The Last Big One: Accounts from 1857
On the morning of January 9, 1857, the San Andreas fault ruptured from Parkfield to near Cajon Pass in a Magnitude 7.9 earthquake. Along the entire 220-mile (360-km) length of the rupture, the Pacific side of the fault slid past the North American side, offsetting gullies, ridges, fences, and anything else in its path. It caused shaking that was felt over much of California and into western Arizona and Nevada, and presumably into northern Baja California as well.
But the type of shaking varied from place to place. Immediately along the fault, the vibrations were characterized as sharp jolts, whereas gentler rolling motions were reported at greater distances. Even further away, the long-period motion caused some people to feel dizzy or nauseous, just as long-period waves cause some people to feel sea-sick on a boat. The shaking is estimated to have lasted for several minutes.
Below are links to some reports of effects of the 1857 earthquake. Some of them should be taken with a grain of salt, as stories of observations may have been exaggerated. Nevertheless, these reports collectively paint a picture of what it was like to experience the great Fort Tejon earthquake of 1857. Click on a location to view first-hand accounts of the 1857 earthquake from that locale.
For the original sources of these accounts, please click here.
Several maps show the above locations.