One of the attractions of California down through the ages has been its healthy climate. While still in Missouri, John Bidwell had met a fur trader named Antoine Robidoux who described California as a place of “perennial spring and boundless fertility.” Bidwell and his friends asked every question they could think of about California.
“Generally the first questions which a Missourian asked about a country was whether there was any fever and ague. I remember his answer distinctly. He said that there was but one man in California that had ever had a chill there, and it was a matter of so much wonderment to the people of Monterey that they went eighteen miles into the country to see him shake. Nothing could have been more satisfactory on the score of health.” (Echoes of the Past, p. 109)
The “fever and ague” that so worried the Americans was malaria, which at that time was endemic in Missouri and other parts of the United States. Malaria was a plague, laying low otherwise healthy men and women. People did not know that the disease was carried by mosquitoes. It was prevalent near marshes and swamps, and along rivers and streams. When people settled along waterways, for transportation purposes, they made themselves available to malaria carrying mosquitoes at the same time.
In his report from California Bidwell wrote:
“Health–the country is acknowledged by all to be extremely healthy; there is no disease common to the country; the fever and ague are seldom known. I knew a man to have several chills, but he had been intoxicated several days in succession.” (A Journey to California, 1841.) Bidwell doesn’t mention which came first, the drinking or the shaking, but in either case he didn’t much approve of the cause or the cure.