GREENSBURG — There isn’t an exact total for a number of pounds of the meteorites found near Brenham, a tiny spot on the map in Kiowa County. But it is believed to be the largest collection discovered in one area in the whole world, and Brenham (halfway between Haviland and Greensburg along US-400/54 highway is where the fourth-largest meteorite of its kind was found by H.O. Stockwell and landowner Bob Peck in 1947.
Now known as the Brenham Meteorite, this 1,000-pound specimen of outer space origin is housed at the Big Well Museum and Visitors Center in Greensburg, also in Kiowa County and not far from the discovery site near Brenham.
“The meteorite is one of the main attractions in our museum, along with the Big Well and museum exhibits about the history of the town, the 2007 tornado and rebuilding process," said Greensburg city administrator Stacy Barnes. "Visitors come here all the time asking about the history of the meteorite, where is came from, where it was found, etc.”
The history about the discovery of the Brehnam Meteorite and many other smaller meteorites found in the same area is well-documented in a book, "Space Rocks and Buffalo Grass," written by longtime Kiowa County resident by Ellis L. Peck in 1979.
“On a day in the distant and obscure past, a huge meteorite ended its wanderings in outer space to blaze a brilliant trail through the earth’s atmosphere. The meteorite plunged into an inconspicuous spot on the immense prairie lands that lay east of the Rocky Mountains and stretched northward from the Rio Grande to Canada. It came to rest on the grassy plains of what is now known as the State of Kansas,” Peck wrote.
Stockwell wasn't the first to find meteorites in southwest Kansas farming country. Native Americans tribes had various reactions to these black rocks from the sky. Some thought they sacred symbols, while others believed they were objects related to forces of evil. It wasn’t until March 13, 1890, that some answers came to light about these mysterious rocks from outer space.
Professor F.W. Cragin from Washburn College (now known as Washburn University) made the trip to the small farmstead of Frank and Eliza Kimberly in southwest Kansas. Eliza Kimberly had spent the five years her family had been on the plains of Kansas gathering these strange black rocks from the fields and meadows of her families homestead. She brought the most interesting ones to her yard.
Cragin, a Harvard-trained scientist, came in response to Eliza’s letters, which described the unusual black rocks. Cragin used a chipping hammer on the surface, then examined it with a magnifying glass. He discovered these were a rare type of meteorite, pallasites. Cragin purchased five rocks, including one dubbed a moon rock, which weighed 466 pounds, one described as arch-shaped, weighing 345 pounds, one that was used to hold the cover on the rain barrel, another weighing 72 pounds, and one weighing 35.72 pounds.
Fast forward nearly 35 years and more discoveries were made on the Kimberly farm. Henry Nininger, a science teacher at McPherson College, had worked with the Kimberly’s for eight years before he was finally given access to investigate a large buffalo waller on the property. He dug up 1,200 pounds of meteorites there, but didn't find what H. O. Stockwell did, another scientist who came after Nininger.
Stockwell began digging for meteroites on the former Kimberly in 1947, using modern technology — a metal detector — and discovered two 400-pound meteorites, and along with the current landowner Bob Peck, dug them out with a tractor. Eventually, Stockwell discovered the crown jewel of the meteorites in southwest Kansas, the 1,000-plus-pound specimen that now resides in Greensburg. At the time, it was the fourth largest meteorite discovered of its kind.
Editor's Note: Much information in this article is from "Space Rocks and Buffalo Grass," Ellis L. Peck, 1979.