Sacramento Valley Railroad History Report

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip. That started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship —- No wait, wrong story!

This hysterical report is on the Sacramento Valley Railroad, the “First in the West”. We’ll actually the second in the West, but we’ll save that report for another time, it involves three drunk brothers. This report will be in three parts, first the Sacramento Valley Railroad, kind of a timeline. Second the Big Wigs in charge and how they all intertwined and lastly who really built the Sacramento Valley Railroad.
Plans for the Sacramento Valley Railroad were first drawn up in 1852 and after some legislative changes in the railroad financial laws in the year of 1853, the idea of starting a railroad from Sacramento to the mining town of Negro Bar, thence to Marysville was started in earnest. The need was clearly there, with some 239,000 people in the greater area purchasing an average of 162,700 tons of product and supplies a year, a faster more reliable way of transporting goods throughout the region was required. Charles Lincoln Wilson President of the SVRR set the project in motion, first traveling to New York and recruiting 28 year old engineer Theodore Judah to layout the route. Judah himself had the overall vision of building a transcontinental railroad which earned him the nickname of “Crazy Judah” as such a notion was clearly nuts, crossing the Sierras, deserts and vast open expanses, JUST NUTS.
In 1854 a New York construction firm had agreed to build and equip the project for 1.8 million dollars, a huge amount of money for the time. Construction on “The Road”, as it was called, began February 12th 1855. Wilson resigned as president of the SVRR on Feb 10th of 1855 and was replaced by Captain Joseph Libbey Folsom an Ex Army officer and businessman who was buying land in San Francisco as well as thousands of acres along the American River, including Negro Bar and Granite City. Folsom granted SVRR right of way across his land and two blocks of his land in Granite City for the rail yard.. Construction was moving right along when Folsom croaked in mid July of 1855 and was replaced by C.K.Garrison, a businessman from San Francisco. His Vice President was none other than William Tecumsah Sherman, banker and business man, later to be known for his civil war exploits.
The little settlement of Granite City was renamed “Folsom” shortly after J.L. Folsom kicked the bucket. In July and August of 1855 the Road was being built at the rate of two city blocks a day. The project was moving along Balls to the Wall.
October of 1855 proved to be a shitstorm month for the SVRR! The company didn’t have the money to pay the contractors, so the whole kit and kabootle went into receivership. San Francisco banker J. Mora Moss was appointed as trustee and he cobbled together a deal with the investors and the contractors to continue on with the “Road”.
January of 1856 the Road reached the town of Folsom following the route that Theodore Judah had laid out. On February 22nd 1856 the Sacramento Valley Railroad officially opened for business. A big Inaugural Ball was held with lots of hoopla, dinning, dancing and excursion trains running the route from Sacramento to Folsom. The party lasted well into the morning hours, musta been some clampers involved! The route is still in use today and has been used everyday since it’s completion. It is the route that the light rail takes today from Sacramento to Folsom. Running from R street in Sacramento, along Folsom Blvd to the town of Folsom ending along Sutter Street. Judah had decided to build the first section of the Road from Sacrament to Negro Bar and when it was complete he would build the next section from Folsom to Maysville. With the completion of the first section the SVRR owners decided to make Folsom the terminus of the line. This bode well for the city of Folsom.
With Folsom set as the terminus 90 % of the materials, supplies equipment and other necessities for the mining communities in California and Nevada (in the 1860’s) flowed through Folsom, via the SVRR. SVRR built brick buildings housing machine shops, foundries, freight drops, warehouses. There were 20 Stage Coach Lines, 30 freight wagons a day left Folsom most with 8 mule teams or more heading out to mines all over the mother lode country as well as crossing the Sierras to the Silver mines of Nevada. There were Hotels, restaurants, churches, hardware stores, every manor of commerce was locating in the town of Folsom. While most mining towns died away after the gold was played out < Prairie City, Salmon Falls, Mormon Island to mention a few > Folsom continued to prosper, the community grew into a solid town.

The Big Wigs
While there are many more then I will mention here these are some of the more connected men involved one way or another with the Sacramento Valley Railroad. Listed in no particular order.

  1. Charles Lincoln Wilson first president of the SVRR. Wilson owned a steamship company servicing Sacramento, owned toll roads, bridges, and he started the SVRR with a few other associates (money men) He was instrumental in lobbying the legislation that eased the financial restrictions placed on building of Railways in California.
  2. Peter Burnett, 1st Governor of California, clerk for John Sutter and was no doubt one of the persons that Wilson was lobbying with to pass the reform on railroad financing
  3. Sam Brannan, well known shit disturber and hustler of the time. Ordered the first steam locomotive in California in 1849 from the Globe Locomotive works in Boston. He intended to use it to build up the lowland in San Francisco to create his own land on which he would then build warehouses, businesses, and wharfs. He named the Locomotive the “Elephant”. A common phrase at the time was “ to go see the Elephant”. His Elephant turned into a giant Elephant turd when the city leaders of San Francisco refused him the rights to use city streets to run his locomotive. Of course they were the very ones who already owned the waterfront, warehouses and wharfs. And again it was his own shit disturbing that caused his plan to fail. He has had many other failings due to the same problem. Another hysterical lesson for another time. Long story, no shorter, he sold his Locomotive to the SVRR, and Theodore Judah renamed it the CK Garrison and was the first Locomotive run in the State of California
  4. Theodore Judah (Crazy Judah) civil engineer, planned the Niagara River Gorge Railroad and saw it to completion. He completed the SVRR, was recruited for the Central Pacific Railroad transcontinental project and successfully laid out the route from Sacrament to Promontory Point Utah. He died in 1863 before completion of the CPRR of Malaria contracted while transiting the Panama Isthmus enroute to New York City for another meeting to recruit more investors for his transcontinental project.
  5. The “Big Four” Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins and Crocker they had their fingers in every pie.
  6. Captain Joseph Folsom, Ex army officer, Businessman, Banker, Land speculator, took over for Charles Wilson when he resigned as president of the SVRR. Folsom was sharp enough to buy thousands of acres of land along the American River just happening to coincide with the route of the SVRR. Overall probably a good guy.
  7. C.K. Garrison, 5th Mayor of San Francisco, Steamboat Captain on the Mississippi River, Shipping Agent, Ship Builder and Capitalist. No doubt hob knobbed with the “Big Boys” of the times. Was in charge of the SVRR when it went tits up.
  8. William Tecumsah Sherman “Banker” Vice President of SVRR under C.K. Garrison. Also was well known to John Sutter and helped John Sutter Jr. lay out the town of Sacramento. Later, Sherman became best known for his civil war exploits.
  9. J Mora Moss, San Francisco banker appointed as trustee of the SVRR after its insolvency. Later he became the 1st Vice President and 3rd President of the San Francisco Gas Company (later to be known as PG&E). He was involved with the California Telegraph Co., the Market St Railroad as well as regent of the University of California. Another well connected businessman.
    On a personal note, most of these afore mentioned men came to California with little to their name, no money, no supplies, mostly just the clothes on their backs. I believe that the one thing that most of them had in common was the ability to legally steal. Some were lawyers, some had been businessmen in the East, but all ended up running in the same circles. From that stand point I’d say not much has changed today.

Who Really Built the Railroad?
I want you to look at the brother next to you, across the table from you, down the table from you.
These are the men who really built the SVRR, men just like us, men who go to work everyday, men who do the hard jobs, men who get the job done. We are the men who in the mid 1840’s would have gone to California to see the Elephant. We are Clampers and we are the embodiment of those who have gone before us. We built it all.
What Say The Brethren?

Most of these words have been stolen (plagiarized – big word for a clamper) from other sources. Most notability from Cindy L. Baker’s book “First in the West The Sacramento Valley Railroad” other sources include the internet which as everybody knows always contains the truth, or at least a part of the truth, or maybe a small part of the truth, or maybe none at all, but none the less I stole (plagiarized) it anyway.

You think I’m putting’ my name on this stolen piece of shit!! What the Hell, are you Bat Shit CRAZY!


John A. Sutter Life and Times

John A Sutter, born Johann August Sutter In 1803 In Kandern, Baden Germany, close to the Swiss Border. His Swiss father was a printer by trade. Sutter apprenticed  in the printing  trade, attended a military school and spoke four languages. At 21 John Sutter married Annette D’beld a Swiss girl from a well off family. Sutter married up! He opened a drapery shop and managed to go through most of his wife’s money in a few short years and had to come up with a suitable plan to escape a prison term for being a debtor.  His plan was simple, put his brother in charge of the wife and family and haul ass for the New World. This he did in 1834, leaving behind a wife and four children.

Sutter traveled to the New world from Le Harve France using  a French Passport to New York City. After arriving Sutter traveled to the St Louis area and worked for a few years as a merchant and inn keeper. It was during this time the he got the idea to be an agricultural giant. Having heard about good land being available in the west he set about making plans to head to Califia later to be known as California. Setting out from Missouri in April of 1838 with a group of trappers and mountain men Sutter eventually ended up at Fort Vancouver, the end of the Oregon trail. He was anxious to head to Califia, but was cautioned against the overland  trip as it was to dangerous in the winter and the Nez Pierce Indians weren’t all that friendly. So he did the next best thing, he borrowed more money and got passage on board the ship Columbia bound for the Sandwich Islands, today known as the Hawaiian Islands.  He had plans to sail from Hawaii to California, but the only ship going the way had already sailed by the time Sutter arrived.

It was in Hawaii that John A Sutter presented himself as a Captain in the Swiss Guard along with letters of introduction he had managed to acquire on his journey. While staying in Hawaii Sutter managed to convince some businessmen to invest in his Agricultural ideas and establish a mercantile presents in California. He must have been, if nothing else, a good “bullshitter” . After four months he left Hawaii with ten Kanakas (Native Hawaiians). Sutter signed on to the brig Clementine to carry goods to New Archangel (Sitka Alaska), Sutter would travel as the Super Cargo on that voyage. He departed Hawaii on April 1839 and arrived in New Archangel a while later. While in New Archangel he became friends with the Russian Governor Kupreanof   who helped Sutter with several details as well as letting him use the Ship Clementine to sail to California to drop supplies off at Fort Ross and Yerba Buena, which Sutter did before sailing to Monterey to declare his cargo.

Sutter arrives in Monterey to talk with Governor Alvarado in late August of 1839. At first the Mexican Governor is not very enthusiastic about Sutters idea of a land grant, stating that all the land was already taken and that any remaining lands would go to family members. The Governor changed his mind once he learned that Sutter did not want any of the coastal lands, he wanted the interior. He wanted the “El Sobrante” or left over land. This presented the Governor with a solution to two possible problems. 1st there was no establishment in the interior as the Indian population controlled the area and two if there were a presents in the interior he might be able to keep the Americans out of the territory. So with that line of thinking prevailing, the Governor told Sutter that he would be granted land based on two conditions, one he had to become a Mexican Citizen and two that after one year as a citizen and if Sutter were successful he would be officially granted the almost 50,000 acres of land (75 SQ miles). Sutter got his citizenship on Aug 20 1840 and was officially granted land title in Aug of 1841.

After concluding business in Monterey Sutter sails back to Yerba Buena (San Francisco) and hires the schooner Isabella and two smaller vessels to transport his provisions and supplies up the river. fter two weeks the Sutter flotilla arrives at the confluence of the Sacramento River and the American River as it is now known. Here Sutter decides to use this area as his new territory which he names for his old home Helvetia. The new land is now known as “New Helvetia”. It is recorded that about 200 Indians watched Sutter and 12 others come ashore that day, ten Kanakas and two German sailors. The Indians must have found it curious that a white man was traveling with people that looked like them, of course they were looking at the Kanakas. In any event the natives did not attack Sutter or his group. Sutter promptly put up his tents and had a few brush huts built. This was the beginning of Sutters Fort.

Sutters Fort was well underway by 1840, and Sutter needed to attract settlers to the area so his dream of running an agricultural and mercantile center could manifest itself. He began advertising in Eastern publications that he would provide land and the start up for ranches to anyone who was interested. In 1841 John Bidwell arrived and began working for Sutter in various positions. One thing that Bidwell instilled in Sutter was that the people back east were afraid of the Indians and that Sutter needed to show that they would be safe in California. Bidwell suggested walling in the fort and once that was done the people would come to a safe place. It is also important to mention that about that time not only was the fort coming along, but it also had its first distillery

1841 was also an important year for Sutter as he managed to purchase Fort Ross and Bodega Bay from the Russians for $32,000 which he got by mortgaging New Helvetia. He also established the Hock Farm just south of what today is known as Yuba City.

Sutters Fort was pretty much completed by 1844 and it grew in importance as the destination for westword travelers, all trails, paths and what would become roads lead to Sutters Fort.

1846 turns out to be a busy year for Sutter. On June 14th 1846 The Bear Flag Revolt took place wresting power from the Mexicans and Declaring California a “Lone Star State”. Thus giving the Americans the upper hand, some three weeks later the United States concluded its war with Mexico and all the western territories came under US jurisdiction and John Sutter was given the title of Lieutenant in the United States Army.  At the same time the west was becoming a popular destination for those seeking a new, better life. The wagon trains from the east were literally a non stop line from Missouri to Sutters Fort. All this was good news for Sutter as his plan for creating an agricultural empire was coming to fruition.   He by now had some 13,000 head of cattle and horses, and was growing enough produce to satisfy the needs of the area. In short he was becoming successful. Later on the ill-fated Donner Party decided to spend the night near what is now Donner Lake. That didn’t work out so well for them and John Sutter was once again called upon to help out. He did, sending food supplies and men to the aid of the Donner Party. In February of 1847 47 of the 87 people of the Donner Party were rescued and taken to Sutters Fort where Sutter granted them permission to stay until they were once again well.  

1847 turns out to be another monumental year for Sutter if for no other reason than his hiring of James W. Marshall. Sutter hired Marshall to oversee and build a sawmill on the American River by Coloma. Sutter needed the lumber for selling to all the new folks arriving in California. On January 24th 1848 while Marshall was inspecting the tail race for the mill he spotted what he thought might be gold. He took this to Sutter and at the fort, in a private room, he and Sutter preformed test on the material to see if it was indeed gold. It was. Sutter wanted to keep this information under wraps and swore Marshall to secrecy. Sutter also told his friend and co-worker Sam Brannan about the discovery and Sam Brannan promptly published the gold finding in his newspaper. And this was the start of the California Gold Rush.

 John Sutter had sent for his eldest son to come help him manage the Fort in early 1848.  John Sutter Jr. arrived in September 1848 just in time to see his fathers legacy begin to crumble and Junior was immediately inundated by John Sutter’s creditors.

By 1849 the human stampede had begun in earnest. Gold seekers where everywhere. Thousand and thousands of people were on the move to California pushing law and order before them. They arrived in California with very little and only wanted to get to the diggin’s and find the yellow flake. In the process they destroyed Sutters crops or took what they wanted, rustled his cattle and horses  and paid no attention to John Sutters holdings.  From this point Sutter tried to become a merchant to the miners, but his business partners cheated him and his creditors pursued him. John Jr. along with Peter Burnet (first Governor of California) and William Tecumsa Sherman laid out the grid for what John Jr. called Sacramento and they began selling land parcels to get money for John Sutters creditors.

By the end of 1849 Captain John A Sutter had given up on Sutters Fort. He sold it in late 1849 or early 1850 to Alden Bayly for $7000. Sutter had sent for his wife and children and when they arrived John Sutter moved to his Hock Farm to continue to grow food and ranch cattle.

By 1857 Sutters Fort was almost gone. Much of the bricks used to build the structure had been removed and used on other buildings in Sacramento. All that remained of the Fort was the main building and it was in poor shape. Sutter continued to live at Hock Farm until 1865 when a disgruntled employee burnt the place to the ground.  Sutter decided to try to obtain restitution ($50,000) from the US government for his help in colonizing the west and California. In 1871 Sutter and his family, with the exception of John Jr., moved to Lititz Pennsylvania.

June 18th of 1880 Captain John A Sutter passed away without having ever realized his over all goals. His wife passed away early January 1881.

I have not mentioned the Indigenous Indians much, but it should be noted that Sutter did use the Indians to build his fort as well as to tend his lands and crops. Sutter did pay the Indians, he generally went to the tribal head (Chief) and settled with him as to how many he would need and the amount to be paid. Most trades were no doubt in material goods, knives, cooking pots, fabric ect.

-Bob “Popeye” Farrell- XNGH #6 JAS1841

The Story of Ulysees S. Grant


September 21st, 2017


One legend has it that he was incarcerated for drunkenness, in either the old Benicia Barracks or the newer Benicia Arsenal guardhouse. Another myth relates that the “young lieutenant” was subjected to a “little trial” in which, according to variations, he was either acquitted or convicted and incarcerated – or not. Another story has him reprimanded in California by his superior officer for drinking on duty.
One version states that Grant replaced Lt. William Tecumseh Sherman at the Benicia Arsenal and was incarcerated in the Arsenal Guardhouse for 30 days because he was drunk and fired a cannonball at Martinez.

So, what are the facts?
Well according to books I’ve read such as “Grant” by Jean Edward Smith and “The Trial of Grant” by Charles G. Ellington, the stories about Grant having been tried and incarcerated in Benicia or anywhere else are absolutely false. When ordered to California in 1852 after leaving Panama on his way to Benicia with the 4th infantry, he was the regimental quartermaster. He was also a bit of a drinker. That part is true and he was also a very decorated war hero. But he lost a lot of equipment to theft and accidents, such as pack animals falling into rivers. At the close of his Benicia duty, he faced an official Board of Survey not a trial “to investigate and report upon the losses and damages to public property” that had occurred in Panama under Grant’s charge as the regimental quartermaster. Such a board was a normal military administrative device to determine liability for the loss of $1,350 worth of supplies… Or maybe he did get drunk and fire cannons at Martinez. Maybe this entire story is crap? Maybe we’ll never know.

Delivered to the brethren, this date, September 21st, 6022
by “Who Me”
John A. Sutter Chapter historian
Submitted by NGH Paul “Sparks” Laue on October 12th, 6022

The Story of James W. Marshall


October 18th, 2017


  On Jan. 24, 1848, James W. Marshall, an employee of John A. Sutter, discovered gold in the tail race of a mill he was building for Sutter. News spread slowly in those days, and gold had been seen in California earlier, but news of Marshall’s discovery sparked more interest. Since most people could not get to California in less than 5 months, few were able to arrive in 1848.   
     1849, however, would prove to be the beginning of the Gold Rush. Among those leaving for California in Jan. 1849, was a 49 year-old man from Will County (near Joliet), Illinois. Joe Zumwalt came west to seek his fortune.      
     While passing through Bowling Green (Pike County), Missouri, Joe and his partner C.W. Wright stopped at a newspaper office to ask about the condition of the road to California. While there, they picked up some copies of the ritual of “E Clampus Vitus.” Some 8 months after leaving Illinois, the party reached the Diggins in Sept. 1849. Settling his family in Sacramento, Joe and others returned to the Diggins.      
     Joe Zumwalt visited Camptonville, Downieville, Sierra City, Hangtown and many other locations. He tried to start Chapters of E Clampus Vitus in some of these places, but due to the restlessness of the miners, no success was attained.      
     As the Placer mining became harder, and the focus of the search for gold turned from the rivers and streams to the quartz outcroppings from which the gold came, partnerships were formed, companies became employers and many men worked for others, rather than trying their luck on their own.  The miners were finally coming together and settling down. In 1851, at Mokelumne Hill, Chapter 1001 of E Clampus Vitus was formed. Perhaps it was the more stationary population, but this time the idea took. Soon, Chapters were springing up all along the Mother Lode and all over California.
Delivered to the brethren, this date, October 18th, 6022
by “Who Me”
John A. Sutter Chapter Historian
Submitted by NGH Paul “Sparks” Laue on October 19th, 6022