The Devastating Southern Arizona Earthquake of 1887by Jim Gressinger on Oct. 27, 2013, under Local History, Old West
Photo Caption: A view of the fissures on the eastern face of Bucky O’Neill Hill in Bisbee about 1910. Some locals claim these cracks were the result of the 1887 earthquake. However, the fractures were actually a result of subsidence that took place due to mining in the area. Photo Courtesy of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum.
Editor’s Note: at the time of the devastating Southern Arizona Earthquake of 1887, there were only about 90,000 people living in all of Arizona Territory. The following account was written by Henry Bethea for The Copper Chronicles, a joint project of the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum Bisbee’s KBRP Radio. He holds the copyright and the article is reproduced here with permission. Geologists tell us that quakes along this fault occur about ever 100,000 years.
May 3, 1887 was just another mid-spring day in Bisbee with pleasant weather, men toiling in the mines, stores going about their business, kids in school, donkey trains hauling wood and water, people busy making what was still a rough mining camp into a town and a place to call home. Everything changed at 3:12 pm.
An earthquake, reported later to be 7.4 on the Richter Scale, struck with force on a fault line in northern Mexico and the rattling and shaking began. The epicenter was approximately 40 miles southeast of Douglas and tremors were felt in every direction—in Tucson, Phoenix, El Paso, Albuquerque, Yuma, Mexico City and especially in Cochise County and northern Sonora. Near the center of the quake, the little town of Bavispe with 1500 people was nearly leveled and forty-two people died. On John Slaughter’s ranch east of Douglas, every building was destroyed. The Tombstone Epitaph later reported that of more than 7000 adobe bricks used at the ranch, less than 120 were left unbroken.