An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine
Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books


Atoka, Oklahoma

A Comic Cosmic Chondrite Chain Reaction

Author's note: This story about the fall and recovery of the Atoka chondrite is a compilation of information gleaned from several sources including a June 18, 1982 letter by Oscar Monnig in answer to H. H. Nininger's request for information about the event; an excerpt from Hal Povenmire's 2003 book titled The Encyclopedia of Cosmic Close Encounters; and an unpublished document prepared by Frank Cressy.

A little over a month after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on September 17, 1945, a stone meteorite fell from the sky near Atoka, Oklahoma.

One witness to the fall, which happened just north of the town saw the object slam into a moist drainage area about 12 feet away, and as is understandable for the time, he suspected it might be a bomb. It is reported that many in the town saw or heard the fall including local police who felt sure whatever fell from the sky was not a bomb.

But better safe than sorry as the saying goes.

Atoka slice


And as the story goes, the witness marked the spot of the now mud-embedded object, and quickly notified the local authorities.

Now it turns out that Stringtown was just down the road which at the time happened to have a prison. And the prison just happened to have an apparently expendable convict serving a life sentence.

The above picture shows the slice of Atoka I entered into my collection from Michael Farmer, who in turn traded it out of the TCU meteorite collection.


Atoka slice


Described by Povenmire as, "the good and Christian thing" to do, Monnig reports that "they got a life term prisoner from the local penitentiary to come down the next morning and gave him a long-handled shovel with which to dig out the object."

Atoka is a porous L6 with abundant metal flake, discernable chondrules and other inclusions. The total known weight of the several recovered Atoka stones is a scant 1400 grams.

Atoka slice


Happy to find a rock instead of an unexploded (or exploded for that matter) bomb, the meteorite was promptly cracked in half on a railroad track. Povenmire states the total mass of this stone as 475g with the largest fragment at 330g.

The reverse side of my slice is unpolished and still scarred with the saw marks from the hungry diamonds that ate their way through the stone creating a section of Atoka that eventually landed in my hands.


Atoka slice


Having not given up any secrets after the railroad track torture, the stones (now plural) were given to a local school teacher, who in turn provided them to Oscar Monnig.

In his letter to Nininger, Monnig made the foreshadowing note "that the witness who saw it hit did not report any rain of missiles or fragments or small objects around him."

Fusion crust is an important indicator of the authenticity of any witnessed fall. With so much North African material on the market, one who collects historic witnessed falls such a myself must be careful with uncrusted pieces since more than a few crust-free NWA matrix slices have been repurposed into witnessed falls-especially those rarely if ever seen in private collections.


Atoka crust


Having heard about another stone from the fall being recovered from a bean patch near the first find, Monnig secured a "beautifully complete and entirely fresh small stone which had made a craterlet in the sand which I photographed with my hat beside it."

Listed as the main mass of Atoka in The Oscar E. Monnig Meteorite Collection Catalog is a complete stone of some 518.3 grams. Also listed is a half individual of 80.6g.

The Catalogue of Meteorites lists additional distributions of Atoka material as 432g in the Smithsonian Museum, 32g in the Field Museum in Chicago, and 58g in the Museum of Natural History in London. Oddly, the Field Museum Catalog does not list Atoka as a member of their esteemed collection.

The slice in my collection, while not large, about 15 grams, is well crusted on three of the four edges. Atoka first entered my collection as a thin section since that was the only offering of Atoka material I had encountered prior to Michael Farmer's great collection blowout sale in 2005.


Atoka crust


Monnig continues, "At this place, I inquired about the circumstances of the fall and here is the intriguing part. The man and his wife were at their house a short distance from the garden with the dried up bean patch. I think he was outside running a Maytag washing machine at the time of the fall. I believe he heard the detonations over the noise of the washer. The wife was inside the house and apparently did not hear the detonations but called out to him asking if it was raining."

Many collectors have learned the hard way to resist the urge to clean specimens. Often, the dirt or staining, especially on fresh fusion crust, may hold value both to elements about the story of the specimen, as well as, and possibly more importantly, in providing a some additional terrestrial documentation of the true nature of the specimen's landing and recovery.


Atoka crust


"He thought she was referring to the detonations, having mistaken them for thunder. She said no but that she thought she had heard rain drops on the roof."

In the case of Atoka, the dirt embedded within a few nooks and crannies of my slice's crust is the very same mud that hid the stone when it was a suspected bomb, and the very same soil that was dug into with a long handled shovel by a prisoner serving a life sentence.


Atoka inclusion


Being the ever-dedicated scientist and meteorite collector, Monnig and someone named Sanders, "doffed our shoes and climbed up on the roof to examine carefully in hopes of finding small stones. It was a shingle roof so we looked especially in the open slots between the shingles but a thorough search revealed nothing."

The largest inclusion or smashed chondrule in my slice is pictured above just inside a crusted corner area.


Atoka inclusion


"We descended and searched all around the drip line below the edges of the eaves. We found nothing and then tried an Alnico magnet all around the house in the suspected area."

Although Monnig and Sanders did find an "amazing amount" of other bits of metal, they left the house empty handed.

Then, as Monnig reminisced, " About 20 miles out of town, I turned to Sanders and told him where the little meteorites were - in the gizzards of the chickens we had routed out from under the house and running all over the yard. You know how chickens will run after small grain thrown out for them in the yard. I bet they had run out and picked up the meteorites, but it was too wild a hypothesis to justify returning and disemboweling a chicken or two."

As for chondrules, those visible in my slice of Atoka seem rather unexciting, usually just expressed as black circles a millimeter or two in diameter.

Sometimes the keywords associated with particular meteorites take on a life of their own. The Park Forest fall yielded the Garza stone, Peekskill is synonymous with car crunching, Ensisheim with King Maximilian, Nakhla with a dog, and ALH84001 with life on Mars. Maybe someday when a collector sees a chicken gizzard, the fall of the Atoka meteorite will come to mind. Or maybe not.

Until next time.

The Accretion Desk welcomes all comments and feedback.