The article, by Fritz Zimmerman, is built around the story of a man named Charles Huntington, of East Randolph, New York. The article states that Mr. Huntington was present as his neighbors excavated a giant skeleton from a local mound in 1876. Sixty-two years later, Mr. Huntington’s memories and notes from that day inspired him to carve a 9’ statue representing the giant human he saw buried in the mound.
Here are some quotes from Zimmerman's article (emphasis added):
“The model was built life-size according to measurements taken by Mr. Huntington when a mound on the Conewango Road was opened 62 years ago.”
“In 1876, a young man [Charles Huntington] accompanied several of his neighbors in excavating a burial mound that was to leave an indelible impression on him. What he witnessed that day would inspire him 62 years later to carve a replica of the remarkable find.”
“To make sure that the measurements he had were correct, he contacted the Assistant State Geologist in Albany, New York, who confirmed them as accurate. Mr. Huntington’s motivation was to recreate exactly what he saw so many years ago, using the measurements taken by Mr. Cheney who was present at the dig.”
“The original account of the burial mound was printed in the History of Cattaraugus County, New York in 1879.”
So far so good, right? Mr. Huntington was present at this mound excavation in 1876, a giant skeleton was unearthed, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Huntington took measurements, the discovery was reported in 1879, and many decades later Mr. Huntington carved a life-size statue of the 9’ tall giant that he had seen.
This “eyewitness” story is also told by Jim Vieira on his blog in March of 2014. Vieira quotes from an article he wrote for Ancient American:
“Charles Huntington was present when the skeletons were unearthed in 1876 and secured the exact measurements made by Dr. Franklin Larkin and Dr. T. Apoleon Cheney to be the basis for the wooden Mound Builders.”
Vieira, like Zimmerman, presents the story as an open-and-shut case where the recollections and information of multiple, independent witnesses corroborate an eyewitness account of the discovery of a skeleton of enormous proportions. Vieira closes his post by expressing his frustration that people continue to question the existence of giants even in the face of such overwhelming evidence:
“Does Mr. Huntington strike you as a hoax master? What part of his story seems false? I guess I need to adopt more of a take it or leave it attitude when it comes to this research but for God's sake how can you read all of these reports and not understand that giants in the America's were a reality?”
In his piece, Zimmerman writes:
“Archaeologists would dismiss Mr. Huntington’s wooden model as a fabrication. I would ask what his motivation would be? Why would they report the giants in the county history and the newspaper? Why would the state archaeologists confirm Mr. Huntington’s measurements that he received from Mr. Cheney who was also at the dig? The preponderance of evidence would suggest that Mr. Huntington was correct in his reproduction.”
Clearly they think they’ve got a good case here. The “I saw a giant being exhumed” story is becoming entrenched in the modern mythology of giants.
Too bad it’s not true.
The stories put together by Zimmerman and Vieira use the same two sources: the History of Cattaraugus County New York (1879) and an article in the Randolph Register (Zimmerman identifies it as September 21, 1936, but I think it is actually from 1938). It is the story in the Randolph Register that states that Huntington “witnessed the exhuming of the skeletons of pre-historic mound-builders at the N. E. G. Cowan farm on the Conewango Road.” The story identifies T. Apolean Cheney as “a Randolph man, who was present at the time the mound was opened.”
T. Apolean Cheney was indeed present when the mound was opened. He wasn’t just “a Randolph man,” however, he was a civil engineer who was a central figure in New York prehistory in the mid 1800s. And he didn’t open the mound in 1876, but sometime before 1860, the year that “Ancient Monuments in Western New York” was published (available here).
This is the description from “Ancient Monuments in Western New York” (1860) (emphasis added):
“The Tumulus, represented upon Plate III., from the peculiar construction of the work, and the character of its remains, appears to belong to a class of mounds different from any others embraced in this exploration. It is located upon the brow of a hill, still covered by ancient forest, and overlooking the valley of the Conewango. This work has some appearance of being constructed with the ditch and vallum outside of the mound, as in the Druid Barrows, but perhaps more accurately belongs to the class composed of several stages, as the Trocalli of the valley of Anahuac. The form of the Tumulus is of intermediate character between an ellipse and the parallelogram; the interior mound, at its base, has a major axis of sixty-five feet, while the minor axis is sixty-one feet, with an altitude above the first platform or embankment of ten feet, or an entire elevation of some thirteen feet. This embankment, with an entrance or gateway upon the east side thirty feet in width, has an entire circumference of one hundred and seventy feet. As previously remarked, the work itself, as well as the eminence which it commands, and the ravines upon either side, are overshadowed by the dense forest. The remains of a fallen tree, imbedded in the surface of the mound and nearly decomposed, and which, from appearance, had grown upon the apex, measured nearly three feet in diameter, and heavy timber was growing above the rich mold it had formed. Thus we have some indicia of the age of this work. The mound, indeed, from the peculiar form of its construction, as well as from the character of its contents, has much resemblance to the Barrows of the earliest Celtic origin, in the Old World. In making an excavation, eight skeletons, buried in a sitting posture, and at regular intervals of space, so as to form a circle within the mound, [illegible] disinterred. Some slight appearance yet existed, to show that frame-work had enclosed the dead at the time of interment. These osteological remains were of very large size, but were so decomposed that they mostly crumbled to dust. The relics of art here disclosed, were also of a peculiar and interesting character,--amulets, chisels, &c., of elaborate workmanship,--resembling the Mexican and Peruvian antiquities” (pp. 40-41).
. . .
“In the tumulus at Conewango, the relics of art, together with osteological remains, were of the most interesting character. The several skeletons were very much decayed, crumbling upon exposure to the atmosphere to the atmosphere, but were all of very large size. A cranium, as well as could be ascertained from the restored fragments, was of the following dimensions:
Occipito-frontal arch,……………….. 19 inches
Longitudinal diameter, ……………. 9 “
Parietal diameter,………………….. 8 1-5 “
Zygomatic diameter, ……………… 7 2-5 ”
Facial angle,………………………… 73 degrees
The ethmoid, and both the superior and inferior maxillary bones were wanting. An Os-femur disclosed here, from accurate measurement, was found to have a length of twenty-eight inches” (pg. 43).
This is the later description from History of Cattaraugus County, New York (1879) (available here):
“About two miles south of the village of Rutledge, in the Connewango, on lot No. 45, at a point about sixty rods east of Connewango Creek and near the residence of Norman E. G. Cowen, there was discovered by the first pioneers of this section a sepulchral mound, nearly circular in form, and having an entire circumference of one hundred and seventy feet. The height of the mound was about twelve feet. Mr. Cheney spoke of this work as “having some appearance of being constructed with the ditch or vallum outside of the mound, as in the Druid Barrows, but perhaps more accurately belongs to the class composed of several stages, as the Trocalli of the vally of Anuhuac.” At the time of its discovery the site was surrounded by the primitive forest, and upon the tumulus there were growing several large trees, among them being a hemlock two feet in diameter, and a maple and beech each eighteen inches in diameter.
“Within the mound there was discovered nine human skeletons, which had been buried in a sitting posture, and at regular intervals of space, in the form of a circle, and facing towards a common centre. There was some slight appearance that a frame-work had inclosed the dead at the time of their interment. The skeletons were so far decayed as to crumble upon exposure to the atmosphere, but were all of very large size. An os femur (the largest found here) was twenty-eight inches in length. The dimensions of the cranium were (as nearly as could be ascertained from the restored fragments) as follows: occipito-frontal arch, 19 inches; longitudinal diameter, 9 inches; parietal diameter, 8 ½ inches; facial angle, 73 degrees. There were also found here several interesting relics of ancient art,--among these being very perfect arrow- and spear-heads, a small triangular perforated stone, of which the surface was painted and glazed, chisels amulets, and other articles of quite elaborate workmanship,--thought by some to resemble the Mexican and Peruvian antiquities” (pg. 12).
I think we can all agree that these passages are describing the same excavations at the same earthwork with the same results. The 1879 account quotes directly from the 1860 account, provides the same cranial measurements, and mentions the same 28” femur. In fact, prior to the description of the earthwork given above, the History of Cattaraugus County, New York specifies “Ancient Monuments in Western New York” as the source of the information (see page 11).
So the excavations at the Cowen farm reported in the 1879 History of Cattaraugus County took place in the 1850s, not the 1870s.
This presents a slight problem for the “I saw a giant being exhumed” story, because Charles M. Huntington wasn’t born until 1864. Here is a census record from 1940. Here is a listing from the local cemetery.
It’s pretty safe to say Charles M. Huntington wasn’t at the excavation in the 1850s that is described in the 1879 History of Cattaraugus County, New York.
What really happened here? The most charitable reading is that Charles Huntington actually was present at a later (1876) excavation that took place at the earthwork. This might explain why the 1860 account states there were eight skeletons while the 1879 account specifies nine. An article in the Times Herald (Olean, New York), dated May 12, 1938, states:
“For years Mr. Cowen would not permit the mound to be disturbed until hunters, digging for game, found a shin bone and a jaw bone.
Scientists were then notified and the entire skeleton removed. Mr. Huntington was present and took notes on the measurements as the bones were removed. The skeleton was removed to Buffalo but reportedly disintegrated within twenty-five years so that the only evidence of its existence are the measurements taken by Mr. Huntington, which also are on file at Buffalo and at Washington."
Before starting to create his statues of wood, Mr. Huntington checked with authorities at both Buffalo and Washington and found that the measurements he had taken as a boy were accurate.
The man stood nine feet in height, had a shin bone twenty-eight inches in length, a foot fourteen inches long and measured thirty-five inches across his shoulders.”
Maybe someone re-opened the mound in 1876, when Huntington was 12-years-old? Even if Huntington was present at an excavation that took place during his lifetime (i.e., 1876), however, his “measurements” were reported decades earlier. The 28” length of the “shin bone” (called an “os-femur, or bone between the ankle and knee” in the newspaper account that Zimmerman and Vieira rely on) matches exactly the length of the femur reported by Cheney in 1860. I think the most likely story is that Huntington got “his” measurements from either the 1860 or 1879 accounts (they are the same, after all) and then those measurements were later “verified” by someone else looking at the same published account. A later article in the Randolph Register (November 14, 1984, available here) provides an account of the creation of the statues that supports this idea:
“As a young boy in 1876 Mr. Huntington watched as the Cowen Indian Mound in Randolph was opened. One bone found was exceptionally large. In 1938 Mr. Huntington created a statue of a man based on this large bone. He figured his height to be about nine feet.”
Huntington had the reported 28” measurement from the femur and created a statue based on that single dimension. One might guess that Huntington calculated a 9’ height for his statue by multiplying the reported length of the femur (28”) by 4, which seems to have been a common practice for estimating stature. In fact, I wonder if the statue doesn’t actually measure 9’4” (112”), which would be exactly 4x the femur length. The measurement of 35” “across his shoulders” can be obtained by dividing a height of 112” by 3.2, suggesting the shoulder measurement may have been calculated using a simple proportional ratio rather than measured from a skeleton as implied by the “eyewitness” version of the story told by Zimmerman and Vieira.
It is interesting to note that while the reported femur length (28”) and facial angle (73 degrees) are part of the story, the cranial measurements reported in both 1860 and 1879 are not. Why not? That’s easy: they’re from a normal-sized skull.
To me, reliance on the memory of an individual that was not yet alive at the time an event occurred seriously weakens the strength of an “eyewitness” story. Sarcasm aside, this is a fair answer to the “what is wrong with this story” question posed by both Vieira and Zimmerman. If your argument that the eastern United States was “the ancient land of the Biblical Nephilim” rests on the reported recollections of a man who was not yet born, I think you should be prepared to temper your exasperation that no-one believes you.
But what of the 28” femur? Other than the measurement and the statement that the skeletons were “all of a very large size,” no other details were provided in the main narratives of the 1860 and 1879 accounts. Two pieces of information are relevant to evaluating whether this femur (which would indeed be consistent with an individual over 8’ in height) was as large as reported. Both suggest that it was not as large as reported.
First, the femur was described in the “Donations” section of the 1860 report in which Cheney’s “Ancient Monuments in Western New York” appeared:
“5. FRAGMENTS OF THE OS FEMUR, superior and lower extremities, from the Conewango mound.”
In other words, the whole femur was not recovered: they were missing the shaft and did not have a complete bone to measure! This casts some serious doubt on what the length of the original bone really was. If the bone was from a robust individual, the proximal and distal sections were likely large, prompting an overestimation of the original length of the bone. There is no way to "accurately" measure the length of a bone that was missing part of the shaft.
The second piece of information relevant to understanding the supposed “giant” femur comes from Dr. Frederick Larkin, a medical doctor who was a part of Cheney’s explorations in New York. In his book Ancient Man in America (1880, available here) written two years after Cheney’s death, he gives his opinion of the “giant” skeletons that were described (emphasis added):
“It is stated in a paper written by Dr. Cheney, in 1859, that the skeletons found in the mounds at Cassadaga were those of giants, and that one in particular measured seven feet and five inches. I suppose he got that information from some persons who saw then at the time they were exhumed, and their organ of marvelousness greatly exalted. That the Mound-Builders were a trifle larger than the present type, is very probable; but that they were giants eight and ten feet high is all fabulous. I have seen many skeletons from mounds in different states, but have seen none that will much exceed the present people now living. At the Centennial, in one of the annex buildings, was a large amount of fragments of skeletons from the ancient tombs in West Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, and the Mississippi valley, and I saw none that would exceed the Indian tribes of America” (pg. 44).
So let’s review:
- Charles Huntington was not alive when the reported 28” femur was excavated, and therefore could not have been an eyewitness. His statue was based on a reported measurement from a single bone, not a firsthand observation of a "giant" skeleton.
- The purportedly 28" femur was not complete, missing part (perhaps most) of the shaft. The reported 28” length was an estimate based on the two end fragments. It was likely an overestimate.
- The person with experience in anatomy who saw some of the “giant” skeletons reported from New York and other states clearly said they were nothing of the sort. Dr. Larkin saw no “giants,” and he said so after Cheney's death.
There’s your simple answer to why people don’t believe these stories: they shouldn’t. A little bit of digging demonstrates major holes in this story. It would never hold up in court, and it does not hold up as evidence for a claim as fantastic as the discovery of a human larger than any living person on record.
Contrary to what Zimmerman and Vieira assert, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that this story is baloney. I have asked it before, and I will ask it again: where is the scholarship on the side of the giantologists putting forward these claims? Have I missed something? Did no-one bother to check the attribution of the source of the excavation story in the 1879 volume? It’s written right there. I just don’t get it.
Maybe I'll submit a piece to Ancient American and see if it gets published.