A pioneer with a dark side
From hero of the old West to racist colonialist: Opinion on Swiss pioneer Johann August Sutter has changed in recent decades.
Unsuccessful in Switzerland and in the USA
Glossed over and romanticised
Different perception from the 1980s onwards
Johann August Sutter
Johann August Sutter (1803 - 1880) emigrated to the USA in 1834 after his cloth and haberdashery business went bankrupt. But there too his commercial activities were unsuccessful. He had to move from place to place constantly, leaving behind mountains of debt each time. The USA soon became too hot for the conman, and so he turned southwards. In Mexico, the governor granted him around 200 square kilometres of land in the Sacramento Valley to settle. There, he founded the ‘New Helvetia’ colony. But this venture was not economically successful either. To cover his losses, Sutter forced indigenous slaves to work for him and used indigenous children as trading commodities. After California joined the United States in 1850, Sutter spent the rest of his life fighting for his land. To no avail. Although he did receive a pension for several years, there was never a positive decision regarding his land claims.
Leaving Switzerland. Emigration Stories after 1848
07.01.2022 24.04.2022 / National Museum Zurich
6,000 years ago, people in Europe started erecting large stone sculptures. These sculptures were in the shape of women and men with faces and arms, hairstyles and even tattoos. They also carried or wore highly desirable items such as weapons, jewellery or clothing that depicted the innovations of their time. But the stelae were also symbols of power and status, and were used for ancestor worship and rituals. These likenesses were created in an age when people were increasingly engaging in agriculture and animal husbandry, coming together in village communities and beginning to use metal. The temporary exhibition in the National Museum Zurich’s extension wing brings together stelae from a number of European countries, including new finds from the cantons of Zurich and Valais, and offers a unique insight into the world of people in the Neolithic period.