Scurvy in California’s Food Capital

First published June 9, 2018

Well before the Gold Rush (by the 1750’s) it was known that eating citrus fruit prevented scurvy

scur·vy | ˈskərvē/ | noun – a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds, which particularly affected poorly nourished sailors until the end of the 18th century.

“Yet the 1849ers, in their rush to riches, chose to ignore common wisdom (fresh fruit and vegetables) and medical counsel. They paid a severe penalty. Americans were some of the best-fed people in the world in 1849; nevertheless, scurvy stalked the mining West relentlessly that year.” –Life and Death Jostle One Another: Medicine in the Early Gold Camps (1994)
Duane A. Smith, Professor of History at Fort Lewis College,
Durango, Colorado

Alonzo Delano 1806-1874 – Miner, journalist, artist & humorist

“Most immigrants, even if they arrived in good health, would ‘be sick after arrival.’ Exposure and bad diet contribute much to producing sickness.” – Alonzo Delano

While many miners turned to popular medicines – opium, mercury, quinine, and castor oil – some experimented with eating wild plants or drank sassafras and pine needle tea.

Joaquin Miller, Poet of the Sierras 1837-1913 – A mining-camp cook (Willamette Oregon region) who contracted scurvy from eating his own cooking. Also a lawyer, judge, journalist, Pony Express rider, and horse thief.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When dreaming of leaving the goldfields, Joaquin Miller wrote,
“I’ll not have to live on chile beans
Shortbeef and rusty bacon
Nor work in mud and more and rain
And be all the time a shaken.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Miners Provisions – 1850 Food Prices

Resources:

Life and Death Jostle One Another: Medicine in the Early Gold Camps (1994), Duane A. Smith, Professor of History at Fort Lewis College, Durango, Colorado

Shared Tastes – Shovel Bread & Watercress, Potato & Tomato Salad Recipes

click on image to see more Pony Express items

Sierra College – Alonzo Delano: Nomad Denizen of the World by Gary Noy

Stanford University – Sacramento Medical Societies prior to 1856 (Dr. JDB Stillman)

Wikimedia Commons – Joaquin Miller \ Cincinnatus Heine Miller (1837-1913)

Wikipedia – Alonzo Delano

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