Sierra history: Amid aftershocks, Truckee pooled resources to help 1906 earthquake victims
Special to the Bonanza
This is the second in a two-part series of stories regarding Truckee lending a hand in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Click here to read part one.
TRUCKEE, Calif. — The newly released blockbuster film “San Andreas” portrays magnitude 9.1 and 9.6 temblors that devastate California from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Geologists know that the upper limit for quake intensity along the San Andreas Fault is 8.3, but any seismic shift near that level has the potential to crush California’s largest coastal communities.
The Golden State is well known for its earthquake activity. A quake that ripped along the real San Andreas Fault on April 18, 1906, was a violent 7.8-magnitude jolt that generated heavy damage throughout the Bay Area.
The city of San Francisco, however, sustained the greatest destruction due to its dense development and the subsequent firestorm that tore through its commercial sector afterward.
The first fires broke out in the business district in the eastern portion of the city. Ruptured gas lines and broken water mains hampered the best efforts of the fire department.
Pipelines feeding the municipal water supply from large reservoirs outside the city were wrecked by the severe wrenching, rendering fire hoses useless.
For three days the urban wildfire raged, leapfrogging from neighborhood to neighborhood.
The rampaging firestorms destroyed more than four square miles of the city’s metropolitan area, a region 25 percent larger than the area burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
For three days, an endless stream of men, women, and children fled the advancing flames in a massive evacuation.
At the time of the quake, San Francisco’s population was about 410,000 people, most of who fled the destruction. Between 20,000 and 30,000 were rescued by the Navy from Fort Mason on San Francisco Bay, while Southern Pacific Railroad facilitated the evacuation of 300,000 refugees by rail giving free transport.
The company ran more than 1,000 trains so survivors could try and reach friends or families to the east. More people left San Francisco in just a few days than occurred during the nine-day emergency evacuation of Allied soldiers from Dunkirk, France, at the beginning of World War II.
TRUCKEE PITCHES IN
Despite a distance of 200 miles from San Francisco, ground shocks had stopped pendulum clocks in Truckee, including the large public timepiece installed at the train depot. Telegraph and phone lines “trembled and rocked” but fortunately remained intact.
Just hours after the shakedown, California Governor George Pardee sent an urgent message to the residents of Truckee: “Large quantities of foodstuffs, vegetables and general provisions are needed.”
Truckee’s citizens quickly convened a community meeting to set up a relief committee to feed “all refugees who pass through this town on every eastbound train.”
Local businesses gathered together food for victims still trapped in the city and for those fleeing by train. Townsfolk raised $400 in rescue funds in just two hours.
Truckee’s three meat markets and the grocery stores all worked late into the night to pack provisions as refugee trains began to roll into town.
Bread was desperately needed, so Wilkie’s grocery, the Smith & Titus Brothers store, and several Truckee hotels pooled their resources and shipped 400 loaves within one day.
All emergency food supplies were carried for free by Southern Pacific. The company added a special car to each westbound train “for the purpose of conveying food to the starving people” at the epicenter of destruction.
‘DOING THEIR DUTY’
In the days immediately following the disaster, Truckee citizens fed an estimated 1,500 destitute eastbound refugees.
Long wooden tables were set up along the railroad tracks near the train depot. Coffee was kept brewing and a field kitchen established in a converted railroad tool house.
A special train arrived from the nearby logging town of Hobart Mills, loaded with hundreds of sandwiches, boiled eggs, crates of condensed cream and pounds and pounds of cooked beans.
The proprietors of the Tahoe Market of Truckee cooked more than 500 pounds of beef in large kettles.
The Truckee Republican was a unit of the Calkins Newspaper Syndicate, whose San Francisco headquarters was destroyed by the fire.
Its former editor, Charles McGlashan, headed to the Bay Area to help raise money for the quake victims as an officer in the fraternal order of the Knights of Pythias.
The current editor of the Republican, W.H.M. Smith, kept the paper running despite the loss of its corporate offices.
As the relief efforts slowly wound down, Smith lauded his community’s efforts: “All along the Central Pacific line words of praise have been expressed in high favor of the citizens of Truckee for their untiring efforts to feed the hungry people en route to their friends and relatives at different points in the central and western states.
“They were not paid employees, each and every one doing their duty in this noble work.”
Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at thestormking.com. You can reach him at email@example.com. Check out Mark’s blog: tahoenuggets.com.