It was a beautiful spring morning in Coloma at the South Fork of the American River, where I met Jonathan Burgess, descendent of Black Pioneers in California. An hour earlier, enjoying my breakfast coffee and pastries, I watched a family of deer cross a meadow on my Bed and Breakfast's property. I heard creeks gurgle and smelled moist dirt coming from the woods around me.
The whole scenery with lilies of the valley and blackberry bushes blooming next to lush grass reminded me of the region where I grew up. No wonder, I thought, that a settler who traveled west from the border of Southern Germany and Switzerland called this area New Helvetia. John Sutter is still a celebrated name in his hometown of Kandern and all around Sacramento for building a fort and for his role as a pioneer in fulfilling the American Dream. Before my visit to Coloma, I had not heard that Sutter built his fortunes on the exploitation and killings of Indigenous people. And learning more about this seldomly told part of the Wild West was only one reason why taking in the views, the smells, and the sounds of the lovely scenery in front of me left a bitter aftertaste.