An extensive fault scarp system was formed during the Hebgen Lake earthquake of August 17, 1959 (11:37:15 p.m., M.S.T., Gutenberg-Richter magnitude 7.1). Bedrock beneath Hebgen Lake warped, rotated, and caused a seiche in the lake. A major landslide dammed Madison Canyon, causing a lake to form above the slide. An estimated 19 persons were buried by the slide. Other slides and rock falls took out sections of the main highway north of Hebgen Lake and closed many roads in Yellowstone Park.
Small unit masonry structures as well as wooden buildings along the major fault scarps usually survived with little damage when subjected only to vibratory forces. The unit masonry buildings, in particular, had little or no earthquake bracing. Intensity at the major scarp has been given a Modified Mercalli Scale rating of X. However, the maximum intensity ratings based on vibratory motion even a few feet away from the scarps were VII or VIII. Within the limits of observation there was little or no reduction in vibratory intensity 5 to 10 miles away compared to that at the fault. This is not to say that the ground motions were similar. At the closest strong-motion seismograph station (Bozeman, 58 miles from the epicenter) maximum recorded acceleration was about 7 per cent gravity. The earthquake was generally felt in about a 600,000 square mile area, mostly north of the instrumental epicenter.
The earth-fill Hebgen Dam was within 1000 feet of a major scarp. The dam was significantly damaged, but it continued to be an effective structure.