John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier

John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier

by Albert L. Hurtado
     
 

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In the history of the American frontier, John Sutter (1803–1880) looms large. A Swiss expatriate who attempted to create a personal empire in California’s Sacramento Valley, he founded New Helvetia, a cosmopolitan settlement whose economy depended on Indian slaves and free laborers. New Helvetia drew overland immigrants to California in the 1840s and

Overview

In the history of the American frontier, John Sutter (1803–1880) looms large. A Swiss expatriate who attempted to create a personal empire in California’s Sacramento Valley, he founded New Helvetia, a cosmopolitan settlement whose economy depended on Indian slaves and free laborers. New Helvetia drew overland immigrants to California in the 1840s and then—after gold was discovered by Sutter’s employees—a flood of fortune seekers. Sutter was poised to become one of the richest men in the West, but rapacious settlers and his own poor business sense sent his dreams crashing.

Albert L. Hurtado has written the definitive biography of Sutter, mining a wealth of sources to create the first fully documented account of the man and his times. John Sutter explores Sutter’s life in the broader context of America’s rush for westward expansion while plumbing the inner dynamics of this erstwhile empire-builder.

Sutter was a quintessential outsider driven by anxiety over status—a man of talent, vision, and heroic ambitions who nevertheless became the victim of his own inadequacies as a businessman and his inability to adjust to a rapidly changing frontier. Sutter was full of contradictions. While building a reputation as a humanitarian friend of destitute immigrants, he callously exploited Indians. Nevertheless, this penniless dreamer became one of the most important men in California and a major player in the American conquest of the West.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This welcome biography of Sutter, known as the father of the 1848-49 California gold rush, updates Richard Dillon's Fools Gold: The Decline and Fall of Captain John Sutter of California. Hurtado (history, Univ. of Oklahoma; Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California) taps into newly opened archival collections, writing new chapters in Sutter's life. A Swiss immigrant, Sutter has become infamous for his routine enslavement and killing of American Indians while trying to create his New Helvetia empire in the Sacramento Valley of Mexican California a decade before the discovery of gold at his mill. Hurtado expands on ideas he explored in Indian Survival on the California Frontier, showing how absolutely dependent Sutter was on Indian labor while building his agrarian business and settlement. Sutter's rise and his fall from grace after the gold rush-he fought for the right to the profits from gold on his land- are fully treated. This readable and well-written biography expertly places its subject in historical context. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Nathan E. Bender, Univ. of Idaho, Moscow Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780806137728
Publisher:
University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
10/09/2006
Edition description:
1ST
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
7.20(w) x 9.70(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Albert L. Hurtado is Professor and Paul H. and Doris Eaton Travis Chair of Modern American History at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of several books, including John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier.

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