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The Last Big One:  Accounts from 1857

    Santa Barbara

  • Santa Barbara Gazette,  January 15, 1857
  • In this city, the morning of the eventful day was ushered in by the same genial sun; the air was tranquil, and no unusual atmospheric phenomena indicated that any sudden danger was so near at hand....  At about half past 8 ... the ... shock commenced, and ... continued from 40 to 60 seconds.  It was universally noticed throughout the city, and was so violent in its vibrations that all the inhabitants fled from their dwellings, the majority of whom, on bended [sic] knees, and hearts throbbing with terror, made fervent supplications that the imminent and impending danger might be providentially averted.

    This "shock" ... commenced with a gentle vibration of the earth, which gradually increased, accompanied with an undulating motion, until it attained its culminating intensity, and then as gradually decreased, until it ceased its action altogether....  The peculiar motion experienced during its continuance very much resembled that on board a vessel in a moderate sea.  Happily, it passed away without causing material damage to this city.  Many walls of buildings were cracked, and we candidly acknowledge that most of us were very severely frightened.  We have heard of no unusual action of the sea during the above mentioned period.  The slight damage which ensued therefrom to our dwellings can doubtless be attributed to the great thickness of their "adobe" walls, and the fact of their being built, with a few exceptions, of but one story in height.

    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.