So Far from Home: Russians in Early California

The California that could have been

Two hundred years ago members of the Russian American Company established Fort Ross on the desolate but plentiful shores of California, nintey miles north of San Francisco. Drawn to the area by its abundant sea otter, these new residents made a home here, raising wheat to send to their starving Alaskan colonies and trading with the Spanish to the south. After thirty years, the elements and a general antipathy toward farming—by men who considered themselves hunters—doomed their agricultural efforts, and over-hunting of sea otters eventually killed off the “Fur Rush.” The abandonment of Fort Ross by the Russians in 1841 brought and end to one of the most fascinating stories in all of California’s history.

By presenting historical documents and first-hand accounts—many recently discovered in Russian naval archives and translated for the first time into English—this long-awaited reader introduces us to a unique and provocative period. Comprised of a vibrant mix of journal entries, excerpts from novels, government documents, personal correspondence, and cartoons, this collection abounds in remarkable experiences that provide fresh insight into California before the Gold Rush.

Fort Ross—a former Kashaya Indian village bought for the price of “three blankets, three pairs of breeches, two axes, three hoes, and some beads”—celebrates its bicentennial this year, and So Far from Home peers into its world, of settlement, trade, cultural interaction, and a hint at a California that could have been.

A California Legacy book

Advance Praise

“From a variety of first-hand accounts and his own lucid commentary, Glenn J. Farris has woven together a tour de force on Fort Ross. Destined to become a classic of the colonial history of California, So Far From Home is the best book available for understanding the founding and development of the nineteenth-century Russian colony, its diverse people and economic activities, and their relations with local tribes and Spanish/Mexican California. I highly recommend it for all those interested in California history and anthropology.”

—Kent G. Lightfoot, Professor of Anthropology, UC Berkeley

About the Editor

Glenn J. FarrisGlenn J. Farris is a retired Senior State Archaeologist for the California Department of Parks and Recreation. He is currently a member of the board of directors of the Fort Ross Interpretive Association. His interest in Russians in early California began in 1981, when he was assigned to excavate the foundations of the Old Warehouse at Fort Ross. His work has been published in the journals Historical Archaeology and Southern California Quarterly, in the encyclopedia series Archaeology in America, and by the Smithsonian Institution Press. Farris’s field work has also involved excavations at sites of several California missions. He lives in Davis, California.