1838 Earthquake

1838 Earthquake

In the years after the Martinez family moved onto their rancho which encompassed all of Portola Valley and more, the land was quiet. Quiet that is, until a June day in 1838 when an earthquake of a magnitude at least similar to that of 1906 struck.  Since so few people were in the area, few details were recorded. However, one man, Charles Brown, who took the name Carlos de Jesus Moreno when he married the daughter of a ranchero, lived in an adobe house near Alambique Creek, a short distance beyond the Martinez boundaries. Forty years later, a reporter for the San Francisco Call interviewed him about his memories of that day. Here is what he remembered.

Charles Brown
Charles Brown

          He had been cutting wood.  As he entered his adobe shortly after noon, he was struck a blow on the back of his head by a vat of lard suspended from the ceiling. It was swinging wildly about the room. He felt the house rock and the floor tremble. From the doorway, as far as the eye could see, the earth was rising and falling in solid waves. The redwoods rocked like lakeside reeds. Thousands of them were broken off and hurled through the air for immense distances.

            Francisca Brown was washing clothes in the creek near the house when, without warning, the bed of the stream was uplifted, and its water poured over her. An Hispanic workman threw himself to the ground and prayed to God for deliverance, as he feared the end of the world was at hand.

Adobe houses were cracked from top to bottom with fissures wide enough for a person to walk through. The ground was cracked in all directions and one miles-long crevice, ten to twelve feet wide, opened. Brown said he had experienced many earthquakes in the half century since he arrived in 1829, but this one was by far the worst.

Charles Brown adobe
Charles Brown Adobe

Wondering if the vivid description was the exaggerated tall tale of an old man, in 1947 University of California geologist George D. Louderback decided to study the Brown account.  Comparing his report to many from 1906, he concluded that the details mentioned were not unusual for an earthquake of great magnitude.  He compared it to reports from others who were in California at the time but not in this area.  They seemed consistent. Except for a few discrepancies that didn’t affect the overall reminiscence, Louderback concluded that the Brown account must be accurate.  A huge earthquake rocked the Portola Valley area in 1838.

The Charles Brown adobe survived not only that earthquake but also the ones in 1868, 1906 and 1989. Although modified many times over the years, it stands today.

 

Leave a Reply