The Lone Pine Earthquake

The 1872 Lone Pine Earthquake experienced by Nancy Kelsey was felt throughout California. John Bidwell, almost 400 miles north in Chico, recorded in his diary for March 26:

Very heavy earthquake at about 2.24 a.m

So the earthquake was noticeable enough in Chico to wake folks up in the wee hours of the morning. In the Owens Valley, it was devastating. 52 of Lone Pine’s 59 homes were destroyed, and 30 people died.

The earthquake had an estimated magnitude of 7.8, making it comparable to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It was only the sparse settlement of this remote area of California that kept this quake from being equally destructive.

One of most famous accounts of this earthquake came from John Muir, who was working as a caretaker at a Yosemite hotel at the time. Here is his report:

The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, one had to balance in walking as if on the deck of a ship among the waves, and it seemed impossible the high cliffs should escape being shattered. In particular, I feared that the sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, which rises to a height of three thousand feet, would be shaken down, and I took shelter back of a big Pine, hoping I might be protected from outbounding boulders, should any come so far. Then, suddenly, out of the strange silence and strange motion there came a tremendous roar. The Eagle Rock, a short distance up the valley, had given way, and I saw it falling in thousands of the great boulders I had been studying so long, pouring to the valley floor in a free curve luminous from friction, making a terribly sublime and beautiful spectacle—an arc of fire fifteen hundred feet span, as true in form and as steady as a rainbow, in the midst of the stupendous roaring rock-storm.

The aftershocks were powerful and numerous. It’s no wonder that Nancy wrote that “the earth shakes so that I cant rite” and that her husband, whose boots were made for wandering anyway, was determined to sell their place at whatever loss and leave.


About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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