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Brenham, Kansas Meteorite Farm

Years ago, I had a conversation with a meteorite collector friend of mine. I mentioned the “Meteorite Farm,” and he did not know what I was talking about. I was surprised. I thought just about everyone knew about the “Meteorite Farm,” but I was wrong to assume this. Therefore, I am sharing with my friends the story about the “Meteorite Farm,” “Kansas Meteorite Farm,” “Brenham Meteorite Farm,” “Haviland Meteorite Farm,” or “Kimberly Farm” as the names some of you may recognize, and all of them refer to the same farm located in Haviland, Kansas in the Brenham Township of Kiowa County, USA.

I find it refreshing to read about a non-fiction story related to a famous historic meteorite whose main character is a strong woman who was ahead of her time.

In 1885, Frank Kimberly and his bride, Eliza, came to Kiowa County, Kansas , to exercise their rights under the Homestead Act to claim 160 acres of free land, as long as, they improved the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. Frank was looking at Brenham (Haviland), and Greensburg for a plot of land for his farm. The Kimberly’s first home was a “dug-out” which was a large hole dug into the ground and covered with poles or lumber to support the soil which was piled on the roof. It was the most common home for homesteaders.

Frank planted corn and feed. Frank farmed the land and would occasionally come across unusually heavy black rocks scattered over the buffalo grass. No other stones were to be seen for miles around the treeless plain.

When the Kimberly’s came to the farm, Eliza immediately noticed the black rocks, and she was convinced they were meteorites. She would collect the “iron stones” and make a rock pile near the dug-out house. Frank and the neighbors would laugh at Eliza and her growing rock pile. Occasionally, Frank would plow into the rocks, and Eliza would add them to her growing rock pile.

 


A thick 53 gram slice of Brenham with impeccable provenance, painted numbers, matching labels, and a rich history. This piece has it all.

 


I have not seen another Pallasite specimen with such documented provenance. Imagine the hands that touched this Pallasite – H. H. Nininger, Dolores Hill (University of Arizona), Mike Farmer, Eliza Kimberly? Nininger bought a few specimens from Eliza and Frank Kimberly.

 

One day, Eliza brought Frank lunch and noticed a particularly large specimen weighing approximately hundred and fifty pounds Frank dug out of the ground. They loaded it onto the wagon, but Frank was becoming increasingly annoyed with his wife’s crazy fantasy, and dumped it out into the fields instead of adding it to the rock pile.

Many times, the rocks were a point of contention between Frank and Eliza. Frank thought Eliza could spend more time with chores around the farm instead of spending time moving worthless rocks. Disregarding his criticism, she continued adding to her collection pile.

Eliza was so convinced that her rock collection were meteorites that she wrote to everyone she knew who had knowledge of geology asking them to examine her rocks. After a long five years, she convinced Dr. F.W. Gragen, a Harvard trained geologist who taught at Washburn (Kansas) college, to come inspect her rocks. He wrote that he would come examine her rock collection.

Frank and his neighbor son-in-law, Jud, looked forward to Gragen’s visit as a break from work, and they felt the professor would inform Eliza that she had been breaking her back to gather a bunch of worthless rocks. The two men knew little about science and less about the “meters” that Eliza had been saving.

On 13 March 1890, Dr. Gragen visited the farm. Mary, the Kimberly’s daughter and her husband Jud Evan were neighbors and came over for Dr. Gragen’s visit. Frank and Jud speculated about the professor’s reaction when seeing the pile of rusty stones. Frank was hopeful that Dr. Gragen would pay even a small amount and remove the nuisance from their yard. Frank thought this may finally convince his wife to stop with her obsession of collecting worthless rocks and spend more time with important chores.

Eliza wanted her entire collection to be available for Dr. Gragen’s inspection, and she had more than twenty specimens lying in the yard near the house which included a seventy pound rock that had been holding down the cover on a rain barrel that she carried to the yard. The prize in Eliza’s collection was a 466 pound stone. It was nicknamed the “moon rock.” Frank cursed when he found it because it broke his plow and gave him some bruised ribs when he ran into the plow as it suddenly stopped after hitting the large stone. Frank and his son-in-law Jud brought it to the yard using horses and a tow chain.

When the professor arrived, he brought from his buggy a bag with tools. Dr Gragen took out a chipping hammer and magnifying glass from his bag. The chipping hammer was used and an examination of the opening it created was done. The professor took a long time examining the “moon rock.”

After a pause, Dr. Gragen informed the group that Eliza’s rocks were meteorites. Eliza proclaimed, “I knew it!” He tried to bargain and purchase all of them. Dr. Gragen’s offer was so astonishing and generous that Frank wanted to accept the offer right away. The Kimberly’s were barely eking out a living at their homestead. Eliza was overjoyed with the offer and glanced at Frank, and proceeded to tell Dr. Gragen, “no.” Frank’s heart sank.

The family had a private meeting and returned to discuss the value of the meteorites, but the professor held firm to his first offer telling them that is all the money that he had. Eliza countered that Dr. Gragen could select five of the masses from her collection of twenty, and he agreed. Eliza being a shrewd negotiator received several hundred dollars for a little more than half of Eliza’s collection that weighed about a ton. It was enough money for the Kimberly’s to pay off their mortgage and buy a neighboring farm from which they found more meteorites to sell. They also shared a portion of the money with their neighboring daughter and son-in-law – Mary and Jud Evans.

The next day, after Frank delivered Dr. Gragen’s specimens to the railroad station, the Kimberly’s were visited by Professor Robert Hay who was a teacher and scientist educated at the College of London and also worked for the U.S. Geological Survey as a geologist. Professor Hay made more than one visit mapping out where many of the masses were found. It is unknown if he purchased any meteorites.

Three days after Professor Hay’s visit, Professor Francis Huntington Snow, scientist and Chancellor of Kansas University visited the farm and purchased a 101.5 pound specimen which was earlier purchased by Frank from a cowboy. According to the Kansas City Star, Frank purchased the rock from a cowboy for three dollars and sold it for $150. According to the newspaper, the sale of meteorites helped the Kimberly’s save the farm from foreclosure since it was heavily mortgaged.

Eliza’s five years of collecting “iron stones” culminated in tremendous activity. Farm work became secondary to this unexpected business of reaping money that had fallen from the sky. Frank took up the cause enthusiastically and would go about the neighborhood offering to buy up the “iron stones.” He was not as discerning as Eliza and sometimes paid for a huge hunk of slag. He went back to his field to search in vain for the 150 pound meteorite he dumped from the wagon. Frank searched again and again for the specimen but without success.

Dr. Gragen and Dr. Snow sold part of their haul to Dr. George F. Kunz, who would go on to become vice-president and chief gemologist at Tiffany and Co. Dr. Kunz obtained eight masses which he resold to other scientists, universities, and museums. (Read my Meteorite Times article on George F. Kunz and Tiffany’s for more information on a fascinating man.) Three months after Dr. Gragen’s discovery, an article written by Dr. Kunz appeared in Science on June 13, 1890 providing a comprehensive history of the Brenham meteorite.

After the Kimberly’s sold a ton and a half of meteorites, for years they could find no more buyers. In 1923, Nininger, with borrowed money, purchased a couple of large specimens the Kimberly’s could not market. Nininger wrote, “These specimens from the “meteorite farm” made a substantial addition to my young collection and were a substantial help to my thin bank roll when I made resales of parts of them. In 1927 I purchased a mass weighing 465 pounds, turned up by a plow boy. Ultimately I added a half ton of Brenham to my collection before the supply seemed to be exhausted.”

 


From my library, H. H. Nininger’s, “Notes on Oxidation of Certain Meteorites” “The Formation of Meteorodes” On the cover at the top right corner, in Nininger’s hand, “Compliments of the Author” A 9.8 gram meteorode with painted number and matching AML label.

 

In 1929, when Nininger was visiting Frank and Eliza, he found out about a “buffalo wallow” where Frank discovered a sixty-eight pounder. Eliza chimed in that she had found a bushel of those real small ones around the wallow, but not in the hole. Nininger asked Frank to show him the “buffalo wallow.” Frank showed Nininger the shallow depression about forty feet across with a rim around the edge. Frank said, it was a lot deeper but that he filled it during planting season. Nininger recognized it immediately as a meteor crater.

Nininger received permission to dig near where Frank found the sixty-eight pounder on the edge of the rim. He encountered small, potato sized, rusty brown nodules which when broken exposed inside of them rounded olivine crystals. Except for the olivine crystals, the round rust color lumps bore no resemblance to the meteorites the Kimberly’s found. Nininger coined the phrase “meteorode” to describe these oxidized meteorite lumps. Frank was never able to sell any of these lumps, so he was not too interested in the wallow. Nininger was interested in excavating into the wallow, but Frank insisted on doing any excavating. Nininger was more interested in the structure of the crater, and did not want Frank to destroy the crater, so he did not push the issue. Nininger mused, “I conceived that these oxidized forms with their shell of oxides containing remnants of a true pallasite might be scientifically more valuable than unoxidized specimens.”

 


My 26.7 gram meterode specimen with hand painted number and matching American Meteorite Laboratory label.

 

Around May of 1933, Nininger returned to the Haviland crater. Frank passed away on 14th December 1932 at the age of 85, and Eliza passed away 1st April 1933 at the age of 84. Both were gone when Nininger visited and a new generation of Kimberly’s gave him permission to excavate the buffalo wallow. Nininger was expecting to find a meteorite weighing about a ton, however, he was disappointed to find the largest meteorite was eighty-five pounds even though they found in total 1,200 pounds of meteorites and Meteorodes.

 


A decent sized 50.1 gram meteorode from ASU’s collection and accompanying Aerolite Meteorites label. Geoff Notkin of TV “Meteorite Men” fame signed the label certifying the meteorode’s authenticity and ASU provenance. The label could be considered a collector’s item since Geoff doesn’t sign most of the Aerolite labels. Also pictured is the matching ASU label.

 

The Meteorite Farm was acquired in 1940 by Charles J. Harmon from the Kimberly heirs, then in 1946 was acquired by Ellis L. Peck who wrote “Space Rocks and Buffalo Grass” a wonderful book about the famous meteorite farm. It is my favorite writing about the farm. Ellis and H.O. Stockwell struck up an agreement for Stockwell to search the Meteorite Farm for meteorites. Stockwell found a 1,000 pound Brenham meteorite on the property and paid $1,000 to Ellis. That 1,000 pound rock is still in Greensburg, Kansas.

In 1993, Ellis Peck passed away and his farm went up for sale in auction in 1994. My friend Don Stimpson and his wife Sheila Knepper purchased the meteorite farm. Prior to purchasing the farm in 1991, Don and Sheila came searching for meteorites around the farm during their vacation from Chicago. Their first Brenham finds were a few grams to baseball size using a metal detector based on the Stockwell design.

After purchasing the farm, Don found another crater out on the farm that was more compact than the one Nininger found, but had a larger amount of material, over 1,500 pounds of meteorites and Meteorodes. He tried to get a paper published about his discovery, but the science journal declined.

 


My friend Don Stimpson wrote and signed the card attesting to his finding the accompanying metorode on the Meteorite Farm that he and his wife, Sheila purchased in 1994. They were well aware of the Meteorite Farm history and specifically bought the farm for the meteorites located on it, and its marvelous history.

 

Around 1996, Don and Sheila opened the first meteorite museum in the old school house in Haviland. They planned to open a second museum in Greensburg in 2008 in a corner building owned by Mayor McCullough, but a tornado changed everything. They built their own building to get the meteorite museum started. Don and Sheila came to Kansas to start a meteorite museum with the goal of making a new tourist attraction that would be self-sustaining. They wanted to call attention to a very unique site in this country. Unfortunately, they did not make the self-sustaining goal, and the museum closed when Don reached retirement age.

You can watch YouTube videos and live vicariously through Don as he locates and excavates Brenham meteorites that weigh hundreds of pounds to 1,100 pounds on his meteorite farm. He uses a large metal detector set-up he created and drags behind his truck to locate the meteorites.

Don and Sheila certainly channel the spirit of Eliza and Frank – the original owners of the meteorite farm.

References:
1) Ellis L. Peck, former owner of the “Meteorite Farm,” book “Space Rocks and Buffalo Grass”
2) H.H. Nininger’s book “Find A Falling Star”
3) Wikipedia – Brenham (meteorite)
4) Don Stimpson, current owner of the “Meteorite Farm,” emails to Mitch Noda

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