An earthquake felt from Mexico to Oregon rocks the Owens Valley in California on this day in 1872, killing 30 people.
California, with the large San Andreas Fault running through the entire state, is a prime area for earthquakes. At 2:30 a.m. on March 26, a large quake hit Inyo County in the Owens Valley of central California. Worst-hit was Lone Pine, where 52 of the town’s 59 homes were destroyed, killing 27 people as they slept. The ground moved a full seven feet horizontally in some places near Lone Pine. Major buildings in every town in Inyo were also seriously damaged.
Given the reach of this quake—people hundreds of miles away in Tijuana, Mexico, felt the shaking—it is estimated that it had a magnitude of 7.8. One of most famous accounts of this earthquake came from explorer and scientist John Muir, the man who was instrumental in the establishment of Yosemite National Park. He was working as a caretaker at Black’s Hotel in the area at the time and witnessed the destruction of the famed natural landmark Eagle Rock. He reported the following: The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, one had to balance in walking as if on the deck of a ship among the waves, and it seemed impossible the high cliffs should escape being shattered. In particular, I feared that the sheer-fronted Sentinel Rock, which rises to a height of three thousand feet, would be shaken down, and I took shelter back of a big Pine, hoping I might be protected from outbounding boulders, should any come so far. Then, suddenly, out of the strange silence and strange motion there came a tremendous roar. The Eagle Rock, a short distance up the valley, had given way, and I saw it falling in thousands of the great boulders I had been studying so long, pouring to the valley floor in a free curve luminous from friction, making a terribly sublime and beautiful spectacle—an arc of fire fifteen hundred feet span, as true in form and as steady as a rainbow, in the midst of the stupendous roaring rock-storm.
For the next two months, there were literally a thousand aftershocks, though none were deadly.