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The Great Nevada Earthquake 100 Years Later

<p>Cracks developed from the 1915 earthquake in alluvial soil near Lovelock, NV. The disturbed area appears to have moved to the left relative to the background.</p>
Photograph by Carl Stoddard. (Jones, 1915, figure 5)/University of Nevada Reno

Cracks developed from the 1915 earthquake in alluvial soil near Lovelock, NV. The disturbed area appears to have moved to the left relative to the background.

October 2 marks the 100 th anniversary of the biggest earthquake in Nevada’s history.

The Great Nevada Earthquake of 1915 registered a 7.3 in magnitude. It was centered in the Pleasant Valley area, about 50 miles south of Winnemucca in the northern part of the state.

Nevada is the third most seismically active state. Only California and Alaska have had more earthquakes. Twenty-three earthquakes of magnitude six or greater have occurred in Nevada since 1857.

Miraculously, no one was killed in the 1915 earthquake. Wallace says that at the time of the earthquake there were only about 60 people living in the Pleasant Valley and Kennedy, Nevada, which was near the epicenter of the quake. 

“It damaged a lot of buildings. But in Pleasant Valley, there just weren’t enough people," Geologist Alan Wallace told NPR’s State of Nevada. Wallace is writing a book about Kennedy, Nevada, and is retired from the U.S. Geological Survey in Reno.

Nearby Winnemucca had a population of about 2,000. The area was rural then and it still is.

People in and around Kennedy were basically on their own. It was before radio, and telephone service hadn’t even arrived yet.

“Communications was basically you get on your horse and you go visit your neighbor,” says Wallace. “Some people had automobiles. But the first telephone service – they didn’t string a line down there from Winnemucca until about three years later. Rural Nevada in the early 1900s at its finest.”  

According to Wallace, the foreshocks started in the afternoon around 4 p.m. There was constant shaking until the main part of the earthquake hit around 11 o’clock that night.

Leon St. D. Roylance ran a mining operation in Kennedy in 1915. He wrote an account of the earthquake for the Silver State newspaper of Winnemucca, which reads in part:

 “During this performance of the earth, it was next to impossible for a person to stand erect. From this disturbance on, it was incessant continued disturbance, the earth never appeared quiet. About 9 p.m. we retired for the night and as near as I can imagine the situation, one could shut his eyes and imagine he was occupying a berth in a moving Pullman car, accompanied with creakings and rattling of windows, to be abruptly awakened by outbreaks at intervals of twenty to thirty minutes, lasting from five to ten seconds. At 10:55 things had quieted, or perhaps we were unconscious in sleep, when without the slightest warning a great roar and rumbling was heard and we were thrown violently out of bed and buffeted in all directions continuously for not less than fifteen minutes.”

Geologist Alan Wallace says that according to newspaper accounts from the time, the aftershocks lasted for quite awhile. “They were having aftershocks for several months afterwards. [Residents of the area] were continually on edge.”

Alan Wallace, historian, and a geologist formerly with the U.S. Geological Survey in Reno, NV.

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.