Yuba County History


by George Emmanuel Hanson




            Spaniards and Mexicans settled along the Coast and in the southern part of California leaving to a later influx of foreigners, the occupation of the northern interior.  It was not until after the establishment of Captain Sutter at New Helvetia (now Sacramento), that the Sacramento Valley was given any perceptible consideration as a place of settlement.  Following that event, however, it gradually became the scene of numerous aspiring ranchos and colonies.  Sutter’s Fort was first the rendezvous towards which emigrants bent their steps, then the radiating point for new settlements throughout the valley.

            The first settlements along the Yuba River were parts of a series extending from Sutter’s Fort northward.  To the river valleys in this direction, in preference to localities further south the earliest emigrants made their way.  The Yuba settlements were in many respects so closely related to the others of that time that no adequate account of them seems possible apart from a general survey, or at least a mention of certain neighboring establishments.

Sutter’s Fort

            The first and most important of these was the mother settlement, Sutter’s Fort.  It’s founder, John A. Sutter, a man who had seen many vicissitudes and adventures in Europe and the wilds of America arrived in California from Honolulu in 1839.  At Monterey Governor Alvarado urged him, upon being petitioned for land, to announce his intention of becoming a Mexican citizen, whereupon he might select in the interior a tract of land title to which, under Mexican law might be perfected within a year.  He engaged to protect the Mexican settlements extending in that direction from the incursions of the Indians and in this he kept his word.  In the following year, therefore upon completing his citizenship he was made a Mexican official by Governor Alvarado, and obtained his grant of land to the extent of about eleven leagues, bordering on the Sacramento, American and Feather Rivers.

            This grant has special interest to us since within its limits was the valley region of the Yuba.  Containing eleven square leagues the tract was bounded on the north by “los tres picos” (the three summits) and 39° 41’ 45” north latitude; on the east by the margins of the Rio de las Plumas (Feather River) on the south by the parallel 38° 49’ 32” of north latitude; and on the west by the River Sacramento.”  The grant was made in good faith.  It was done legally and was surveyed with as much accuracy as was customary at that time.  The validity of this grant was subsequently sustained by the United States Government.  Sutter, however, would have more land than even the elasticity of a Mexican grant could be made to cover, and in order to hold the greatest possible area, he placed tenants on several remote extremities of his dominion.  Apprehending that he might not hold all the land he applied for, he petitioned Governor Micheltorena in the year 1844 for a “sobrante” or surplus over the eleven leagues in the survey of Alvarado’s grant.  This was finally executed on the fifth day of February, 1845.  But the Governor being afterwards expelled from the country, the concession was held to be invalid.

            Toward the realization of his dream of founding an Independent State in America, Sutter never made much progress.  Yet, while it existed, his establishment was a veritable principality.  His dominion commanded a fort which soon became the refuge and rallying point for all the Americans and Europeans coming into the country.  Over all these, Sutter, by virtue of his duties as a Mexican official exercised what government there was, although his powers were as indefinite as the territorial limits of his jurisdiction.  The fort was situated on the main emigrant routes from the United States and Oregon.  This helped to make it, in a few years the most important American community in the country.  For the trail-weary travelers it was one of the first stopping-places after crossing the high Sierras.  Here they were hospitably received and assisted.  That Sutter was by no means a political missionary for American occupation, and that his aim was to make money, little caring under what flag he made it is a truth which has been sufficiently emphasized.  A noteworthy fact is that most pioneers of that day bear testimony to the generosity of Captain Sutter.  Many remained at his establishment for a time after their arrival and a number were employed on the estates until they could do better elsewhere.  By furnishing supplies to others he enabled them to settle on lands which he leased to them.

            Sutter’s Fort or “New Helvetia” as its found christened it, was located on the south bank of the American River near the site of the present city of Sacramento.  The necessary personal property for the establishment, which at first was sadly limited, was successively enriched by the purchase of stock and property from Sunol and the Russian settlement at Fort Ross.  Sutter was soon in possession of a flour mill, a blacksmith shop, a distillery and finally an expensive saw mill.  He raised wheat, oats, and barley and even established an excellent fruit and vegetable garden.  To meet the needs of his colony, he pursued a great variety of activities and tried all sorts of experiments.  But when the gold fever took hold of his laborers, all things changed; everybody scrambled for the diggings.

The House of Sinclair

Following the settlement at New Helvetia, a dwelling was erected in the early days of 1840 on the American river about two miles northwest of Sutter’s Fort.  It was occupied by John Sinclair of whom many of the early emigrants coming by the Truckee and Donner Pass route give mention.  Here they often stopped for a short time before passing on to New Helvetia.  With Sutter’s Fort, and Johnson’s Rancho it was the only settlement on the emigrant trail.

The Founding of Nicolaus

            The present town of Nicolaus owes its origin to Nicolaus Allegeier, a German trapper some time in the employ of the Hudson Bay Company, who came overland to California from Oregon in 1840.  In the winter of the following year he assisted Sutter in construction of an adobe house on the east bank of the Feather River about two miles below Hock Farm.  When the latter place was settled a few months later Sutter desired to have some one stationed at Nicolaus at which place the road connecting his two establishments crossed the river.  A man stationed at this point could assist in the transportation of men, cattle and horses and supplies across the stream.  Sutter, therefore, deeded to Allegeier, a grant of land extending along the river and back from the crossing.  Upon this estate he lived and prospered until the advent of the gold rush.

Sutter’s Establishment At Hock Farm 1842

            Hock Farm, the second establishment of Captain Sutter was situated on the west bank of the Feather River, two miles above Nicolaus.  It was settled shortly after the latter place had been founded.  The plains between the Sacramento and Feather Rivers were used by Sutter as a grazing range for immense bands of cattle and horses.  Hock Farm was the headquarters of this territory just as Sutter’s Fort was the active center of the southern division.  Besides one or two white men who acted as superintendents or overseers, a number of Indians served in herding the animals and breaking the horses.  Theodore Sicard was one of the first superintendents.  Among others who served in this capacity was General Bidwell who held the position fourteen months, leaving the establishment in 1844.  In the spring of 1850 Captain Sutter made his home at Hock Farm.

New Mecklenberg or Cordua’s Rancho 1842

            The first settlement in Yuba River Valley was planted on the site which continued to remain its most active and flourishing center, the City of Marysville.  This land which belonged to Sutter was leased to Theodore Cordua in the fall of 1842.  Occupying at first a rude hut of straw Cordua soon erected among other buildings a substantial adobe house, a dwelling well calculated to withstand the inroads of chance enemies.  Strikingly similar to the name of Sutter’s establishment it was dignified with the appellation of New Micklenberg [sic] in honor to the German State from which Cordua emigrated.  This name, however, was soon supplanted by just plain Cordua’s Ranch, the neighboring settlers choosing the latter title in preference to the more European name.

            It was as a stock farm that the rancho owed its special distinction.  The small herds and flocks which Cordua first possessed numbered in the course of a few years thousands.  In the spring of 1845, Cordua planted a field of wheat.  This, it is said, was the first crop raised in Yuba County; but the experiment proved so successful that following it ever larger areas of the rich river bottom lands were given to a cultivation of grain.  Many of the Indians in the vicinity gathered about Cordua, and he was able to utilize them in herding his animals, in tilling the soil and in gathering the products.

            In 1844 Cordua’s dominion was appreciably extended.  Upon being naturalized in that year he asked for and obtained from the Government of Mexico a grant of land lying north of and adjoining the tract leased from Sutter.  This land reached from a point on the Feather River about two miles above the mouth of the Yuba to Honcut Creek, and extended easterly a sufficient distance to embrace seven square leagues.

            As increasing numbers of emigrants occupied the region about New Mecklenberg, Cordua awakened to the importance of the location of his establishment.  It was situated on the trail leading from the lower to the upper valleys of the Sacramento, and consequently became as the population increased a way station for considerable travel.  As early as 1846, therefore, Cordua established a trading post for supplying the inhabitants of the surrounding country.  He did considerable trafficking in various commodities.  A barge of his possession operating between the ranch and the two lower establishments, New Helvetia and Yerba Buena (now San Francisco), brought the provisions and supplies which the northern settlements demanded.  In 1847-48 he exported a large quantity of his farm products to the Hawaiian Islands and realized thereby very satisfactory profits.

            Certain distinguished visitors of the early days have expressed in concise accounts something of the character of Cordua and the nature of his establishment.  Dr. Sandells found him a fat, jolly, whist-loving man popular with everybody.  Larkin described him in 1845 as a man of about fifty-two years with property, respectability and local influence.  Fremont remarked particularly of the fine cattle ranch which he possessed.

            When a number of the Donner party arrived at the ranch in the summer of 1847, Cordua had in his employ fifteen or twenty Indians and white men, among whom was Charles Covillaud who acted as mechanic and overseer.  A few months later Covillaud married Miss Mary Murphy, sister of Mrs. Nye and Mrs. Foster, all of whom had survived the hardships of the Donner Company.  In October 1848, he purchased from Cordua one-half of his land, stock and implements.  The business of the ranch was then conducted under the firm, Cordua and Company.  Cordua’s interests in the rancho which was known throughout the valley by his name, ceased with the year 1848.  On New Year’s Day of 1849, he sold his remaining one-half interest to Michael C. Nye and William Foster, whereupon the grant was designated as Nye’s Ranch.  When gold was discovered on the Yuba, settlers flocked in, stores and hotels were established and the once quiet rancho sprang into a bustling and busy city.

Patterson At Sutter’s Garden 1845

            On the south side of the Yuba directly opposite from Cordua’s Ranch was the home of George Patterson, an Irishman, who settled there in the year 1845, under a lease from Captain Sutter.  This tract which Patterson cultivated, only sufficiently to comply with the laws under whose terms the land was held, was known by the attractive title, Sutter’s Garden.

Smith’s Grant 1845

            Jack Smith, a sailor, lived with Patterson for a time in his adobe house by the river.  Like Patterson he had been in Sutter’s employ and had obtained from the Captain a grant of land on the south side of the Yuba.  The tract extended from the site of Linda, three miles up the stream and one mile back.  Constructing a dwelling on the location of the subsequent town of Linda he settled there in the year 1845.  The house must have borne more resemblance to a temescal than a white man’s habitation.  “Ends of stout poles were sunk into the ground and willows interwoven horizontally, forming a sort of basket work; a heavy coating of soft clay was placed on both sides and the roof thatched with tules brought from Nicolaus.  The floor was constructed of sun-dried bricks and earth pounded down firm and smooth.  A coat of white wash was the only covering of the bare unsightly walls.”  In 1846 he sold a part of his land to Patterson.  The latter retained this portion of his property until 1848 when it was taken over by Theodore Sicard.

Nye’s Establishment 1847

            A portion of the Sutter grant adjoining on the west of the tract of Jake Smith was purchased by Michael Nye in 1847.  It extended along the south bank of the Yuba a mile and back from it a mile and a half.  When William Murphy moved from Cordua’s ranch to Nye’s place at the end of 1847 he found the proprietor already in possession of a great wealth of stock.  Nye built a more pretentious and commodious dwelling than did his neighbor, Mr. Smith.  “It was a structure of two rooms.  The walls were thick and constructed of adobe; the roof was covered with split shakes, brought from the river bottom opposite Cordua’s ranch.”  In the spring Nye extended his territory by purchasing in partnership with his brother-in-law, Foster, the ranch of Mr. Smith.

Rouelle’s Settlement 1847

            Jean Rouelle who is named as the discoverer of gold in 1842 in the mountains near the Mission of San Fernando, settled near Sutter’s Gardens on the south side of the Yuba in 1847.  The next year he abandoned this place and settled on the Feather River.



Copyright ©2007  Kathy Sedler   ALL RIGHTS RESERVED