Scurvy in California’s Food Capital

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


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

click image to download free coloring sheet

Turkey Vulture – Carrion Cleaner

Not considered a beautiful bird, the common Turkey Vulture is a scavenger. It is also is an important part of the Deer Creek ecosystem. They do the dirty work of picking clean the dead.

Turkey Vulture & Turkey

The Turkey Vulture’s Latin name, Cathartes aura, means ‘breeze purifier.’ Its common name, ‘turkey’ is for the bird’s resemblance to the wild turkey. Vulture means ‘tearer.’ In flight, a group of vultures is a ‘kettle,’ and when feeding together, they are called a ‘wake.’

Turkey vultures inhabit both American continents. In the warmer climates, they remain throughout the year.  In colder areas, they are migratory.

Photo credit: Docent Joyce – vulture ‘committee,” volt,’ or ‘venue’


Vulture food consists of freshly dead animals of about their own size or smaller. A unique adaptation is an acute sense of smell that can locate carcasses up to eight miles away.


Social animals related to hawks and eagles, they eat, soar, mate, and roost in groups, heading off alone when searching for a meal.

With large wingspans and bodies, they wait for warm thermals before taking to the air. This economizes wing flapping.


Full grown Turkey Vultures have few predators. In junior states of life they can fall prey to raccoons, opossums, red-tailed hawks, eagles, and great horned owls.


Breeding season in our climate can last from March through August. Both males and females care for young, regurgitating food for the chicks for about two-and-a-half months.


Other Turkey Vulture Adaptations

horaltic pose
  • lowering body temperature at night – becoming slightly hypothermic
  • horaltic pose for warming, appearing larger to threats, and UV sterilization of feathers
  • no voicebox (syrinx) – communicates with hissing and grunts
  • noxious smelling barf – repels threats
  • urohydrosis – noxious smelling pee – repels threats, cools legs, kills bacteria from walking on dead animals
  • bald heads – cleanliness after burying face in a carcass
  • boney shield covering nose
  • ability to clear nostril when it becomes clogged

Cellphone video & stills of Turkey Vultures off Newtown Rd. May & June 2018.

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If you liked this blog article, you may also enjoy Fleas & Disease During the California Gold Rush

For a short, humorous, Turkey Vulture text love story, click here.


Internet Bird Collection – Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Peregrine Fund – Turkey Vulture

Wikipedia – Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Wildlife Center – vulture facts

live ebird recorded Turkey Vulture sightings along Deer Creek



Hungry Bears Losing Ground & Helping Humans Burn Fat

First published September 24, 2017

As of 2012, the American Black Bear population living in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range was estimated at 10,000 bears. Mostly, they live at higher elevation levels, 3,000 feet and above, in areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service or the National Parks. There is about one bear per square mile.

A rough estimate of Nevada County’s high elevation habitat puts our bear population count at around 500 bears.

Coat Variation Colors

Brown, cinnamon, yellow-brown, grey-blue and white


Full Grown Females: 100-200 pounds
Full Grown Males: 150-350 pounds


Ninety-five percent of a bear’s diet is plant-based.

  • acorns
  • manzanita berries
  • insects (Snag logs, left to decompose, are sources for insects and used as dens.)
  • sometimes grass.

Bears are omnivores. They will eat whatever is available, including human garbage and pet food.


  • Excellent sense of smell
  • Good climbers
  • Avoids confrontation
  • Good swimmers
  • Shy


Female bear fertility is directly linked to nutrition and food availability. They must have high-quality berries and acorns to successfully reproduce.

Bears mate in June & July (females begin to breed at age four-and-a-half).

Typically females have litters every other year, producing two to four cubs in early spring while the mother is in the den.

Unusual Adaptation

Delayed implantation.
Adult females can hold fertilized eggs for months. The zygote doesn’t attach to the uterine wall unless the female has gained adequate fat by hibernation time. If the female is undernourished, the zygotes will not develop.

Hibernation & Human Health Studies

During hibernation, bears don’t defecate. Scientists believe that reabsorbing nitrogen-rich urea, helps them to maintain muscle mass while losing between 15 to 30 percent of their body fat. Studies of this phenomena may one day lead to weight loss aids for humans.

Accumulated fat and high cholesterol levels sustain them through the winter. A bile acid that bears generate during hibernations has been found to dissolve gallstones in humans.

Another interesting hibernation fact is that, while in that state, bears repair and regenerate bones. Researchers are studying this with the hope of curing human bone diseases and degenerative arthritis.


Bear cubs are the most vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions.

Largest Threat: Habitat Loss

Humans and habitat loss is the biggest threat to bears.

In the wild, American Black Bears can live to 30 years. Unfortunately, when a bear is drawn into human territory, their lifespan shrinks to about ten years.

Long range relocation studies have shown that relocation efforts are unsuccessful.

Relocated bears will:

  • return to the original scene of the disturbance
  • apply learned behavior in new areas
  • or are killed by territorial bears already living in resettlement zones.

Bears & Humans

Most interactions between bears and humans occur when bears are hungry in spring and late summer/fall.

Once bears become a nuisance to humans, they continue to be a problem.
Problem bears are put down.

The best way to live successfully in high elevation zones, is to discourage bears from establishing bad habits.

*Keep a tidy home and be conscious of items that act as attractant odors.

Guidelines for Bear-Proofing a Home, Property, or Campsite

  • Use ammonia or bleach to deodorize trash cans.
  • Put garbage containers in a shed or garage when not out for pick-up.
  • Freeze smelly food waste and only put it out for collection close to the time it will be picked up.
  • Use a garbage disposal when possible.
  • Keep outdoor grills clean and free of meat drippings.
  • Bring in bird food and pet food at night.
  • Pick up fallen fruit from around trees.
  • Install bear-proof compost containers.
  • Use bear-proof garbage boxes.
  • Keep food and other fragrant items out of your car.
  • Close and secure ground level doors and windows at night.
  • Survey your property for potential hibernation sites; under decks or buildings. Block those places so animals can not access them.


click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Turkey Vulture – Carrion Cleaner


California Department of
Fish & Game Offices
Northern California-North Coast Region
(530) 225-2300

California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Black Bear Biology

California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Black Bear Keep Me Wild Campaign

California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Black Bear Population

California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Statewide Black Bear Policy

California Department of Fish and Wildlife –Living with California Black Bears PDF

KNCO – 6/2015 – Bears On the Move in Nevada County

KVIE Nature – Black Bear Fact Sheet

North American Bear Center

Untamed Science – American Black Bear

Grizzly Entertainment & California Bear Extinction

The largest and most powerful of bears, the California grizzly, thrived in New Spain when European explorers first set eyes on the land.  At their peak, approximately 10,000 grizzlies lived in California making the population one of the densest in the Pacific Northwest.

“The grizzlies are the commonest kind of bear found in California, and are very large animals, weighing sometimes sixteen or eighteen hundred pounds.”

“Hunting them is rather dangerous sport, as they are extremely tenacious of life, and when wounded invariably show fight. But unless molested they do not often attack a man; in fact, they are hardly ever seen on the trails during the day. At night, however, they prowl about, and carry off whatever comes in their way.”

– J.D. Borthwick, Three Years in California [1851-1854

Dangerous Grizzly is an Enemy of Progress

In the mid to late 1700’s, it was a right of passage for sons of old Spanish ranching families to kill a grizzly. The hunter lassoed the bear, securing it to a tree, using a well-trained horse to hold it in place while he slit the bear’s throat with a Mexican hunting knife (machete).

Other methods included pit traps where the hunter concealed himself in a pit, camouflaged with logs and leaves, bating the trap with a raw beef. When the bear approached, the hunter shot from below.

It is likely that the Spanish were instigators of the bear and bullfights.


Nevada City location where the entertainment took place.


WARNING: Graphics and subject matter in the written material and video may be disturbing to some viewers.

Nevada (City) scene is an excerpt (lightly edited for brevity) from Borthwick’s Three Years in California [1851-1854].


A Very Splendid Fight

I had often heard of these bull-and-bear fights as popular amusements in some parts of the State … I found myself walking up towards the arena, among a crowd of miners and others of all nations, to witness the performances…

Fiddler pre-show performance.

The amphitheatre was a … strongly built wooden structure … enclosed by a very strong five-barred fence … was a hundred feet in diameter. From the top … rose tiers of seats. As the appointed hour drew near, the company continued to arrive till the whole place was crowded; while, to beguile the time till the business of the day should commence, two fiddlers a white man and a gentleman of colour performed a variety of appro-priate airs.

The gay crowd was like a mass of bright flowers

The scene was gay and brilliant, and was one which would have made a crowded opera-house appear gloomy and dull in comparison. The shelving bank of human beings which encircled the place was like a mass of bright flowers. The most conspicuous objects were the shirts of the miners, red, white, and blue being the fashionable colours, among which appeared bronzed and bearded faces under hats of every hue; revolvers and silver-handled bowie-knives glanced in the bright sunshine, and among the crowd were numbers of gay Mexican blankets, and red and blue French bonnets, while here and there the fair sex was represented by a few Mexican women in snowy-white dresses, puffing their cigaritas in delight-ful anticipation.

The grizzly, known as General Scott, had already killed several bulls

… On the green turf of the arena lay the great centre of attraction, the hero of the day, General Scott. He was, however, not yet exposed to public gaze, but was confined in his cage, a heavy wooden box lined with iron, with open iron-bars on one side, which for the present was boarded over. From the centre of the arena a chain led into the cage, and at the end of it no doubt the bear was to be found. Beneath the scaffolding on which sat the spectators were two pens, each containing a very handsome bull, showing evident signs of indignation at his confinement.

Here also was the bar, without which no place of public amusement would be complete.

There was much excitement among the crowd … as the bear had already killed several bulls; but an idea prevailed that in former fights the bulls had not had fair play, being tied by a rope to the bear, and having the tips of their horns sawed off.

But on this occasion the bull was to have every advantage which could be given him; and he certainly had the good wishes of the spectators, though the bear was considered such a successful and experienced bull-fighter that the betting was all in his favour.

Betting was in the bear’s favor

Some of my neighbours gave it as their opinion, that there was ” nary bull in Calaforny as could whip that bar.”

The bear made violent efforts to regain his cage

The bear made his appearance before the public in a very bearish manner … his chain only allowed him to come within a foot or two of the fence, the General was rolled out … very much against his inclination apparently, for he made violent efforts to regain his cage as it disappeared. When he saw that was hopeless, he floundered half-way round the ring at the length of his chain, and commenced to tear up the earth with his fore-paws. He was a grizzly bear of pretty large size, weighing about twelve hundred pounds.

The next thing … was to introduce the bull. The bars between his pen and the arena were removed …  But he did not seem to like the prospect, and was not disposed to move till pretty sharply poked up from behind, when, making a furious dash at the red flag which was being waved in front of the gate, he found himself in the ring face to face with General Scott.

The bull, a very beautiful animal, of a dark purple colour marked with white, made a spendid dash back into his pen

The General, in the mean time, had scraped a hole for himself two or three inches deep, in which he was lying down. This, I was told by those who had seen his performances before, was his usual fighting attitude.

The bull was a very beautiful animal, of a dark purple colour marked with white. His horns were regular and sharp, and his coat was as smooth and glossy as a racer’s. He stood for a moment taking a survey of the bear, the ring, and the crowds of people; but not liking the appearance of things in general, he wheeled round, and made a splendid dash at the bars, which had already been put up between him and his pen, smashing through them with as much ease as the man in the circus leaps through a hoop of brown paper.

He put his head down and charged

He was accordingly again persuaded to enter the arena … after looking steadily at the bear for a few minutes as if taking aim at him, he put down his head and charged furi-ously at him across the arena. The bear received him crouching down as low as he could, and though one could hear the bump of the bull’s head and horns upon his ribs, he was quick enough to seize the bull by the nose before he could retreat. This spirited commencement of the battle on the part of the bull was hailed with uproarious applause; and by having shown such pluck, he had gained more than ever the sympathy of the people. In the mean time, the bear, lying on his back, held the bull’s nose firmly between his teeth, and em-braced him round the neck with his fore-paws, while the bull made the most of his opportunities in stamping on the bear with his hind-feet. At last the General became exasperated at such treatment, and shook the bull savagely by the nose, when a promis- cuous scuffle ensued, which resulted in the bear throwing his antagonist to the ground with his fore-paws.

Wild beasts do not tear each other to pieces quite so easily as is generally supposed

For this feat the bear was cheered immensely, and it was thought that, having the bull down, he would make short work of him; but apparently wild beasts do not tear each other to pieces quite so easily as is generally supposed, for neither the bear’s teeth nor his long claws seemed to have much effect on the hide of the bull, who soon regained his feet, and, dis-engaging himself, retired to the other side of the ring, while the bear again crouched down in his hole.

Neither of them seemed to be very much the worse of the encounter, excepting that the bull’s nose had rather a ragged and bloody appearance; but after standing a few minutes, steadily eyeing the General, he made another rush at him. Again poor bruin’s ribs resounded, but again he took the bull’s nose into chancery, having seized him just as before.

The bull, however, quickly disengaged himself, and was making off, when the General, not wishing to part with him so soon, seized his hind-foot between his teeth, and, holding on by his paws as well, was thus dragged round the ring before he quitted his hold. This round terminated with shouts of delight from the excited spectators, and it was thought that the bull might have a chance after all. He had been severely punished, however; his nose and lips were a mass of bloody shreds, and he lay down to recover himself. But he was not allowed to rest very long, being poked up with sticks by men outside, which made him very savage. He made several feints to charge them through the bars, which, fortunately, he did not attempt, for he could certainly have gone through them as easily as he had before broken into his pen. He showed no inclination to renew the com-bat; but by goading him, and waving a red flag over the bear, he was eventually worked up to such a state of fury as to make another charge. The result was exactly the same as before, only that when the bull managed to get up after being thrown, the bear still had hold of the skin of his back.

In the next round both parties fought more savagely than ever, and the advantage was rather in favour of the bear: the bull seemed to be quite used up, and to have lost all chance of victory.

The people were intensely excited and delighted with the sport

The conductor of the performances then mounted the barrier, and, addressing the crowd, asked them if the bull had not had fair play, which was unani-mously allowed. He then stated that he knew there was not a bull in California which the General could not whip, and that for two hundred dollars he would let in the other bull, and the three should fight it out till one or all were killed. This proposal was received with loud cheers, and two or three men going round with hats soon collected, in voluntary contributions, the required amount. The people were intensely excited and de-lighted with the sport, and double the sum would have been just as quickly raised to insure a continu-ance of the scene. A man sitting next me, who was a connoisseur in bear-fights, and passionately fond of the amusement, informed me that this was “the finest fight ever fit in the country.”

A second bull, looking around him, seemed to understand the state of affairs at once

The second bull was equally handsome as the first, and in as good condition. On entering the arena, and looking around him, he seemed to understand the state of affairs at once. Glancing from the bear lying on the ground to the other bull standing at the opposite side of the ring, with drooping head and bloody nose, he seemed to divine at once that the bear was their common enemy, and rushed at him full tilt.

The bear, as usual, pinned him by the nose; but this bull did not take such treatment so quietly as the other: struggling violently, he soon freed himself, and, wheel-ing round as he did so, he caught the bear on the hind-quarters and knocked him over; while the other bull, who had been quietly watching the proceedings, thought this a good opportunity to pitch in also, and rushing up, he gave the bear a dig in the ribs on the other side before he had time to recover himself.

The poor General did not know what to do

The poor General between the two did not know what to do, but struck out blindly with his fore-paws with such a suppliant pitiable look that I thought this the most disgusting part of the whole exhibition. After another round or two with the fresh bull, it was evident that he was no match for the bear, and it was agreed to conclude the performances.

The bulls were shot to put them out of pain

The bulls were then shot to put them out of pain, and the company dispersed, all apparently satisfied that it had been a very splendid fight.

Borthwick Addresses the Reader

The reader can form his own opinion as to the character of an exhibition such as I have endeavoured to describe. For my own part, I did not at first find the actual spectacle so disgusting as I had expected I should; for as long as the animals fought with spirit, they might have been supposed to be following their natural instincts; but when the bull had to be urged and goaded on to return to the charge, the cruelty of the whole proceeding was too apparent; and when the two bulls at once were let in upon the bear, all idea of sport or fair play was at an end, and

it became a scene which one would rather have prevented than witnessed. 

In these bull-and-bear fights the bull sometimes kills the bear at the first charge, by plunging his horns between the ribs, and striking a vital part. Such was the fate of General Scott in the next battle he fought, a few weeks afterwards; but it is seldom that the bear kills the bull outright, his misery being in most cases ended by a rifle-ball when he can no longer maintain the combat.

– John David Borthwick, Three Years in California


California’s Last Grizzly

Settlers in the late 1800s commonly shot and poisoned bears with arsenic to protect livestock.

The California Governor appointed expert bear hunters.

During the 1850s, the Gold Rush pioneers tenaciously hunted them for sport and for fur.

The repeating rifle (1848) may have signaled the end for California grizzlies.

Thousands of the bears were killed between the 1850s and the early decades of the 20th century.

Less than seventy-five years after the discovery of gold, every grizzly in the state was dead.

The last known California grizzly, over 2,000 pounds, was killed in Fresno County in 1922. By 1924, the bears were extinct.

Lost Grizzly Immortalized

Yet the grizzly, a species that civilized man considered a nuisance, continues as a symbol of strength, independence, and California’s adaptability.

If you liked this post, you may also like Helping Humans Burn Fat, Hungry Bears are Losing Ground


California Digital Newspaper Collection – The Sport of Roping Grizzlies in California’s Early Days

California History Online – The First Californians [PDF download]

California Museum – Bear In Mind

HistoryNet – California Grizzly Tales

Librivox Audio – Gold Hunters [Chapter 19 | A Bear and Bull Fight, Chapter 23  Bull Fighting in Sonora, ], J.D. Borthwick

click image to see more life on the creek art

San Francisco Chronicle – When bulls fought bears in brutal Mission District matches

Sausalito Historical Society – Californio Entertainments – Richardson Saga Part III

Sierra College – A Scotsman in Nevada City: The Adventures of J.D. Borthwick in 1851-1854

The Tribune – Bears didn’t fare well during the 19th century

Valley Center History Museum – Grizzly Bear

Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco – Ranch and Mission Days in Alta California

Wiki – California Grizzly Bear

Dammed Disrupted Salmon

When responding to the urge to spawn, Salmon become a powerful delivery system. If allowed to move freely through rivers and streams, they transport ocean nitrogen and other nutrients thousands of miles inland while providing humans and animals with a rich source of food. They did this successfully until man decided to industrialize their reproduction.

Now billions are spent each year attempting to repair a disrupted cycle of nature.

“In 1851, we could observe a great decrease. Like the poor Indian, they are being driven westward into the sea. During hydraulic mining in the 1870s and 80s the salmon population of California was reduced to near extinction” – C. A. Kirkpatrick reporting on the fate of the salmon

Ocean Fertilizer Transport

Conditions necessary for successful spawning;

  • access to inland rivers and streams
  • cool water temperatures (45° – 58° F)
  • highly oxygenated water
  • correct sized gravel
  • not being eaten

“Salmon and steelhead are indicators of river health, from the headwaters to the ocean, when a watershed is able to support strong salmon and steelhead populations, the entire ecosystem can thrive.” – SRYCL and Partners

“West coast salmon runs have been in decline for decades… Analysts estimate that only 0.1 percent of the tens of millions of salmon that used to darken rivers every summer and fall up and down the west coast before white settlement still exist.” – Scientific American

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Chinook salmon population along the California coast is declining due to;

  • overfishing
  • loss of freshwater habitat
  • loss of estuarine habitat
  • hydropower development
  • poor ocean conditions
  • and hatchery practices

Fish hatchery managed salmon reproduction has weakened the species.

The video below shows numerous corrective attempts that have been made to restore the salmon along the Columbia River.

Salmon Running the Gauntlet  | National Geographic

Deer Creek Salmon Restoration Efforts

April 2017 – 1:29 – A partnership between the South Yuba River Citizens League and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has resulted in leadership and funding for adding spawning gravels to the Yuba River near the confluence with Deer Creek.

Salmon & Steelhead in Deer Creek

“SSI has been monitoring salmon and steelhead in Deer Creek since 2009. From 2011-2013 we implemented three gravel augmentation projects to increase the availability of spawning habitat in Deer Creek, resulting in over a 500% increase in salmon redds observed in Deer Creek in 2013.” – Sierra Streams Institute report

Humbolt Restoration

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Grizzly Entertainment & California Bear Extinction.

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art

click image to purchase or view more Life on the Creek art


California Fisheries – Yuba River Steelhead
Crow’s Range: An Environmental History of the Sierra Nevada, by David Beesley [KXJZ, Insight interview 35:46]January 2008  – UC Davis panel on Salmon and Tribes – Klamath River System
Native People along rivers have been affected by dams and loss of natural salmon runs.

South Yuba River Citizens League – Species Profile: Rainbow Trout, Steelhead

South Yuba River Citizens League – Yuba Salmon Now

Wikipedia – Chinook salmon

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