When 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.
One 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.