Excavating Sacramento’s Hidden History

Confluence is excavating Sacramento’s hidden history, through archival research and walking tours to share discoveries about the city’s dramatic origins.

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!

Confluence’s walking tours, as well as the writings found on this website, are an attempt to help the public access Sacramento’s fascinating hidden history of community organizing.


“Squatterville” tells the tale of community resistance to speculators, starting in Old Sacramento and ending at 4th and J, where the Squatters’ Riot had its bloody climax. It looks at community organizing in early Sacramento, including the People’s Market and Mechanics’ Exchange, as well as the Pullman Strike, the Chinese family associations that helped that community maintain a toehold through 20th-century urban renewal and the remarkable Fruit Building created by farmer cooperatives.

“Homesteading the Grid” visits some of the old claims that were eventually overwhelmed by the dominant land regime that we all know today. Believe it or not, there were farms in what is now downtown, including that of Thomas Selby, who raised cotton and vegetables along the waterfront between Old Sacramento and the U.S. 50 bridge.

Please register for tours through the link in the right column.


This website will provide 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.

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