Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Earthquakes in the Old West

Hayward, Ca. 1868
In a letter to a science journal, Tombstone Dr. George E. Goodfellow wrote that he had just finished examining a child about 3:00 in the afternoon when he heard the noise and felt the shaking of an earthquake on May 3rd, 1887. Today that quake is estimated to have been a magnitude 7.4 with an epicenter near an isolated village in Mexico.

According to Dr. Goodfellow, he thought the noise was a mule team passing outside his second floor office above Tombstone's Crystal Palace Saloon. He described it saying, "The noise increased, and the building, a two-story adobe, began to shake gently, then more violently. By this time it seemed to me to be a severe whirlwind, such as frequently occurs here at this season of the year."

He also wrote about how he picked up his patient and ran outside, saying "When the open air was reached, the noise was like a continuous roll of heavy firing, with occasional short peals like a sharp clap of thunder."

As with a lot of the town that was damaged in that quake, Tombstone's Crystal Palace Saloon didn't fare well. It's said that its chandeliers crashed to the floor, its glasses fell from shelves, and windows shattered. While no one was killed in Tombstone as a result of that quake, the same can't be said for that village in Mexico which was its epicenter. It's said that over 40 people were killed and hundreds were without shelter as a result of buildings collapsing there.

A few years earlier, about 570 miles northwest of Tombstone, a quake struck on March 26th at about 2:30 in the morning. That quake hit with an estimated force of between 7.4 and 7.9 magnitude. Known as the 1872 Lone Pine Earthquake, its epicenter was near Lone Pine, California, in Owens Valley. 

The Lone Pine Earthquake took place on a Tuesday morning. It was an extremely violent quake as the ground there suddenly pitched up and down 15 to 20 feet while jerking the land to the right 35 to 40 feet. The town consisted of 80 buildings made of mostly of mud and adobe. Only 20 structures were left standing after the quake. Yes, the quick violent movement of the earth actually leveled 60 of the 80 buildings there. And of the more than 300 people living in Lone Pine in 1872, a total of 26 of them were killed when their homes were destroyed by the quake. 

As in most earthquakes, those buildings made of adobe, brick, and masonry, all fared worse than wooden building that sway with the rolling earth. The adobe, brick, and masonry buildings are too rigid and don't give. 

As for other casualties, nearby Camp Independence with its adobe structures were destroyed. Adobe building in the town of Indian Wells were damaged as well, even though it's over 80 miles from Lone Pine. Of course, that's sort of expected since the quake was felt over 330 miles away to the north in Red Bluff, California. A few hundred miles away in Sacramento, it's said people there were startled awake and actually ran out into the streets for safety.

The Lone Pine quake is said to have stopped clocks and woke people almost 300 miles to the south in San Diego, and was felt by people as far south as Ensenada, Mexico. As for it being felt in the east, the quake is said to have rattled dishes more than 300 miles east in Elko, Nevada.

A hundred miles to the northeast, that quake triggered rock-slides in what is today Yosemite National Park. Though a hundred miles away, it's said that the jolt actually woke up naturalist John Muir who was then living in Yosemite Valley. The eccentric Muir reportedly ran out of his cabin without his trousers shouting, "A noble earthquake!"

I'm sure there wasn't anything "noble" about it to those 27 people or the families of those who were killed by it in Lone Pine. A marker was placed on the mass grave that was dug. On it was the name of a few who were known by name. As it says, others who were killed and buried there are only known to God.  

As for aftershocks, they say they were in the thousands and felt all over most of California, Nevada, and Arizona at the time. The 1872 Lone Pine Earthquake is one of the largest earthquakes to ever hit California in recorded history. It's magnitude is reported to be similar in size to that of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

As for the "Great San Francisco Earthquake," the first quake to be labeled as such did not take place in 1906. It actually took place a few years before the Lone Pine, California, earthquake. 

Known as the 1868 Hayward Earthquake, that quake caused so much damage and resulted in so many deaths throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, that it was known as the "Great San Francisco earthquake" prior to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

With an estimated moment magnitude of between 6.3 and 6.7, that large earthquake on the Hayward Fault Zone took place at 7:53 in the morning on October 21, 1868. Its epicenter was the center of the town of Hayward, California. 

Hayward was at the time a town of about 500 residents. Of its town, almost every building was severely damaged. In fact, most all were knocked off their foundations and rendered uninhabitable. As for the town of Hayward, because nearly every building was destroyed or significantly damaged in the earthquake, the town was considered "leveled". 

The quake was so violent that the ground opened up. Its rupture was traced for more than 20 miles from Berkeley to the north, extending to what is today the Warm Springs District in the city of Fremont. Among the buildings that were destroyed was the Alameda County Courthouse located in San Leandro immediately north of Hayward. Because of the quake and the destruction of the Alameda County Courthouse, the County Seat was re-located from San Leandro to Oakland.  

Besides the death and destruction in Hayward and San Leandro, the adobe chapel of Mission San José in what is today the city of Fremont was also destroyed. Fact is, several buildings throughout San Francisco were decimated by the quake. Things were the same as far north as Santa Rosa and Napa. The same was the case as far south as San Jose and Gilroy, and west in Santa Cruz. All saw a great deal of destruction as a result of the 1868 Hayward Earthquake. 

Because of the loss of 30 people killed in that quake, and the extensive damage spread over the entire San Francisco Bay Area, there is no wonder that it was referred to as the "Great San Francisco Earthquake."

As for Dr. George E. Goodfellow, in late 1899, he moved to San Francisco and set up practice there. On January 19th, 1900, he was appointed as the surgeon for the Sante Fe Railroad headquartered in San Francisco. 

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake struck at 5:12 in the morning on April 18th with an estimated 7.9 magnitude. In reality, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake came about 30 years before the Richter Magnitude Scale was even developed. So frankly, it's estimated that the 1906 quake would be on the modern moment magnitude scale from 7.9 to as high as 8.3 magnitude. 

The shaking was felt from Oregon in the north to Mexico in the south, and most of Nevada to the east. While the violent movement was horrible in itself, the devastating fires swept the city and lasted for days. At one point, to save the city, the Army set off charges to set a firebreak . Today, that line can still be seen from the air where the Army saved the city by using explosives to stop the fire. Of those lost, over 3,000 people died in the 1906 quake. Over 80 percent of the city of San Francisco was destroyed. 

At the time of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Dr. Goodfellow had remarried and was living at the St. Francis Hotel in downtown San Francisco. He lost all of his records and personal manuscripts in fire that engulfed the city as a result of the earthquake. As with many there at the time, as a result of that quake, his finances were ruined.

In recent days, there have been a few earthquakes that have rattled nerves in Southern California. This makes some folks question why they live in places where the ground will suddenly, completely without notice, shift and roll, pitch, rise and fall, even open up. History tells us that we deal with such things. We build stronger buildings, bridges, and roads. Just as they did back in the day, we rebuild our lives and we survive. 

As for the people in that remote village in Mexico, they buried their dead and went on with life as well as could be expected. I can only hope they learned from what happened in 1887. As for the town of Hayward, it's said that a great deal was learned regarding building construction from that disaster. The town itself rebuilt and is today the home of about 150,000 people. It's the sixth largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area today.

As for Lone Pine, California, during the rest of the 1870s, it was an important supply town for several mining communities in the area. By the 1880s, railroads played a major role in the development of Lone Pine and the Owens Valley. But if Lone Pine sounds familiar to you, well it should if you like Westerns. 

In the early 1920s, Lone Pine became the place that Hollywood went to when they wanted to make movies -- especially Westerns. Hundreds of films, hundreds of television episodes, and countless commercials have been filmed there. Tom Mix, Tim McCoy, Ken Maynard, William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Tim Holt, Roy Rogers, John Russell, Clint Walker, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, William Holden, Glen Ford, Randolph Scott, and John Wayne, are among the many stars who have made films there. 

While it's sad to say that Westerns aren't being made as they once were, Lone Pine is still a place where Hollywood goes to when it wants to make films.  

Tom Correa

1 comment:

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