Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeFeaturesFrom the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Earthquake!

From the Files of the Lassen Historical Society: Earthquake!

A USGS generated map showing major fault lines criss-crossing Lassen County.

by Susan Couso

For over four billion years Earth has contorted and skewed itself into what it is today. The inner forces have exploded through the outer layer and created the topography that we enjoy.

The tectonic plates slide along faults and slowly create mountains and valleys and volcanoes explode, destroying older mountains and creating new ones. Earth is never finished.

Through the human history of our area people have witnessed the changing earth as it rumbled, spewed, and trembled. And they wondered what it all meant. For centuries local people told stories of how the land was formed and explained the movements of the earth via various lore. Nature was almost unexplainably powerful.

The area around Lassen Peak was visited by several Native groups, who gave it the name ‘Amblu Kai’ or ‘Mountain Ripped Apart’. Clearly the oral history of the area was somewhat accurate, as ancient 11,000-foot-tall Mt. Tehama was destroyed about 27,000 years ago. From this destruction Lassen Peak took dominance.

By the 1800’s, as emigrants arrived in our area, these stories of Earth’s creation seemed fanciful and based on superstition, but few of the newcomers had seen the power of a volcano or witnessed the awesome and terrifying destruction of an earthquake. They were to learn.

As the earth shook, people were frightened. The area around Lassen Peak was particularly active, but Lassen County witnessed its own movement as our county is laced with fault lines.

Although the seismoscope was invented in 132 A.D. by Chinese scholar Zhang Heng, our current method of assigning earthquake severity was created by Charles Richter in 1935. Early accounts of earthquake severity would only describe the force in such terms as ‘severe’, ‘mild’, rolling or ‘a quick jolt’.

No matter how earthquakes were described, people were terrorized by nature’s power. Human propensity to control nature had no effect on the magnificence of the movement of the earth. Early scientists suggested many theories as to how these shifts in Earth’s crust were caused. But still, California rumbled, and people took notice.

The area that is now Lassen County was relatively late in receiving its emigrant population, but when these new arrivals did settle here, they were clearly shown that the earth was in control.

Many millions of years ago a huge upheaval created the range of mountains along the Plumas/Lassen County border which contains Thompson Peak and Diamond Mountain, and these mountains are still changing as we watch.

A very strong earthquake was centered in the area near Thompson Peak on January 24, 1875. The isolated area reported little damage, but a trembling Earth always causes concerns, and this was a sure sign that the mountains were not finished.

On September 22, 1884, at 8 o’clock in the evening a small earthquake shook Susanville and caused no damage to property. But people were still frightened by the swaying earth beneath their feet.

Again, the ground trembled, when on January 24, 1885, a very strong quake was centered in Johnstonville. Then in February 1885 a series of over 60 earthquakes began, some small and some very heavy. Damage was confined to items falling from shelves and other minor issues.

In April 1888 a quake roared through the area preceded by a “rumbling sound”. The quake lasted only seconds and caused nothing but frayed nerves.

Then, in June 1889, earthquake activity in Lassen County took a turn for the worse. At about 10:00 P.M. on Wednesday, the 19th, the heaviest earthquake ever felt in the area sent Susanville residents scrambling into the streets. Buildings swayed side to side sending dishes, glassware and other items crashing to the floor.

People crowded into the streets wearing, in some cases, “the costume, principally, that nature had provided them.” Throughout the night and the next day over thirty lesser earthquakes continued to rattle the nerves of local citizens.

As most of the quakes were announced by a rumbling sound, people would dash again to the middle of the street for safety. Most stayed in the streets all night, afraid to return to their houses.

An Eastman Studios photo from the 1940’s showing geothermal activity near Wendel

For the next two weeks, over 75 earthquakes, some severe, shook the area. New boiling springs appeared north of Honey Lake, near Amedee and Wendel. The level of Eagle Lake dropped two feet and the water turned a ‘milky white’. Oddly, the creeks around the area rose in height and had increased water flow. Locals noted that the water in wells and springs also turned milky white and the water had an oily feel to it.

Many people felt that the earthquakes were a sign that Lassen Peak was on the verge of an eruption. As it turns out, this 1889 quake was centered about halfway between Susanville and Eagle Lake.

It wasn’t long before people got used to the constant trembling and went about their business as usual.

Then, on May 19, 1891, it began again with seven distinct earthquakes that day, two very strong.

Earthquakes have become a somewhat common activity in Lassen County and will continue to occur as the numerous fault lines move to release Earth’s pressures.

The 20th Century arrived with the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the deadliest earthquake in U.S, history. Then, in 1914, the eruption of Lassen Peak caused a series of hundreds of earthquakes which lasted for years.

Now we have improved our understanding of how our Earth was formed, but the devastation and terror continues with each new adjustment of Earth’s surface. Are we used to it? Never!

If you are a fan of our weekly history stories you should join the Lassen County Historical Society! It’s a fun way to be a part of our county’s rich history. When you sign up, you’ll receive regular Historical Society newsletters with interesting stories and information. Membership is open to anyone with an interest in area history.

Through your membership you help preserve local history. You can download a membership application by clicking here.

Jeremy Couso
Jeremy Couso Publisher/Editor
few clouds
55.8 ° F
55.8 °
50.8 °
60 %
12 %
70 °
73 °
81 °
80 °
80 °
- Advertisment -

Most Popular

- Advertisement -