John Augustus Sutter, Sr., (1803-1880) was a pioneer in the Yuba-Sutter area and elsewhere in northern California. Sutter County and the Sutter Buttes were named after him.
Born in Germany to Swiss parents, John Sutter married Annette D'beld in 1826 and had four children with her. In 1834, after eight years of marriage and a series of business failures, he ran away from his creditors to America, leaving his wife and children behind. After spending several years in Missouri and traveling to Washington State, Hawaii, and Alaska, he arrived in California in 1839.
Sutter applied for Mexican citizenship, and received it in 1840. In 1841, he received a land grant from the Mexican government of approximately 48,827 acres in the Sacramento Valley. He named his land New Helvetia, after the area of Switzerland that his family came from. In 1841, he established Hock Farm on the west bank of the Feather River, a few miles south of what is now South Yuba City. That same year, he also hired Nicolaus Allgeier to build an adobe house for him, about one and a half miles below Hock Farm. When the adobe house was completed in 1842, Sutter deeded to Allgeier one square mile of land at what is now Nicolaus, with the agreement that Allgeier would ferry Sutter across the Feather River at that point whenever Sutter traveled between Hock Farm and his lands in what is now Sacramento. Also in 1842, Sutter leased his lands in the Marysville area to Theodor Cordua to raise money. He used this money to build the trading post he called Sutter's Fort, which was completed by 1845.
One of the first people to recognize the agricultural potential of the Sacramento Valley, Sutter undertook many agricultural ventures, including orchards, vineyards, wheat fields, and gardens of rare plants. He purchased hundreds of cattle and horses to graze on his land. He hired local Nisenan and Miwok people to sow and harvest his crops and guard Sutter's Fort. He also established Sutter's Mill in Coloma (El Dorado County)—where gold was later discovered. Unfortunately, the 300,000 gold miners who then descended upon California soon trampled Sutter's crops and stole many of his possessions. Some of Sutter's employees quit their jobs to become gold miners. Sutter tried to make money selling supplies to the miners, but his business partners cheated him, and creditors began pursuing him. In addition, squatters began taking over his land in the Sutter's Fort area. To recoup his losses as best he could, Sutter sold his fort to Alden Bayly and transferred ownership of much of the rest of his land to his oldest son, John Sutter, Jr., who had moved to California in 1848, so that the creditors couldn't take it. But he soon quarreled with his son over his son's plans for Sacramento, causing John Sutter, Jr., to leave town and avoid contact with his father.
California became a U.S. state in 1850, and that same year, Sutter's wife and their three younger children moved to California - 16 years after Sutter had last seen them. Sutter sold his lands in Marysville to Charles Julian Covillaud, José Manuel Ramirez, Theodore Sicard and John Sampson for a total of $10,000 and retired to Hock Farm with his family. However, his misfortunes continued when the squatters challenged the legality of his Mexican land grant in court in the United States Supreme Court. In 1858, the court turned over significant portions of his land to the squatters. Then in 1865, the house at Hock Farm was burned down by arson. Sutter and his wife moved to Pennsylvania, where he died in 1880 with almost nothing of his former fortune remaining. John Sutter, Jr., however, remained in California and made a considerable fortune from the land that had once been his father's.