Last month, while looking for some more information on the Hebgen Lake earthquake, I came by the Madison Valley Historical Association in Montana and saw its quarterly newsletter on its website. A copy of the newsletter from July 2009 featured several stories from people who’d experienced the 1959 earthquake. I wrote to ask permission to reprint one story from Dixie Robison Marosok. She and the association agreed to the reprint, and here is her story:
We were married in August of 1958 and my husband, Jim, enrolled at Montana State College in Bozeman where he could work toward a degree in geology. When spring arrived, we were looking for a summer job and my sister, Jerry Lower, called. She and her husband, Don, worked on the Cedar Creek Ranch for John Uihlein just outside of Ennis.(John was an heir to Schlitz beer). Don offered Jim a summer job and Jerry offered me the job of sharing cooking duties for the ranch crew. We gladly accepted and on the 17th of August, we were living at the Cedar Creek Ranch in the same range of mountains as the earthquake site, the Madison Range.
We had a busy day on Aug. 17th preparing for John Uihlein’s 40th birthday which fell the next day. I was expecting our first baby in early September and was tired and anxious to finish and get some sleep. It took some time to settle down after the hectic day and the night was very still and quiet. Just a couple of hours after going to bed, I was awakened by the rocking and shaking of our bed. I woke Jim, saying that a bear had crawled under the cabin. He laughed at me as he was immediately aware that it was an earthquake, and we rushed to look out the window.
The earth was rippling in waves like a windblown lake as the tremors moved through the grass. I will never forget that sight. As we attempted to get back to sleep, I began to experience some early labor pains. We were getting ready to call Doc Losee when the pains finally stopped and we returned to bed.
The next morning the valley was full of dust and up on the mountains you could see clouds of dirt raising above the trees. Aftershocks continued through the day. As people began arriving for John’s party, we learned of the earthquake site and the tragic slide that buried and injured so many campers. We were also told of the closure of the road through Ennis. Thankfully we hadn’t needed the hospital since it was on the opposite side of the river and with the road closed, we couldn’t have reached it. Reports came in that many people had fled to high ground and some even took refuge in Virginia City across the mountains.
John’s party went as planned but all everyone could think of was the earthquake and the tragedy of the rock slide that killed so many people in the canyon campgrounds.
Within three weeks I was in the hospital where Doc Losee delivered our first son, Michael. I had some unusual visitors along with my family. Two or three of the quake victims remained in the small Madison Valley Hospital for some time after the earthquake. I remember a boy, a tall and husky football player, about 17 years of age, whose leg had been badly crushed. The Bozeman doctors wanted to amputate his leg, but Doc Losee, who received extra training as an orthopedist just before the quake, insisted he could save the limb. The boy was walking when I last saw him and I believe he did heal under Doc Losee’s care.
Our father, Wayne Robison, was among the early rescuers at the earth slide scene and he is pictured in the book, The Day the Mountain Fell. The Robison ranch, the Green acre, was on the other side of the valley and none of our family had felt the quake with the intensity that we felt it. They related that they were driving home from a movie in Ennis and they felt the car lurch to one side about the time of the earthquake, but thought nothing of it.
The family ranch had a grazing permit just a few miles from the epicenter of the quake in an area called Antelope Basin. A pipeline from Hidden Lake took water from the lake up a steep mile long hill for the cattle on the reserve. When they went up to check the pipeline, it was laying broken in pieces like a bunch of spaghetti straws.
With the river at such a low level, many of the famous Madison Valley trout were stranded in small pools of water. Don, Jim and my father did some fishing with their hands and came home with a good mess of fish for dinner. Jim had the luckiest catch of the day, a 2 and one half foot rainbow trout.