The Pacific Northwest Seismic Northwest has a vast archive of material on the history of earthquakes in the region, including both data and written reports on the intensity and damage caused by individual quakes.
On Saturday, December 14, in 1872, at the estimated time of 9:40 p.m., the North Cascades earthquake happened. It’s been estimated by the PNSN to be a 6.8 magnitude quake. Here, from the PNSN’s page on the earthquake, is a description by the Weekly Mountaineer of The Dalles, Oregon:
On Saturday evening last, at about half past 9 o’clock, this section of country was visited by a shock of earthquake, which, as far as we are able to learn, did little or no damage. The vibrations lasted probably thirty seconds, and seemed to be from the east to west. The sensation we felt was a very peculiar one and had a tendency in a moment to destroy the illusion and faith we have always had in the stability of the surface of the earth. Animals, especially cows, dogs, and swine, seemed to experience the disturbance, if we judge from the commotion they made at that time. This we believe is the second one that has ever been felt at The Dalles, the former being some six years ago and was quite light. It has been supposed by many that a calm, an oppressive heat and misty horizon are always the fore runners of this phenomenon; but, we are happy to says that in this instance these signs all failed, for we did not observe any thing peculiar, either in the air, or other wise, about that time. The cause of earthquakes is supposed to come directly from volcanic force. For instance, when a volcano is in active operation, or as we might term it, “letting off steam,” there is no danger of an earthquake; but should it quiet down for a length of time and be followed by a large fall of rain, terrible explosions and quaking of the earth may be expected. The wave of an earthquake is said to travel at the rate of several miles in a second, until it expends its force.
In November 1994, the Wenatchee World revisited the quake. A fellow named John McBride, who was living on the Wenatchee River a few miles upstream from its confluence with the Columbia, said “the third shock, which occurred about 11 o’clock p.m., was preceded by an explosion – apparently on the mountain – sounding like the discharge of several pieces of artillery simultaneously.”
The explosion was a landslide on a hill north of Entiat that formed Ribbon Cliff: the debris fell into the Columbia, damming the river for about a day. And back in 1920, Yakima pioneer Moses Splawn told Rufus Woods, publisher of the Wenatchee Daily World, that Indians showed him two cracks in the earth “up the hogback east of the Columbia” that formed after the quake. Splawn said, “Deep down in the earth every five minutes there was an explosion like the shot of a cannon, and out of the cracks in the earth a dark fluid was oozing which hardened as it ran down the mountainside and cooled. I took some of that dark material and had it analyzed and the analysis showed that it was oil.”
The Weekly Pacific Tribune in Olympia reported: “In one of the saloons a party of men were intently engaged in gambling. The first shock startled them, but did not break up the game. When the second shock was felt, they concluded they had a call outside, and left the table in such haste that they forgot to carry off the stakes, which remained on the table until their alarm had subsided.
“It is said that in one of the Masonic Lodges, in session at the time, a gentleman was being initiated. He did not suspect the cause, thinking the rumbling and shaking a part of the initiation ceremonies; but the members were so alarmed that they sought safety in flight, leaving the candidate alone in the hall.
“A number of ladies and gentlemen were in St. John’s church, rehearsing for the Old Folks’ Concert. Among their selections for the occasion is the familiar anthem, `Joy to the world! the Lord has come,’ which words they had just sung, we are told, when the earthquake was felt. Several of the company thought surely the event proclaimed in the anthem was then transpiring.”
A 1902 Post-Intelligencer story on this 1872 quake reported: “Lake Union was like a sheet of glass just before the disturbance. Just as it was over large rollers approaching a tidal wave, came in a number of feet above high water mark. There was also a disturbance of a like character on the waters of the bay. The tall fir trees that stood thick around Lake Union at that time swayed back and forth as if a heavy wind were blowing. Indians living on the lake shore near the writer’s home were terribly alarmed and rushed from their houses screaming in excitement.”
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