The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-12 felt in Ouachita Parish

Wednesday I was thumbing through a book we have called, “The Muse Family of Pointe Coupee Parish” compiled by Mrs. Katie Prince Ward Esker in 1943. The Muse family is important to Ouachita Parish history. The Muse family married into the Filhiol and Dabbs, who are well known in this area. Included in the booklet was a transcript titled, “An Account of the Muse Family of Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana by Mrs. Ellen Muse Coates” sometime in 1903. She relates the story of her mother, Margaret Bourgeat Muse’s experience feeling an earthquake when she was a little girl in Ouachita. The more I thought about it, the more I suspected it was the great New Madrid earthquake. It is estimated the earthquake and aftershocks were between magnitude 7 – 8.6! I remember as a child going with my parents to Reelfoot lake in Tennessee. It was made by that earthquake sinking the land. They said the Mississippi River ran backwards for several hours to fill it! Surely, such a monstrous earthquake would have been felt here in Louisiana! I was right.

“She (Margaret) remembers once when she was about eight years old an earthquake which so frightened the people they thought it was the end of the world. It was pitiful to see the Indians and negroes’ abject fear. The Indians watched the sun, saying that when the sun came down they would all die and go to the Happy Hunting Grounds. She remembered this so distinctly because her mother (Marie Barbe Filhiol Bourgeat) had gone on a visit to a friend in the country and stayed all night, an old-time country custom, and too(k) Mother with her. While they were walking in the garden next morning it seemed so strange, the earth trembled so that they could hardly stand; it lasted several seconds. At another time, Grandmother with my mother was visiting Judge Bry’s family who lived on Bayou De Siard, when another earthquake was felt, this time it occurred in the night, when all hands were shaken out of bed and ran to each other to know what on earth was the matter. The negroes huddled in groups at their masters’ doors for protection, thinking “Old Master” from above, or Satan from below (which they took more stock in) had blown the last trump, or given the last shake. Many, I daresay, solemnly promised to sin no more.”

That last earthquake had to have been the February 7, 1812 aftershock at 3:45 am, which was the largest of all of them. It is the one which made Reelfoot lake. You can read about the earthquakes here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1811%E2%80%9312_New_Madrid_earthquakes

The New Madrid earthquakes are said to be among the most powerful earthquakes in American history. At the time, the area they happened in (New Madrid, MO) was sparsely populated. If the same happened today, can you imagine the damage they would do?

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