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Whatever Happened To The Squaw Tom “Meteorite”

The mystery of the location of a 5-ton mass of iron, suspected of being a meteorite, after being found in the California Mojave Desert, but was never recovered.

It came as a surprise to me when I received a large manilla envelope in the mail, containing photo-copies of newspaper clippings and photos of what was described as being “Another Large Iron Meteorite”. The envelope showed that it had been sent by a Pat Schoffstall, a curator from the Mojave River Valley Museum (MRVM) in Barstow, California. Actually, getting an envelope from this museum wasn’t all that much of a surprise to me, because I knew some of the curators there, and not long before, I had paid a visit to ask the staff if they had any meteorites in their collection. (They didn’t have any, so I gave them a couple of small chondrites, and gave them my contact information, in case anyone else would bring them a meteorite – such as, for identification.)

But like I said, the newspaper clippings were about an “iron meteorite”, and when I talked to the staff at the museum our discussion centered on small stony meteorites. Other than a brief mention about the Old Woman Meteorite, which was on display only 2 blocks away at the Desert Discovery Center, there was no mention of any iron meteorites, let alone a “LARGE” one. The photos were not dated, but the newspaper clippings definitely were dated — all of them were from “1977”. It turns out that Pat had heard about my visit and request about meteorites, so she volunteered to take on the task of going through all the records at the museum regarding “meteorites”, and she is the one that pulled-up an entire folder of information labeled as “Squaw Tom Meteorite”! So, she is the one responsible for resurrecting this rare piece of history, and without request, was kind enough to make photo-copies for me of all the information that she discovered.
NOTE: I received this envelope in August of 2017, so these newspaper clippings were very nearly 40 years old! This would be back in the time-period soon after the Old Woman Meteorite was brought to the consciousness of the American public.

Having written an article about the Old Woman Meteorite earlier in 2017, I was very intrigued about the existence of this ferrous doppelgänger, which by all accounts had been lost to history. In any case, I had never heard about this ~5-ton “find”.

But, here in my hands was all the evidence I would ever need to be convinced of its existence. And it wasn’t as if it was a kept-secret. After all, it isn’t very often that a “meteorite” lands on the headlines of a newspaper. But what was being kept secret was the exact location of this iron-mass. What was divulged, is that it still remained where it was found, in a very remote location (in the Avawatz Mountains NE of Barstow), and coupled with it being so massive, it wasn’t going anywhere soon.

There were newspaper clippings from four separate daily papers. The first three articles were curious press announcements given by a spokes-person for the two finders, a representative of the local mining council, a Mr. William E. Smith. better known locally as, Bill Smith. The gist of these articles was that ” the two prospectors” were not going to divulge the location of their find until they were assured a “finder’s fee”, all because of the controversy surrounding the Old Woman Meteorite (OWM). But one good tidbit was that the dimensions were given for this “Squaw Tom” iron. This was divulged in order to compare the dimensions to the OWM in order to show that the OWM was actually smaller. Now that we know these dimensions, it will help identify the “Squaw Tom” should it ever be relocated. Another tidbit from the article was the fact that a sample was extracted from the main-mass. The location of that sample is also unknown, and probably will be less likely to be found than the main-mass.

One last “tidbit” mentioned in these articles was that there were originally four photos taken of the iron-mass (in-situ). These same photos are called-out as “4 pictures (various angles) of Squaw Tom’s meteorite” in museum paperwork called “RECORD OF LOAN”, an agreement signed by William E. Smith. Two of those “pictures” appear in this article. Unfortunately, there is no record of what happened to the other two pictures. It also raises the question of who took the pictures, because there is no mention of who is the photographer. It doesn’t exclude the possibility that the photos were taken by Mr. Smith, because it is only an assumption that the cameraman was Sander’s partner, Art Wilson. If it is the former, then it raises the possibility that Bill Smith is more than a spokesman, but knows first-hand the location of this find, and that there were at least 3 people with that knowledge.

In this photo (reportedly taken in 1977) is the subject “meteorite” (in-situ) along with its namesake finder, “Squaw Tom” Sanders.

Not knowing the height of Mr. Sanders, or having anything else to use as a scale, it is hard to judge the size of the “Squaw Tom” iron-mass. As a side note, it wasn’t until I enlarged this image that I noticed something in Mr. Sanders hand. At first, I thought it was a thin magnet stick, but later I decided that it probably was a magnet on the end of a string. Apparently, this object attracts a magnet.  In the image below the finder, “Squaw Tom” Sanders, is kneeling next to his “meteorite” (in-situ). The shadow of the photographer (supposedly, Sanders partner, Art Wilson) can be seen falling upon the iron-mass.

Depicted below is another photo taken on the same day as the image above. 

Depicted below is a black & white version of the above image. This was done in order to increase contrast.

Mojave River Valley Museum paperwork, an agreement called “RECORD OF LOAN”.

Were there others?  Are there any other people still living that would know the location, or whatever happened to this mystery iron-mass?

Below is headline from the 1977 Oct. 8th Desert Dispatch, the newspaper that broke the news of a “2nd Meteorite Reported”!
The existence of ANOTHER large meteorite comes across the newswires. It’s not every day that a meteorite makes the headlines of a newspaper! This gives some indication of the impact on the psyche of the residents of San Bernardino County after the saga of the prior “recovery” of the Old Woman iron meteorite was published in all of the local newspapers.

Here is the article that goes with that “headline”: In the above article, it states that “Sanders said he first discovered the rock about 50 years ago, but thought it was ‘just a piece of iron.’ He said that he took his friend, Wilson, to examine the rock, and Wilson, who had seen the first meteorite [OWM] in the BLM office, told him what it was.”
“Bill Smith, president of the Barstow Council of the United Mining Council, said the location of the second meteorite won’t be disclosed until the government assures the miner of a finder’s fee. The prospectors said they have shown a piece of the metoerite [sic] to BLM officials, and one the miners, Art Wilson, showed a piece of the meteorite to the Desert Dispatch.”

Three days later, this headline becomes a by-line picked-up by other newspapers!

The article in The Bakersfield Californian, dated Tue, Oct 11th 1977 – titled, “Miners claim biggest meteor” [sic]
BARSTOW (AP) — Two miners say they’ve discovered a meteorite even bigger than the “Old Woman Meteor” [sic] that touched off a tug-of-war between state and federal officials and the men who found it.
But the miners aren’t saying just where their treasure trove is, except that it’s allegedly somewhere in the Avawatz Mountains about 60 miles northeast of Barstow.
The new specimen was dubbed the “Squaw Tom Meteorite” after one of the men who says he found it: “Squaw Tom” Sanders.
The miners claim an assayer has certified the authenticity of the rock as an iron and nickel meteor, the same as the “Old Woman”.
Sanders said he discovered “Squaw Tom” in 1927, but did nothing about it. ‘I thought it was just a piece of iron,’ he explained.
Sanders claims “Squaw Tom” weighs more than 3 tons, while the ‘Old Woman’ weighs 2.5 tons. The “Squaw Tom” specimen is also 26 inches longer, 11 inches wider and 6 inches higher, Sanders claims.”

The article in the Independent (Long Beach, California), dated Tue, Oct 11th 1977 – titled, “Meteorite found in ’27 bared” .
Here is a close-up of the above article.

BARSTOW (AP) — Two miners say they’ve discovered a meteorite larger than the recently discovered “Old Woman” meteorite, but were keeping its exact location secret Monday [sic] because of controversy over the ownership of its authenticated predecessor.
The miners claim an assayer has certified the authenticity of the purported outer space rock, but due to Monday’s federal holiday, no immediate confirmation was available from BLM personnel or other officials.
The newly reported specimen, which lies somewhere in the Avawatz Mountains about 60 miles northeast of Barstow, has been dubbed the “Squaw Tom Meteorite” after one of the two miners who claimed it: Squaw Tom Sanders.
Sanders said he discovered “Squaw Tom” in 1927, but did nothing about it. ‘I thought it was just a piece of iron,’ he explained.
However, after he and his partner, Art Wilson, viewed the “Old Woman” in Barstow recently, Sanders noticed the resemblance and decided to take another look at the specimen he had found in the desert decades earlier.
Chemical tests were done by an assayer, who certified that it was a genuine meteorite, with a nickel iron composition similar to that of the “Old Woman”, Sanders said. The alleged authentication was disclosed Saturday.
The specimen weighs more than three tons, while the “Old Woman: weighs two-and-a-half tons, Sanders said. The “Squaw Tom” specimen is also 28 inches longer, 11 inches wider, and 6 inches higher…”

Finally, there were two more newspaper clippings, but these were follow-up articles. They primarily focused on the disconcerting update that UCLA had tested a sample and deemed it man-made. They determined that [the sample they were given] didn’t have the internal structure of an iron meteorite, nor could they find any nickel (Ni) in the alloy. Regrettably, no record of this sample [from 1977] could be found at UCLA.

Make no mistake, there is little doubt in the minds of the meteorite scientists (although none were metallurgists) who have examined samples from this ~5-ton mass of iron, that it is nothing more than man-made foundry iron, an “artifact-iron”. But the discrepancy in the test results between the researchers and the assayer were never reconciled. So, questions still remain. “Where is the sample?”, and “Where is this main-mass currently located?”, and “Is it still sitting in the Mojave Desert?”. That is the mystery that historians would like to get answered. So far, none of the principle characters involved with the “Squaw Tom” saga can be located, or have passed away. If you have any information regarding this ~5-ton enigma, then please contact this author, or the Mojave River Valley Museum.

Post Script: Earlier in 2019, another multi-ton mass of iron was found (but in Riverside County), and it is tantalizing how similar it is in gross appearance to “Squaw Tom”. Could it be possible that the “Squaw Tom” was relocated (then abandoned) and now “found” again.
Research and testing of this “3rd” iron-mass is on-going.

This article has been abbreviated in order for it to be included in this September issue of Meteorite-Times Magazine. The second part of this article will appear is a future edition.


[1] Mojave River Valley Museum — on Barstow Road in Barstow, California, is two blocks away from the Desert Discovery Center where the “Old Woman Meteorite” is on display. Both are dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the scientific, historical and cultural heritage of the Mojave Desert.

[2] “Bob’s Findings” for January 2017 — “The Story of the Old Woman Meteorite” An article by Bob Verish in the January 2017 edition of “Meteorite-Times Magazine”.

[3] Another California Meteorite — where the finder will not disclose its find location! How many other undisclosed meteorites are there?

External links:

NevadaGram #207 – Squaw Tom, The Picon Drinker and the Guy from Tahoe.

“Fate and circumstance have decreed that this month’s NevadaGram will feature Squaw Tom Sanders at the top of the page. This is one of the stories that won him the Nevada Press Association’s First Place award for Writing by a Rural Correspondent in the Gold Hill NEWS in 1975. Truth be told, he didn’t write his stories at all; he told them, spoke them into a cassette tape recorder and one of us at the paper wold transcribe them. His stories about Native American life in Nevada of the 1920s – 1970s are unique, and this is one of my favorites, a short police procedural, with a wry twist at the end: “ALBERT HICKS, Indian Police” …. ”

NevadaGram #212 – Boulder City 1935, Squaw Tom, and Sourdough Slim.

“When Tom Sanders ran away from home at 13, he was taken in by an Indian couple and for most of the rest of his life he lived among the Indian people of Nevada.

This is one of the recordings Tom made for The Gold Hill NEWS. He would sometimes stop by with a handful of new stories on cassettes, other times he would take a chair out behind World Headquarters and tell a story into the recorder.

Ideally you are seated in a comfortable chair with a refreshment at hand, mind prepared to cast the modern moment aside and drift through time into a different world as you punch the Play button and in deadpan fashion Tom tells the racy tale he called “Under the Trampoline”…”

My previous Bob’s Findings can be found *HERE*

If you have any information as to whatever happened to this 5-ton “pseudometeorite”, then please contact this author at: bolidechaser at yahoo-dot-com

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