Sunday, January 03, 2016
“The Lassen Peak Eruptions & Their Lingering Legacy”
“People had believed that Lassen Peak, a 10,457-foot high mountain, was an extinct volcano…. Then on May 19, 1915, a great eruption with lava caused a massive mudflow down the northeastern slope of the peak, unleashing damage and destruction onto Hat Creek Valley below.”
Lassen had “reawakened” earlier, on May 30, 1914, when it began to emit steam and black smoke. Elmer Sorahan, riding toward Susanville, looked up “and was moved to casually comment to his riding companion, ‘Looks like Mt. Lassen’s erupting.’”
Alan Willendrup of Roseville interviewed eyewitnesses for research on Lassen Peak forty years ago. Now, thanks to the Association for Northern California Historical Research, based at Chico State University, Willendrup’s work has been reissued and enhanced. “The Lassen Peak Eruptions & Their Lingering Legacy” ($19.95 in paperback from ANCHR, www.csuchico.edu/anchr) covers geology; the “First and Second Americans”; the eruptions and their aftermath. (Copies are available at The Bookstore in Chico, Discount Books in Oroville, and My Girlfriend’s Closet in Paradise.)
It’s a beautifully-written narrative, told with the human touch and a keen eye to set the record straight in the wake of wildly exaggerated newspaper stories.
No one died as a direct result of the eruptions, but there were some close calls and life in the areas below the peak would never be the same. The Shasta County Fair in 1915 featured “the only real live volcano in the United States”; and Charles E. Kunkle of Chico blamed Lassen for causing heavy spring rains that year.
It's clear from his laconic observation that “Sorahan knew nothing of the significance that this initial eruption would later have on his life. In less than a year, he would literally be running for his life from a fast advancing mudflow roaring down from the slopes of Lassen Peak on a path of destruction toward his small homestead in the Hat Creek Valley. But having no crystal ball, Sorahan and his companion were content to maintain their leisurely trot back to Susanville.”
Today? “One hundred years later, as the descendants of these incredibly resilient people live out their lives at the foot of Lassen Peak, the mountain sleeps—for now.”