Archaeology in Tucson Newsletter
Fallen Anvils: The Tucson Meteorite
Richard R. Willey, former director of the Flandrau Planetarium, University of Arizona
T he Tucson Meteorite is unique among all the meteorites found on Earth, and especially remarkable for the role it played in the social, political, and military history of Tucson in the mid-nineteenth century. Sometime in the early 1800s, residents of Tucson traveled to the Santa Rita Mountains and brought back two fragments of a meteorite which they used as anvils in a pair of blacksmith shops.
A blacksmith and his tools were extremely important in any remote frontier outpost. The military blacksmith, or armorer, fabricated or repaired wagon parts, saddle trappings, spurs, horseshoes, lance points, axes, gun parts, hinges, and a variety of other items. The last Mexican military armorer in Tucson was Antonio Comadurán, son of a commander of the Tucson Presidio. Comadurán used the larger, ring-shaped meteorite, which is 4 feet in diameter, and weighs 1,4000 pounds. The smaller meteorite weights 620 pounds and was the property of civilian blacksmith Ramón Pacheco.
The recorded history of the Tucson Meteorite begins with a brief passage in J. F. Velasco's Noticias Estadísticas del Estado de Sonora, written about 1845: Between the presidio of Tucson and Tubac, there is a sierra [mountain range] called de la Madera [Timber] and Puerto de los Muchachos [Mountain Pass of the Children]. In it are seen enormous masses of virgin iron, many of which have rolled to the foot of said range. From the masses, a middlesized one was taken to Tucson, where for many years it has remained in the plaza of said presidio. By 1851, accounts of people traveling through Tucson allude to two blacksmith shops and identify their anvils as being of meteoritic origin. The Mexican troops withdrew from the Presidio in 1856. Comadurán's meteorite anvil, dubbed the Ring, was spotted a few years later by Lt. B. J. D. Irwin, a U.S. Army medical officer: I found the large meteorite lying in one of the by- streets, half buried in the earth, having evidently been there a considerable time. No person claimed it, so I publicly announced that I would take possession of it in behalf of the Smithsonian, and forward it whenever the opportunity afforded. Mr. Palatine Robinson, near whose house the iron was, assisted me in getting it sent to Humosilla [Hermosillo]. The anvil was identified by another visitor as standing in the court of the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was located on the west side of the Presidio in the Plaza de las Armas. Palatine Robinson owned a lot on the south side of the Calle de la Plaza, which later became Ott Street.
The Ring Anvil is a fragment of the Tucson Meteorite (photograph courtesy of Richard R. Willey).
This was just inside the west wall of the Presidio, in the vicinity of what is today the City Hall lawn.
The smaller meteorite fragment was used by Ramón Pacheco at his shop just south of the Buckley House on the Calle de Correo, today the location of the Federal Building parking lot. Pacheco's anvil was seized by Gen. James Carleton in 1862 and sent to San Francisco as a tribute to the California soldiers who recaptured Tucson during the Civil War.
Both meteorites ended up in the Smithsonian Institution, where they sparked years of debate about their origin and who deserved credit for collecting them. A replica of the Ring Anvil is on display at the Flandrau Planetarium at the University of Arizona. Today the Pacheco blacksmith shop is likely destroyed by construction activities. However, the Presidio blacksmith shop may lie undisturbed in the lawn area of City Hall and archaeological work may yet uncover tools, horseshoes, and other products, as well as brass and iron scrap from the forge. Further archival and ground research may yield more clues about the meteorites. Velasco's account of "enormous masses" may indicate that more fragments of the meteorite await modem prospectors.
Richard R. Willey 1997 The Tucson Meteorites: Their History from Frontier Arizona to the Smithsonian. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.