Sac History Happenings

News and developments in Sacramento and California history

February 28, 2011
A Sacramento history primer

Indomitable.jpgWhen this blog began I turned to Kevin Starr's California: A History for a quick overview of the people and events that shaped the Golden State. I also needed a good one-volume history of Sacramento and fortunately found it in Sacramento: Indomitable City by Steven M. Avella.

Like Starr's book, Avella's is packed with names, dates and events, but reads well. Its over-arching theme is summed up in the subtitle -- a reference to the town's Latin motto Urbs indomita. Throughout its 161-year history, Sacramento did manage to survive -- if not flourish -- despite flood, fire, disease, depression and war. And Avella covers it all, from prehistory up to the opening of Raley Field in 2000.

Thumbnail image for brannan.jpgOne bit of Sacramento history that surprised me was the accidental location of the city's commercial district. Samuel Brannan was a land speculator and merchant who wanted to get rich selling goods to prospectors invading the region. He needed a riverfront base for trade and sought property in Sutterville (a settlement about four miles south of the mouth of the American River). When Brannan was refused by Sutterville developer Lansford Hastings, he moved his operation upriver to a spot where K St. is today. As Avella notes: "By this simple act, Brannan established the location of the present-day city of Sacramento, for around this wilderness embarcadero, a new community would arise."

All in all, Sacramento: Indomitable City is an insightful survey of the transformation of a Gold Rush frontier settlement through its evolution as a railroad terminus, government town, military center and modern metropolis. It's worth a look by anyone interested in the subject.

A little about the author: Steven M. Avella is Professor of History of Marquette University. He grew up in Sacramento and has written several books about the town, including Sacramento and the Catholic Church: Shaping a Capital City, The Diocese of Sacramento: A Journey of Faith and The Good Life: Sacramento's Consumer Culture. He's currently working on a biography of Charles K. McClatchy (The Bee's Editor from 1883-1936).

Bee staff writer Dixie Reid wrote an interesting profile of Avella in 2008 when his Good Life was published.

PHOTO CREDIT: Samuel Brannan. The Bancroft Library.

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About Sac History Happenings

California and Sacramento have a long, rich, vibrant history. And our region is blessed with an abundance of historical resources maintained by museums, libraries, archives and societies. This blog aims to alert readers to the latest developments in local/state historical education and research.

Send tips concerning upcoming exhibits, tours, lectures and meetings, as well as new books, magazine articles and online collections to the blog's contributors.

The Contributors:

Michael Dolgushkin

Michael Dolgushkin is Manuscript Librarian at the California State Library History Section. He is co-author of San Francisco's California Street Cable Cars and is a frequent contributor to the California State Library Foundation Bulletin. Contact him at

Amanda Graham

Amanda Graham is a Certified Archivist working in the Sacramento Room of the Sacramento Public Library. She earned a BS in History from Southern Oregon University and a MS in Information Studies with an emphasis in archives from The University of Texas at Austin. Contact her at

Pete basofin

Pete Basofin is Director of Editorial Research at The Sacramento Bee. He previously worked at The St. Petersburg Times and Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune. Contact him at

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