Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

The Fort Tejon Earthquake of 1857.

Harper's Weekly Banner




The last California mail brought the intelligence that, on the morning of the 9th of January, several severe earthquake-shocks were felt throughout the State, ex­tending from San Diego to the north of Sacramento, and from the coast line to the upper valleys of the Sierra Ne­vada. It is estimated that no less than sixty shocks of earthquakes have occurred in California during the past five years, and the apprehension that they may be fol­Iowed by still more terrible phenomena is by no means a pleasant reflection for the inhabitants of the State. From our latest files we make up a brief sketch of the extent and results of the recent visitation. Several curious points present themselves for scientific investigation.


In the southern part of the State the earthquake was more alarming. The shocks at Santa Barbara—some six in number—occurred about 9 o'clock A.M. and are stated to be the severest ever experienced in that district. Scarcely a house in the town escaped damage. People were thrown down; and, in some places, the earth opened and water gushed out. The water in all the wells rose from ten to twenty feet. No lives were lost, but the in­habitants were compelled to rush from their houses for safety. At Los Angeles the principal shock occurred at half-past eight o'clock A.M. The motion here seemed to be east and west. The oscillation of the earth resem­bled the long swell of the sea—swaying backward and forward, so that it was with great difficulty one could stand up, and the water in the river was turned back and overflowed its banks. The vibrations lasted some mo­ments ; the motions were long and lateral, instead of sudden, violent, and vertical. At Monterey the shock was felt at 7 o'clock A.M. It is described as resembling a wave, coming from the west and north, and making its line for the south and east. The movement was a horizontal and not a vertical one. At San Diego the shock (felt at 8¾ o'clock) was more severe than any simi­lar visitation within the memory of its present inhabit­ants, and caused great consternation. At Santa Cruz two shocks were felt—one between 5 and 6 o'clock, and the other about 8 A.M. At San Jose the movement felt at five minutes past eight A.M., was undulating and slow, and seemed to proceed from southwest to northeast. It produced a sickening sensation, precisely as one feels upon the rocking of a wave. The vibrations were slow and gradual, and continued for about a minute. The effect upon the artesian wells in this neighborhood was remarkable; for a moment the water ceased to flow from the pipe, and then gushed out in greater volume and with more power than usual.


At Fort Tejon and the Kern River district, the shocks were most disastrous, and had the country been thickly peopled, the consequences might have been fearful. The second shock at Fort Tejon was felt at half-past eight o'clock, and lasted from three to five minutes, resembling in sound the rumbling of a train of cars. Nearly all the buildings in the vicinity were seriously injured, and sev­eral narrow escapes are recorded. One life is known to have been lost. At a spot, distant about twenty miles from the fort, the earth was upheaved, and exhibited the appearance of a very violent shock. Roads, in some places, were rendered impassable. It is believed that the earthquake was more severely felt at Fort Tejon than at any other point in the State, and it will require much time and expense to repair the damage done.

Newspaper images: 9600 dpi jpeg of 300 dpi jpg of original newspaper from the collection of Alan Pollack


Video: Field Guide to the San Andreas Fault

1857 Fort Tejon Quake

Fault in Palmdale


Strike-Slip Displacement (Crowell 1954)

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