This and That

Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part III

60 lb. Welsh Pear Rail (1856) uncovered in Folsom.

60 lb. Welsh Pear Rail (1856) uncovered in Folsom.

Though the Sacramento Valley Railroad had reached Folsom on January 1, 1856, it was not yet completed. The original plan was to continue to Marysville, but like always, money was the problem.

Even with the four engines pulling trains loaded with all the passengers and freight they could handle, meeting its construction costs were still proving difficult. The cost of laying the track had been nearly fifty percent more than their surveyor, Theodore Judah, had estimated and there was thirty percent interest to be paid on the floating debt under the trusteeship, along with some ten percent bonds. They were generating income, but if they were to expand, the fully privately financed railroad would need government help.

The railroad’s Vice-President William T. Sherman contacted his brother John, who had recently been elected to Congress. He ask John to try and obtain Federal land grants for the Railroad and a wagon road to Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was not at all successful.

Theodore Judah was not daunted. He had earlier surveyed the line to Marysville and knew it was possible, even though Lester Robinson, the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s engineer believed it was too expensive to construct. Judah was so positive that he leaked the results of his survey to others, which upset Robinson. Judah felt that if the Sacramento Valley Railroad was not interested in building to Marysville, he would form another railroad, the California Central. He did so, incorporating the company on April 21, 1857.

Ground was broken for the California Central on June 1, 1858, and between then and October 13, 1861, 18.5 miles connecting Lincoln, to the north, with the Sacramento Valley Railroad at Folsom Junction was built. In the meantime Judah had proceeded to Auburn to survey his route over the Sierra. The citizens of Auburn, irritated with his action, as they wished to be connected to the Sacramento Valley Railroad, formed their own railroad, the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada Railroad, which they built and by 1862 connected Auburn with Folsom.

The City of Sacramento, meanwhile, was experiencing a drastic loss of revenue. Folsom had become the new center for freight heading into El Dorado and Placer Counties, and to retaliate, Sacramento placed a tax on all passengers and freight goods that crossed the levee from river boats to the trains at its docks.

Upset, but again not defeated, the ingenious Lester Robinson surveyed a new route to a place called Newport, on the river just south of Sacramento, and named the townsite Freeport. In 1859, he extended a Sacramento Valley Railroad branch from its Perkin’s Station southwesterly 12 miles to the new townsite (This was known as the Freeport Railroad and was abandoned by the Central Pacific in 1865, possibly the earliest railroad abandonment in the Southern Pacific records). The City of Sacramento countered by tearing up the original tracks of the Sacramento Valley Railroad along Front Street.

During the same period, the people of Placerville were demanding that rail service be extended beyond Folsom to their town to carry the heavy freight that was now heading over the Sierra to the gold and silver mines in the Comstock Lode of Nevada. They approached the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s new President, George F. Bragg, and Lester Robinson, now the company’s major stockholder, to see what could be worked out. Garrison and Sherman had by this time left California.

The Placerville citizens had heard that Judah had discussed his ideas with two Sacramento hardware men, Collis P. Huntington and Mark Hopkins, a grocer named Leland Stanford and a drygoods dealer named Charles Crocker. They also knew that President Lincoln, on July 1, 1862, had signed the new Pacific Railway Act, authorizing construction of the Central Pacific and specifically showing the route of the California Central and the Sacramento, Placer and Nevada as the Western terminus. They were concerned that a railroad would not pass through Placerville and extend on along the wagon road through “Johnson’s Pass” to Nevada as they desired. The delegation from Placerville asked that the railroad be extended to Placerville and, from there, over the Sierra Nevada.

The owners of the Sacramento Valley Railroad informed the delegation from Placerville that, if El Dorado County would grade the route from Folsom and furnish ties, they would supply the rails for ten percent County Bonds. For this, a new company, the Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad was incorporated June 12, 1862.

At the general election on Sept. 2, 1863, the people of El Dorado County approved the issuance of $200,000 in ten percent bonds which would be used to purchase stock in the new railroad. The City of Placerville also pledged $300,000 in bonds towards this end.

The Placerville and Sacramento Valley Railroad promptly asked for the money, and construction began in late 1863, from Folsom Junction towards Placerville.


Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part II

First Excursion

First Excursion

Showing the ingenuity that helped build California, at a point approximately 20 miles from Sacramento a Mr. Anderson took the subcontract to grade and build the embankment for the new railroad. He had prospected the area before and knew that the dirt contained gold. Through the use of ingenious sluices and other methods, Mr. Anderson was able to recover enough gold to pay for the job and have his payment from the railroad as pure profit.

In spite of Mr. Anderson’s good fortune, as the work progressed financial problems soon arose with the Sacramento Valley Railroad. It had been a dry winter in California and, because of the reduction in mining, many of the financial institutions began to fail. New appeals for investors also failed and, on August 10, the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Valley Railroad met to discuss and remedy the situation.

The Board elected Commodore C. K. Garrison as its president. As Mayor of San Francisco, he had ruled the city with an iron hand and had proved to be a man of action. To the position of Vice-President came William Tecumseh Sherman (who would later leave California to become a General for the Union Army), now returned from the East and the head of the banking house of Lucas & Turner, one of the few institutions that had not failed, thanks to his careful management. The railroad needed strong leadership and a good banker, and it now had both.

On August 11, 1855, a day after the Board meeting, Judah and three others boarded a handcar on the rails, built to five-foot gauge, that were laid down Sacramento’s R Street and pushed their way down the tracks. It was not a long ride, only a mile or so, but it was a remarkable event for them.

A few days later, Judah stood on the levee watching while the small locomotive “Sacramento” was unloaded from the schooner “Two Brothers.” Just a few days later, on August 17, 1855, the little 4-4-0 locomotive was under a full head of steam, and construction engineer Lester Robinson and guests took a small excursion to Seventeenth Street, much to the applause and cheers of many who had gathered to watch.

Garrison and Sherman then invited several potential investors to come to Sacramento to view their now operating railroad and take the trip to the end of rail, followed by a carriage trip to Negro Bar.

The investors included tycoons J. Mora Moss, George F. Bragg, and the bankers Pioche and Bayreque, among others. Unfortunately they were not sufficiently impressed to further invest and, on October 18, 1855, because of lack of compensation to his firm, Lester Robinson attached the railroad through court action, placing it under a deed of trust, and appointing J. Mora Moss as the trustee. Fortunately, work continued under this arrangement.

By now the locomotive “Sacramento” had help on the rails. The engine “Nevada” had arrived from Boston and the locomotive “L. L. Robinson” from New Jersey. To add to these, Commodore Garrison had purchased the first railroad engine in California, the “Elephant”, which he renamed the “C. K. Garrison (it became the “Pioneer” 1868).

Passenger cars were being built by John Robinson (the Railroad’s Superintendent) at the foot of R Street, using wheels and iron work that had come from Boston. With all this rolling stock and the rails finally reaching the growing township of Folsom on January 1, 1856, it was time to celebrate a formal opening in a grand style.

On Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1856, at 11 o’clock in the morning, the locomotive “Sacramento” pulled away from the Sacramento station with its string of passenger and flat cars carrying a large group of the local citizens and politicians. It was shortly followed by the “Nevada” which, in spite of developing mechanical problems, also arrived at the Meredith Hotel, in Folsom, in time for the celebration.
After speeches from Senator Flint and several of the Railroad’s Board Members, the guests were treated to a “Railroad Ball”, which we’re told lasted until 5:00 a.m. of the next day.


Charles Lincoln Wilson – The Sacramento Valley Railroad, Part I

Charles Lincoln Wilson

Charles Lincoln Wilson

Before the paddle wheels on the steamer “Oregon” had fully stopped, a young man with a vision stepped onto the dock at San Francisco. It was late in 1849, and the town was crowded with gold seekers that had heard of the instant riches lying in the streams and rivers of northern California. Most had left their homes and families in the search for it, but Charles Lincoln Wilson was different.

Wilson had been an orphan born on a farm in Maine and raised by neighbors. Early in life he enlisted in the army, which at that time was waging war with Mexico. Through rapid promotion Wilson reached the rank of colonel and then left the service to become a successful business man in New York. His background was in transportation, and now he was looking for success, not gold, in this new land.

When the “Oregon” pulled away from the San Francisco dock, another military man, Lieutenant William Tecumseh Sherman was on board, leaving California for the East. He had heard of Asa Whitney’s scheme for a coast-to-coast railroad and had actually spent some time scouting passes for a possible route. His future father-in-law, Thomas Ewing, then Secretary of the Interior, had obtained for him a new assignment on the East Coast and he felt he had seen California for the last time. He would soon return though, and his path would cross with that of Wilson.

By the spring of 1850, before California was even a state, Wilson owned a steam schooner that carried passengers and freight up the Sacramento River to the gateways to the Sierra foothills and the mines. He soon expanded his business to include a plank toll road and a toll bridge which, although built at great personal expense, poured profits into his rapidly expanding businesses.

With his bride, Sarah Jane Rood, a wealthy woman in her own right, they cruised along the Sacramento, watching the endless trains of wagons carrying freight from the river to the two main foothill towns, Negro Bar and Mountain City (later to become Marysville). Through their enterprises they accumulated a half-million dollars, and in 1852 they decided that iron rails from Sacramento to these two towns would be a profitable investment.

They took into their grand plan another transportation man, Commodore Cornelius K. Garrison. He had come west at the request of the Vanderbilts to help with their Nicaragua Steamship Line. He had made a small fortune in Panama and, after living a short while in San Francisco, had been elected its mayor. He would also be one of the first to help finance the early Pacific Railway surveys and was an ideal choice as a partner.

Early in 1852, another group of men had gotten together and incorporated the Sacramento, Auburn and Nevada Railroad, which was to be built to serve Negro Bar and Nevada City. Their scheme collapsed when it was reported to them that the first section of track they wished to build would cost in excess of two million dollars. Wilson reorganized this abandoned railroad company as the Sacramento Valley Railroad.

His plan was to first connect Sacramento to Negro Bar and Mountain City (Marysville) with future extensions to Tehama, Sonora and San Francisco. On August 16, 1852, the Articles of Incorporation were filed and Wilson immediately left for the East Coast to acquire more capital for rails and rolling stock and to engage an engineer to build the railroad.

Once in New York, he contacted the engineering firm of Robinson, Seymour and Company. Seymour’s brother, the Governor of New York, sent Wilson to see a young survey engineer, Theodore Judah, who had just put a railroad through the Niagara Gorge and was very interested in the Pacific Railway.

On April 2, 1854, Wilson and Judah left for California and, shortly thereafter, Judah opened up an office in Sacramento’s Hasting’s Building, at the southwest corner of 2nd and J Streets, and started the business of surveying the Sacramento Valley Railroad’s proposed route.
During this same time, Wilson, with the help of Judge Divine, a promoter of a railroad from San Jose to San Francisco, lobbied the California State Legislature to change the Railroad Act of 1853, which stood in their way of financing and progress.

With the law amended, the route was surveyed and the right-of-way acquired. A contract was signed on November 24, 1854, with the firm of Robinson, Seymour and Company of New York, retaining them and Lester Robinson as Chief Engineer to build the railroad. On February 12, 1855, construction began.


The Discovery of Gold, by John Sutter, Part III

Miners in Coloma

Miners at Coloma. 1850

From “Hutchings’ California Magazine,” November 1857

Sutter Looks Back at the Events

What a great misfortune was this sudden gold discovery for me! It has just broken up and ruined my hard, restless, and industrious labors, connected with many dangers of life, as I had many narrow escapes before I became properly established.

From my mill buildings I reaped no benefit whatever, the mill stones even have been stolen and sold. My tannery, which was then in a flourishing condition, and was carried on very profitably, was deserted, a large quantity of leather was left unfinished in the vats; and a great quantity of raw hides became valueless as they could not be sold; nobody wanted to be bothered with such trash, as it was called. So it was in all the other mechanical trades which I had carried on; all was abandoned, and work commenced or nearly finished was all left, to an immense loss for me. Even the Indians had no more patience to work alone, in harvesting and threshing my large wheat crop out; as the whites had all left, and other Indians had been engaged by some white men to work for them, and they commenced to have some gold for which they were buying all kinds of articles at enormous prices in the stores; which, when my Indians saw this, they wished very much to go to the mountains and dig gold. At last I consented, got a number of wagons ready, loaded them with provisions and goods of all kinds, employed a clerk, and left with about one hundred Indians, and about fifty Sandwich Islanders (Kanakas) which had joined those which I brought with me from the Islands. The first camp was about ten miles above Mormon Island, on the south fork of the American river.

In a few weeks we became crowded ,and it would no more pay, as my people made too many acquaintances. I broke up the camp and started on the march further south, and located my next camp on Sutter creek (now in Amador county), and thought that I should there be alone. The work was going on well for a while, until three or four traveling grog-shops surrounded me, at from one and 8, half to two miles distance from the camp; then, of course, the gold was taken to these places, for drinking, gambling, etc., and then the following day they were sick and unable to work, and became deeper and more indebted to me, and particularly the Kanakas. I found that it was high time to quit this kind of business, and lose no more time and money. I therefore broke up the camp and returned to the Fort, where I disbanded nearly all the people who had worked for me in the mountains digging gold. This whole expedition proved to be a heavy loss to me.

At the same time I was engaged in a mercantile firm in Coloma, which I left in January, 1849 – likewise with many sacrifices. After this I would have nothing more to do with the gold affairs. At this time, the Fort was the great trading place where nearly all the business was transacted. I had no pleasure to remain there, and moved up to Hock Farm, with all my Indians, and who had been with me from the time they were children. The place was then in charge of a Major Domo.

It is very singular that the Indians never found a piece of gold and brought it to me, as they very often did other specimens found in the ravines. I requested them continually to bring me some curiosities from the mountains, for which I always recompensed them. I have received animals, birds, plants, young trees, wild fruits, pipe clay, stones, red ochre, etc., etc., but never a piece of gold. Mr. Dana of the scientific corps of the expedition under Com. Wilkes’ Exploring Squadron, told me that he had the strongest proof and signs of gold in the vicinity of Shasta Mountain, and furthers south. A short time afterwards, Doctor Sandels, a very scientific traveler, visited me, and explored a part of the country in a great hurry, as time would not permit him to make a longer stay.

He told me likewise that he found sure signs of gold, and was very sorry that be could not explore the Sierra Nevada. He did not encourage me to attempt to work and open mines, as it was uncertain how it would pay and would probably be only for a government. So I thought it more prudent to stick to the plow, not withstanding I did know that the country was rich in gold, and other minerals. An old attached Mexican servant who followed me here from the United States, as soon as he knew that I was here, and who understood a great deal about working in placers, told me he found sure signs of gold in the mountains on Bear Creek, and that we would go right to work after returning from our campaign in 1845, but he became a victim to his patriotism and fell into the hands of the enemy near my encampment, with dispatches for me from Gen. Micheltorena, and he was hung as a spy, for which I was very sorry.

By this sudden discovery of the gold, all my great plans were destroyed. Had I succeeded for a few years before the gold was discovered, I would have been the richest citizen on the Pacific shore; but it had to be different. Instead of being rich, I am ruined, and the cause of it is the long delay of the United States Land Commission of the United States Courts, through the great influence of the squatter lawyers. Before my case will be decided in Washington, another year may elapse, but I hope that justice will be done me by the last tribunal — the Supreme Court of the United States. By the Land Commission and the District Court it has been decided in my favor. The Common Council of the city of Sacramento, composed partly of squatters, paid Adelpheus Felch, (one of the late Land Commissioners, who was engaged by the squatters during his office), $5,000, from the fund of the city, against the will of the tax-payers, for which amount he has to try to defeat my just and old claim from the Mexican government, before the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington.

Signature of John Sutter