by Mark Bostick
The Catalog of Colorado Meteorites
Even before its latest find, Colorado has been one of the leading states in meteorite finds and falls. The reasons Dr. Harvey H. Nininger gave Kansas for having so many discovered meteorites, the scarcity of terrestrial rocks, a dry climate and the interest factor, can be also said about Colorado. Plus there is the Nininger factor. In 1900, Colorado could only claim six meteorites. During the next three decades, seven more meteorites were added, bringing the number to 13. A respectable number for any state at that time. Then on October 1930, the Niningers moved to Denver and like magic, the number of meteorites finds went up drastically. By 1977 Colorado had claim to 65 meteorites and two Maybes. Meteorites tend to bring with them interesting stories and the history of Colorado meteorites is no exception.
The story of Colorado meteorites is both entertaining and educational. The famous Johnstown fall interrupted a funeral service. Canon City invited itself through the roof of a new garage. The Franceville resulted in the dismissal of a well-liked college professor. At least five meteorites have been found in old Indian camp sites. A Catalog has been in the works for over 30 years. Fate however has kept this publication from happening. Now, once again, a Catalog of Colorado Meteorites is being worked on and will some day soon see print.
In 1932 Dr. Richard Maxwell Pearl started collecting minerals and with that, meteorites. A geology professor at Colorado College, Pearl in no time became one of the leading mineral writers and meteorite experts in Colorado. He became a member of the Meteoritical Society in 1934, known then as the Society of Research on Meteorites. Later he would join their fellowship. By 1941, Richard Pearl had a store in downtown Denver with possibly the largest stock of meteorites for sale to the general pubic. From the mid 40's to the mid 70's, Pearl wrote at least 20 different books on rocks, gems and minerals. His books were quite popular and several of them received multiple printing. How to Know Them Minerals and Rocks made its way to the printer 14 times. Several focused on Colorado, such as Landforms of Colorado, or the very popular Colorado Gem Trails and Mineral Guide. While it is quite clear Pearl had a passion for earthly gems and minerals, meteorites were an equal part of his interest.
During 1951 Richard Pearl was sanctioned by Harvard University for a proposed PhD Study on Colorado Meteorites. It was agreed that the Denver Museum of National History would get to publish his findings. So first attempt at the Catalog of Colorado Meteorites was made. Pearl obtained folders of paperwork and specimens of 42 different Colorado meteorites for this project. Several of these came from friends of his, Dr. Nininger and Nininger's son-in-law Glenn Huss. The funding however was pulled and the book, never materialized.
The very well researched and assembled "Meteorites in Michigan", was issued in 1968 by the Michigan Department of Conservation, after seeing this book Richard Pearl once again attempted to write the Catalog. The Denver Museum of National History still interested in the publication proposed the project, but before it could get going too fast it was grounded.
During this time in his life Richard Pearl was quite busy. Pearl wrote a new book on an average of more then one a year and worked at revisions for updates of his older publications at the same time. Magazine writing and editing mixed in between. Pearl still teaching geology at Colorado College as well, would often mix "interesting and amusing" meteorite experiments in with the class work. In 1972, Pearl and his students participated in the 1972 search with Terry E. Schmidt for more specimens of the Johnstown fall. The attempts to gather meteorite dust was of high interest to Dr. Nininger at this time and Pearl with his students, helped with this subject.
In the meteorite community, Richard Pearl is best known for finding the Elliot iron meteorite. In 1973 Pearl recognized two stones found by Floyd Thompson as meteorites. Thompson found the stones on his ranch in Elliot, Colorado. One in a dry creek bed and the other in a soil layer exposed by erosion. This find created a little more meteorite buzz then usual. The Elliot meteorite was found only 1.2km from the Franceville meteorites. Both these meteorites are medium octahedrite irons, but both are different. The irons have different shock features and kamacite band widths. In the December 30, 1974 issue of Meteoritics. Richard Pearl is listed as having co-wrote the article on these two meteorites.
The earliest book I have found by Richard Pearl, after much searching, is the Art of Gem Cutting. Printed in his hometown of Colorado Springs during 1945, but even this is a 3rd edition. The last book published with Pearl's name on it is from Dover Press in 1995, 1001 Questions Answered About the Mineral Kingdom. Books were printed with Pearl's name on it for over 50 years. In fact, if you counted every edition of every book that had his name on it. You could say he that wrote over 100 books, and that would include a very long list of publishers. Yet, his only meteorite publication is a small booklet.
During June 1975, R. M. Pearl Books premiered with the publication of at least two small booklets. One on garnets, and the other titled Fallen from Heaven: Meteorites and Man. Now, after over 30 years of being involved in meteorites. Richard Pearl started once again, to write the story of Colorado meteorites. I can only imagine how hard of a task this would be. In 1967 Brian Mason modified classification charts and the electron microscope entered the meteorite world. Many of the Colorado meteorites needed modern examination during the 1970's. Nobody could be more qualified then Pearl.
Two Buttes Meteorite
The Catalog of Colorado Meteorites exist currently as a manuscript in a three ring binder, over 227 pages and with 9 (Huss?) photos. A label gun sticker titles its name. The manuscript is at least in its fourth revision and even then has corrections and additions. The listing of where Colorado meteorites were curated during in the 1970's is quite impressive and complete with museum catalog numbers and weights. Includes complete reference listings and is full of extra's such as information on early Colorado meteorite collectors and Colorado residents that helped make advancements in meteoritics.
At the 65th Annual Meteoritical Society Meeting this year, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, formally the Denver Museum of National History, announced it is producing a database on the location, classification and history of all Colorado meteorites. When I received the manuscript it was over 20 years old and I have done some research to add to its volume. So I am for the moment unsure of the fate of Pearl catalog. I plan on contacting the museum in near future and will decide its fate at a later date.
Less then a month ago, the Cotopaxi iron meteorite was found. The 76th meteorite for Colorado and its 14th iron. Work is never done.
The Catalog of Colorado Meteorites, by Richard Pearl, 1977?, unpublished.
Find a Falling Star, by Harvey H. Nininger, 1972
I have also been working on a bibliography of Richard Maxwell Pearl's books. Those interested in Colorado rocks and minerals May find it of interest as about half his writings are on the subject of geology in Colorado. Many of his mineral book have pages devoted to meteorites. If you are interested in seeing the list, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Extra note: In 2000, The Handbook of Colorado Meteorites was released by Matt Morgan of Lakewood, CO. The Handbook has classification information, short bios and a Colorado state map showing find and fall locations. Available through many meteorite dealer websites including, Matt Morgan own website. www.mhmeteorites.com