Excerpt from Six Months in the Gold Fields
by E. Gold Buffum
An ex-journalist and ex-soldier tells of how he joined the California Gold Rush and with a few companions went to seek his fortune on the Middle Fork River.
The soil of this bar was exceedingly sandy, and the surface was covered with huge imbedded rocks, which required an immense amount of severe manual labor to remove. Below this was a red gravel, which was united with gold, the washing of which turned out about four ounces per day to each man. I was again dreaming of fortune and success, when my hopes were blasted by a terrible scourge which wrought destruction through the northern mines during the winter of 1848. I allude to the land scurvy as opposed to the scurvy you get at sea. The exposed and unaccustomed life of two-thirds of the miners, and their entire subsistence on salt meat, without any mixture of vegetable matter, had produced this disease, which was experienced more or less by at least one-half of the miners within my knowledge.
I noticed its first attack upon myself by swelling and bleeding of the gums, which was followed by a swelling of both legs below the knee, which rendered me unable to walk; and for three weeks, I was laid up in my tent, obliged to feed upon the very food that had caused the disease, and growing daily weaker, without any sign of relief. There were at that time about eight hundred persons working on the river. Hoping to get some medicine, I set one of my friends one morning, with instructions to get me, if possible, a dose of salts, and to pay for it any price that is asked. He returned at night with the news that he had failed having found only two persons that had brought salts to California with them, and they would not sell it at any price.
I was almost in despair: with only a blanket between myself and the damp, cold earth, and a thin canvas to protect me from the burning sun by day, and the heavy dews by night, I lay one day enduring the most intense suffering from pain in my limbs, which were now becoming more swollen, and were turning completely black. I believed I would have died, had not accident produced the best remedy that could have been produced. In the second week of my illness, one of my friends upon coming down the hill where he had been deer hunting, found near its base, along the foot path, a quantity of beans which sprouted from the ground, and were in leaf.
Someone had probably come down that same path and had dropped them from a bag on his back. My friend gathered them up and brought them to camp. I had them boiled and lived on them for several days, at the same time drinking a tea made of the bark of the spruce tree. These seemed to operate magically, and in a week, I found myself able to walk. As soon as my strength was partially restored I walked to Culoma, and living primarily on a vegetable diet, which I procured by paying three dollars per pound for potatoes, in a very short time I recovered.