THE GREAT FLOOD IN CALIFORNIA.; Great Destruction of Property Damage $10,000,000.
Published: January 21, 1862
The Pacific slope has been visited by the most disastrous flood that has occurred since its settlement by white men. From Sacramento northward to the Columbia River, in California, Nevada Territory, and Oregon, all the streams have risen to a great height, flooded the valleys, [inundated towns, swept away mills, dams, flumes, houses, fences, domestic animals, ruined fields and effected damage, estimated at $10,000,000. All Sacramento City, save a small part of one street, part of Marysville, part of Santa Rosa, part of Auburn, part of Sonora, part of Nevada, and part of Napa, not to speak of less important towns, were under water.
The rainy season commenced on the 8th of November, and for four weeks, with scarcely any intermission, the rain continued to fall very gently in San Francisco, but in heavy showers in the interior. According to the statement of a Grass Valley paper, nine inches of rain fell there in thirty-six hours on the 7th and 8th inst. Whether, it is possible that so much rain could fall in thirty-six hours I will not decide; but it is certain that, the amount was great, for the next day the river-beds were full almost to the hilltops. The North Fork of the American River at Auburn rose thirty-five feet, and in many other mountain streams the rise was almost as great. On the 9th the flood reached the low land of the Sacramento Valley.
Sacramento City was the chief sufferer. The city stands at the junction of the Sacramento and American Rivers, on the eastern bank of the former and the southern bank of the latter. The valley there is wide and flat. From the foot of the Sierra Nevada, at Folsom, to the base of the coast range, near Fairfield, the plain is about 40 miles wide. The original site of the city was 16 feet above low-water mark, and the river rose 17 or 18 feet about nearly every year. A trapper who has spent more than a score of years in California, says that he has frequently ridden over the site of Sacramento in a boat; and in 1846, the water was seven feet deep for sixty days. The city was flooded in 1849, in 1850, in 1851, and twice in the winters of 1852 and ’53. In the summer of the latter year, the business part of the city was raised four feet by filling the streets with dirt, and then a levee or bank of earth was built about the town. This levee is about two miles long on the bank of the Sacramento, and three miles long on the bank of the American; is in some places twenty feet, and in others only about four feet high. The raising of the streets and the building of the levee gave considerable confidence to the people. They built houses and planted gardens for permanence; they made their town beautiful. But now, all is desolate.
A railroad connects Sacramento and Folsom, both on the southern bank of the American River, and twenty miles apart. The railroad enters me Capital city about two miles north of the American River, on a high embankment. The ordinance authorizing the company to bring their rails and cars into the city, provided that a wide bridge should be kept open under the track, a short distance east of the levee, and the bridge was made; but years passed without any use of it, and when it came to need repairs, the Railroad Company made an embankment which was higher and wider than the levee. And now, on the morning of the 9th of November, here came the American River with a flood that covered the whole country. The water ran against the levee and then down to the railroad embankment, and unable to go further, it heaped itself against these two barriers until it rose above the levee and began to pour in. Soon the soft earth gave way and the vast body of water poured into the City and flooded every part of it, except a small portion of Front-street. The levee, which had been built to protect the city, now was the cause of great injury, for instead of keeping the water out, it kept it in. The flood entered at the East, where the land is high, and if the levee had not been in the way, the water would have run off without touching the business part of the City. The Sacramento River was much lower, its flood had not had time to come down, so there was abundant room for the water of the American to spread out when it should reach the Sacramento River. But the levee dammed the water in, and it very soon was ten feet higher inside than the level of the Sacramento River on the outside. In some places the water was fifteen feet deep, in others ten, in others three. The greater part of the most fashionable houses had from three to six feet of water in the parlor. In many of the houses the line of the flood is visible on the plastering in the second story. Dozens of wooden houses, some of them two stories high, were lifted up and carried off. The destruction of property was terrible. The water came so rapidly that most people had not more than an hour’s warning of the danger. Most persons living in two-story houses carried their furniture and cooking utensils and provisions up stairs; [. ] who lived in one-story houses ran for their lives. And when the water filled the city there were no boats, Men, women, and children had stayed in houses thinking there was no danger; and when the flood rose they could not get away. Some of these houses were carried off, and boats were sent after them to rescue the human freight. All the firewood, most of the fences and sheds, all the poultry, cats, rats and many of the cows and horse were swept away. The flood at 9 o’clock in the morning had failed the city — two hours later the chain gang were at work on the southern levee, to cut it and let the water out. When the cut was made the rush of water was as fierce to get out as it had been to get in; and soon the water fell five or six feet, but still remained several feet deep over the greater part of the city during all that day. The water then fell gradually until it reached its present stage, which is about on a level with the lower part of the city, and at that level it has stood for the last week — sometimes rising a little, sometimes falling. As the American River fell, the Sacramento rose, and there was great fear that the place would again be submerged; but the danger for the present is past. The departure of the water showed a terrible devastation. The rich men had lost a large portion of their property — the poor had lost all.
The Union of the 13th, said:
“The water had so far receded from the western part of the city yesterday afternoon, that the inundated portion was limited to the section lying between Third, and Seventh, and South of M street. On all the adjoining streets, the late occupants of houses were busily engaged in cleaning out and fixing up those of their houses which can be made inhabitable again. The scene presented is one of confusion and desolation. Some of the houses are turned partially around; some are broken and shattered, and all are covered inside and outside up to the high-water mark with mud — mud of the worst kind — of a soft, slippery, greasy character, which it requires a great deal of labor to get rid of. The streets are strewn with fences, doors, shutters, lumber, cord-wood, broken furniture, dead horses, and lifeless cows and hogs. Fruit-trees and shrubbery are greatly injured, if not utterly destroyed. Boats of various sizes are still actively engaged in the water, picking up whatever is worth taking possession of. Many families are evidently preparing to go into their houses in a few days.”
Fences were gone, the gardens were ruined, the houses were unfit for habitation, thousands of persons were without clothing or provisions, all business and labor was broken up, there was no access to the interior, the railroad was broken, and the stages were fastened up in the mountains.
No less than forty-five Chinamen were carried away in their cabins at Oregon Bar, in Placer County. The Chinese hongs in San Francisco have since received letters from the interior of the State, to the effect that during the late [. ] near one thousand Chinamen were washed off from Long Bar and vicinity on the Yuba, and drowned. It appears that the poor fellows remained in their cabins on the bar; as they had done during the previous floods, until the raging waters rose about them and rendered their escape impossible.
The American River rose 55 feet. Great damage was done in all parts of the State.