1812 Earthquake causes fluvial tsunami in Mississippi On this day in 1812, the most violent of a series of earthquakes near Missouricauses a so-called fluvial tsunami in the Mississippi River, actually making the river run backward for several hours. The series of tremors, which took place between December 1811 and March 1812, were the most powerful in the history of the United States. The unusual seismic activity began at about 2 a.m. on December 16, 1811, when a strong tremor rocked the New Madrid region. The city of New Madrid, located near the Mississippi River in present-day Arkansas, had about 1,000 residents at the time, mostly farmers, hunters and fur trappers. At 7:15 a.m., an even more powerful quake erupted, now estimated to have had a magnitude of 8.6. This tremor literally knocked people off their feet and many people experienced nausea from the extensive rolling of the earth. Given that the area was sparsely populated and there weren’t many multi-story structures, the death toll was relatively low. However, the quake did cause landslides that destroyed several communities, including Little Prairie, Missouri. The earthquake also caused fissures–some as much as several hundred feet long–to open on the earth’s surface. Large trees were snapped in two. Sulfur leaked out from underground pockets and river banks vanished, flooding thousands of acres of forests. On January 23, 1812, an estimated 8.4-magnitude quake struck in nearly the same location, causing disastrous effects. Reportedly, the president’s wife, Dolley Madison, was awoken by the tremor in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, the death toll was smaller, as most of the survivors of the first earthquake were now living in tents, in which they could not be crushed. The strongest of the tremors followed on February 7. This one was estimated at an amazing 8.8-magnitude and was probably one of the strongest quakes in human history. Church bells rang in Boston, thousands of miles away, from the shaking. Brick walls were toppled in Cincinnati. In the Mississippi River, water turned brown and whirlpools developed suddenly from the depressions created in the riverbed. Waterfalls were created in an instant; in one report, 30 boats were helplessly thrown over falls, killing the people on board. Many of the small islands in the middle of the river, often used as bases by river pirates, permanently disappeared. Large lakes, such as Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee and Big Lake at the Arkansas-Missouri border, were created by the earthquake as river water poured into new depressions. This series of large earthquakes ended in March, although there were aftershocks for a few more years. In all, it is believed that approximately 1,000 people died because of the earthquakes, though an accurate count is difficult to determine because of a lack of an accurate record of the Native American population in the area at the time. 1855 Cowboy celebrity Charles Siringo is born Charles Siringo, one of the most famous contemporary chroniclers of the cowboy life, is born in Matagorda County, Texas. When Siringo was only 30 years old, he published the first authentic autobiographical account of the cowboy life, A Texas Cowboy, or Fifteen Years on the Hurricane Deck of a Spanish Cow Pony. The book was an immediate success and played a pivotal role in creating the enduring American fascination with the Western cowboy. Unlike some of the subsequent popular accounts of western ranching written by eastern greenhorns, Siringo based his memoir on his authentic experiences as a Texas cowboy. While still only a teen, Siringo had registered a brand and begun building his own ranch by the then still acceptable practice of claiming “mavericks,” unbranded cows wandering the open range. Siringo was never able to build much of a herd, but his years spent on trail drives and roundups provided perfect material for a genuine, if somewhat romantic, portrait of the short-lived golden era of the open range. A few years before he wrote A Texas Cowboy, Siringo had abandoned the footloose cowboy life to become a husband and storekeeper in Caldwell, Kansas. Siringo, though, seemed incapable of staying out of the action for long. In 1886, he hired on as a detective for the infamous Pinkerton National Detective Agency. Working out of the Pinkerton’s Denver office, Siringo’s career as a detective for hire was every bit as dramatic as his earlier years on the open range. In 1892, he infiltrated the radical labor movement in the mining region near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where conflicts with management had become bitterly violent. Around the turn of the century, Siringo spent four years pursuing the famous Wild Bunch at the behest of the railroad companies angered by the gangs’ repeated train robberies. Siringo traveled more than 25,000 miles around the West chasing after Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other gang members. When Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled to South America, the Pinkertons finally forced Siringo to abandon the case. In 1907, Siringo left the Pinkertons and turned again to writing about his past adventures. In 1912, he published A Cowboy Detective, an account of his 20-year career as a detective. Three years later, Siringo attacked the often violent and illegal Pinkerton methods he had witnessed in Two Evil Isms: Pinkertonism and Anarchism. Legal threats from the Pinkertons forced him to eliminate such overt attacks from his subsequent books, and he instead returned to the Wild West themes that had won him his first success. Siringo lived out his later years in California, and died in 1928 at the age of 73. 1938 Tire king Firestone dies On February 7, 1938, automotive industry pioneer Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the major American tire company that bore his name, dies at the age of 69 in Miami Beach, Florida. By 1910, Firestone’s profits passed $1 million for the first time. The following year, the winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500 auto race, Ray Harroun, drove a Marmon Wasp equipped with Firestone tires. By 1926, Firestone was manufacturing more than 10 million tires each year, which represented approximately 25 percent of America’s total tire output. Around this time, Firestone established its own rubber plantations in Liberia, Africa, in order to break free of Britain and the Netherlands, who controlled the rubber market through production in their Asian colonies. Harvey Firestone retired in 1932 and died in 1938. In 1988, the Firestone company was acquired by Japan-based Bridgestone Corporation, a leading global tire manufacturer founded in 1931.