At fifteen, Mary Eyre sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, and at sixteen crossed a continent in a covered wagon. Her family’s destination was Oregon, but she escaped a cruel father with help from some California-bound Americans—an act of kindness that changed her life. The trip was fraught with danger, and there were times when the wagon company despaired of ever reaching California alive. At Sutter’s Fort in the Sacramento Valley, Mary met Sutter’s neighbor, John Sinclair.
Before he met and married Mary, John Sinclair’s past was certainly adventure-filled. In 1832 he trekked across an unchartered continent to Oregon Territory with Nathaniel Wyeth’s fur-trading company, and afterward spent months aboard a whaling ship. When the whaling ship was wrecked in Oahu, he settled in Hawaii as a merchant–until John Sutter’s ambitious plans to create a European colony in a Mexican province drew him to California.
John Sinclair became a part owner of the enormous Rancho del Paso in the Sacramento Valley, but the pastoral province was not as peaceful as it seemed. Neglected by far-off Mexico City, it was a land rife with tension, poised for takeover by a more powerful nation.
Two years into the Sinclair’s marriage, angry American immigrants captured the little town of Sonoma, in a para-military action known as the Bear Flag Revolt. Meanwhile, however—unknown by the rebels—the United States had declared war with Mexico. Within three weeks of the Bear Flag Revolt, American warships landed on the coast to conquer California. But the Mexican-American War had barely ended on California soil seven months later, when an emaciated, half-dead man stumbled into an immigrant’s shack 40 miles north of the Sinclair’s ranch…and the residents of northern California learned the horrifying tale of the snow-trapped, desperate Donner Party.
Then—in January 1848, gold was discovered in the nearby foothills—an event that changed the world. Hordes of gold-fevered, would-be miners invaded the couple’s property, endangering them and their child.