John Augustus Sutter
John Augustus Sutter, a Swiss emigrant to America, a magnificent dreamer and methodical man of action who builds and loses an empire in California. In 1834, he is a penniless Swiss fugitive, vagabond, and swindler named Johann August Suter. He deserts his wife and four children and sails for America. His family has no news of him until he becomes famous as General John Augustus Sutter, one of the richest men in the world, the lord of a vast domain in California. Shrewd in maneuvers and a skillful diplomat, he steers a careful course and maintains good relations both with the Mexican authorities who rule California when he arrives and with the forces of American expansion, which will soon claim California as a new state. By the time of statehood, Sutter owns the largest domain in the United States. His vision realized, with his vast farms flourishing with cotton, rice, indigo, livestock, orchards, and vineyards, Sutter longs to settle back into calm and peaceful cultivation of his choice European vine-stocks. At last, he is ready to send for his wife and children, to live out the fulfillment of his grand agrarian dream of New Helvetia in the garden of America. Then gold is discovered on his land. The ensuing chaos, with the inundation of his lands by gold-mad prospectors, settlers, and squatters, shatters his dream and destroys his farms, forts, estates, and villages. The chaos decimates his family and leaves him a ruined, broken man. Aside from the character traits that mark Sutter with...
(The entire section is 624 words.)