When the Mississippi Flowed Backward

Tectonic events this sort of as a 5.8 earthquake in California and a volcano eruption in Washington – riveted our focus. But they unsuccessful to match the New Madrid Quakes of Dec. 1811-Feb. 1812 that brought about the mighty Mississippi River briefly to movement backward.

Take into consideration the eyewitness deposition of Firmin La Roche, a French fur trader of St. Louis.

The frontier west of the Mississippi experienced been bought by France to the United States just 8 yrs in advance of the quake. Missouri was a territory, not nonetheless a state.

LaRoche’s account – preserved in the Missouri Historical Critique archives — was prepared in New Orleans Feb. 20, 1812, when immediately after-shocks were nevertheless frequent. He had just completed a disastrous journey that started out with a few flat-boats:

Audio Like Thunder

“I was existing at the earthquake which these days happened earlier mentioned and underneath the mouth of the River Ohio, along each shores of the River Mississippi.

“I was having a few boats to New Orleans with some furs acquired in St. Louis. On the night of Dec. 15, we tied up 8 miles north of New Madrid near the household of my cousin, John LeClerq.

“There were being with me the Fr. Joseph of the Mission to the Osages, returning home to France — also Jaques Menier, Dominic Berges, Leon Sarpy, Henry Lamel, 5 other adult males and the Negro slave, Ben, who was killed at New Madrid.

“Right after we experienced supper, we went to rest. I was awakened by a crash like thunder. The boat turned upon its side so that Lamel, who slept beside, was thrown on me. We fell versus the facet. It was pretty darkish.

“We obtained away from the financial institution in about a 50 % hour, and I seemed at my check out. It was 3 o’clock. I could see trees on the shore slipping down. Wonderful masses of earth tumbled into the river.

“Lamel slash the rope that tied us to a log. In a minute, so good a wave arrive up the river that I by no means observed one particular like it at sea. It carried us again north, up-stream, for a lot more than a mile. The drinking water distribute out upon the financial institutions — masking a few or 4 miles inland.

“It was a existing likely backward. Then this wave stopped, and little by little the river went appropriate again.

“All over the place there was sound like thunder. The floor was shaking the trees down. The air was thick with some thing like smoke. There was much lightning.

“We believed we ought to undoubtedly die. Fr. Joseph gave absolution. We did not see either of the other two boats. 1 of them we never ever noticed all over again – nor do I know irrespective of whether the men in them were drowned. We have been all in excellent terror, anticipating dying.

“Trees were being thrown down. Folks explained fantastic cracks in the soil – some very deep – stretched 10 or 15 miles. “We were informed there is a new lake in Tennessee (Reelfoot) and the drinking water programs there have been changed. The River Yazoo has a new mouth.

“I was in great suffering with a broken arm. Of those people who have been with me, there is not but Father Joseph. My personal decline I make to be $600 (about $12,000 by present day forex.)”

A Priest’s Recollection
In an appendage to La Rouche’s account, Father Joseph said:

“I imagine there were being two good shocks about 50 percent an hour aside and a lot of compact ones in between and after. The drinking water rose so that a tree on the lender — whose best should have been 30 feet above the river amount — was coated all around.

“We saw two residences on hearth on the left financial institution. When we came to New Madrid, there were houses also burning there.

“We tied up to the shore about dawn, and a hickory tree fell upon the boat – killing the negro, Ben, and breaking the still left arm of the patron LaRouche.

“We created no energy to obtain out how a lot of folks had been killed, though it was advised us that several had been. We noticed lifeless bodies of a number of. Afterwards we observed drowned individuals floating in the river.

“The fur masses had been thrown into the river by the persons who crowded into the vessel with us till we could take no extra.”

One more Account

A further eyewitness account (edited here for brevity) was deposed by Eliza Bryan, a New Madrid resident, 4 a long time soon after the event.

“On December 16, 1811, about 2 a.m., we ended up visited by a violent shock of an earthquake. It was accompanied by a very dreadful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but much more hoarse and vibration.

“This was followed in a couple minutes by the comprehensive saturation of the environment with sulphurous vapor, causing whole darkness.

“Definitely horrible was the screams of the affrighted inhabitants operating to and fro, not recognizing exactly where to go, of what to do – the cries of the fowls and beasts of each and every species – the cracking of trees slipping — and the roaring of the Mississippi which was retrograde for a couple of minutes.

“Inhabitants fled in just about every path, supposing that there was fewer threat at a length than in close proximity to the river.

“There have been a number of, lighter shocks each day until finally the 23rd of January 1812. Then, one transpired as violent as the severest of the previous types.

“From this time until eventually the 4th of February, the earth was in continuous agitation – visibly waving as a light sea.

“On Feb. 7, about 4 a.m., a concussion took spot so considerably far more violent than those that experienced proceeded it, that it was denominated ‘the really hard shock.’

“The terrible darkness of the environment saturated with sulphurous vapor, and the violence of the tempestuous thundering noise, formed a scene beyond imagination.

“At initial, the Mississippi seemed to recede from its banking companies – its waters collecting up like a mountain. For a minute, numerous boats which were being on their way to New Orleans ended up left on bare sand. The very poor sailors designed their escape from them.

“The river then rose 15 to 20 ft perpendicularly, and expanded. The financial institutions overflowed with the retrograde recent. Boats that experienced been remaining on sand now were torn from their moorings.

“The river falling as quickly as it experienced risen, took with it complete groves of cottonwood trees. A fantastic several fish were being remaining on the financial institutions.

“In all the tricky shocks, the earth was horribly torn to items. Hundreds of acres have been protected above by sand that issued from the fissures. In some places, there was a compound resembling coal.

“Recently it has been found out that a lake (Reelfoot) was fashioned on the reverse aspect of the Mississippi in Indian country ( west Tennessee). It is upward of 100 miles in length, one particular to 6 miles wide, and depths of 10 to 50 feet.

“For eighteen months, we were constrained by the anxiety that our properties would tumble from the continuing shocks and so lived in minimal, mild camps. Some folks fled, under no circumstances to return, but most drifted again.”

Giant Earth Fault

The U.S. Geological Study rates the three major quakes in the central Mississippi valley in the winter of 1811-12 as “the most powerful in U.S. heritage.”

There were being no seismographs back then. Nevertheless, the extent of land adjustments reveal three, closely linked, quakes — magnitudes of 8 or more on the Richter seismograph scale of 10-fold points.

Most powerful quake of history is the Richter 8.4 for the Alaska quake of 1964.

USGS says, “Earthquakes in the central United States have an impact on a lot bigger spots than earthquakes of related magnitude in the western U.S.

“The San Francisco, Calif., earthquake of 1906 (magnitude 7.8) was felt 350 miles away. The first New Madrid earthquake rang church bells in Boston, Mass., a thousand miles absent.”

New Madrid in 1811 consisted of 400 log cabins. St. Louis and Memphis were tiny cities. “Ought to a class-8 quake arise there now, those towns would be typically wrecked and thousands of persons killed,” states U.S.G.S.

Very last calendar year, 470 measurable quakes have been recorded in the Central Mississippi valley.

Warning by USGS: “The likelihood of a magnitude 6 to 7 earthquake occurring in the New Madrid seismic zone in just the subsequent 50 several years is greater than 90 p.c.”


Which is worst – hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, forest fires, mud slides, volcanoes or earth quakes?