You have to wonder, before the days of modern science, what natives and new settlers to our land thought of such cataclysmic events as earthquakes. Particularly when they ripped open the earth, tore down their houses, and did the impossible, like making a river flow backwards.
That was the kind of horror visited upon the few scattered residents around New Madrid, Missouri in December of 1811. In the middle of the night, after a mighty roar, the Earth opened up in several places, including in the middle of the Mississippi River, then slammed together again, spewing out mud and water, that not only knocked down acres of trees, but temporarily changed the course of the river, making it flow backwards.
But it was not the first earthquake, or even the first serious one noted in that area. The problem was that as a new settlement, with no schools or other institutions, the area was largely illiterate, and so few written accounts of seismic activity in that region survive.
It is known that significant quakes occurred in 1699, 1776, 1779, 1792, 1795, and 1804. But never had they terrified so many, because the land was not well populated until the 1800s. By some verbal accounts, over 1800 tremors struck the area between December 1811 and March 1812. The last major aftershock in January of 1812, caused most of the residents to flee for good, their homes gone, and their fear too great to overcome.
Because of the underlying fault in the area, some scientists predict an upheaval on the average of every 100 years, but the earth has remained silent and the river has remained on course for nearly 200 years.