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Sutter County, California

Sutter County administrative offices are located at 1160 Civic Center Boulevard, Yuba City, CA 95993; phone: 530‑822‑7100.


Sutter County is bordered by the Feather (east) and Sacramento (west) Rivers. A large percentage of the County is agricultural in nature.

Beginnings [1]

The first European to see the Sutter Buttes was Gabriel Moraga, a Spaniard trying to locate mission sites in 1808. Another Spaniard, Luis Arguello, led an expedition in 1817 to explore Northern California by water. He called the Buttes "Los Picachos" or "the peaks." He also named the Feather River ("El Rio de las Plumas") because he saw many feathers of wild fowl floating on the water. In 1828, Jedediah Smith trapped in the vicinity of the Buttes. It was in 1833 that a brigade of French fur trappers from the Hudson Bay Company first referred to these mountains as the "buttes." This contingent is believed responsible for the introduction of the small pox virus to the Native American population. This devastating illness is attributed with killing up to 75 percent of the Maidu and resulting in the abandonment of many villages in a single year.

Sutter County derives its name from one of its first settlers, John Augustus Sutter. Sutter received a grant from the Mexican government of approximately 50,000 acres and named it New Helvetia. In 1841, after settling at Sutter's Fort, he established Hock Farm, believed to be a corruption of the German word "hoch" or "upper," on the site of a Nisenan village originally located on the west bank of the Feather River about eight miles south of Yuba City. In establishing the Hock Farm he created the first large-scale agricultural settlement in this part of the state. Sutter planted grapes, pomegranates, fig trees, grain, and the first peach orchard on his land at Hock Farm, as well as using it as a stock ranch for cattle.

With the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's sawmill in Coloma on the south fork of the American River and the rapid spread of mining to all foothill areas, the culture and life style of the Nisenan were severely disturbed. Widespread disruption of the people and destruction of their villages and other sites occurred with the resulting influx of miners and mining activities. At the same time, farming was begun in the Valley, impacting native culture in the lowlands.

Sutter County itself experienced little mining, but was attractive for its agricultural potential and was primarily settled by former miners who became interested in agriculture after 1860. Early activities included the cutting of wild hay, herding of stock and the harvesting of lumber along the rivers. It has been reported that when the early settlers arrived, a belt of woodland extended along all the major rivers from one-quarter to two miles in width, consisting of oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, and willows. This growth was soon cleared to provide lumber fuel for steamboats, as well as for building supplies, and also to clear land for farming.

During the Gold Rush, as hundreds of thousands of new immigrants flooded into California, hostilities between these new immigrants and the Native Americans rapidly accelerated. The new immigrant miners, ranchers and farmers came to see the Native Americans as threats to their prosperity and security, an obstacle blocking progress, as well as primitive. There is a traceable evolution of attitudes based on the changing needs of the immigrants. The unfortunate events that followed included the massacre of many remaining villages. In 1863 some 461 Native Americans, mostly Maidu, were force-marched 125 miles to the Round Valley Reservation during which many were killed or died. Only 277 completed the journey, most in poor health. The Round Valley Reservation is located to the northwest of Sutter County in Mendocino County.

During the 1870's and 1880's, valuable farmland in Sutter County was lost to the silting up of the rivers caused by hydraulic gold mining in the Sierras. Local farmers formed the Anti-Debris Association, and in 1884, they won a landmark suit halting the practice of hydraulic mining. Once land was cleared, river bottom land claimed and hydraulic mining stopped, agriculture developed rapidly. Several famous agricultural varieties were developed in Sutter County, including Proper Wheat in 1868, which opened up the wheat exporting market in Sutter County; the Thompson Seedless Grape in the 1870's, which led to a thriving raisin industry; and the Phillips Cling Peach in the 1880's, which paved the way for a surge in the canning industry, with three local canneries established. Several organizations, important to the prosperity of Sutter County, were created as a result of agriculture. The Farmers' Cooperative Union of Sutter County grew out of the farmers concerns about speculators who worked together to keep the prices paid to farmers low, regardless of the market. These speculators also worked in concert to drive up the price of transportation of agricultural products. The Farmers' Cooperative Union, begun by S.E. Wilson, B.F. Walton, George Ohleyer, A.L. Chandler, Francis Hamlin, George Brittan and Henry Elmer, enabled the farmers to join together and act to improve prices paid to farmers. Other organizations included: the Farmers' Union Bank, the financial branch of the Farmers' Cooperative Union; Producers' Bank of Yuba City; the Nicolaus Farmers' Grain Warehouse; the California Fruit Canners Association, now known as the Californian Packing Corporation.

Agriculture and the promise of a stable and prosperous future brought many different kinds of people to Sutter County. One of these groups of people was the East Indian Sikhs of the Punjab province of India. Beginning around 1910, East Indians moved to the Central Valley of California to work on roadbeds for the electric railroads. Eventually, the East Indians turned their attention to orchard and farm work.

Many people had an impact on the way in which Sutter County has developed. They include: B.F. Walton, largely responsible for the development of the peach canning industry in the County; J.T. Bogue, the first nurseryman to propagate the Phillips cling peach commercially; E.T. Thornbrough of Meridian, who first brought prune trees to the area; George Ohleyer, founder and editor of the Sutter County Farmer newspaper and one time supervisor; Allen Noyes, who acquired land on the west side of the Buttes, creating the village of Noyesburg and deeding, upon his death, land to the school and cemetery districts; Frederick Peter Tarke and Frederick Hoke, who as young men were drawn to the gold fields but soon decided that they might better make their living in a ranching and agricultural partnership that encompassed several thousand acres of land on the southwest side of the Buttes; Harry Stabler, one of the first County Agricultural Commissioners; William Thompson, a Sutter resident and propagator of the seedless grape; and John Paxton Onstott, responsible for establishing the raisin industry in the United States.

Sutter County was one of the 27 original counties of California, set up by the first Legislature on February 18, 1850. Originally, Sutter County included portions of what are now Placer and Colusa counties; the boundaries were fixed at their current location around 1856. Prior to 1900, Live Oak, Meridian, and Nicolaus were noted as shipping points and South Butte, Pennington, West Butte, Kirkville, and Pleasant Grove had post offices and a few stores and shops. Many of these communities were short lived.

Senator Thomas J. Green purchased land from John Sutter, which he called Oro. Green convinced the State to name Oro the County seat in 1850. Unfortunately Oro, located approximately two miles from Nicolaus in the southern portion of the County, consisted of a single building. Since there was no suitable building in Oro, however, the County seat was moved to Nicolaus the same year. In 1851, the Seat was moved to Auburn, but when Placer County was formed later that year the town of Vernon (now called Verona) was selected. As Vernon's growth declined, the Seat moved back and forth between Nicolaus and Yuba City. In 1856, Yuba City became the permanent County Seat for Sutter County.

Sutter County has continued to rely on its agricultural resources as the primary economic base. The cropping patterns have evolved into two predictable types. Those areas nearer the rivers with the coarser soils are extremely well suited to orchard crops while the lowlands farther from the rivers with the clayey soils are well suited to the production of rice. A variety of truck crops and grains are also grown in various locations. Grazing is the predominant agricultural use in the Buttes with scattered grain and orchard farming.

  1. County of Sutter, California, Sutter County General Plan Update: Technical Background Report, 2008, www.co.sutter.ca.us, accessed January, 2014.

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