Most every reader is aware (especially those who have lost some color in their hair) that our town has survived numerous floods, fires, blizzards, wind, drought, famine, pestilence and all other sorts of natural disturbances. It may surprise you however, that our town has survived more than a few earthquakes. I found in the January 12th 1906 Council Grove Guard a report of a noticeable earthquake in Morris County. It occurred Sunday evening January the 7th. Every family in town felt the effects of the quake. In some homes a picture was shaken from the wall, in others a poker rattled down from the chimney corner or a vase fell from a mantel. Although the quake did not cause any serious damage or injuries in Morris County, chimneys were thrown down and people were injured in Manhattan.
A number of townsfolk thought that a boiler had exploded on the railway. One man went so far as to think that a runaway freight train from Helmick had crashed into another train in town. Most remarked that the shake was accompanied by a low rumbling sound which may have given good cause to believe it was an explosion.
Before the official report came out in the paper, stories had started circulating as to what caused the tremor. It started out that a car of dynamite exploded at Alta Vista. Then it grew to 15 cars of dynamite at McFarland, and finally topped off at 30 cars of dynamite; a great example of traditional story telling in Morris County.
Dr. Fredenburg commented on the quake, “Yes, I heard it and saw it too. I do not think much of it. I would rather have several earthquakes if that is what they are than to have one flood.”
Rufus Watkins “thought the chimneys had been blown off the house when the first jolt came. He said, “I went out to see and found all the neighbors out rubbering at their chimneys. All the chimneys in the neighborhood so far as I could see were well behaved and I went back in the house to conclude there had been an earthquake.”
Tom Endicott said, “Well, I heard the thing and felt the house tremble, but thought I would not say anything about it until I heard someone else mention it, for fear I had imagined the whole thing. I have been laughed at too much for much less cause and I thought it a good idea to let someone else talk.”
Even more interesting than the 1906 earthquake was the one that hit Morris County in 1867, the first documented earthquake in Kansas’ history. The settlers that were here in ‘67 shared their reminiscence in the paper after the 1906 shake. William Stenger was in a school building on Main Street Council Grove in 1867 when the earthquake happened. According to Stenger,”About ten o’clock one fine April morning [the 24th] soon after books had been called, the building took a decided fling one way and then the other. The doors rattled and the windows creaked. There was no wind and the sun was shining as bright as could be. All the pupils caught their breath and for one piece of a second there was a dead silence in the room. Just then Mrs. James [the teacher] threw up both hands and screamed as loud as she could ‘An Earthquake!’ As by one impulse teacher and pupils made for the door pell-mell. They wedged in the door and no one could get out. Some of them cried. In a short time however they wiggled loose and got outside to find nothing had happened that left any trace. Calmness gradually came to both teacher and pupils and school work began again.”
W. H. White was in Cottonwood Falls when he experienced the earthquake. While eating dinner the shock came. Two plates fells from the cupboard in the dining room. White said it was a much more severe shock than the one of 1906.
Throughout Kansas and several other states including Missouri, Nebraska, Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas and even Kentucky the quake of 1867 was felt. Clocks stopped running, animals were frightened, and buildings swayed. In Manhattan stones were shaken loose from buildings and walls cracked. A two foot high wave swept the Kansas River. On a farm east of Manhattan and south of Wamego the earth opened up and water gushed from the fissure. In Lawrence objects were thrown from shelves and doors and windows were rattled. In some places ground waves were even seen.
Kansas has a considerable history of earthquakes. According to the geological records Kansas has had over 125 quakes since 1867; some two dozen of those were strong enough to be felt. There are a number of fault lines in Kansas and the Nemaha Ridge or uplift runs right through Morris County. So don’t be too surprised if sometime in the near future you feel the ground move beneath you.
Addenda November 8, 2011:
Less than two months after this article was printed in the paper, on Saturday November 5th shortly before 11:00 p.m. Council Grove experienced another earthquake. The epicenter was west of Oklahoma City. The shock was felt in twelve surrounding states. The quake was a magnitude 5. More shocks followed in the next few days, some were felt in the area.
I was upstairs sitting on the bed trying to watch “Give Me the Banjo” on the computer, a very nice banjo documentary by PBS. The bed started to shake as though a big truck was going by on the highway. We were accustomed to this experience at our apartment above the barber shop as the floor shook very much when a truck went by. However, we had never experienced our house shaking when trucks passed. Then I realized that there was no traffic. I looked up at the ceiling fan and saw it shaking. The mobile on Emmett’s crib was swinging back and forth. It was windy when this happened so it is difficult to say, but I thought I heard a rumbling noise. My friend Ronda who lives in Allen about 17 miles east said she did hear a noise because she thought it was a helicopter at first.
It clicked just like that in my head that we were having an earthquake. I grabbed Emmett out of his crib and ran downstairs. Kelsie was in the bathroom downstairs and didn’t feel anything. When she heard me running down the stairs she asked what I was doing. I told her that I thought we were having an earthquake. She didn’t believe me.
You couldn’t feel anything on the ground floor, but you could hear the walls cracking and popping. It probably lasted no longer than a minute. No damage. Everyone in town had a similar story. Some slept through it, some didn’t feel a thing, and some did. It wasn’t a big earthquake, but for those who have never felt one it gave an eerie sensation.
Addendum: On August 22, 2015 at about a quarter to 4 a.m. I was awakened by the bed shaking. Found there was an earthquake near Medford OK.