Updated June 24
On a corner across from Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park and surrounded by Sutter Medical Center buildings in Sacramento, a construction crew drilled at the base of a John Sutter statue Monday, ultimately removing it with a forklift and toting it away on a truck.
Sutter Health, which operates the medical campus near 28th and L streets, said they chose to remove the statue “out of respect for some community members’ viewpoints.”
John Sutter was a German-born Swiss colonizer of California known for establishing Nueva Helvetia, which would later become Sacramento. The statue was a gift from the United Swiss Lodge of California and dedicated in October 1987.
Some Sacramento-area activists have been advocating for the removal of the statue “to educate the public about the true history of John Sutter’s enslavement of and cruelty toward Native people.”
Ida Rodriguez, a member of the Rincon Luiseno tribe in Southern California, has been working with the State Coalition Against Racist Symbols to get the statue taken down. She says they were surprised to hear it was being removed Monday.
She says state monuments and parks acknowledging John Sutter don’t accurately explain the atrocities that were committed against tribes.
“He enslaved, raped and murdered thousands of Native Americans that are from this area,” she said. “We don’t need to be glorifying people who have been negative to California.”
William George is a historian with the Sacramento Historical Society. He said there are historical documents indicating that Sutter abused Native American people while he was establishing a settlement in Sacramento during the Gold Rush era.
But there are also accounts of him speaking publicly against slavery, George said.
“John Sutter was a complicated person … you have to weigh all the evidence, but nothing is set in stone,” he said.
Historians have written about Sutter employing Native Americans for construction and defense. Some say he treated his workers amicably at first, but that time went on he began to molest Native women and underfeed and abuse laborers.
The Anti Police-Terror Project had planned a community conversation about efforts to “de-Sutter Sacramento” for Tuesday night. Their website says the event is part of a community-based campaign to remove the Sutter statue, as well as the Juniper Serra and Christopher Columbus statues at the state Capitol.
Olivia Monahan, a Latina activist who works with the organization and also writes for The Sacramento Bee, said this is a step in the right direction, but it won’t placate marginalized communities.
“I’m very excited to see it,” she said. “I also, in the back of my mind because I’m very wary of the city … I’m curious if they’re doing this as a token gesture in the hopes that it will prevent something from happening.”
There were several Native American people present for the statue removal Thursday. Some wore tribal jewelry and played drums, or held signs about protecting Native lands. They joined a few dozen people in chanting “take it down!” as workers pried the statue from its base.
There were one or two onlookers who disagreed with the removal.
“It’s history being demolished,” said Ed Sweely, 62. “That’s California history … that’s their right to be upset. Be upset, but leave that alone.”
The removal continues a pattern of cities taking down statues, or considering doing so, in the weeks following widespread protests over the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man from Minnesota. The Sutter statue was vandalized during George Floyd protests earlier this month.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified William Burg as a historian with the Sacramento Historical Society, and mistakenly attributed comments to him. The comments in this story relating to historical documents on John Sutter were told to CapRadio by William George with the Sacramento Historical Society.
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