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Lot 144

A Physician in the Gold Fields in 1849

144. TYSON, James. Diary of a Physician in California; being the Results of Actual Experience, including Notes of the Journey by Land and Water, and Observations on the Climate, Soil, Resources of the Country, etc. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 200 Broadway; Philadelphia: G. S. Appleton, 164 Chestnut-Street, 1850. 92, [4, ads] pp. 8vo, original tan printed wrappers (restitched). Moderate staining to wraps, small voids to spine supplied in sympathetic paper, pp. 82-83 abraded (loss of a few letters), occasional voids to blank margins infilled, book skillfully restored, washed, and stabilized. Preserved in a dark brown morocco and brown cloth clamshell case.

     First edition. Braislin 1807 Cowan I, p. 235. Cowan II, p. 648. Holliday 1111: “An authoritative and valuable pioneer journal, by a trained observer.” Howell, California 50:235. Howes T451. Norris 4040. Rocq 16114. Sabin 97640. Streeter Sale 2656: “One of the best contemporary accounts in print of travels to the northern mines of California and of life there in the summer of 1849. To anyone interested in maps, his thumbnail sketches of New York on the Pacific, ‘without a house or tent visible,’ of Sacramento, ‘a few stores and houses,’ of the Johnson Ranch and Vernon and other places, are distinctly worthwhile.—TWS” Vail, Gold Fever, p. 25. Wheat, Books of the California Gold Rush 211.

     Tyson sailed to California in January 1849 by the Panama route. His medical research plans fell apart, however, when he fell ill and found mining life disagreeable. He then retraced his steps back to the East Coast. Because he was a professional physician, his remarks are the first substantial ones by such a person aimed at protecting the health of immigrants and miners. In somewhat of a departure for his time, he recommends frequent bathing. Among his recommendations is to avoid drinking water at the Isthmus.

Kurutz, The California Gold Rush 642a:

Tyson states in his book: “My object in visiting California was two-fold, to become familiar with its diseases, particularly at the mines, and to select a location for permanent settlement. Becoming a victim to one of the former, and my tastes not inclining to the rugged hardships of the latter, I remained only long enough to gain the knowledge I sought.” Despite his short stay, Tyson produced one of the foremost accounts of the Northern Mines in the summer of 1849. The physician sailed from Baltimore on January 16, 1849 aboard the schooner Sovereign and reached Chagres on January 29. After crossing the Isthmus, he boarded the barque John Risdon, and arrived in San Francisco on May 18. Journalist Stephen C. Massett traveled with him. That summer, he established a hospital in Sacramento. He began the return journey home on October 1, 1849, aboard the steamer Oregon, and arrived back in New York on November 11.

     Tyson’s book is important in that it not only described his adventure, but also included advice on how to stay healthy for those crossing the Isthmus or working in the mines. He wrote: “I never saw so many broken-down constitutions as during my brief stay in California.” A review of Tyson’s book appeared in the Buffalo Daily Courier for April 6, 1850.


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