Just a quick pause for Troop 36 before entering the main gate at Sutter’s Fort to witness how early Californians might have spent a Christmas celebration. From left are Scoutmaster Gregg Scott, Patrol Leader Aidan Marro and Scouts Lucas Hogon, Louie Buentiempo and Morgan Strange. Photo by Dave Garey

Visiting the spirits of Christmas Past

By special request the members of Boy Scout Troop 36 again visited the historic site of Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, which is part of the California State Park system.

The reason for the visit was to join in the spirit of a circa 1840s Christmas celebration that is reenacted each year by dedicated docents for a special event called, “A Simple Immigrant Christmas.”

Each year the volunteers are dressed in period garb to display and explain how a Christmas celebration might be carried out over 180 years ago.

While watching the blacksmith ply his trade or learn the long process the bakery ladies follow to produce their delicious bread from the brick oven may be very educational, participating in the process is a lot more fun.

The Scouts had their choice of pumping the blacksmith’s forge, churning their own butter, decorating (and eating) gingerbread cookies, making old-fashioned ornaments and making their own hand-dipped tapers (candles).

Arguably the highlight of the day is when the cannon crew comes out to fire a salute to all the visitors that have come to celebrate.

The cannon is a replica of the original used at the fort and the cannon crew commander stressed that it had “Never been fired in anger” while at the fort. It was used for salutes to visiting dignitaries.

Many people don’t know that even though it was called Sutter’s Fort due to its high walls and fortified bastions, it was never an actual military installation and the cannons were simply a precaution against the wilds of the “Unknown West.”

Sutter’s Fort was established in 1840 as California’s first non-indigenous community, agricultural and trade settlement in the Central Valley of California.

This took place when Swiss immigrant John Sutter got a land grant of more than 48,000 acres from the Mexican government. To attain the land grant he was required to become a Mexican citizen. The fort was completed in 1841.

He originally named his mini empire New Helvetia (New Switzerland).

During the next decade the site housed mostly Mexican citizens of Alta California, immigrating Europeans, Native Americans, trappers, trail guides, soldiers who had served in the Mexican-American War and some Eastern pioneers.

It was from Sutter’s Fort that aid was sent to the Donner Party when they became trapped in a winter storm in the Sierra.

When gold was discovered in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill (another of Sutter’s properties) in Coloma, the fort was overrun by the wave of fortune-seeking prospectors and was eventually abandoned and left for ruin.

It wasn’t until 1891 that the Native Sons of the Golden West spearheaded restoration efforts and rebuilt the walls of Sutter’s Fort.

Being completed in 1893, this restoration effort makes Sutter’s Fort the oldest restored Fort in the United States.

Sutter’s Fort was then donated to the State of California and became part of the California State Park system in 1947.

Because of its history and impact on the developing events of early California the fort is a staple for students studying California history and the living history aspect makes it a favorite for Troop 36 and many others.

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