Inside the white adobe walls of Sutter’s Fort, routine ensues. A wagon hauls riders through the main gate to greet the early morning sun. Butter is being churned. Bread is baking. A blacksmith begins his work on a dutch oven requested by the cooks in a nearby kitchen.
It’s an average day – in the mid 19th century.
On Saturday, visitors can relive aspects of early Sacramento history. Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park will come alive with tours, presentations and docents in action to celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the fort’s founder, Capt. John Sutter, on the banks of the Sacramento River in 1839.
“When you step into the fort … you’re basically experiencing what pioneer life was like back then,” said Mindy Orosco, the park’s education program manager.
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Visitors can experience demonstrations throughout the year as part of the park’s monthly “Hands On History” series, but the 175th commemoration of Sutter’s arrival brings everything together in one place and time, Orosco said.
Visitors will intermingle with actors who will be dressed the part. Vaqueros will make leather. Under a shady tree, women in hand-sewn dresses will set up wheels to spin yarn. Every so often, visitors will hear the firing of a musket and the replica cannon.
If Harold Park, one of the park’s docents, has a say, he’ll have audience members doing the work at his favorite station, the donkey-operated grist mill.
“I’ll grab the donkeys out of the audience, usually the little kids,” he said.
“The hands-on activities … really give kids an appreciation for the quality of life we have now and how hard everyone had to work just to make a meal to get through a day,” Orosco said.
Of course, there will be time for play. The mix of dwellings and shops scattered throughout the compound in midtown will offer adult- and kid-friendly games and crafts. Kids can play games in the courtyard, from the traditional Game of Graces to the more familiar bean bag toss. Those feeling crafty can choose between making dolls out of corn husks or creating rubber stencils of the mark Sutter branded on his sheep and cattle.
Those hoping to get a literal taste of the pioneer days will get to sample freshly churned butter and baked goods emerging from the beehive oven.
“This place will come alive. There’ll be a lot of people here from that era,” Park said, referring to his costumed colleagues.
Among Saturday’s diverse lineup of historical and cultural groups commemorating the anniversary will be descendants of Sutter and representatives who will be celebrating the 150th birthday of the California State Parks system.
The Gold Rush (sparked by the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma) resulted in the loss of laborers and materials, which left the fort close to collapse. Its picturesque condition today is because of the work of the Sons of the Golden West, which oversaw the fort’s major restoration in 1891.
Other presentations will explore the cross-cultural controversies of its day when Sutter employed Hawaiian laborers and 20,000 American Indians, and invited Europeans and other Americans to come West.
Rick Adams of the Hutu Anape Cultural Association will recount the lives of the American Indians and Hawaiians. Ernest Gudel will speak on behalf of the Swiss, a salute to Sutter’s Swiss roots. And others will offer the perspective of pioneers.
Gudel, vice president of the Sacramento Helvetia Verein, a local Swiss organization, is eager to listen to the discussions. “I’ll enjoy their perspectives on what actually happened back then,” he said. “What did they learn that can work for us today?”