Monday, December 16, 1811
At 2:30 A.M. the earth shook.
It could happen again.
In the south of Canada, in the villages of the Iroquois, Ottawa, Chippewa and Huron, it came as a deep and terrifying rumble. Creek banks caved in and huge trees toppled in a continuous crash of snapping branches.
In all of the Great Lakes, but especially Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, the waters danced and great waves broke erratically on the shores, though there was no wind.
In the western plains, there was a fierce grinding sound and a shuddering, which jarred the bones and set teeth on edge. Earthen vessels split apart and great herds of bison staggered to their feet and stampeded in abject panic.
To the south and west, tremendous boulders broke loose on hills and cut swaths through the trees and brush to the bottoms. Rapidly running streams stopped and eddied, and some of them abruptly went dry and the fish that had lived in them flopped away their lives on the muddy or rocky beds.
To the south, whole forests fell in incredible tangles. New streams sprang up where none had been before. In the Upper Creek village of Tuckabatchee, every dwelling shuddered and shook, and then collapsed upon itself and its inhabitants.
To the south and east, palm trees lashed about like whips, and lakes emptied of their waters, while ponds appeared in huge declivities which suddenly dented the surface of the earth.
All over the land, birds were roused from their roosting places with scream of fright and flapping wings. Cattle bellowed and kicked, lost their footing, and were thrown to the ground where they rolled about, unable to regain their balance.
In Kentucky, Tennessee and the Indiana Territory, settlers were thrown from their beds, heard the timbers of their cabins wrench apart, and watched the bricks crumble into heaps of debris masked in choking clouds of dust. Bridges snapped and tumbled into rivers and creeks. Glass shattered, fences and barns collapsed and fires broke out. Along steep ravines, the cliffside slipped and filled their chasms, and the country was blanketing with a deafening roar.
Have you seen the earth quake photos in New Zealand? It could happen here.
In the center of all this, in that area where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi, where Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri, and Illinois come together, fantastic splits appeared in the ground and huge tracts of land were swallowed up. A few miles from the Mississippi, near the Kentucky-Tennessee border, a monstrous section of ground sank as if some gigantic foot had stepped on the soft earth and mashed it down. Water gushed forth in fantastic volume and the depression became filled and turned into a large lake, to become known as Reelfoot Lake. The whole midsection of the Mississippi writhed and heaved and tremendous bluffs toppled into the muddy waters. Entire sections of land were inundated, and others that had been riverbed were left high in the air. The Mississippi itself turned and flowed backwards for a time. It swirled and eddied, hissed and gurgled, and at length, when it settled down, the face of the land had changed. New Madrid was destroyed and the tens of thousands of acres of land, including virtually all that was owned by Simon Kenton, vanished forever; that which remained was ugly and austere.