deliver the remainder of her supplies to the officers and men stationed at Camp Far West. This was a small military post established by the United States on Bear River some ten or fifteen miles above Nicolaus, for the protection of the immigrants against Indians. The bark never again saw salt water, but she gave to Nicolaus the right to boast of being the only port of entry that has ever been established north of Sacramento, the only town north of that city that has ever had a full-rigged sea-going vessel lying at her landing. Johnson built quite an imposing block of frame houses in Nicolaus, in one of which he carried on a lively mercantile business. He accumulated a fortune, went to San Francisco and established a large iron foundry or something of the kind, was afterward United States Consul for Norway and Sweden, of one of which countries he was a native, and died a few years ago, worth over a million dollars.

        The "Gold Lake" excitement of 1849–'50, generally considered a humbug, started by one Stoddard, was as much a part of the early history of Sutter County as of the adjoining county of Plumas. See page 187.

        Sutter County, as first organized in 1850, according to act of February 18, of that year, embraced all of the southwestern portion of Placer County and a strip between the Sacramento River and Butte Creek, which now belongs to Colusa County. This large tract was divided into six townships by the Court of Sessions. Before the end of a year it became  evident that the county was too large, and efforts were made resulting in a division of the county the following year. The boundaries were changed by the Legislature of 1852, 1856 and 1866, the latter fixing them as follows: Beginning at the northwest corner of Sacramento County (this was a point on the Sacramento River due west of a point ten miles due north of the mouth of American River), and running thence up the middle of Sacramento River to the mouth of Butte Creek; thence up the middle of said creek to its intersection with the south line of section 19, township 17 north, range 1 east; thence east on section lines to a point in the middle of Feather River; thence down the middle of Feather River to a point opposite the mouth of Bear Creek or River; thence up the middle of said creek or river to the northwest corner of Placer County; thence along the western boundary line of that county to the southwest corner of said county; and thence along the northern boundary line of Sacramento County to the place of beginning.

        The boundary established by the Legislature of 1852 was apparently adopted for no other reason than to include the Marysville Buttes in Butte County, as it was thought proper that they should be in the county named after them; but the next year the Legislature restored the Buttes to Sutter County.

        Vernon was made the county-seat April 25, 1851. The secret of Vernon' s success in obtaining the seat of government was that E. O. Crosby, one of the proprietors of the town, was the State Senator from that district. When the boundaries of the county were changed, November 3, 1852, Vernon was nearly deserted and Nicolaus was made a county-seat. Three years afterward Yuba City made a move for the prize. A vote was taken, resulting apparently in favor of the new place; but it was claimed by the friends of Nicolaus that if the illegal votes were all thrown out they would retain the county-seat in their town. However, the board of supervisors ordered the archives moved to Yuba City, and they began holding their sessions there; and that place continued to be the seat of government for twenty-three years. The court-house having been destroyed by fire on the night of December 23, 1871, this was of course a signal for rival towns to make an effort to obtain the headquarters of the county's government. The friends of Nicolaus aroused. The only newspaper in the county, the Sutter Banner, published at Yuba City, was in favor of that place. The Legislature was appealed to, but it took no action, and a new court-house was built in Yuba City, and thus the matter ended.

        The site of Nicolaus was first occupied by Nicolaus Allgeier in 1842. He was born in Freiburg, Germany, in 1807, and came to America about 1830. He went into the employ of the Hudson Bay Company as trapper and in this capacity spent a number of years in the wilds of British America. It was while in this service, in 1839'-40, that he came overland to California. Soon he commenced to work for Captain Sutter, assisting in constructing an adobe house in 1841–'42, about one and a half miles below Hock Farm. This was Sutter's first establishment in Sutter County, and the first settlement of any kind made in this county. The plains between Sacramento and Feather rivers were used by Sutter as a grazing ranch for immense bands of horses and cattle. The road from his establishment, New Helvetia, to the one at Hock Farm crossed the river at Nicolaus, and Sutter desired some one stationed at that point with a ferry. He therefore deeded to Allgeier a tract one mile square at that place in consideration of the labor he had performed and was to perform in the future, all valued at $400. Allgeier first constructed a hut of poles and covered it with tule grass and dirt. He lived here until some time in 1847, when he constructed a small adobe house near the old ferry crossing. A primitive ferry-boat was constructed in 1843, which the Indians rowed across the river in transacting the business of crossing.

        The first election in Sutter County for county officers was in 1850, resulting as follows: Gordon N. Mott, Judge; W. Fisher, Attorney; T. B. Reardon, Clerk; John Polo, Sheriff; George Pierson, Recorder; Willard Post, Treasurer, and Wm. H. Monroe, Assessor.

        The first building provided for the use of the county was the Zinc house at Oro, described elsewhere in this volume. At Nicolaus the court used a private residence, and at Auburn a place was provided by citizens at Vernon. E. O. Crosby tendered the use of two buildings free of charge. The courts, however, were held in Captain Savage's Hotel. At Nicolaus the American Hotel served as a place for holding the court and for the county officers until 1855. From that time until the county-seat was removed to Yuba City, Frederick Vahle's house was used. As yet the county had no jail. A good court-house and jail were completed at Yuba City by September. 18, 1858, at a total cost of $9,400. This was destroyed by fire on the night of December 20, 1871. Some of the officers succeeded in saving the valuable contents of their offices. The safes and the vaults preserved their contents, though in some cases somewhat injured.

        In 1866 the indigent sick were taken care of at the Yuba County Hospital at Marysville, and also at Nicolaus and Yuba City, and then they were placed in the care of John A. Fox at Yuba City. In May, 1876, a house and grounds were purchased at Yuba City for an almshouse.

        The levees have cost this county an immense sum of money, and yet the citizens have to continue repairs and additions.

        Until 1867, when the weekly Sutter Banner was first issued, people depended chiefly upon the Marysville papers for their home and general news. The first number of this paper appeared April 8, 1867, issued by J. B. Maxwell and J. A. Stewart. It proclaimed the fact that there was no hotel in town. It was at first independent in its political complexion, but upon the appearance a few days later of the Sentinel, a Union paper, it took grounds in favor of the Democracy. After the disappearance of the Sentinel it resumed its independent character, leaning either to the Democratic or Republican side according to the various proprietors from time to time.

        Stephen J. Field, now of the Supreme Bench of the United States, was a young lawyer and business man here from 1850 to 1863. He was the first alcalde of Marysville [Yuba County], in 1850; member of the Assembly in 1851; justice of the Supreme Court of the State in 1859; United States Circuit Judge for California in 1863, and the same year appointed to his present position. He is a brother of Cyrus W. and David Dudley Field.

        Other eminent men from this county have been: Henry P. Haun, who was a resident here during 1850–'61. He came from Iowa to this county, but was born in Kentucky. He was County Judge in 1850–'53, and United States Senator to fill Broderick's unexpired term, in 1860. He died in Marysville, in 1861. W. T. Barbour, District Judge, 1852–'58. G. G. Barnard, who returned to New York city and became a Judge of the Superior Court of that city, and afterward impeached for complicity in the Tammany frauds in 1873. Charles H. Bryan, resident here in 1851–'60, became Justice of the Supreme Court in 1855, and died at Carson City in 1878. Charles E. De Long, resident here in 1857–'63, was member of the Assembly in 1858–'59, State Senator in 1861–'62, went to Virginia City in 1863, was Minister to Japan in 1869, and died in 1877. George C. Gorham, resident in 1859–'60, editor at Marysville, San Francisco and Sacramento, Clerk in United States District Court in 1865­'67, candidate for Governor in 1867, Secretary of United States Senate in 1868–'79, and Secretary of the National Republican Executive Committee in 1876. Gordon N. Mott resided here in 1850–'60, served in the Mexican war, first County Judge of the county, District Judge in 1851, Judge of the Supreme Court of Nevada in 1861, Delegate to Congress in 1863–'64, etc. William Walker, the leader of the filibustering expedition to Lower California, was an editor in Sacramento in 1855, leader of the celebrated invasion of Nicaragua, were he was finally captured and shot September 12, 1860. He was known as "The Grey-eyed Man of Destiny." He was a resident here in 1851–'53.

        In 1850 William R. Turner was Judge of the Eighth Judicial District, including Sutter County. Stephen J. Field was retained by Captain Sutter for the prosecution of a suit at law. A preliminary motion in the case was decided against Sutter, whereupon Judge Field arose to read the provisions of the statute applicable to the point in question, when Judge Turner said, in a hurried, petulant manner, that the Court understood the law and would not listen further, and he ordered Field to take his seat. Field then stated, in a very quiet manner and in respectful language, that he excepted to the decision of the Court and appealed from the order. Turner became irritated and imposed a fine of $200 upon Field. The latter was so quiet and submissive in his manner that it excited Turner, who then again raised the penalty till it reached $500 and imprisonment for forty-eight hours. These penalties were nominally executed, while subsequent proceedings in court and Legislature finally transferred Turner to another district., including Humboldt County, to which county Turner moved and resided there until his death.

        Sutter County has been represented in the State Assembly by the following named gentlemen: C. P. Berry, 1869–'72, 1875–'78; M. Boulware, 1863–'64; A. G. Caldwell, 1852; A. L. Chandler, 1873–'74, 1880–'81; S. R. Fortner, 1883; Francis Hamlin, 1865–'66; James O. Harris, 1858; E. O. F. Hastings, 1854; C. S. Haswell, 1863; A. G. McCandless, 1853; Joseph W. McCorkle, 1851; Zachariah Montgomery, 1861; George Ohleyer, 1887; Robert B. Sherrard, 1855–'56; J. Langdon Smith, 1860; B. R. Spillman, 1867–'68; C. L. N. Vaughn, 1859; Samuel R. Warring ton, 1857; , C. E. Wilcoxon, 1862. See also Yuba County.



        It has been said, "Fortunate is the nation that has no history." To a limited extent this is true of Sutter County of later years. Indeed it is hardly proper to write the history of late years in Sutter, separate from that of Yuba County, her neighbor, for Sutter is, as it were, a dependency of the other, or rather of the city of Marysville, which is its true center, transacts the larger part of its business and has intimate trading and other interests in common with the county. Sutter County itself has no cities, Yuba City, the county town and largest place, being practically a suburb of Marysville, from which it is separated only by the Feather River.

The record of Sutter County is one of constant, steady growth and progress. Almost her whole extent is a level plain consisting of the deep rich alluvium of the Sacramento Valley land, some portions, perhaps 125,000 acres in all, being tale or swamp land. The progressive dyking of this and the devoting of it to grain, and the discovery of the great fruit possibilities of all parts of the county, has really made up Sutter County history for the past ten or twenty years, with some small exceptions. Sutter is above all, an agricultural county, but with immense interests in stock-raising and fruit-culture. That these pursuits have been profitable is apparent to any one who drives through the country and notes the succession of thrifty farms, the unusually large and handsome appearance of the farm houses, and the lively turnouts with their spanking teams to be met on every road. True, there have been one or two slight moves in other directions, but those have been but of minor importance.

        The interesting tract of the Marysville Buttes, which cover many square miles of the northwestern part of the county, and is a most picturesque mass of jagged hills, affords large sheep walks, the wool clip going principally to the woolen mills in Marysville. Many stock cattle are also grazed there. During the winter when there is water, a few men every season make wages washing out gold in the gullies of these Buttes, but the gold goes to Marysville and Sutter gets no credit. Good building stone and brick clay abound, and a two-foot vein of cannel coal, good for the forge has recently been found near Sutter City. Becoming prominent now along with the growth of fruit is that of the nursery and seed business. The writer drove with J. T. Bogue, the prominent nurseryman of Yuba City, over his place, which less than two years before was a piece of unimproved land. Many of the trees planted from the seed or small cuttings, were, at the time of the visit, over six feet high, and many of them bearing fruit. This seemed quite impossible until one looked at the rich, warm, moist soil and felt the seductive airs of the region. Near by is the celebrated Briggs orchard, one of the fine, large orchards of the vicinity. A little below Mr. Bogue's is the Abbott peach orchard of 425 acres, said to be the largest peach orchard in the State, very profitable to its owner. No irrigation is required or used in Sutter County. On the contrary, over a million dollars has been spent to build levees to keep the water out. The work seems to have been substantially done, however, and, now that hydraulicking has ceased, requires little in the way of repairs or strengthening. There is still a considerable body of land to be dyked, which is being progressively undertaken. The cost of course is heavy, but it falls only upon the lands interested, and as their value is enormously increased thereby they can easily stand it.

        Sutter County has ample means of transportation. She has the Sacramento River flowing along almost the whole western border, while the Feather River, navigable from Yuba City down, flows along a portion of the eastern border and across the lower end, its junction with the Sacramento being at the southern border. The railroad system is also ample. The branch line from Knight's Landing to Marysville (completed in 1890) traverses the breadth of the county, crossing the Feather River at Yuba City. The main line of the California and Oregon road crosses the upper northeastern corner of the county, while another road has been projected from Marysville across the county to Colusa, passing through the ambitious new town of Sutter City.

        Yuba City, the county-seat, is a place of considerable business importance, although practically but a suburb of Marysville, which lies a mile distant from it on the other side of the Feather River, a long bridge connecting the two.

        The court house and hall of records is a handsome building upon the main street, standing in large well-kept grounds. There is a flouring mill, a brewery and many thriving business houses. The Farmers' Co-operative Union own two large warehouses capable of holding 15,000 tons of wheat. The Sutter Canning and Packing Company operate a cannery of large dimensions. It has two churches, a good school, and is lighted with gas and supplied with water from Marysville.     Many large orchards are in the vicinity. Yuba City is the home of George Ohleyer, the head and executive of the Anti-Debris Association, which is doing so much to put down hydraulic mining, and to carry out the law on the subject. Mr. Ohleyer is an old newspaper man of experience.

        Sutter City is the result of an attempt to take advantage of the boom in California three years ago.  It was hoped, though vainly, to make the town the county- seat, lying about the geographical center of the county.  A railroad was also projected to pass through the town, but is not yet built. Quite a lively little place was built, which possessed a successful cannery, and has business importance. Live Oak, Meridian and Nicolaus are shipping points with a good trade. The former is on the line of the California & Oregon road; Meridian is on the Sacramento River, and Nicolaus, an echo of the past, is on the Feather. South Butte, Pennington, West Butte, Kirksville and Pleasant Grove are post-offices, each having a few stores and shops.

        In Yuba City are published the Farmer, founded 1881, and Independent, founded 1887, both weeklies, and worthy representatives of their important county. In Sutter City is published the Enterprise, first issue 1890, an able and energetic weekly.


Transcribed by Kathy Sedler.