Biography of Edouard Sutter
Solano County, CA Biographies

Edouard Sutter, professional optometrist at Vallejo and one of the best known men in this county, is of European birth, but has been a resident of this country since the days of his young manhood, and of California for more than a quarter of a century. Mr. Sutter was born in the republic of Switzerland and is a member of that ancient Swiss family from which sprang Captain John A. Sutter, whose name, familiar to every California school child, is definitely emblazoned on the scroll of fame on this coast and a review of whose vivid career, ever an interesting story here, will presently be set out in this connection.

Reared in his native Switzerland, Edouard Sutter, born in 1858, was well schooled and also there received initial training in the art and mystery of optics. In 1877, he then being nineteen years of age, Mr. Sutter came to the United States and became employed in the optical and jewelry establishment of the Merry Optical Company, then an acknowledged leader in this line, at Kansas City, Missouri. There he acquired a further knowledge of the fine art to which he had devoted himself and after awhile, for purposes of acquiring a wider range of experience, started out as a journeyman optometrist and was for some time thus engaged, working in various cities throughout the country. He finally established himself in business as a jeweler and optician in Russell, Kansas, and was there thus engaged until in 1900, when he disposed of his interests there and came to California with a view to effecting his permanent residence here.

Upon his arrival in California, Mr. Sutter established himself in business at Pomona, in Los Angeles county, and there he remained until in 1902, the year in which he took up his residence in Vallejo, which since he has been glad to regard as his permanent home. Mr. Sutter is recognized in his profession throughout the state as an optometrist of proved skill and wide experience and he has a well equipped and admirably appointed establishment at 240 Georgia street, his specialty being the eyeglasses of his own manufacture, and along this line he enjoys a fine trade. Mr. Sutter is an enthusiastic yachtsman and an ardent fisherman, an active member of the Vallejo Yachting and Rowing Club, and finds equally interesting diversion in fishing for bass in the prolific waters of the bay. He is a member of the Masonic fraternity, having been raised a master Mason during the time of his residence in Russell, Kansas, and has long taken a warm interest in Masonic affairs.

In consideration of Mr. Sutter's kinship to the California pioneer, Captain Sutter, it will be interesting here to introduce a brief review of the life and adventures of the man at whose mill in Sacramento county was discovered the evidences of California's wealth in gold, a discovery in 1848 which set the world agog and precipitated this section of the coast country into the midst of as wild a scramble as probably ever has been seen any place. John Augustus Sutter was born in Baden, February 15, 1803, a son of Swiss parents and of that line of Sutters in Switzerland from which Edouard Sutter sprang. Upon completing his studies in a military college he received a commission in the French army, in which he rose to the rank of. captain, remaining in the service until he was thirty years old. In 1833, in company with a number of his Swiss friends and kinsfolk, he formed the design of emigrating to some vine growing section of the United States, and was commissioned to go out to America and select a location for the new colony. He arrived in New York upon this errand in July, 1834, and went thence into Missouri, where he selected a site suitable for the necessities of his friends and, having with him considerable capital, purchased implements, stores, timber and other materials for the projected establishment. Unfortunately, the Mississippi steamboat, which he loaded with these goods, struck a snag and sank, proving a total loss.

Following this disaster Captain Sutter joined a party of hunters and trappers and, after making a tour in New Mexico in March, 1838, went as far as Fort Vancouver. There he took passage on a vessel bound for the Sandwich islands, designing to sail from Honolulu for San Francisco. At Honolulu he found that he would have to wait five months for a ship to San Francisco, so he took a situation as supercargo on a vessel bound for Sitka, and from this latter point sailed down the coast and at length reached San Francisco, from which port he proceeded inland, taking a schooner load of goods up the Sacramento river and landing near the site of the present state capital, where he began to build the stockade which presently was to become famous as Sutter's fort.

Captain Sutter's colony at this place consisted of six white men, adventurers from various parts of the world, and eight friendly Indians, to whom were added, in the course of a year, eight more white men, while every season brought in a few more recruits. The Captain had secured from the Mexican government a grant of eleven square leagues of land and he named his settlement New Helvetia, in honor of his native country. Besides cultivating the soil, Captain Sutter's party sent hides to San Francisco for export to the United States and the post became a depot of furs purchased from the wandering trappers and hunters. Altogether the colony prospered and worn and starving bands of emigrants from the United States frequently were relieved and entertained at Sutters. The war with Mexico ended in the acquisition of California by the United States, and in March, 1847, the flag of the United States floated over San Francisco and its troops garrisoned the town.

In the meantime, in 1842, upon the evacuation by the Russians of their coast holdings, Captain Sutter had come into possession by purchase of the land and movables in and around Fort Ross and he loaded his schooner with these movables, including the guns, which he might find useful at New Helvetia should the Californians conclude to make him an armed visit. His well fortified adobe stronghold had always been a place of refuge to the Americans and his kindness to the footsore immigrants trailing down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains made his loyalty to the Mexican government a matter of some doubt. It is likely that the Captain's diplomacy and the rifles of his North American hunters, which could shoot true and far, had much to do with the toleration of New Helvetia. One of the guns removed from Ross was a brass four pounder cast in St. Petersburg and first saw active service when Napoleon so signally whipped the Austro-Russian forces under the sinking sun of Austerlitz. Though the Russians lost sixty pieces of cannon to the terrible Corsican, this gun was among the few saved. Sutter mounted the piece on the walls of his fort, but when he marched south with his company to help Fremont whip Castro, that fighting Californian took it away from him at the battle of Couenga. It was afterward recaptured by the American forces and returned to Sutter, who presented it to the Society of California Pioneers. The famous gun of two hemispheres received, its last baptism of fire when it and its kindred relics went down in the flames that swept San Francisco, April 18, 1906.

When California passed from Mexican domination Captain Sutter was in possession of a very valuable estate. He had a flour mill and a mill race, three miles long, which had cost twenty five thousand dollars, and he had expended ten thousand dollars in the erection of a sawmill. He had one thousand acres in wheat and owned eight thousand cattle, two thousand horses and mules, two thousand sheep and one thousand hogs. Upon setting up the new government Stockton appointed him alcalde of the district and General Kearney made him Indian agent, so that he was the dominant figure throughout that section. Among Sutter's men was one James W. Marshall, a New Jersey mechanic who had superintended the erection of the sawmill, which was about forty miles east of the fort. On the evening of February 2, 1848, Marshall rode into the fort, his horse foaming and spattered with mud, and himself greatly excited. Taking Sutter to one side he showed him about a thimbleful of yellow grains of metal which he said he thought were gold. Sutter subjected the grains to an acid test and established the fact that it really was gold. This was the discovery of gold in California.

Although Captain Sutter tried to keep this discovery a secret until he could get in his harvest, it was impossible, and, as has been written by one of the historians of that period, "the harvest was never gathered. Sutter's oxen, hogs and sheep were stolen by hungry men and devoured. No hands could be procured to run the mills. His lands were squatted on and dug over and he wasted his remaining substance in fruitless litigation seeking to recover them. To carry on this legal warfare he was compelled to sacrifice or mortgage the parts of his estate not seized by the gold diggers until, little by little, his magnificent properties melted away, leaving him all but destitute. For one item, he paid in ten years in counsel fees and legal expenses one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars."

The tide of emigration which swept into California as soon as the news of the discovery at Sutter's mill spread over the United States was something unprecedented. In ten years the population multiplied ten times. The gold fever was the phenomenon of the age. The emigrants were nearly all young or middle aged men, adventurers, nine tenths of whom rushed at once to the mines or prospected for new ones. Fortunes were made in a day by the lucky ones, while thousands of others, no less hard workers, fell into abject poverty, some even starving to death in the mountains. Among the unfortunates was Marshall, the discoverer of the gold. Squatters seized the little property he had, taking also his live stock, and divided his land into town lots. He became reduced to extreme poverty but about 1865 obtained a warrant for a tract of land, due him for services in the Mexican war, and on that place had some success in grape culture. Captain Sutter was finally granted by the legislature a pension of two hundred and fifty dollars a month. In 1864 his homestead was destroyed by fire and in 1873 he moved to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He died in Washington, D. C., June 17, 1880.

History of Solano County, California
BY: Marguerite Hune
and Napa County, California
BY: Harry Lawrence Gunn
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chicago 1926

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