West was first inhabited by Patwin Indians. They had built villages and were living on the Sacramento River’s west bank. There were hundreds of them who lived in the villages and thrived on the copious natural resources. The land and waters around them provided everything they needed to live long and happily. They went hunting and fishing and were rarely unsuccessful. The villagers fashioned baskets, fishing nets, rafts, boats and kitchen tools from vines, tough grasses and willows. The environment was perfect to sustain unlimited life.
In the 19th century, European discoverers began to appear and settle in the area and the tranquil life of the Patwin Indians collapsed. The overabundance of fur bearing animals in the Sacramento area brought an onslaught of trappers and hunters to the area. Unfortunately, these European hunters, fisherman and fur traders carried diseases with them. From approximately 1833 to 1837 diseases such as small pox and Maleria tore through the Patwin population as well as many others in surrounding areas. More than half the areas Native American population had died from one disease or another. Total numbers are approximately 20,000 from 60,000 people. As thenam Native American population dwindled, more and more settlers came into the area. It didn’t take long for the remaining Patwin tribe members to either become employed or enslaved by the Europeans.
A Flemish traveler by the name of Jan Lows de Swart was the first European to permanently settle in Sacramento along the west banks of the Sacramento River. He was rewarded a land grant from Mexico of a parcel one mile wide and 20 miles long. Along with his brother George, Jan built and ran a successful salmon fishery. They dried and pickled the salmon as well as growing potatoes, melons and raising livestock.
It wasn’t long before James McDowell bought 600 acres from Jan for his wife and three daughters. The lived in the area of Broderick. It is said that Mr. McDowell was a boisterous jack-of-all-trades. The gold rush of 1848 brought many miners, some quite the rough and ready type, to town. Mr. McDowell was shot and killed in a saloon in 1849 in an argument he apparently started.
Mrs. McDowell was suddenly left without a way to support her family. She tried taking in boarders first. It didn’t help as much as she’d hoped and she eventually realized that her land was her most valuable asset. In a very smart move she plotted out a60 acres and divided it into 41 blocks. She then sold those individual lots for as much as $500. The first was sold to August Kaye. The California Steam Navigation Company was one of the first businesses to open in the area in 1859.
Fishing and farming were the most successful industries of the time in the area. Its close approximation to the Sacramento River and the dark, rich soils which produced gorgeous cucumbers, melons, sweet potatoes and corn. Hotels, saloons and restaurants were soon dotting the entire neighborhood. The dairy industry put down roots in Sacramento near 1959.
West Sacramento is contiguous with the city of Sacramento but the Sacrament River separates it. Its history is as important as the rest of Sacramento in making it one of the most intriguing cities in the entire state.