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The Last Big One:  Accounts from 1857

    near Fort Tejon

  • Santa Barbara Gazette,  January 22, 1857
  • Mr. Warner arrived here on the 17th inst. from Fort Tejon, via Elizabeth Lake and San Buenaventura,1 to whom we are indebted for the following interesting account of the effects of the recent earthquake as experienced at the above locality and vicinity.  From his statement, the earthquake of the 9th instant, as there experienced, exceeded in intensity and severity that observed in any other locality, so far as heard from....  All the houses, with two exceptions, were thrown down or otherwise injured so as to be rendered entirely useless.  The shock was preceded with a peculiar rushing or rumbling noise, and for more than a week thereafter noises somewhat resembling distant thunder were heard.  Fortunately, no serious damage to life or limb occurred....

    At the "Mill," some twelve miles west of Tejon,2 the shock was very heavy.  It tore up large trees and twisted off branches, threw people on the ground, and when over, caused a general stampede for the Fort, upon the supposition, we suppose, that that place was "safe as any," and that "misery loves company."  One mile and a half this side of the Fort a lady was badly hurt.  When the shock was first felt, she ran out of the house and crept under a cart for safety.  A limb of a tree standing close by, fell down directly across the cart, which it crushed to pieces, injuring her severely.  Mr. Gale, whose dwelling was situated about the same distance from the Fort, experienced a severe injury during his exertions to rescue his children from the ruins of his falling house.  At Reed's Rancho, six miles from Tejon on the Los Angeles trail,3 the wife of Mr. Reed's vaquero was killed.  A beam fell in the house on her head, killing her instantly.

    A large rent in the earth was traced by Mr. Warner a distance of eight leagues.4  When on the high ground by Elizabeth Lake it could still be discerned running in an easterly direction towards the Colorado river.  This rent was in some places five to 10 yards wide, the earth at times filling it up like ploughed [sic] furrows; at others the ground stood apart, leaving a deep fissure.  Its course was in a straight direction, across valleys, through lakes and over hills, without regard to inequality or condition of surface.  On either side, the ground had been more or less disturbed for a long distance.


    1.  In reading this account it should be remembered that at this time the road between Fort Tejon and Los Angeles did not follow the present more direct route.  Instead, the road ran along the line of the fault from Gorman to Quail Lake, and thence through the Antelope Valley, reentering the mountains at Oakgrove Canyon and following the fault to Elizabeth Lake.  It then traversed San Francisquito Pass and went down San Francisquito Canyon to Castaic Junction.  At this point the road to Santa Barbara branched off down the Santa Clara River to Ventura.

    2.  This presumably is Mill Potero, about 14 miles (22 km) west of the Fort, and probably less than a kilometer (0.6 mi) from the fault.

    3.  Reed's Ranch was on the south side of the old road (later U.S. Rte. 99) in Gorman.  It must therefore have been nearly on the line of rupture.

    4.  About 25 miles (40 km); this is roughly the distance along the fault from Gorman to Elizabeth Lake.  This is the distance for which the road followed the fault line.

    Click on a location below to view more first-hand accounts of the 1857 earthquake.

    Carrizo Plain
    near Fort Tejon
    Southern San Joaquin Valley
    Santa Barbara
    Los Angeles
    San Bernardino

    For the original sources of these accounts, please click here.
    Several maps show the above locations.