still quarries there that produce fine grained granite and microcrystalline quartzite. Both of these make excellent rock for grinding stones. Of course, before you can grind flour, you have to grow wheat.
Sutter took great pride in his agricultural endeavors. Early visitors to the Fort, such as the French diplomat and dignitary Comte deMofras, wrote glowingly about the limitless potential for agriculture at new Helvetia. The rich soil and the flat grasslands were an agricultural paradise to the trained eye. However, potential does not always translate info production. Sutter had many obstacles to overcome. His large Native American workforce was not trained in the use of tools and the tools that were initially available were crude. When Sutter first arrived, the standard for breaking ground was the “California Plow.” This was a piece of iron attached to a piece of wood pulled behind an ox. Harvesting tools consisted of barrel hoops, short blades, and bare hands. Nevertheless, by 1848 Sutter was harvesting over 50,000 fenegas (80,000 bushels) of wheat per year. Before 1841, a few hundred fenegas was probably the best he could do.
In 1841 Sutter purchased Fort Ross from the Russians, and he acquired the tools and implements to make his empire burgeon. These included manufactured steel plows, steel scythes, threshing floors and winnowing machines. The Russian outpost had these tools because it was originally established (ca. 1809) as an agricultural outpost to supply food for the large Russian American Fur Company outpost at Fort Sitka, Alaska. Unfortunately for the Russians, the climate along the coast of Northern California is not conducive for growing wheat. After the otter and seal populations were trapped out, Fort Ross became expendable to the Russians, and they sold the fort and all its trimmings to Sutter fro $2,000 cash down, $18,000 to be paid in wheat and other produce over four years, plus a final payment of $10,000 in cash to be paid at the end of the four years. This was a debt that haunted Sutter the entire time he was at the Fort – potential does not equal production (but that’s a story for another time). The important point is that Sutter acquired the tools to operate an agricultural empire, but not without incident. The threshing floors (large hardwood floors upon which the wheat is beaten to separate the wheat berry from the stalk), manufactured by Russian carpenters, were so well put together they couldn’t be dismantled. John Bidwell and the crew in charge of dismantling Fort Ross attempted to float one of the floors through the Golden Gate and up the Sacramento River. Unfortunately, it was dashed up0on the rocks of the Marin Headlands and was a total loss. The other floors were disassembled for shipping and were badly damaged in the process. The prized greenhouse was broken during overland transport and many of the fruit and nut trees did not survive being transplanted. But generally, the purchase of Fort Ross gave Sutter instant credibility as a major player in California agriculture, and nearly all visitors wrote about Sutter’s agricultural methods. Wheat was Sutter’s primary crop and the process of turning it into flour was unique.
After wheat was harvested, the seed head was removed from the stalk. The stalks were bundled and used as straw. The heads were then threshed, the process by which the chaff and the wheat berry are separated. This was accomplished by two different methods. The preferred method was to line the floor of the corral outside the southeast bastion with the wheat heads. Then a caballada of horses (a herd roughly consisting of twenty-five mares and one stallion) was let into the corral and chased around, thereby trampling the wheat. Whenever a running horse began to slow it was removed from the corral and replaced with a
ELP Agriculture-Grist Mill
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