Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Willamette Meteor.

In autumn of 1902, nearabouts modernday West Linn, William Dale was visited by his nieghbor & fellow miner, a Welshman by the name Ellis Hughs. The day before he had come across a strange rock, partially buried, about 3/4ths of a mile from his property, Hughs confideded. The pair went to have a gander at it & the curious cavities burrowed into it, some voluminous enough to contain a child. At some point Dale hit it w/ a rock, & gave it out a ringing sound. At this sound, both knew it to be an iron meteorite of prestigious size.

15 & a half tons, to be exact. The size of a VW beetle.

A dilemma, however. The meteorite rested the land of the Oregon Iron & Steel Co. Hughs & Dale camoflaged the meteor in brush & branches & went home to conspire a means of claiming the meteor as thier own. The plan of least resistance was to innocently (& completely non-suspicious) purchase the land from Oregon Iron, then "discover" the meteor afterwards. In need of capital, Dale departed to eastern Oregon, to sell property he owned.

Dale never returned.

Months past by. Mrs. Hughs spurred her husband to action. Lacking the raw capital to obtain the meteor's plot of earth, Hughs resolved to physically relocate the space rock to his property & then, again, "discover" it afterwards.

In August of 1903, in absolute secrecy, with his teenage son, his old horse, & nothing else except hand tools, Hughs dug around the meteor, levered it out of its resting place & onto a flatbed cart constructed completely from logs, w/ wheels fashioned from tree trunk sections. Harnessing his horse to a capstan (a post driven into the ground, fastened to a steel cable), the horse walked in circles, winding the cable around the post and (slowly) pulling the cart (& its payload) forward.

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Hughs, the Willamette Meteor, & its wooden cart.

Hughs had only 100-feet of cable (all he could afford, perhaps), so every 100 feet the capstan had to be dug up & re-set 100-feet ahead w/ all necessary clearing of brush & such so the horse, cable & cart had room to move.

3 months later, the meteor was on Hugh's property. He fashioned a shed around it, declared he had discovered it where it stood, & charged curious folk 25 cents per gander. One of these gawkers was counsel for Oregon Iron & Steel, & he quickly deduced the original location of the meteor.1 The attorney offered Hughs $50 for the meteor. Hughs chased him off. Oregon Iron took Hughs to court.

The court ruled in favor of Oregon Iron & Steel, despite creative arguments by Hughs.2 Hughs appealed, but on July 17, 1905, the state Supreme court upheld the earlier ruling. Oregon Iron exhibited the meteor at the Lewis & Clark Expo, & at its unveiling, Governor Chamberlain declared the Willamette Meteorite, North America's largest, would forever call Oregon its home.

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Willamette Meteor on display.

W/ the close of the Exposition, however, the meteor was sold to William Dodge for $20,600, who subsequently donated it to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it remains to this day.

A replica can be found at the corner of 14th & Willamette Falls Drive in West Linn.3


1 When Hughs' conspiracy was made public, his secrey turned out to be so complete his neighbors claimed to have no idea such titanic labors had occured. His coverup of evidence was apparently no so secretive, however. The Oregon Iron & Steel attorney traced the obvious trail from Hughs' propertry back to the original pit from which the meteor had been removed (and apparently not covered up) on OS&I land.
2 Including the assertion that the meteor may have not originally landed at the site in the first place, but perhaps had been moved there by glaciers, or even native americans. He was correct on the first point: geologists agree the meteor was, in fact, transported to its West Linn resting place by the Missoula Flood.
See the Platial entry.


Cornelia Becker Seigneur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cornelia Becker Seigneur said...

Hi- nice post, very interesting. I found it while researching a book I am penning for Arcadia on West Linn. This meteorite puts West Linn on the national map -
Cornelia Seigneur