The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By David Stevens
Editor 

Opinion: Tucumcari quakes don't kill people

 

October 24, 2018



We don’t know much about Charles Franklin Petitt.

He was from Cleveland, Tennessee, he’d apparently gone to Tucumcari, and his mother was worried about him in the fall of 1937.

Ray H. Smith was secretary of the Tucumcari Chamber of Commerce at the time.

Smith tried to help after receiving this note from a Petitt family friend:

“Somewhere near Tucumcari, during the time of the earthquake around 6 years ago ... there lived a boy by the name of Charles Franklin Petitt. His mother would like to know if he survived the earthquake and if you can locate his whereabouts. She is grown old and becoming anxious about her son.”

After failing in his effort to find Petitt, Smith told newspaper reporters that he, too, was “growing older and becoming anxious” about the matter himself.

“To date (Nov. 17, 1937) I have located neither the earthquake nor Petitt,” Smith said.

Today is a good day to think about Petitt, and our region’s history of earthquakes, because the Texas Panhandle experienced a mild tremor early Saturday morning.

The epicenter was about nine miles northeast of Amarillo. It measured 4.0 on the Richter scale, meaning it rattled a few dishes, maybe knocked over a few lawn chairs if you can believe Facebook.

While this region is not famous for the earth moving, the U.S. Geological Survey has recorded dozens of earthquakes around here in the past century.

This year alone, New Mexico has experienced at least 11 measurable earthquakes, most around Raton, all less traumatizing than Amarillo’s.

Probably the largest earthquake to hit eastern New Mexico was on May 23, 1949, near Vaughn. That one registered a VI on the Mercalli Intensity Magnitude scale, sort of the father of Richter.

A VI on the MIM scale means the tremor was “felt by all, many frightened. Some heavy furniture moved; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.”

The Santa Rosa News at the time reported many Vaughn residents awoke from their sleep because their beds were shaking. No injuries were reported, but “a sink hole was found to have dropped from 10 to 12 feet,” the paper reported.

Clovis’ most memorable earthquake occurred Dec. 19, 1935. The MIM was recorded somewhere between III-IV. Two guys standing by a light pole felt the street move. A wall was reported cracked at 209 Mitchell St. and a crack in wallpaper was reported at 406 E. Fourth St.

Quay County has experienced about a dozen mild earthquakes since the early 1900s, but none were reported around the time Charles Franklin Petitt’s mom started to worry about him.

At least Chamber Secretary Smith couldn’t remember anything like that. Researchers Stuart Northrop and Allan Sanford noted three earthquakes in Northeastern New Mexico between 1907 and 1936, but none were close enough or strong enough for Tucumcari to feel.

There was a large earthquake in Albuquerque on Dec. 3, 1930. The Albuquerque Journal reported it was “believed to be the strongest earth shock ever known here.” No injuries were reported, but plaster walls and bricks on homes were reported cracked. The newspaper headline the next day read, “Quakes felt over 70-mile radius.”

Tucumcari is about 175 miles from Albuquerque, but here’s a theory:

Petitt’s mom, in Tennessee, heard a news report about an earthquake in New Mexico and noted it happened about the same time her son stopped communicating with her.

It’s just a theory, as are the possibilities we can imagine based on this tidbit from the 1940 U.S. Census:

A Charles Petitt, who was born March 6, 1910, was living in Bradley County in Cleveland, Tennessee.

We’ll never know, but it’s possible his mother tracked him down in 1937 after all, and he was able to return home before her passing.

At least we know he didn’t die in an earthquake in Tucumcari.

David Stevens is editor for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at: [email protected]

 

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