Guests of the event will have the opportunity to participate in many hands-on activities, including grain grinding, corn husking and other agricultural endeavors.
Visitors of the fort during this particular weekend will be able to step back in time to observe and participate in a Traders’ Faire through free, hands-on activities led by costumed docents. The free activities of this all-ages event include making bead necklaces, corn husk dolls and hanks of rope and hammering square nails.
Guests will also have the opportunity to observe musket demonstrations and purchase a wide variety of replica 19th century cultural items and curiosities sold by vendors from throughout the western United States. The items for sale include clothing, toys, Native American goods, house wares and beads.
The Traders’ Faire has become an anticipated annual event at the fort, since Sutter’s Fort docents Yvonne and Ken Falletti founded the faire in 1992 for the purpose of introducing people in the Sacramento area to the type of craftsmen usually only seen at esoteric events such as at mountain men rendezvous.
Steve Beck, historic guide and lead to hands-on activities at Sutter’s Fort, emphasized that one of the things that makes the Traders’ Faire so interesting is that it highlights the fort’s past as “California’s first mall.”
“While most of us know that Sutter’s Fort was the beginning of Sacramento, few of us know of the importance the fort served as a commercial center in the early days of the Gold Rush,” Beck said. “It was the only trading center on the way to the goldfields and thousands of Argonauts passed through the fort to purchase supplies from a variety of vendors hawking a plethora of goods, thus making the fort California’s first shopping mall.”
Beck’s description of Sutter’s Fort is undoubtedly accurate, as the Second College Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines a mall as a “complex of buildings containing various shops, businesses and restaurants usually accessible by common passageways.”
Originally, the fort was filled with Captain John A. Sutter’s manufactories, which churned out the implements of his agricultural empire and supplied the bare essentials of the community of New Helvetia (New Switzerland), which was what Sutter named his Mexican land grant.
But with the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill at Coloma by James Marshall on Jan. 24, 1848, Sutter’s world was turned upside down.
As documented in James Peter Zollinger’s book, “Sutter: The Man and His Empire,” the beginning of this “mall” in July 1848 was “dramatic and radical.”
Zollinger wrote: “First, all hands struck for higher wages, but soon no wages were enough to tie a man to his post….The hatters, coopers, carpenters, the blacksmiths and gunsmiths, the clerks and cartwrights, saddlers and shoemakers, the ship builders and supervisors – all were gone like water through a sieve.”
Zollinger added that the fort “degenerated into a wayside station for transient miners and a trading post for miners’ supplies.”
Further describing this “mall,” which was in operation for about one year, as Sutter’s Fort’s shifted from a center of bustling commercial activity to a footnote on the frontier, Zollinger wrote: “A score of merchants operated at the fort, paying $100 rent a month for a single room. (The two-story central building) was turned into a hotel with a monthly rent of $500 for the entire hotel paid to Sutter.”
In his 1872 narrative, William Grimshaw, who worked as a clerk in one of the stores at the fort, reported that staying in the hotel cost an individual $40 per week and meals were $2 each.
Merchants at the fort included: Brannan and Co. general store, Hensley, Reading and Co. hardware store, Priest, Lee and Co. mining equipment, Peter Burnett, lawyer and real estate firm, Joseph Wadleigh, tinsmith, restaurants, drinking establishments and even a newspaper, the Placer Times.
The basement of the central building was turned into a bar and gambling parlor. And Grimshaw reported in his narrative that “this bar was crowded with customers, night and day, and never closed from one month’s end to the other.”
In addition to its high prices for boarding and meals, the fort was also a place where one could purchase many items and services at inflated Gold Rush era prices.
Included among these prices were: 20 pounds of saleratus (baking soda) for $400, Boston crackers for $16 per tin, a pick or a shovel for $16 and $64 for a horse or mule to be “shod all around” or in other words, have horseshoes placed on all four hooves of a horse or mule.
In addition to commenting about the inflated prices for merchandise and services at the fort during this era, Grimshaw noted that a blacksmith’s assistant at the fort was earning $16 per day – compared to a wage of $10 per month for labor performed in the same position prior to the Gold Rush.
For those who decide to attend any of the three days of the Traders’ Faire at Sutter’s Fort, Beck will be available to answer history-related questions and he said that he promises “prices will be less than what Gold Rush patrons paid.”
Daily admission for this event, which will be held each day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., will be $7/adults, $5/ages 6-17 and free/children, 5 years old and younger. Admission prices for the event include entry to both Sutter’s Fort at 2701 L St. and the California State Indian Museum at 2618 K St.
For more information regarding this event, visit the Web site www.parks.ca.gov/suttersfort or call Sutter’s Fort at (916) 445-4422 or the Indian Museum at (916) 324-0971.