Immense Destruction of Property – Damage $10,000,000.
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 instant.
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. Form the foot of the Sierra Nevada at Folsom, to the base of the coast range near Fairfield, the plain is about 10 miles wide. The original site of the city was sixteen feet above low water mark and the river rose 17 or 18 feet above nearly every year.
A railroad connects Sacramento and Folsom both on the southern bank of the American River and twenty miles apart. The railroad enters the Capital city about two miles north of the American River on a high embankment. 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 time to come down so there was abundant room for the water of the American to spread out when it should reach Sacramento River. But the levee dammed the water in and it very soon was ten feet higher inside than the levee 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 parlors. 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 upstairs, those who lived in one story houses ran for their lives. And when the water filled the city there was 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 horses were swept away.
The Union of the 18th says:
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 required a great deal of labor to get rid of. The streets were 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.
– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, February 1, 1862, p. 3