The Last Big One: Accounts from 1857
Diary of Caroline Barnes Crosby, San Bernardino, January 9, 1857
Frid. 9th of Jan. It was quite fair for the season. At ten minutes or a qr. past 8 o'clock A.M., we were visited with a shock of an earthquake which lasted as near as I could judge about 3 or 4 minutes.
I arose from the breakfast table and went to the kitchen to take another cake in order to finish my meal, got the cakes in my hand when suddenly I felt a dizzyness [sic] in my head, which was succeeded by a sick and nauseous feeling at my stomach. I concluded I had already eaten more than was for my interest and put the cakes in my pocket. I began to stagger and reel like a drunken person, and caught hold of a chair and sat down. By this time I discovered that everything was moving around me, my chair jostled forward and back. I put both hands to my head, and exclaimed Lord have mercy upon us. I arose and went to the door, and discovered bro. McGary, and family out of the house, meditating upon the wonderful phenomena. As I passed the pool of water, between our houses I discovered it was much agitated. I went over there as I was alone at home, Mr. C. having just before left to go to Col. Jackson's, and Alma had gone for a team to get wood. It was the first earthquake of any importance that I have ever witnessed. It caused a sensation similar to seasickness, which I found remained with me sometime after the shock passed away. Some minutes after it was over a certain rumbling sound could be distinctly heard in a northerly directing [sic] resembling distant canon or like the waves of the seas dashing against a rocky shore.
Reminiscence by Augusta J. Crocheron, San Bernardino, 1885
Can any one who has ever experienced an earthquake, overcome a dread of its recurrence; or mistake the signs that are usually premonitors of its coming? One pleasant morning I was searching through garden paths for roses for the breakfast table, when the air seemed to hold still, not a breath stirring. I heard a far off smothered, rumbling sound, that I scarcely noticed, for I thought I was growing dizzy, and not understanding why I should feel so, I started for the house. As I stepped across a narrow stream, the opposite bank seemed first to recede from me, then instantly to heave upward against my feet. As this threw me from my equilibrium, the water emptied out on either bank, and hearing an Indian's voice in loud supplication, I turned and saw our Lothario on his knees, the ground rising and falling in billows around him. At the same instant I saw my parents and sisters clinging to large trees, whose branches lashed the ground, birds flew irregularly through the air shrieking, horses screamed, cattle fell bellowing on their knees, even the domestic feathered tribe were filled with consternation. Voices of all creatures, the rattling of household articles, the cracking of boards, the falling of bricks, the splashing of water in wells, the falling of rocks in the mountains and the artillery-like voice of the earthquake, and even that awful sound of the earth rending open -- all at once, all within a few seconds, with the skies darkened and the earth rising and falling beneath the feet -- were the work of an earthquake. It passed -- we rejoined each other, thankful that life was spared, and looked around with trembling, upon the scene, where utmost terror had reigned. Said father, it is scarcely time to congratulate ourselves, another shock may occur in half an hour. In suspense we waited, and it came. Then the skies cleared, the air moved with cool, swift wings, the stream ran clear, and the earthquake's spell had passed. When we ventured to walk around at a little distance from the house, we found, about twenty rods away, a rift in the solid ground, a foot wide, a hundred feet long, and so dark and deep, we feared even to measure it.
Click on a location below to view more first-hand accounts of the 1857 earthquake.
For the original sources of these accounts, please click here.
Several maps show the above locations.