Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/80

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PROBABLY few people are aware that the greatest earthquake our country has experienced since its settlement was not the destructive shock at Charleston in 1886, or even the recent terrifying manifestation at San Francisco, but was, on the contrary, the now almost forgotten earthquake of New Madrid, the first tremors of which took place on the sixteenth of December, 1811. Strange is that trait of human nature by which even the most appalling of nature's manifestations slip rapidly from the memory, so that only a hundred years later little but tradition remains of the earthquake which changed the configuration of extensive areas of the Mississippi Valley, raising some portions, depressing others, shifting the course of streams, draining old swamps at one point and forming new lakes at others. All this and more, however, took place during the successive vibrations which shook the New Madrid region almost continuously for a period of many months in 1811 and 1812.


The New Madrid Earthquake

The night of December 15, 1811, fell quiet and peaceful, and the settlers retired little dreaming of the impending catastrophe. At two o'clock in the morning, however, they suddenly awoke to find the houses over their heads groaning and cracking, chimneys falling, furniture thrown about, and the earth rocking and trembling. Groping their way to the open fields they huddled together until morning, the shock which succeeded shock at short intervals in the darkness keeping them from returning to their tottering houses. At New Madrid, on the Mississippi, the French population were dancing away the night when the shock came and instantly terminated the revelings, joy being replaced by terror as they rushed from the buildings to the open, where catholics and protestants alike knelt in supplication during the remaining hours of the night.

Daylight brought little relief. At seven a rumbling like distant thunder was heard and in an instant the earth was convulsed so that no one could stand. Looking at the ground the terrified people saw it rise and fall, as earth waves, like those upon the sea, rushed past, waving the trees until their branches interlocked and causing yawning

  1. Published by permission of the director of the United States Geological Survey.