News & Tall Tales. 1800s.

San Francisco Gold Rush 1849.

Earthquakes in San Francisco

May 16, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California


San Francisco Earthquake.

About eight o'clock yesterday morning the shock of an earthquake was felt throughout the city and in the harbor. In many parts of the city the shock was so marked as to cause for a short time great alarm. It is said that those on shipboard felt very sensibly the throbbing and convulsions of the earth. Many who were breakfasting at the hour were induced to desert the inviting dishes spread out before them, and rush with terror into the streets. Yet with all the tremor we have heard of no walls falling and of no serious accident. It was rumored several days ago that Valparaiso and the portion of Chile surrounding had been recently subjected to a terrible earthquake, which in a few moments had crumbled vast edifices and walls and caused death to a frightful extent. This report may not be well founded, yet the shock of yesterday morning would seem to confirm it. Indeed, it would not be unreasonable to anticipate on the whole extent of the coast of the eastern Pacific occasional trembling of the earth during the season, slight in this latitude, but at many points causing frightful and extensive ruin.

November 13, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco


About quarter of seven last evening many of our citizens were startled by a shock of en earthquake. It was quite severe, and the oscillatory movement of the earth seemed to be in a northerly and southerly direction. It can best be described perhaps, as consisting of two long vibrations backwards and forwards followed by two or three shorter ones, as if the earth were settling back to its place. It was said by some to have been a severer shock than the one we had in May last. A gentleman gives this as his opinion who happened to be in the same building last evening that he was in when the May shock took place.

November 16, 1851, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

Another Shock of an Earthquake.

Last evening, at quarter before ten o'clock, another shock of an earthquake was felt perceptibly in our city. It was a sudden shock, and not quite so severe as the one we alluded to a few days ago.

March 22, 1856, Los Angeles Star, Los Angeles, California

Earthquakes in California

The Monterey Sentinel, in commenting on the recent earthquake at San Francisco, remarks that it had made its customary annual visit to San Francisco the same as it does to Monterey. Once a year there is a great shaking of that part of the earth's dry bones, which immediately binds California to the rest of her parts. San Francisco Bay and the Los Angeles country would seem to be the greatfocii of our great earthquake system. The Mission near Los Angeles was called by Padre Junipero in 1778, in one of his manuscripts, "San Gabriel de los Temblores." At San Juan Capistrano and Santa Ynez Missions in September, 1812, a severe shock of earthquake prostrated the church buildings of those establishments, and many persons lost their lives in the first named; the church being full of people at the time. The old tradition of the Indians is, that the Bay of San Francisco was formed during a terrible earthquake. The earthquake of Friday morning done no injury in Monterey; many persons did not even feel it. The weather was perfectly calm, and the night clear and starry.

January 17, 1857, Daily Alta California, San Francisco

From Fort Tejon The Earthquake Woman killed.

Stockton, Jan. 15, 1857

An expressman has just arrived in this city from Fort Tejon. He brings the intelligence of a serious earthquake, which occurred at that place on the morning of the 8th Inst. The shock lasted from three to five minutes, and shook down adobe walls and chimneys. One woman was killed.

Magnitude Date Location Damage(s)


Jan. 9, 1857 Fort Tejon

2 killed, 220-mile surface scar

7.8 March 26, 1872 Owens Valley

27 killed, 3 aftershocks of 6.25+

7.9 April 18, 1906 San Francisco

3,000 killed, $524 million in property damage, including fire damage

7.3 Jan. 31, 1922 West of Eureka 37 miles offshore

April 6, 1872, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Mark Twain's First Earthquake

A month after I landed in Sacramento, I enjoyed my first earthquake. It was one which was long called the great earthquake, and is doubtless so distinguished till this day. It was just after noon, on a bright October day. I was going down Third street. The only objects in motion anywhere in sight in that thickly built and populous quarter, were a man in a buggy behind me, and a street car wending slowly up the cross street. Otherwise, all was solitude and a Sabbath stillness. As I turned the corner, around a frame house, there was a great rattle-jar, and it occurred to me that here was an item! no doubt a fight in that house. Before I could turn and seek the door, there came a really terrific shock; the ground seemed to roll under me in waves, interrupted by a violent joggling up and down, and there was a heavy grinding noise as of brick houses rubbing together. I fell up against the frame house and hurt my elbow. I knew what it was, now, and from mere reportorial instinct, nothing else, took out my watch and noted the time of day; at that moment a third and still severer shock came, and as I reeled about on the pavement trying to keep my footing, I saw a sight! The entire front of a tall four-story brick building in Third street sprang out like a door and fell sprawling across the street, raising a dust like a great volume of smoke! And here came the buggy overboard went the man, and in less time than I can tell it the vehicle was distributed in small fragments along three hundred yards of street. One could have fancied that somebody had fired a charge of chair-rounds and rags down the thoroughfare. The street car had stopped, the horses were rearing and plunging, the passengers were pouring out at both ends, and one fat man had crashed half way through a glass window on one side of the car, got wedged fast and was squirming and screaming like an impaled madman.

Every door, of every house, as far as the eye could reach, was vomiting a stream of human beings; and almost before one could execute a wink and begin another, there was a massed multitude of people stretching in endless procession down every street my position commanded. Never was solemn solitude turned into teeming life quicker.

Of the wonders wrought by "the great earthquake," these were all that came under my eye; but the tricks it did, elsewhere, and far and wide over the town, made toothsome gossip for nine days. The destruction of property was trifling the injury to it was wide-spread and somewhat serious.

Firefighters during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.The "curiosities" of the earthquake were simply endless. Gentlemen and ladies who were sick, or were taking a siesta, or had dissipated till a late hour and were making up lost sleep, thronged into the public streets in all sorts of queer apparel, and some without any at all. One woman who had been washing a naked child, ran down the street holding it by the ankles as if it were a dressed turkey. Prominent citizens who were supposed to keep the Sabbath strictly, rushed out of saloons in their shirt-sleeves, with billiard cues in their hands. Dozens of men with necks swathed in napkins, rushed from barbershops, lathered to the eyes or with one cheek clean shaved and the other still bearing a hairy stubble. Horses broke from stables, and a frightened dog rushed up a short attic ladder and out on to a roof, and when his scare was over had not the nerve to go down again the same way he had gone up.

A prominent editor flew down stairs, in the principal hotel, with nothing on but one brief undergarment met a chambermaid, and exclaimed "Oh, what shall I do! Where shall I go!"

She responded with naive serenity: "If you have no choice, you might try a clothing-store!"

The plastering that fell from ceilings in San Francisco that day, would have covered several acres of ground. For some days afterward, groups of eyeing and pointing men stood about many a building, looking at long zigzag cracks that extended from the eaves to the ground. Four feet of the tops of three chimneys on one house were broken square off and turned around in such a way as to completely stop the draft.

A crack a hundred feet long gaped open six inches wide in the middle of one street and then shut together again with such force, as to ridge up the meeting earth like a slender grave. A lady sitting in her rocking and quaking parlor, saw the wall part at the ceiling, open and shut twice, like a mouth, and then-drop the end of a brick on the floor like a tooth. She was a woman easily disgusted with foolishness, and she arose and went out of there. One lady who was going down stairs was astonished to see a bronze Hercules lean forward on its pedestal as if to strike her with its club. They both reached the bottom of the flight at the same time, the woman insensible from the fright. Her child, born some little time afterward, was club-footed. However on second thought, if the reader sees any coincidence in this, he must do it at his own risk.

The first shock brought down two or three huge organ-pipes in one of the churches. The minister, with uplifted hands, was just closing the services. He glanced up, hesitated, and said: "However, we will omit the benediction!" And the next instant there was a vacancy in the atmosphere where he had stood.

After the first shock, an Oakland minister said: "Keep your seats! There is no better place to die than this." And added, after the third: "But outside is good enough!" He then skipped out at the back door. Thousands of people were made so sea-sick by the rolling and pitching of floors and streets that they were weak and bed-ridden for hours, and some few for even days afterward. Hardly an individual escaped nausea entirely.

April 18, 1906

The California earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Rupturing the northernmost 296 miles (477 kilometers) of the San Andreas fault from northwest of San Juan Bautista to the triple junction at Cape Mendocino, the earthquake confounded contemporary geologists with its large, horizontal displacements and great rupture length. Analysis of the 1906 displacements and strain in the surrounding crust led Reid (1910) to formulate his elastic-rebound theory of the earthquake source, which remains today the principal model of the earthquake cycle.

San Francisco Map of Destroyed Areas.

At 5:12 a.m., local time, a foreshock occurred with sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco. Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds. The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. The highest Modified Mercalli Intensities (MMI's) of VII to IX paralleled the length of the rupture, extending as far as 80 kilometers inland from the fault trace. One important characteristic of the shaking intensity noted in Lawson's (1908) report was the clear correlation of intensity with underlying geologic conditions. Areas situated in sediment-filled valleys sustained stronger shaking than nearby bedrock sites, and the strongest shaking occurred in areas where ground reclaimed from San Francisco Bay failed in the earthquake.

As a basic reference about the earthquake and the damage it caused, geologic observations of the fault rupture and shaking effects, and other consequences of the earthquake, the Lawson (1908) report remains the authoritative work, as well as arguably the most important study of a single earthquake.

To the public, this earthquake is perhaps remembered most for the fire it spawned in San Francisco, giving it the somewhat misleading appellation of the "San Francisco earthquake." Shaking damage was equally severe in many other places along the fault rupture. The frequently quoted value of 700 deaths caused by the earthquake and fire is now believed to significantly underestimate the total loss of life. Most of the fatalities occurred in San Francisco, and 189 were reported elsewhere.

June 4, 1906, San Francisco Call, San Francisco


Valencia Hotel in Ruins.
Ruins of Valencia Hotel.
San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

Investigations by a Call reporter yesterday in response to many complaints made at the office of this paper that refugees were being badly treated at the kitchens conducted by contract of Desmond, under the auspices of the Red Cross Society, indicate that the unfortunate people who are depending upon these kitchens for sustenance are being given scant and improperly cooked food and are subject to long waits and discourtesies that bring daily misery.

The reporter visited one of the large camps near the Presidio to share a Sunday repast with the unfortunates of the camp, the price of the repast, 10 cents, to be paid by the Red Cross Society to the man who has a contract to feed the hungry and unfortunate refugees of the city . . .


In the course of a half hour or so, a thin, delicate little girl of some 14 years appeared at the head of the table and asked in a sweet, winning way: "Do you gentlemen wish anything?"

"What have you got to eat," asked one of the gentlemen at the table.

"I am very sorry," replied the girl, "but we are out of everything but boiled potatoes, and I am afraid they are only half cooked."

"Well, bring us some potatoes then," answered the gentleman, and in a short time the girl again appeared with a few half boiled tubers, some coffee without sugar and a few pieces of dry bread.

The little girl looked at the food, and then, bending over the one she has served, said: "It is a shame to feed people like this, and I am ashamed to wait on the table" . . .

April 26, 1906, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Reunited by the Earthquake.

Lela Frank was divorced from Irving Frank on March 24 by Superior Judge Kerrigan, and yesterday they appeared before his Honor and jointly asked that he set aside the decree, which he Instantly did. Then they kissed and went away together. To inquirers they stated that the earthquake and its fearful results served to reunite them.

June 23, 1906, Pacific Rural Press


In an earlier issue we gave a popular tracing of the line along which disturbances by the earthquake were noticeable and noted the relatively small area of the State which was affected. Demonstration of this fact is desirable, for the information of our distant readers, who are apt to think from the sensational reports which represented the whole State in an unsettled condition. We have such a demonstration in the form of a preliminary report by a commission of scientific men appointed by the Governor of the State to determine the facts in the case. The disturbance prevailed only through a small fraction of the State, comprising a narrow strip along the sea coast and the immense interior regions, where the greatest agricultural development is being realized, were untouched. To one who knows the State well it will also appear that probably nine-tenths of the length of the earthquake line lies in the mountains where settlement is scant and it was only in traversing some of the small coast valleys that any notable injury was imposed upon rural communities It was a great misfortune that the metropolis sat upon the coast hills and filled land below them and that some of the smaller cities and towns were near the line as it traversed the coast valleys. It was in such places and not at large in the State that the deplorable losses were experienced. That the State at large was not affected can be seen by a glance at the map upon this page, and this is the main purpose of our present reference to the subject.

. . . The line of disturbance begins at the north at the mouth of Alder creek, near Point Arena, in Mendocino county, and extends southeasterly nearly parallel with the coast line to a point about two miles below FortRoss, a distance of 43 miles.

Shelter after San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.

Here it passes outside of the shore line and is again met with at the point where Bodega Head joins the mainland. Thence it appears to continue southward through Tomales bay and Bolinas lagoon. Beyond Bolinas lagoon it passes outside of the Golden Gate and enters the shore again at Mussel Rock, eight miles south of the Cliff House. From this point it is traceable continuously along the valley line occupied by San Andreas and Crystal Springs lakes, past Woodside and Portola, over a saddle back of Black mountain, thence along Stevens Creek canyon, passing to the southwest of Table mountain and Congress Springs to the vicinity of Wrights, on the narrow-gauge railway between San Jose and Santa Cruz. From Wrights it continues on in the same course through the Santa Cruz mountains to the point where the Southern Pacific railway crosses the Pajaro river near Chittenden. From the crossing of the Pajaro the line extends up the valley of the San Benito river, across the eastern portion of Monterey county, and thence follows the northeastern side of the valley of the San Juan river and the Carissa plains to the vicinity of Mt. Pinos, in Ventura county.

The line thus traced from Point Arena to Mt. Pinos has a length of 375 miles, is remarkably straight, and cuts obliquely across the entire breadth of the Coast Ranges. To the south of Mt. Pinos the line either bends to the eastward following the general curvature of the ranges or is paralleled by a similar line offset from it en echelon; for similar features are reported at the Tejon pass and traceable thence though less continuously across the Mojave desert to Cajon pass and beyond this to San Jacinto along the southeast border of the Colorado desert. The probability is that there are two such lines, and that the main line traced from Pt. Arena to Mt. Pinos is continued with the same general straight trend past San Fernando and along the base of the remarkably even fault-scarp at the foot of which lies Lake Klsinore. But, leaving the southern extension of the line out of consideration as somewhat debatable, we have a very remarkable physiographic line extending from Pt. Arena to Mt. Pinos which affords every evidence of having been in past time a rift, or line of dislocation, of the earth's crust and of recurrent differential movement along the plane of rupture. The movements which have taken place along this line extend far back into the Quaternary period, as indicated by the major, well degraded fault-scarps and their associated valleys; but they have also occurred in quite recent times, as is indicated by the minor and still undergraded scarps. Probably every movement on this line produced an earthquake, the severity of which was proportionate to the amount of move.

Immediately after the Quake
Arnold Genthe

The cause of these movements in general terms is that stresses are generated in the earth's crust which accumulate till they exceed the strength of the rocks composing the crust and they find a relief in a sudden rupture. This establishes the plane of dislocation in the first instance, and in future movements the stresses have only to accumulate to the point of over forging the friction on that plane and any cementation that may have effected in the intervals between movements. Concerning the effect of the disturbance upon structures of various kinds, the commission draws some preliminary conclusions which are suggestive in the preservation of public and private property. . . The weak points in wooden frame structures were in general the faulty underpinning and lack of bracing, and chimneys entirely unadapted to resist such shocks.

With these faults corrected, frame buildings of honest construction would suffer little damage beyond cracking of plaster in such a shock as that of April 18, save on the made ground, where deep foundations and large mass appear to be essential for the necessary degree of passivity.

The Naval Order of the United States has a history dating from 1890. Membership includes a wide range of individuals, many with highly distinguished career paths.

The San Francisco Commandery meets the first Monday of each month at the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco, California and holds two formal dinners each year.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.




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