Center for Earthquake Research and Information
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More Compendium Information

Most Wanted Eyewitness Accounts

The List Formerly Referred to as
The Ten Most Wanted

1. Eliza Bryan's Journal It's not known that such a journal exists or ever existed. But Bryan is the #1 Primary Eyewiteness for 1811-12. Her letter to Dow in 1816 contains a high level of detail, suggesting it was written from notes rather than from memory as she states. An archival search has not revealed any personal papers of Eliza. Her grave and those of her immediate relatives are at New Madrid and still in existence. Her headstone is preserved at the New Madrid museum.

2. Godfrey Le Sieur's Map

The map of the Bootheel/sunklands region prepared by Le Sieur for Sen. Lewis Linn for his report to the Committee on Commerce, 1 Feb 1836. This is probably the only map that could authoritatively show the St. Francis-Little River drainage basins prior to 1811. Linn died in 1843 and a search of what remaining personal papers he had did not reveal the map. If the map does exist is it probably unlabelled and only can be identified by matching the map with contemporary maps of the area.
3. Matthias Speed's Original Account Speed's account is by far the most valuable for F1, but it is marred by a confusing, contradictory description of the location of the first waterfall/rapids he encountered after passing Island no. 10. The original report in the Bardstown Repository needs examining to see if "island" was used in place of "town", which would clear everything up. Problem: no existing copies of the Bardstown Repository are known. A search for the newspaper reveals that it was not widely circulated and probably ceased being printed by 1815 or shortly thereafter. Only one copy exists from 1815. The Speed account seems to be the only news item that received much notice from the newspaper.
4. Le Sieur's Memoires

FOUND

Probably not available in this country. Le Sieur ascended the Mississippi River in 1700. His memoir consists of "100 closely written pages" of observations from the journey. Delanglez (1943) calls it "the first scientific survey" of the river. It is probably in the French archives in Paris. It is unknown whether it's ever been transcribed, much less translated. This document was found after extensive research to uncover its history and its location. It was supposed to be copied by the Carnegie Institute prior to World War II in France. The war intervened and the effort lapsed. The Canadian National Archives copied it and this is where it was obtained with the help of Canadian researcher Alan Ruffman.

5. Fort Pickering Log Book

Another of the Ten Most Wanted for which its existence is in doubt. In 1811 the fort was still an active Indian trading post under factor Robert Bayly, but is unclear if it was still an active post of the U.S. Army. It's also unclear if a search of the U.S. Archives for the logbook has ever been made--or for that matter, if a fort log was ever kept at all. There is in existence a copy of the ledger book of the Indian Agent located at the fort. There is no mention of the earthquakes in it but further research needs to be done. A military logbook has still not been found.

6. Carolina Indians

A detailed account of the earthquakes of 1811-12 from the Carolina Indians. The ~20-page account is possibly from the North Carolina State Archives. The "Carolina Indians" are probably the Appalachian Cherokees. Potentially the best source to document any land sliding that may have occurred in the Appalachians. Research continues to find Indian accounts of the New Madrid earthquakes . The Carolina Indian account was probably an account of another tribe whose records were preserved at the archives but further research is needed.

7. J.C. Harris' Eyewitnesses

Harris was the man who in the late 1800's developed the plan--and came close to executing it--to drain Reelfoot Lake. Spears (1910) in Americana tells us Harris wrote "from memory accounts by residents of their experiences in the tumultuous earthquake day of 1811-12." Winfred Smith at UT Martin has tried to locate this manuscript--without success. One problem with this comes to mind: the Reelfoot Lake region was not settled in 1811-12. Although Harris had an extensive business history and left extensive legal records with counties of Lake and Obion courts, personal papers have not been located. If they exist they might contain background information on not only the earthquakes but also events in the Reelfoot area up to the 20th century.

8. New Madrid DARs

FOUND

Reference from Penick (1981): "New Madrid Earthquakes, 1811-12, Compiled from the New Madrid Archive in New Madrid County Courthouse by DAR, Lucy Jefferson Lewis Chapter, Manuscript in Missouri Historical Society Library, St. Louis. A copy of this document was found at the Missouri Historical Society Archives at St. Louis. It's contents were a copy of Godfrey LeSieur's account of the earthquakes done in the 1870's and reprinted in several other sources.

9. Roosevelt's Report to Fulton

Nicholas Roosevelt built the first steamboat on the Ohio-Mississippi and took it from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in late 1811. Prior to that he made a reconnaissance voyage in a flatboat in 1809 for his sponsor, Robert Fulton. His report to Fulton was a detailed account on the navigability of the rivers; one that Ambler (1932) calls "an exhaustive and impressive report." The Compendium should have it. Possibly it's with Fulton's papers? Roosevelt's papers have still not been found. A search of newspapers contemporary with his trip down the river did not uncover any trace of his journey but the search is ongoing.

10. (tie) Rozier's Sunkland Map

FOUND

Accompanied Senator Rozier's report to the Southwest Convention of 1845 held in Memphis. Almost certainly not the same LeSieur map as Most Wanted #2. A Missouri Department of Transportation researcher Russell Weisman with the cooperation of the Missouri State Archivist John Dougan located a map. Thomas S. Walker, a relation of John Hardeman Walker, and an influential Southeast Missouri Politician, created it.

10. (tie) Indian Agent Graham's Papers

FOUND

In the Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis. Graham was based in New Madrid/Pt. Pleasant area. Papers contain among other things, letters describing the earthquake damage to the region and the debris-choked St. Francis River. An initial search of his papers has been conducted but they are not indexed and will need further research to uncover the information.
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