Sacramento River has rich Pocket area connection

The flood of 1849-50 created a Venice-like scene in Sacramento City. Photo courtesy

Editor’s Note: This is part one in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.

In being a city of two rivers, Sacramento has a history that is very much tied to each of these tributaries. And, undoubtedly, the river most directly associated with the Pocket area is the Sacramento River.
The Pocket area itself is partially bordered by this river and its levee, which has received much attention lately due to the controversy surrounding a city proposal to extend public recreation access along the river.
Certainly, no event in the Pocket’s history made the area’s residents more aware of the Sacramento River’s existence than the Edward’s Break – the devastating levee break that flooded about 10,000 acres in the Riverside-Pocket area in February 1904.
The significance of the Sacramento River in the city’s history is so great that it would be impossible to present a thorough account of the city’s beginnings without referring to this river.
And by its name alone, the Sacramento River is important to the history of Sacramento, since the city took its name from this important waterway.
As the largest river in California, this 375-mile river has its source near Mount Shasta.
The river then meanders down the center of the Sacramento Valley and runs between the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento.
It continues its way into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where it is fed by other watercourses to become the Carquinez Straits and ultimately flows into the San Francisco Bay.
How the river was formed is a complex series of geological events, which include uplift and erosion of the Sierra Nevada and Coastal Mountains and the eruption and creation of Mount Shasta.
For more than 100,000 years, the Sacramento River has been cutting through deep deposits of sediment from the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada.
As previously mentioned, the city of Sacramento was named after the Sacramento River.
In 1808, the Spanish organized an expedition to go into the interior of California to explore rivers north of the Cosumnes River, which they discovered two years earlier, and to search for suitable locations for missions and pueblos.
This expedition was led by Spanish army officer Jose Gabriel Maraga, who gave names to many of the topographic features that he discovered on his journey.
At that time, the Spanish army in California was inextricably linked to the Catholic Church, thus almost all the names chosen by Maraga were taken from Catholic nomenclature.
Maraga named the largest of these tributaries El Rio de Sacramento, which translates as the River of Sacrament. The Sacramento River was thus named in honor of the “offerings of Christ.”
On Oct. 9, 1808, Maraga wrote in his diary: “Today, we broke camp and moved to the river discovered yesterday, which we named the Sacramento. They have measured this river at 169 varas (about 5,577 inches or about 465 feet) across.”
For some unknown reason, the only entry missing from Maraga’s diary, which was kept from Sept. 25 through Oct. 23, 1808, was the entry for Oct. 8 – the day that he discovered the Sacramento River.
During the following 40 years, the Sacramento River remained the quiet home of salmon, wildlife and native people of the area.
In 1848, bright, metallic flakes were found in a tributary of the Sacramento and for the river and its valley, its future changes were dramatic.

Sacramento City is shown during its early times. This image includes the Sacramento River embarcadero at the foot of J Street. Photo courtesy

Sacramento City is shown during its early times. This image includes the Sacramento River embarcadero at the foot of J Street. Photo courtesy

It appears as if the word, “rush” from the famous Gold Rush of 1849 has much significance in the naming and location of the city.
Furthermore, little effort was given to the naming of the city’s streets, which received basic alphabetical and numerical names.
Sacramento City was built in a “rush” with little regard for expansion or flooding.
In fact, the very sands contributed to by flooding were responsible for the location of the new city, because the sand provided a low spot for large ships to beached, loaded and unloaded.
Neither Captain John Sutter nor the Indians who lived in the area before him regarded the eventual location of the city as habitable.
Sutter, guided by the local Indians, had his fort built in one of the few high ground sites in today’s city of Sacramento.
Even the city that Sutter had planned – Sutterville – was being built on the high ground in the area of today’s William Land Park.
The problem with this location was that its high banks that prevented flooding, also kept ships from landing.
As a result, Sacramento City was born almost overnight, because it was the one spot where large vessels could land and unload supplies, feeding the frenzy of the Gold Rush.
When it comes to presenting the city’s river history, it is certainly essential to include details pertaining to the topic of flooding.
While visiting Sacramento on Feb. 25, 1878, James W. Marshall, whose discovery of gold on the South Fork of the American River led to the Gold Rush of 1849, was interviewed by a Sacramento Record-Union reporter.
In speaking to the reporter regarding the topic of high water, Marshall referred to the 1845-46 flood, which covered all the Indian mounds in the Sacramento Valley.
Marshall described this flood as being so great that it came within two feet of entering Sutter’s Fort.
And in relating the 1845-46 flood to the then present times, Marshall estimated that the water of that flood would have reached at least four or five feet above the high grade of the city.
Continuing, Marshall noted that an old Hudson Bay trapper had told him about a flood, which occurred in the Sacramento Valley in the winter of 1830.
That flood, Marshall said, reached a level of five or six feet higher than the level of the 1845-46 flood.
Within a detailed account of the flood of 1849-50 in the Feb. 8, 1873 edition of The Sacramento Union, it was noted that by Jan. 12, 1850 “there was no dry land in town except at the knoll on the public square (today’s Cesar E. Chavez Plaza), between Ninth and Tenth streets.”
Another one of the great floods in the city’s history was the flood of 1852-53.
Having already recently suffered another tragedy – the great fire of Nov. 2, 1852 – Sacramento was flooded as the result of a rise in the Sacramento River from Dec. 20, 1852 to Jan. 24, 1853.

2 Responses to Sacramento River has rich Pocket area connection

  1. LEAND LEE says:

    so EXCITED I REALIZED I LEFT OUT IMPORTANT PART THE SOLDIER I SAW WAS SITTING ON A BLACK HORSE UNDER A OLD BLACK OAK TREE RIGHT OFF OF RIVERSIDE AND SEAMUS AVE

  2. LEAND LEE says:

    I LOVE READING THE HISTORY OF ANYWHERE BUT ESPECIALLY SACRAMENTO WHERE I HAVE LIVED ALL MY LIFE, AND TO FIND ONLY YARDS FROM THE ORIGINAL SACRAMENTO WAS SUTTERVILLE I LIVE OFF OF RIVERSIDE WALKING DISTANCE FROM THIS SITE WHICH ONLY CONFIRMS THE SOLDIER I SAW WALKING MY DOG ONE LATE NIGHT IF NOT FOR MY DOG CONFIRMING SHE SAW IT TO I WOULDN’T BE SAYING THIS THANK YOU

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