The Mississippi River Started Flowing Backwards In 1812, : Explained

On February 7, 1812, marks one of the most important (rather bizarre) incidents for the greatest community on the Mississippi River from Natchez, Mississippi, to St. Louis, Missouri, during the time, which was New Madrid.

An incident that left them and the world in a state of confusion for the longest time. 

This day an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.5 occurred which had the power to turn the Mississippi River around and make new gaps in the terrain. As a result, water filled in the depressions and created Reelfoot Lake in West Tennessee. 

However, until 2014, scientists were unaware that New Madrid was also situated in a highly seismically active region east towards the Rocky Mountains. During the winter of 1811–1812, this New Madrid earthquake zone generated hundreds of strong aftershocks and a series of earthquakes, including three of the greatest U.S. earthquakes recorded east of the Rocky Mountains. 

The biggest of the three occurred around 3:45 a.m. EST on February 7, 1812. With an estimated magnitude of 7.5, the earthquake destroyed New Madrid. Additionally, the tremor was strong enough to seriously destroy residences some 160 miles distant in St. Louis.

What Were The Consequences Of This Great Occurrence?

The three occurrences linked to the 1811–12 earthquake cycle have very different magnitude estimates, mostly because these estimates are based on historical narratives and studies of the current environment rather than data from contemporary seismic instruments. Apart from demolishing towns, the seismic activity altered the untouched terrain. For instance, the earthquake in northeastern Tennessee across the Mississippi River caused a portion of the ground to sink by at least five to twenty feet.  

Boatmen stated that the Mississippi went backward for a while following the earthquake on February 7. The violent earth movement that occurred 15 miles south of New Madrid destroyed hundreds of acres of virgin forest, drowned the occupants of an Indian settlement, and temporarily formed a pair of waterfalls in the Mississippi. 

How Did This Come About?

It occurred when a thrust fault near the bottom of the river loop close to New Madrid produced an abrupt dam many feet high. The terror that occurred as massive floods rose over previously dry terrain is described in several documented reports from the 1811–1812 New Madrid earthquake. 

This specific earthquake happened on a fault that crossed the Mississippi River three times, according to the USGS. This fault’s uplift created cliffs or scarps that, in certain places, gave rise to waterfalls and a dam. The descriptions provided by the riverboat pilots might potentially be explained by the temporary inundation caused by the construction of dams on the river.

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