Colorado Extraterrestrial

By Bob Landgraf

Most Colorado families lead quiet uneventful lives hidden from the local media. That was about to change for the Stevens family. No one was home on that fateful October night of Oct. 27, 1973. Well, not no one, Misty was home. Home alone. The time was shortly after six on a cold autumn night. Suddenly there was a rifle shot, not really a rifle shot, but sure sounded like one. Misty was terrified and was probably sprayed with small debris as a rock hit the concrete floor of the garage in which she resided. But, wasn’t Misty inside a large safe garage? A six inch gaping hole appeared in the garage roof from a rock that was no ordinary rock but a messenger from far, far away. The messenger had traveled sixty million miles to show us a sample of what particles are spinning around our solar system. The Stevens family returned home to find a very frightened Calico cat named Misty and some mysterious rocks strewn about their garage floor. If not for the sheriff’s interest in the event, the meteorite would have been discarded. Mr. Stevens had considered moving to a new residence before the meteorite incidence and this event just encouraged him not to wait around for something else to hit his house. This was the Canon City Meteorite Impact. At that time this was one of only three witnessed Impact events in Colorado and one of only 27 events to involve a human structure in the United States.

In November of 1907, two cowboys, Robert Pope of Canon City, CO and J.T. Witcher of Guffey, CO were out and about looking after their cattle along the headwaters of the Freshwater River when they encountered something that made them think that they had struck it rich! And, maybe they had? They found what they thought was a large silver nugget, by large, meaning very large, like 36x15x8 inches and weighing 682 pounds. When they rubbed the nugget, the surface was white, actually more like the appearance of stainless steel. They tried to break off a piece without success. That should have been a clue that this was something very different. Silver is very soft and nickel iron pretty hard. With some assistance the specimen made its way to Cripple Creek and subsequently the specimen was bought by the American Museum of Natural History and shipped out by rail. An account of the purchase price has not been readily available but if they had found that specimen today, they would have truly felt like they had won the national lottery! The specimen contains fractures that would suggest that other pieces broke off and may exist out there somewhere in the Guffey area. The nearest post office to the impact site was Guffey and hence the meteorite became known as the Guffey meteorite. The Guffey meteorite has the distinction of being the largest Colorado meteorite ever found. Because of the low level of rusty scale on the surface, the meteorite is thought not to have lain on the mountain long before being found.

The date was July 6, 1924 shortly after 4:20 in the afternoon. The sky was clear, no thunderstorm activity in sight when, without warning, four huge explosions were heard along with shrill screeches, whistles and crackling of machine gun fire like bursts. Gray smoke followed the four explosions. Spectators at a nearby ballgame noticed an object streaking through the sky as if headed for home plate. The game broke up in a stampede! The dreaded object in the sky passed over. Nearby, John Moore Sr. was being laid to rest outside the Dilley Chapel at the Elwell Cemetery in Weld County, Colorado. A huge thump was heard at the funeral as an impact occurred near the highway a mere thirty feet from the church doors and barely missing the funeral procession. Some two hundred people attending the funeral stood as witnesses to the event. Now remembering Misty’s ordeal in Canon City, the cat must have feared impending death. Our species, having a more substantial cranial development, has a larger capacity for imagination and as might be expected the Elwell witnesses had thoughts of purgatory and eternal damnation. Just fear of death was not enough! After the service, the undertaker, Mr. H. A. Clingenpeel with shovel in hand, undertook the excavation of the mysterious object. Other accounts include the names Rev. E. W. Thompson of Elwell and Walter Mallomee of Johnstown as participating in the recovery of the meteorite. The meteorite was noted to be two feet under the surface and cool to the touch at 45 minutes after impact. A 241 ounce specimen was recovered. Since Elwell did not appear in the postal directory, the meteorite took the name of Johnstown, which had the nearest post office. Another large specimen was observed to land in a beet field, two miles north of Johnstown. The projectile was probably stopped by pebbles and boulders at a depth of five and a half feet. An 831 ounce specimen was recovered which eventually found its way to the American Museum of Natural History. Smaller specimens landed on roof tops and near field workers. Debris was found to be spread over a narrow ellipse on the order of ten miles long and two miles wide.

The archives of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science have specimens from the above described three meteorite events including the cut out roof section of the Canon City Event. The Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society, Colorado Meteorite Society and the Western Museum of Mining and Industry are working together to exhibit these specimens and roof section at the Pikes Peak Gem and Mineral Show to celebrate the 40th year anniversary of the Canon City Meteorite Impact. The event will be June 7-9, 2013, Friday through Sunday, 9AM to 5PM at the Western Museum of Mining and Industry. (Click here for more information about the Pikes Peak Gem & Mineral Show!)

The exhibits will be attended by members who can answer your questions. There will be specimens that you can touch. You can hold a meteorite. Exhibits will include the various types of meteorites, how to identify a meteorite crater and how to identify a meteorite. Maybe you will be the lucky one to find that missing fragment of the Guffey meteorite. I hear that it’s still out there somewhere.

There will also be an exhibit with one or more specimens from the Feb. 15, 2013 Russian Chelyabinsk Meteorite Impact. The Chelyabinsk meteorite was estimated at near 60 feet in diameter and 10000 tons when it exploded.

Other institutions and individuals have been invited to exhibit. Updates will be made as they become available. There also will be fossil and mineral exhibits from club members and other invited exhibitors.

American Museum Journal vol.9, no. 8 pages 235-243
American Museum Novitates Number 203 Nov. 30, 1925
Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph 10/31/1973
Fort Collins Express Courier July 8, 1924
The Johnstown Breeze
Bits and pieces from websites too numerous to mention

Please note: Bob Landgraf is a member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society (CSMS). CSMS supports WMMI's education mission financially and with the skills and talents of its members. Thank you, CSMS! Please click their Logo to get more information about CSMS.

Please consider supporting WMMI's Nonprofit Education Mission - Click Here To Become A Member!