John Sutter's paramour was named Manuiki


Native American sovereignty, trans-Pacific tribal ties, an intriguing new twist to the Gold Rush and centuries-old gossip about John Sutter's love life: all that in a surprising article that recently ran in the Sacramento Bee. It's a must-read for anyone who gets a kick out of learning that western history is more complicated than most of us think.

Here's the lede: a northern California band of Miwok Indians are supporting a bill that would allow native Hawaiians to govern themselves and negotiate for state and federal land. The bill has failed in the past, but now it's backed by Obama. It may not seem surprising that one tribe would support another's bid for sovereignty, but the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians have an extra incentive to celebrate if the bill passes: they're part Hawaiian themselves.

And that's where the story becomes intriguing. According to the Bee, many of the Shingle Springs Miwok trace their ancestry back to an "original 10 Hawaiians" who rowed up the Sacramento River with John Sutter in 1839. Apparently, the Hawaiians gave Sutter just the edge he needed to establish a toehold in California's Central Valley. They helped him foster an indispensable relationship with local Indian communities, and they built the first settlers' homes in what would later become Sacramento. Every California school kid knows that it was the foreman at Sutter's Mill, in nearby Coloma, who eventually picked up those first, fateful flakes  of gold and unleashed one of the west's most famous waves of cultural and environmental havoc. But it was news to me that a band of Hawaiians got Sutter going in California in the first place.

Here's a larger version of this handy map of Sutter's Hawaiian peregrinations.