The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 18461900
§ 8. California
In the early forties California was nothing more than a detached colony nominally belonging to Mexico but ruled over, so far as it was ruled at all, by the Mission friars and the military governor in an arbitrary and personal fashion. Its rich soil and attractive coast were coveted by France, by Great Britain, and by the United States. This great prize slipping from Mexico’s fist had its northern limit at the fortysecond parallel and its eastern along the upper Arkansas and down that river to the 100th meridian, down that to Red River, along that stream to a point north of the Sabine, and by the Sabine to the Gulf of Mexico. Texas took away the portion from the Sabine to the Nueces and claimed to the Rio Grande. Thus matters stood at the time of the annexation of Texas, with its claim of a western boundary at the Rio Grande which the United States had undertaken to maintain with the sword.
There was one statesman in Congress who had a clear perception of conditions and possibilities. This was Thomas Hart Benton, whose home was in St. Louis and was the rendezvous for leading trappers and explorers. His famous phrase as he pointed to the sunset and said “There lies the road to India” recognized the approach to each other of Europe and Cathay westward across the Rocky Mountains and has appropriately been carved on his monument. In his Thirty Years’ View… 1820 to 1850 (1861) there is continual evidence of his firm belief in the phenomenal value of the Far West region and in a development which has since taken place. Benton was one of the chief political figures of the time. Biographies of him have been written by Theodore Roosevelt (1887) and by William M. Meigs (1904).
As the fourth decade of the nineteenth century opened, California was receiving many emigrants from the Eastern States, chiefly by the Oregon Trail. About this time appears on the scene a striking personality, John A. Sutter, independent, indefatigable, who immediately created a unique fortified settlement which, having been born in Switzerland, he called New Helvetia, but which was known generally as Sutter’s Fort. It was begun in 1841 and completed in 1845, on the site of the present city of Sacramento. Although Sutter was Swiss he may be classed as an American in view of all the circumstances connected with his life. His fort mounted carronades and cannon and was garrisoned by about forty well armed, drilled, uniformed Indians. There were extra arms for more if needed. In his “Diary” printed in the Argonaut (San Francisco, 26 Jan., 2, 9, 16 Feb., 1878) Sutter tells of his own doings, and in the Life and Times of John A. Sutter (1907) T.J. Schoonover relates the entire story of this remarkable pioneer, the good friend of everybody but “bankrupted by thieves.”
By 1846 the dispute with Great Britain over Oregonwas settled and the Americans there knew where they belonged. They had been warmly defended and assisted by the then head of Hudson Bay Company affairs in that region, John McLoughlin, who himself finally became an American. The story of his life is given by Frederick V. Holman, John McLoughlin, The Father of Oregon (1900), and in McLoughlin and Old Oregon (1900) by Mrs. Emery Dye.