Montana is a land of contrasts formed by the continuous shifting of the earth, and on August 17, 1959, the Madison River Valley was the site where it chose to tremble and shake. During that brief moment, which by geologic time is nearly immeasurable, 80 million cubic feet of mountainside slid from its perch, causing a brief but massive windstorm. Before the dust settled, a river was rerouted and a new lake was formed. It was a cataclysmic geologic event, and it was over in an instant. For the people in the Madison River Valley, however, this nanosecond of geologic time seemed to last forever.
Violently awakened on what had been a calm, star-filled night, hundreds of campers, tourists, and residents found themselves in a confusing and disorienting chaos. Twenty-eight people were killed by the quake’s power. Nineteen were buried alive under the massive landslide. It has been nearly 50 years, and a visit to this valley is still humbling. The barren mountainside remains, and absorbing the enormity and suddenness of the event leaves one feeling insignificant and helpless against the forces Mother Nature can unleash.
© 2017 Jan and Christina Nesset/Menasha Ridge Press. All Rights Reserved.