Statement by California State Parks:
Reexamining Our Past
Like a number of historic sites in California, Sutter’s Fort has nominally shared the complex, and often disturbing 19th century history of California with its often deadly consequences for California Native Americans. The failure to fully incorporate that history in the park’s interpretation programs has led to an unbalanced perspective about John Sutter and his legacy, along with that of other settlers. The near-exclusion of California Native Americans’ lived experiences in this story also has led to a failure to acknowledge how this historic site represents a painful reminder of that history to their descendants.
State Parks embraces calls for fundamental change and looks forward to telling a broader, more inclusive story of Sutter’s Fort in consultation with California Native Americans, as well as through engagement with park partners, stakeholders, and the public.
Through this public process, the department will develop a new interpretation master plan, exhibit plans, and updated educational materials for student programs. This effort will include an evaluation of visitation trends, interpretive programming demand, and ways to diversifying and expand visitation.
No permanent changes or final decisions have been made as part of this evaluation of interpretation at Sutter’s Fort. If you are interested in participating and providing your input in this process, and would like to be added to a notification list, please email Capital District Superintendent John Fraser at John.Fraser@parks.ca.gov.
Thank you for your interest, dedication and contributions to Sutter’s Fort and California’s rich history.
A brief history of Sutter’s Fort
In 1839 a Swiss immigrant named John Sutter received a land grant in the Sacramento Valley from the Mexican government. He used the land to create a flourishing agricultural empire and named it New Helvetia (New Switzerland.) This empire established Sacramento’s earliest settlement and the first non-Indian settlement in California’s Central Valley.
In 1848, James Marshall, a carpenter working for Sutter, discovered gold at the sawmill Sutter was having built in Coloma, on the American River. Less than a decade after they were established, Sutter’s properties were overrun by gold seekers and the fort is all that remains of New Helvetia.
In 1881, the Native Sons of the Golden West began work to restore of the Fort. This major restoration was completed in 1893, making Sutter’s Fort the oldest restored Fort in the United States.
Sutter’s Fort became a part of the California State Park System in 1947. It is also a State Historic Landmark and a national Historic Landmark.
California State Parks manages a YouTube channel for Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park and Friends of Sutter’s Fort manages a YouTube channel that is focused on our philanthropic work, educational programs and community events.
Books & Resources available from Friends of Sutter’s Fort
Friends of Sutter’s Fort operate the Museum Store within Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park, with all proceeds going back into supporting our efforts of preserving the historic structures and artifacts, and funding Sutter’s Fort educational programming.
In addition, we have some items for sale online including:
Books/ Resource Manuals
Online Resources to Learn More about the History of Sutter’s Fort
Resources from California State Parks:
- California State Parks Online Collection
California State Parks offers an online gallery, which highlights the reconstruction of Sutter’s Fort in the 1890s. The online gallery shows artifacts once belonging to John Sutter, James Marshall and the Donner Party. View the Exhibit at Parks.CA.gov
- Overview of the History Sutter’s Fort from California State Parks (Parks.CA.gov)
- Gold Rush Overview from California State Parks (Parks.CA.gov)
- State Indian Museum Teacher Resource Guide (.pdf, Parks.CA.gov)
- Native Plants Reference Guide (.pdf, Parks.CA.gov)
This reference will provide students with documents to research the people known to have lived and worked at Sutter’s Fort in the 1800s. Some documents are available online, others can be accessed at the California Room in the State Library located in downtown Sacramento.
by Jared Arthur Jones