Quake That Shook The Army’s Adobe

The army established Fort Tejon, California, in 1854. In January of 1857, the post was struck by a series of powerful earthquakes. These quakes were, possibly, the worst earthquakes to take place in California in the past 200 years. Inspector General Edward Mansfield noted in his 1859 inspection report that the post, built almost entirely out of adobe bricks “is particularly exposed to earthquakes , and every building is cracked by them; and on one occasion the gabled ends of two buildings were thrown down by earthquakes: in a few miles off, I saw an immense crack and crevice in the earth extending for many miles, caused recently by them.”

Lt Col. Benjamin L. Beall commanded the regiment and post. He was sound asleep when the quake struck and awoke to find his bedroom wall to have fallen away from the building. That evening he issued this preliminary report to headquaters.


January 9, 1857 —8 o’clock p. m.

SIR: I have the honor to report, for the information of the commanding general of this department, that about six o’clock this morning the shocks of an earthquake commenced, and have continued with more or less violence, at intervals of five or six minutes, up to this time.  The greatest shock took place at twenty-seven minutes before nine o’clock a. m.  The destruction to property, both public and private, has been immense.  Many of the buildings at this post have been so injured as to be totally uninhabitable, as follows:
1st.  The unfinished building intended for a quartermaster’s storeroom and office.  One end of this has been thrown down, and the remaining walls badly cracked in several places.  It can be repaired.
2nd. The unfinished building intended for captains’ quarters.  This has one end thrown out of perpendicular and badly cracked.  It can be repaired.
3rd.  An unfinished building, containing two sets of quarters.  This has one end thrown down, and the other end thrown out of perpendicular, so that it will have to be taken down.  The walls sustaining the roof are secure, and the building can be repaired.  The two ends of the kitchen attached to this building are thrown down, and the main walls are cracked and injured, but the kitchen can be repaired without destroying the roof.
4th.  The unfinished building occupied by Major Blake and Lieutenants Ogle and Magruder.  This has been cracked and injured in many places, but has suffered no material injury.  I think it can be occupied with safety. Both ends of the kitchen attached to this building have been thrown down, and the remaining walls are badly cracked, but it can be repaired without removing the roof.
5th.  The quarters occupied by company “H,” 1st dragoons.  This has been cracked and shaken in many places, but not so much as to injure the stability or security of the building.
6th.  The quarters occupied by company “L,” [“I”] 1st dragoons.  One of its chimneys has been thrown down.  Its walls are more or less cracked, but it is sufficiently secure to be occupied, and can be repaired with but little expense.
7th.  The end wall of the unfinished company kitchen has been badly shaken and cracked.  The building otherwise has received no material injury.
8th.  The building occupied by Brevet Major Grier.  This has been badly shaken.  Its chimney tops hae been thrown down, its walls cracked in many places, and its plastering thrown down and injured.  I think the walls of the building secure, and that it can be occupied with safety.
9th.  The quarters occupied by Lieutenant Colonel Beall.  This has received more damage than any of the finished buildings of the post.  Its chimneys have been thrown down, its plastering broken off in many places, and one of its ends so badly shaken and cracked as to be, in my opinion, too insecure to be occupied.
10th.  The quarters occupied by Captain Kirkham.  Tthis has been badly shaken and cracked, its plastering broken off in many places, and its chimneys thrown down.  I think the walls secure and capable of sustaining a roof.
11th.  The kitchen attached to Colonel Beall’s house.  This has been badly shaken and cracked.  I consider it insecure.
12th.  The building occupied as a commissary store-house and hospital.  This has been badly shaken and cracked throughout.  Its main wall has been but little disturbed from the perpendicular, and is, I think, secure and capable of sustaining a roof.
13th.  The unfinished building intended for two sets of quarters. Upon this I can observe no material injury.  Most of the chimney tops have been cracked, and there is danger of fire being communicated through these cracks to the roofs.
Fortunately, no lives have been lost at the post.  The sick of the command are now in tents, although the weather is very cold.  The shocks have been very extended, and less severe at the post than on the Los Angeles road or in the Tulare valley.  Several of the houses in the vicinity have been completely demolished; but the injury to life, so far as heard from, has been slight.  Large fissures have been opened in the Los Angeles road, and in some places on the road there have been immense land slides.  It is said that in the Tulare lakes the water was thrown twenty feet in the air during the greater shock.  The largest trees have, in many instances, been torn from their roots.
In order that the general commanding may be informed of the havoc done to the post at the earliest possible moment, I have thought it necessary to forward this by an express.
I have the honor to report, for the information of the general, that I shall repair to the headquarters of the department by the next steamer.

JANUARY 10 — 9 o’clock a. m.
I have the honor to report that during the night, and up to this time, the shocks have continued, with much violence, at intervals.  The buildings have been much damaged since eight o’clock p. m. of yesterday.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant.
Lt. Col. 1st Dragoons, Com’g Post.
Bvgt. Maj. W.W. Mackall,
Assist. Adj. Gen., Department of the Pacific,
Benicia, California

True copy:
1st Lieut. 3 Artillery, A.D.C.

Assistant Surgeon Peter Ten Broeck was stationed at Ft. Tejon during these quakes and authored this first-hand detailed report.

Fort Tejon, Cala.

July 3rd 1857.


Wherewith enclosed I have the honor to forward

You a Table of the different Shocks of Earthquaques,

Which have been experienced at this Post from 9th of Jan.

1857, up to the present time.  I enclose you a Copy of

my Report on the Shocks of the 9th of Jan. to the Surgeon

Genl, also.

I would remark, that these (recorded on the Table)

are only the Shocks, that have come under the personal ob,,

servation of the Hospital Steward, or myself.  But that at

least as many more, as are recorded, have passed unnoticed.

Latterly, the majority of the Shocks have occurred du,,

Ring the night, and we have become so accustomed to them,

That they do not wake us, as formerly, so that unless

We chance to be awake at the time, they are not noticed.

Also in case of slight Shocks occurring, they are not

perceptible to a person, who is walking (on the ground),

or riding at the time.

The Shocks are generally oscillatory, but we have now

And then a vertical one.

The first Shock of the Earthquque and those which

Succeeded is during the month of January, were felt over

A large extent of country, but since then the circle has

Been constantly diminished, and for the last three months

the Shocks have been confined almost exclusively to the

[pg 2] Post, and its immediate vicinity.

Severe Shocks felt here, are not perceptible at the distance

of a few miles, and I have even noticed, that they vary

in intensity at the distance of only a few hundred yards;

thus a Shock which is quite severe at the Sutlers Store

will appear very slight in the garrison.

It would certainly seem, that we are in the very

centre of the disturbance, and that the Head Quarters” of

the Earthquaue are at no great distance from us.

Along the line, or rifs of the Earth, which was made

by the first great Shock, and where its effects as that time

were so terrible, the Shocks have ceased to be felt for some


Although the Shocks have continued now nearly six

Months, we can hear nothing of the opening of any Crater

In our vicinity, though we had reports to that effect

in the early part of January.

For the last t[h]ree months the Shocks have been gene,,

rally very slight, with now and then a severe one, but

no perceptible dimination in either frequency or intensity.

The only difference is, that we have become accustomed

to them, and they do not affect us as at first.  Accasio

nally the though will strike us, that perhaps another

will come equal in severity to the first, which would

undoubtedly destroy nearly all the buildings at the Post,

strained & shattered as they are from the previous


[pg 3] Judging from the experience of the last few months,

there seems as little probability as ever of the entire ces,,

sation of the Shocks.

The topography of the Post, is another Point; to

Which I would beg leave to call your attention, in con,,

nection with the subject of Earthquaque.

Situated in a Cañada [Canyon] or Valley of only a few hun,,

dred yards in width, and surrounded on all sides by very

high mountains, should there at any time occur a ,,land

slide” as sometimes happens in Mountanous Countries,

in connection with severe convulsions of the Earth, the

whole valley would be inevitably filled up.

I have been stationed nearly three [scribbled over “four”?] years here,

And the last winter and present summer have been

the coldest, we have experienced.

I am fin[?]

very respectfully

your obt.[obedient] servt [servant]

P.G.S. To[e]n Br[o]eck

Asst Surg

U. S. A

Col. Thos. T. Fountberoy

1st u st. Dragoons, lmdg Ft [raised t] Tejon.

[Outside of letter on envelope]

Fort Tejon  Cal.

July 3. 1857


F. g. ,Dept Pac, July 6. 1857.

PGS. Ten Broeck

Asst Srg. – U.S.A.

In relation to earthquaks

at Fort Tejon Cal.

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