Stephen F. Austin State University

The 1811 Earthquake in Bossier (May 2012)

The 1811 Earthquake in Bossier
By Ann Middleton

In his weekly column in the Bossier Press on July 9, 1970, Bossier historian Rupert Peyton recounted the story of the earthquake that occurred in Bossier in 1811, resulting in the formation of Lake Bistineau. His account was based on the story that was published in "Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northwest Louisiana" in 1890.

One of the earliest accounts of this region by the white man was told by trappers of the great earthquake of 1811 which formed Lake Bistineau and many other lakes in the Mississippi Valley from southern Missouri, west Tennessee through Arkansas and into north Louisiana.

"Dorcheete (Dorcheat) perhaps is the longest bayou in Louisiana. It rises in the northeast portion of Hempstead County, Ark., and making a devious route south, now empties in Lake Bistineau, measuring in its torturous course about 150 miles. But Dorcheete, it is said, once emptied into Red River, so says the story left by the hunters, who in the early part of this century (nineteenth) were in the habit of traveling this part of the state in their animal excursions to the hunting grounds of Arkansas. A party of these hunters were on their return south when a terrific rainstorm rose, forcing them into camping on the banks of the stream. In the midst of the storm which raged for several days, they felt a peculiar tremor of the ground, which was not accounted for. When the storm afterwards cleared, beholding, where the narrow channel of the bayou once was, was not stretched out the wide waters of Lake Bistineau. The swampy bottom of the bayou with its timbers had sunk beneath the outspread waters of the newly formed lake. This was about the time when the prolonged earthquake which so completely changed the east regions of Missouri from Old Madrid to the mouth of White River in Arkansas, causing thousands of acres and wide sections of the country of the two states to sink many feet, often below the bed of the great river (The Red), hence the swamp lands in Arkansas and many of the lakes in that section."

Rupert Peyton noted that The Louisiana Conservationist, published by the State Department of Conservation, supported the story of the earthquake, though he does not cite a particular issue. He also wrote that the Indians in this region told of the great quake and how their chief, forewarned of the disaster by the Great Spirit, had moved his people from this region before the quake occurred.

To learn about this and other unusual happenings in the history of Bossier Parish, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.