Excavating Sacramento’s Hidden History

Confluence is excavating Sacramento’s hidden history, through archival research and walking tours. On this website and on the streets, you can learn about discoveries about the city’s dramatic origins, as well as the subtle topography that had profound impacts on our development.

Sacramento’s Grid, which we all know today as the orderly streetscape between the waterfront and Alhambra Boulevard, was actually created as a speculative land scheme, which caused many years of turmoil over titles and ownership rights. These struggles climaxed in a deadly outbreak of violence in 1850, which led to decades of lawsuits that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and continued for years after that supposed resolution!

New Interactive Map!

This map created for Lost Species Day 2019 peels away the last two centuries of change, and seeks to unveil this place – a complex interplay of land and water that has been largely obliterated. It is a work in progress, and attempts to represent imprecise things with crisp lines. Please take it with a grain of salt, but recognize that the features depicted are real. You can see the land below Sacramento in a variety of places – such as the river channel that is hidden in plain sight at 39th St. Light Rail Stop, 40th & H, or Folsom & 52nd. Future maps will explore the placement of early settlements – mostly forgotten – and hopefully help spur conversation about how Sacramento looks, and how it could exist in a more sensitive and resilient way.

Tours Offered:

Confluence’s walking tours can help the residents and visitors alike access Sacramento’s fascinating hidden history of corrupt land deals, as well as community organizing in response to that corruption.

“Older Sac” explores the hidden history of one of Sacramento’s oldest neighborhoods, which predated the Grid but disappeared about a century ago – weakened by exclusion from the city’s protective levees, then destroyed by expansion of the Railyards. Commonly known as “Slater’s Addition,” this small neighborhood sat on relatively dry ground at the old confluence site, which was most likely an important site for the indigenous Nisenan people. This tour also visits Sacramento’s lost twin, Boston, a land scheme that died in infancy.

“Norristown: Sacramento City’s Forgotten Sibling” explores the site of a Gold Rush settlement that disappeared, with a waterfront that stretched along the American River from CSUS to River Park. The area was blocked off by the railroad tracks; what was once relatively high land, previously in the vicinity of a major Nisenan village, found itself on the wrong side of its powerful neighbor’s flood control system. Norristown was later wiped off the map – along with its neighbors Brighton and Hoboken – through a murky process that included at least one armed confrontation. The tour starts on Elvas Avenue and ends on the banks of the American River.

Please register for scheduled tours (or request one at a time that works for you!) through the link in the right column, or email tours (at) sactoconfluence.com.


This website provides the latest discoveries about Sacramento land grabs, lawsuits and resistance against speculation, as well as tour information to provide opportunities to see where it all happened. To learn more, just follow the thematic links at the top, which lead to more detailed blog posts including recent ones listed at right above the tour schedule.

From Johann Augustus Sutter’s invented claim to the land, to the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply flawed ruling endorsing Sutter’s supposed grant, this city’s land ownership is built on misinformation. Our history has been rewritten – sometimes obviously – and those who provided a glimmer of light in the tumultuous early days of our city are generally forgotten despite their sometimes major historic importance.

The website will present materials dredged up from the archives. For example, there’s an astonishing string of lawsuits and other legal shenanigans, rooted in the same corrupt speculation that first provoked 1,000+ people to join the Settlers’ Association in 1850. The legal mess stretched at least until April of 1868, when an astonishing wave of litigation overwhelmed the courts. In just a few days, roughly 720 “ejectment suits” were filed by 140 landowners against nearly 3,000 “squatters!”

Excavating History

These legal troubles are just part of a history of resistance that is mostly unknown, buried under generations of mythology, disinformation and neglect. In the same way that the original confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers now lies buried under the vast wasteland of the old railyards, our community originally took a different course than we’ve been led to believe.

2 thoughts on “Excavating Sacramento’s Hidden History

    • I have “Older Sac” tours planned for 10am on the next couple of weekends: 3/10 and 3/17. Tours are listed in the right sidebar under Upcoming Events
      And if you have a group I’m very open to scheduling a time that works for you. Please send an email to tours (at) sactoconfluence (dot) com! Thanks for the interest!


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