Reports from the Storm—Part 1

by Joel Pomerantz

January 4th, 2011

In my diggings concerning the bizarre month-long storm of 1861 and 1862, I’ve come across exciting tidbits. Some, such as the gold country rains of more than nine feet depth in one month (!) are shocking enough. However, nothing has been so exciting as reading words written in the midst of it, each more dire than the previous.

Leland Stanford was apparently forced to take a boat through the streets of Sacramento just to attend his own inaguration as Governor of California. Here's the speech he gave, as reprinted in a paper called The American Flag.

At the time, there were at least as many broad-sheets and papers available as today, which I suppose is easy to do.

Here are dramatic readings, in my voice, of some excerpts from newspapers around the state. The dates printed are not necessary when written, as days passed before word could get out.

[audio:https://thinkwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Napa-Echo-December-17.mp3|titles=Napa Echo Dec. 17, 1861][1:43 length] First (above), from the Napa Echo. Note the final words, comparing to a worse rainfall in 1846. Little did they know what was in store for the next weeks.

[audio:https://thinkwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Virginia-enterprise-December-17.mp3|titles=Virginia Enterprise Dec. 10, 1861][2:04 length] This is from the Virginia Enterprise, Virginia City, Washoe County, December 10, 1861. “Quartz” was the gold ore.

[audio:https://thinkwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Marysville-Appeal-January-12.mp3|titles=Marysville Appeal Jan. 12, 1862] [0:20 length] By early January, things were dire in most places and deaths were commonplace. The above brief report is from the Marysville Appeal January 10th.

[audio:https://thinkwalks.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/American-Flag-January-30.mp3|titles=American Flag Jan. 30][0:52 length] From Sonora, The American Flag of Jan.30, 1862 tells of death and quotes the Santa Rosa Democrat similarly.

Mind you, this compilation represents a trove, but only a very tiny part of what was written. I’m hoping one of you eager readers will be interested in helping to track down more old newspapers. I have methods that are working, but are tedious, and I do wish for assistance, thanking those who’ve already come forward.

The source material is scattered in many forms, from single damaged copies in far-off archives to bound and/or microfilmed material that is still very hard to digitize or read. Are you up for a challenge with many rewards? Maybe we can build a timeline—or even an animation—of the storm as it passed over Oregon, California (both north and south) and Nevada during weeks of downpour. I already have tech people interested in making that happen, if we can provide the source texts! Or, perhaps, you’re more excited by tracking human life or town destruction? Plenty of all of that, for the enterprising.

And all painfully applicable, by way of insights, to the extreme weather of the present.

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