When the Mississippi River ran Backwards

Jadon Gibson

It wasn’t unusual for Rev. Reuben Ross to attend a funeral in Stewart County, Tennessee, in the fall of 1811. He was a Baptist preacher, elder, and was acquainted with the deceased. It is likely that he preached the funeral.

The service was lengthy and nightfall was eminent when Rev. Ross completed his sermon, cautioning that death is no respecter of age, person or social status.

“Everyone needs to be ready for the day of reckoning,” the preacher explained. “The end of time is near.”

Emotions were running high when the casket was lowered into the grave. It was odd that even the horses and other animals became restless. Daylight was waning when all at once a brilliant light appeared in the northwestern sky and streaked across the Heavens. The earth trembled, frightening many of the mourners. Some thought the end of time was nigh, worried and weeping. They fretted that they may have waited too long to put their faith in our precious God Almighty. Others rejoiced… ready to meet Jesus.

The funeral attendees and others for countless miles around had no way of knowing it was “the great comet of 1811” and beginning of a series of earthquakes, centered in New Madrid, Missouri near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. It was the largest series of earthquakes ever in the United States. Over 2,000 individual earthquakes occurred in the central Midwest between December 16, 1811 and March of 1812. Much of the town of New Madrid caved in… lost to the Mississippi River. Even today we still hear of the New Madrid fault-line and that another calamity may occur at any time in the Midwestern United States.

The New Madrid earthquake and those that followed through March of 1812 resulted in widespread devastation and actually caused the Mississippi River to run backwards. It is possible another similar occurrence along the fault-line would result in thousands of lives lost. In 1811 the area was sparsely populated.

After the monstrous quake of February 7, 1812, the flow of the Mississippi River astonishingly turned and ran backwards. The return flow of water running against itself soon met the regular flow running southward. Hundreds of thousands of acres for miles around were laid waste, inundated by water. Two large waterfalls were created within the Mississippi River which actually ran backwards for several hours before normalcy returned.

Prior to the onset of quakes the animals became nervous and agitated. It was reported by many that domestic animals became wild and wild animals became more amiable to human contact. Wild birds landed in close proximity to people and other animals exited from their normal wintry domiciles.

Many people thought the comet, earthquakes and other events were indicative of the wrath of an angry God and that the day of judgment may be at hand. It caused an alarm among all classes of people. Many acquired and began reading Bibles vociferously during the period. Church attendance grew and many individuals found the Lord during the three-month period of over 2,000 earthquakes.

A benefit from the earthquake was the formation of Reelfoot Lake, with dimensions of five by fifteen miles, a favorite vacation land to this day.
Back in Stewart County, Tennessee, “a pitiful and terror-stricken crowd” arrived outside the home of Rev. Reuben Ross on the morning after the first shock, asking that he preach to them. Many repented of their sins, accepted Jesus as their Savior and permanently reformed their lives. Later in the day after a lengthy Bible study and nightfall neared, their fears led them to spend the night. Terrors of possible doom was great. It was reported that every humble knee bowed in prayer.

When the earthquakes discontinued three months later, March of 1812, some of the followers faltered in their beliefs. They attended church less often or altogether. They became known as “earthquake Christians.” Others remained faithful to their vows knowing that everyone’s days on earth are numbered, earthquakes or no.

The number of lives lost during the quakes was surprisingly low but most everyone was largely affected. The area was sparsely populated in that era and much of the population fled to the hills at the onset of the earthly tremors. Certainly not everyone escaped the calamity. An entire Indian village was decimated and the individuals drowned.

“During that period of time the people could do practically none of their normal activities,” Rev. Jacob Bower, wrote. Rev. Bower preached in Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri during his lengthy service for the Lord.
“There was continual visiting from house to house however, singing, praying and witnessing,” he wrote. “They were always watching for the arrival of traveling ministers, wanting to hear them preach. People frequently inquired as to what they must do to be saved.

“Eternity, oh eternity was at hand and so many unprepared… unprepared for the approaching judgment. The earth was shaking, quivering, trembling and men’s hearts were quaking. Families gathered together, grasping each other in their arms.

That’s how it was during the New Madrid earthquakes, some felt as far away as New York city. Church bells rang in Boston from December 16, 1811 through the end of March 1812.
No other earthquakes in the history of the world lasted so long and produced as much earthly damage. copyright 2018 Jadon Gibson

Editor’s note: Jadon Gibson is a widely read Appalachian writer from Harrogate Tenn. A 1962 graduate of UK his writings are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read periodically at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!

A Voice for God – a voice for good
My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. Recently my brother in Mississippi (He’s the only one I have) told me his little dog had died. I could tell by his words that he was greatly moved due to his loss. People become very close to their pets. The pets become close to their owners too. Periodically we see or hear of a pet that becomes lost but eventually finds their way back home, even from great distances, famished and haggard.

My first pet was a black cat that an uncle, Luther Sexton, brought to our home on Sanctified Hill in Cumberland, Kentucky, in about 1945. Blackey had a long life, in fact she lost all of her teeth before her passing. Surprisingly she was still a good mouser. I didn’t have a camera back then but I can picture how the photograph would look and likely Ripley’s Believe or Not would want a copy. She held the mouse’s head in her mouth until it smothered to death.

I recall having a young kitten in 1964 while living in Rolla, Missouri. I ran over it while backing out of the carport. We didn’t have the kitten very long but I was still saddened and dejected for causing her death.

My wife Chris and I raised and sold basset hounds in the early 1980’s and occasionally a young pup would die. A friend gave us an older and robust female that was named Bo. We had her outside of our rural home a day or so later when she began walking down our lengthy gravel driveway toward the road. We had a laugh with her having her bags packed and leaving us. Actually she stayed with us for a long time

Before moving back to eastern Tennessee in 1985 we sold our bassets. We had one whose name was Brandy. She had a low IQ even for a dog. I’ll not go into that but I will say when we sold her to a young couple she readily jumped into the backseat without any prompting. Actually she loved riding and would have jumped in any vehicle without persuasion so we didn’t take it personally.
When you raise registered dogs sometimes you acquire a dog like Bo who I mentioned earlier. When we got Bo she had a ‘top knot,’ a growth right on the top of her head. We had it removed by a vet and joked afterwards that she had a face lift and ‘looked marvelous.’

Someone gave us Ida Red, a young basset who had a slight deformity, a ridge-back, her spine more pronounced than normal. She was a real delight. Without me prompting her she would stand on her hind legs and put her front legs up on my chest as though we were dancing. It was very endearing. When she became pregnant, day after day she became overdue but we felt the lucky day would come soon. We had to go somewhere for the evening and left her in our basement. It was wintertime and we wanted her to stay warm. When we returned we found her dead on the basement floor even though we had bedding for her there. She probably needed medical attention but paced the basement until she couldn’t take any more. The memory still troubles us 36 years later.

People become very attached to their pets. I was in a sales interview in about 1978 and it seemed the sale was assured when, all at once, the family dog was run over by a car in front of their house. In a prior Voice from God I wrote of Chris and I buying my mother a Himalayan kitten while purchasing two for ourselves. She absolutely loved it… a outstanding companion for Mom until she passed on.

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. Even though some of our pets have bitter memories they bring back many fond memories as well. We have pictures of them just as we do our sons though certainly not as many. Many readers are likewise attached to their pets and thank God for bringing them into their lives. Do you think they may have their favorite dog or cat in Heaven. I don’t know but it’s a nice thought. God bless!

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