Note: This is part 10 in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
The topic of riverboats on the Sacramento River is undoubtedly a rich part of the river’s history.
These vessels played an important role in transporting freight and passengers.
In the January 1920 edition of the Southern Pacific Bulletin, it was noted that “long before the railroad came, the Sacramento River was the ‘roadway’ along which commerce first traveled.”
Among the earlier vessels to ply the Sacramento River was a schooner known as the “Sacramento.”
In an article in the May 27, 1858 edition of The Sacramento Union, this schooner was described as having been purchased by Capt. John A. Sutter in 1841.
A July 7, 1860 letter written to The Union by a newspaper correspondent known as St. George refers to this vessel, as follows: “The only regular packet running between the embarcadero of New Helvetia (now the beautiful city of Sacramento, capital of the state of California), and Yerba Buena (now the great city of San Francisco, the New York of the Pacific) was Captain Sutter’s launch, ‘Sacramento,’ a schooner of seventeen tons. She was built by the Russian American Company, I think, at Sitka, for the sea otter service at Bodega and Presidio Ross, and sold to Capt. Sutter in 1839. I last saw her laying (sic) at Washington (now part of West Sacramento), opposite our city, in 1858, roofed over and used as a house for salmon fishers.”
In being that the 1858 Union article and 1860 St. George letter differ as to when Sutter acquired the Sacramento, it should be recognized that this event occurred in 1841.
The 1858 Union article noted that the Sacramento remained in operation until as late as 1848-49, and “after performing a number of important offices during the (Mexican) War, was, in the spring of 1848, the first to take down to San Francisco the tidings of the gold discovery.”
It was also mentioned in the same article that the Sacramento continued to be the largest schooner on the Sacramento River “up to the period when the commerce with the mines began.”
According to St. George’s letter, Sutter also had another line, which ran from New Helvetia to his Hock Farm agricultural settlement along the Feather River. The riverboat of this line was referred to as the “‘White Pinnace’ – an open boat, rowed and poled by six nude (Indians).”
The aforementioned 1920 edition Southern Pacific Bulletin article referred to the first steamer to travel on the Sacramento River.
That vessel, which was known as the Sitka, made its way from San Francisco to today’s city of Sacramento in 1847.
Nearly four decades later, The Union received a letter, dated Feb. 6, 1885, from a Mrs. James Greyson of Sebastopol, Calif., who claimed to have been a passenger aboard the Sitka.
The letter included the following words: “In the San Francisco Call of January 24th, I see the request for the name of the first steamer that plied on the Sacramento River, and being a passenger on the occasion of the first trip, I feel myself competent to give the information desired. She was a beautiful steam yacht, bearing the name of Sitka. She was, I believe, presented by the Russian government to Captain (William Alexander) Leadsdolph (Leidesdorff, Jr.). She left San Francisco on the 15th of December 1847 and arrived at the embarcadero on the Sacramento (River) on the 24th of the same month.”
Different dates for this voyage were presented in another account of the Sitka in the St. George’s aforementioned 1860 letter.
The 1860 letter noted that the vessel left San Francisco on Nov. 28, 1847 and “arrived at New Helvetia December 4th – six days and seven hours out.”
Also included in St. George’s account were the following words: “I made the first and only trip on Captain William A. Leidesdorff’s little Russian steamer from San Francisco to New Helvetia (today’s Sacramento). She had no name, but has since been called the ‘Sitka.’
“I have the notes I took at the time to be published in (the San Francisco newspaper) The California Star. I was the Sacramento correspondent for the paper, but did not publish them, as my friend, Captain Leidesdorff, was very sensitive at that time on the subject of steamboats.
“The day after her arrival from the Sacramento (River), she was sunk by a south-easter in what is now Battery Street (in San Francisco). She was raised and hauled up with an ox team in Bush Street, above Montgomery (Street), the engine taken out, and she was made a schooner yacht, christened the ‘Rainbow,’ and ran as a packet on the Sacramento River after the discovery of gold.”
The 1890 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” also describes the Sitka, which is referred to in some 19th century and early 20th century references as the “Little Sitka.”
It was mentioned in that book that the steamboat arrived at the Port of San Francisco aboard a Russian bark from Sitka on Oct. 14, 1847.
Leidesdorff, who had been in business with the Russians at their American settlement for seven years, purchased the steamer from the Russians for his hide and tallow commerce.
The Sitka was described in the 1890 book as being “long, low and what the sailors termed very ‘crank.’”
It was also noted in the book that the weight of a person on her guards would throw one of her wheels out of service.
Various historic accounts refer to the Sitka as having made two trips in California.
According to the 1890 county history book, on Nov. 15, 1847, the Sitka left Yerba Buena Island – in the San Francisco Bay – where she had been reassembled, and took a voyage to Santa Clara, “with indifferent success.”
The book also notes that during its second trip, the Sitka, after making its way up the Sacramento River in the latter part of 1847 and arriving safely, took a long time to return to San Francisco.
This portion of the book reads: “Nearly a month elapsed, however, before her return; and in the meantime, various were the jokes and jibes ‘launch’-ed at her and on the proprietor, who nevertheless persisted that he would yet ‘make the smoke fly on the bay,’ and hand the name of his first steamboat ‘down to dexterity,’ as he pronounced the word.”
But, as previously noted, the Sitka made two trips in California before being dismantled.
Note: This is part 10 in a series about the history of the Sacramento River.
Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series about Sacramento resident Mannie Viera.
At 88 years old, Sacramento’s Manuel J. “Mannie” Viera, Jr. has experienced many things in his life, including growing up as the son of a railroad worker.
While sitting inside his home in Sacramento last week, Mannie spoke about his father, Portuguese immigrant Manuel J. Viera, Sr. (1892-1962).
“My dad came over (to the United States) from Faial, Portugal by himself when he was about 12 years old and he had a sign on him that (read), ‘California, Sacramento,’ and a loaf of French bread,” said Mannie. “I guess he had enough money to travel (to Sacramento) by train. When he got here, he lived on the corner of 6th and U (streets), right across from Southside Park. He never told me much about that time. All I know is that from then he went on to work at the (Southern Pacific) shops. He would go over there and work on the engines and stuff like that. And later on when I got older, I went to the work for the railroad, as well. So, I worked on Front and J (streets) and he worked over (at 4th and I streets) at the shops.”
Manuel Viera Sr. married Goldie Mae Dias (1893-1974) in about 1920. Mannie was born in San Francisco, and moved to the capital city when he was about six months old, when his parents adopted him.
Mannie said that his father was well known by many locals for his ownership of Viera’s Place, a bar at 1914 3rd St., between S and T (streets), in the Southside Park area.
He added that during that time, the Southside Park area was populated with people of different cultures.
“There were a lot of Portuguese, Italians and Slovenians who all lived right there in that area,” Mannie said. “There’s a lot of history down in that neighborhood.”
Although Mannie said that he does not know exactly when his father established the bar, he said that he believes the business was actually open and selling “beer and wine and stuff like that during the bootlegging days” of Prohibition.
Additional information regarding Mannie’s father and his bar was discovered during research for this article.
The 1921 city directory, for instance, shows that Manuel J. Viera, Sr. was already associated with 1914 3rd St. at the time, but was then operating a grocery store at that address.
However, it is possible that the grocery store was then doubling as a bar, despite the fact that Prohibition had already gone into effect.
Mannie said that his father closed the bar in 1923 due to the risks of running an alcohol vending business during Prohibition.
Following the repeal of Prohibition, Mannie’s father reopened the bar on April 14, 1933.
From senators to goats
Included among the clientele of Viera’s Place were Senator Earl Desmond, who served in the Legislature from 1933 to 1958, and other senators and assemblymen.
Mannie said that one of the more unusual customers at his father’s bar was a goat.
“This customer of my dad’s, he used to come in after work and have a beer and he’d bring his goat into the bar,” Mannie said. “And my dad said, ‘What about your goat? Do you want to buy him a drink or do you want to be a cheapskate?’ And (the customer) said, ‘Why? Do you want to feed him a beer?’ So, my dad got a bottle of beer and the goat came up on the bar and my dad had a beer bottle opener, of course, and he put (the bottle) in the mouth of the goat and the goat drank the whole darn bottle of beer. So, that was a ritual every day. When the fellow came off of work, he’d stop by my dad’s bar and he’d get a bottle of beer (for the goat) along with his order.”
When asked whether the goat showed any effects from drinking beer, Mannie said, “No, he cut him off at one bottle.”
Mannie added that the bar was also a place where people would pick up their paychecks.
“My dad owned a rooming house at (nearly) the same address (as the bar) at 1914 4th St.,” Mannie said. “A lot of their checks would go to my dad’s bar and since it was only a block away, they’d come pick up their checks.”
In addition to the barroom, Viera’s Place also included a kitchen, an office and restrooms.
While looking at a vintage photograph of the inside of the bar, Mannie pointed to a picture that was hanging on the wall to the left of a clock and said, “My dad always had a picture of Will Rogers on the wall. He liked Will Rogers.”
Rogers’ popularity in Sacramento reached a higher level in 1935, when he came to the capital city for the filming of “Steamboat ’Round the Bend.”
Mannie said that he was among the people who went to the banks of the Sacramento River to view the filming of the movie.
In addition to his previously mentioned employment, Manuel earned money by participating in boxing matches at the old L Street Arena at 223 L St.
“He would go down there and box whenever he needed some extra money,” Mannie said.
Land Park move
When Mannie was 6 years old in 1929, he moved with his parents from 430 ½ T St. to 3200 Riverside Blvd., across the street from where Vic’s Ice Cream opened 13 years later.
The Vieras property was one of four lots in the vicinity on the west side of the street.
‘Nothing but hayfields and Japanese gardens’
Mannie recalled a very rural area from his vantage point on the boulevard at that time.
“(The area) wasn’t very populated at all back then,” Mannie said. “My dad had chickens and he had rabbits and he had dogs, cats, a regular menagerie. And at that time, when we lived there, you could look from there over to where Holy Spirit Church (at 3159 Land Park Drive) is now and there was nothing but hayfields and Japanese gardens. A lot of strawberry farms were out there at that time. The Swanstons rented the land out to Japanese (strawberry) farmers. And (Sanford A.) Woodruff, the guy who had a house a block down from ours (at 3300 Riverside Blvd.), had a stable (at 2643 Riverside Blvd.), right by where the Riverside Clubhouse is now (at 2633 Riverside Blvd.). He had horses he rented out and people used to ride them out by the levee and come down by Riverside Baths (the old public swimming pool at 3640 Riverside Blvd.).”
Sacramento’s annual “Gold Rush Days,” held over the Labor Day weekend, experienced greater crowds due to the cooler weather – and no competition from the California State Fair, which was held earlier this summer.
Jesse Herbert Thomas has seen a lot – which is understandable, since he celebrated his 100th birthday at Merrill Gardens retirement community on Sept. 7.
Born and raised in Wilcox, Canada, he was the second of three children born to Jesse J. and Caroline Thomas. He grew up farming with his sisters in the Saskatchewan region until the family moved to Omaha, Neb. during his teen years.
During the Great Depression, he was the only member of the family who was fortunate to land a job to support the family.
During the years of World War II, Thomas served in the Pacific Theater as a bodyguard for General Douglas MacArthur.
“MacArthur was quite a guy,” Thomas recalled. “He would do his best thinking while he was walking. There were six of us who were his bodyguards, and he kept us moving.”
After the war, Thomas worked for Union Pacific Railroad. He was married for 25 years to the late Teckla Thomas. He moved to Sacramento in 1988 to be closer to his nieces, Carol Harris and Sharon Collins.
He loves to socialize, enjoys card games and community activities. Thomas is often seen walking about the community.
When asked his secret to longevity, Thomas said he has no real advice, other than “to sit down, stay out of jail and eat right.”