Tahoe Nugget #50:
The Health Seekers
Early emigrants drawn to California were inspired by economic opportunity and free land, but a major attraction was the lure of better health. One of the tragic ironies associated with the Donner Party is that the
attraction of a life free of disease in the "salubrious and healthful climate" of California was one of the reasons for the journey west. For nearly half the members, however, that dream was pre-empted by
severe winter weather and starvation.
Health-seeking immigrants were inspired by reports that California's climate was so perfect that disease was non-existent. In his 1836 book, Two Years Before the Mast,
Richard Henry Dana wrote that California was "blessed with a climate which there can be no better in the world; free from all manner of diseases, whether epidemic or endemic..." Lansford Hastings, whose
best selling book "The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California, inspired thousands of pioneers to head west, wrote, "There will be no land on earth that can compare with California with
respect to its wonderful climate, the excellent health of its inhabitants."
One 19th century physician stated, "From my personal observations, I can say that at least an extra 10 years' lease
on life is gained by a removal to this coast from the Eastern States; not 10 years to be added with its extra weight of age and infirmity, but 10 years more with additional benefit of feeling 10 years younger during
the time." The rhetoric would certainly have appealed to George Donner, who at 62 and with five young children was no spring chicken in 1846, and James Reed, whose wife Margaret suffered from chronic migraine
headaches, probably considered the idea also. Edwin Bryant, a journalist who became friends of the Donner families on the trail that year, was heading west to help improve his own failing health. Bryant successfully
crossed the Sierra before early snowstorms closed the pass and trapped his friends.
Isolated by a ring of high mountains, susceptible to drought, lacking a natural harbor and an adequate water supply, the
Los Angeles basin did not see the rapid population growth that occurred in Northern California after the Gold Rush. But in the early 1870s, the Los Angeles City Chamber of Commerce began a climate promotion campaign
to draw immigrants to the region. Health and longevity were trumpeted to easterners and Europeans. One advertisement boasted, "We sell the climate at so much per acre and throw in the land; it's $10 for an
acre of land, and $490 an acre for the climate."
Photo #1: California climate promotion. Note last sentence: "A climate for Health & Wealth — Without Cyclones or Blizzards."
#2: Climate marketing late 19th century.
Photo #3: Santa Cruz in winter.