Iowa History Daily: May 2 - Winnebago County Meteorite

Iowa History Daily: At around 5:15 p.m. on May 2, 1890, Iowans craned their necks to watch as a bright ball of fire left a trail of smoke from west to east over the state. Drawn by the thunderous sound emanating from what came to be known as the 1890 Winnebago County Meteor after it struck eleven miles north of Forest City, residents as far south as Des Moines reported witnessing the cosmic event.



As the meteor smashed into northern Winnebago County, huge fragments shattered. Local residents discovered remnants as large as 104 pounds of the chrondite (Parnallite group of Meunier) meteorite. “Its great. size, powerful illumination, discharge of sparks, comet-like tail three to five degrees in length, and the great train of smoke which marked its course for a full ten minutes after its passage, made a strong and lasting impression on the minds of all who saw it,” noted Joseph Torrey Jr. and Edwin Barbour of Grinnell College in the days following the event.

Moving quickly and descending at an angle between 50 and 55 degrees, the meteorite shattered in before hitting the ground and spread remnants over an area of at least two square miles not far from the town of Thompson. Local man Hans Matterson collected several fragments and brought them to Forest City in the days following the strike.


After local farmer Peter Hoagland found a part “as large as a water bucket,” scientists from throughout the area started to arrive. State Geologist from the University of Minnesota Horace V. Winchell ended up buying the remnant for over a hundred dollars. A competing bidder, jilted by the fact Hoagland removed the stone from a neighboring field, went to the land owner on whose property the stone fell and struck a deal.




The man went to the sheriff in Forest City armed with a writ of ownership, who forced Winchell to surrender the large chunk of meteorite. Court proceedings followed, ultimately heading all the way to the Iowa Supreme Court. Although the remnant ultimately ended up in the collection of the University of Minnesota, a jury forced Iowa’s northerly neighbor to pay over five-times the originally agreed upon sum.


Even though the largest parts went to the Land of 10,000 lakes, Forest City’s Winnebago Historical Society holds several pieces of the famous meteorite in their collection at the Mansion Museum on North Clark Street. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar



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