Tsul ‘Kalu—The Giant of Cherokee Lore

Today, in Jackson County, North Carolina, there is a massive soapstone boulder called the Judaculla Stone. It is covered in petroglyphs and it said to have a handprint—with seven fingers—from when the giant leapt from his mountain home onto the ground below and used the stone to steady himself.

The story of, or Tsul ‘Kalu (pronounced: sool kaloo) as recounted above was told to ethnographer James Mooney who recorded it in his book Myths of the Cherokee.

The Tale of the Giant

Long ago, a young woman—of age to marry—lived with her widowed mother. Her mother counselled her to be patient in settling with a mate; a good hunter, though hard to find, was essential to ensure that she and her daughter would be cared for and well-fed.

The young maiden slept in an asi outside the main home at night. One night, a stranger paid a visit in hopes of courting the girl. She made it clear that her mother would only allow her to keep the company of a great hunter. Declaring himself to be a great hunter, the girl allowed him inside and he spent the night. He left before daybreak; when the morning came, there was a freshly killed deer waiting for the girl and her mother.

He returned the following night and stayed with the girl. Again, he left before daylight. This time, there were two deer waiting for the girl and her mother. The mother was very pleased with her daughter’s new sweetheart. She said, though, that she wished he would bring them some wood. The next morning, there were several large trees in front of the house—entire trees, including the roots. This angered the mother and she told her daughter that she wanted smaller wood that could be used. The next morning, there was nothing waiting for the pair; instead, the land had been cleared of its trees.

Every night he stayed with the girl; every morning he left before daybreak. There was always a game animal waiting for the mother and her girl. The girl’s mother became frustrated; she desperately wanted to meet her new son-in-law. The girl told he husband of this, but he did not want her mother to see him. She began to cry and finally, he relented. However, he warned the girl that her mother must not say that he looked frightful.

When morning came, the girl brought her mother to the asi where her new husband lay. The mother peered and saw a giant with long, slanting eyes; he was so large that he barely fit in the small asi. The mother fled and cried out, “Usga’ se ti’ yu,” which means frightful. The giant was enraged and he left vowing to never let the mother see him again. He returned to his homeland.

Eventually, Tsul ‘Kalu returned for his bride and brought her back to his home. The girl had a brother who lived in another village and wished to see her and meet his new brother-in-law. When he arrived, they were gone and his mother explained what had happened. Feeling pity for his lonely mother, he went to find his sister in hopes of bringing her home.

It was easy to track his sister and Tsul ‘Kalu; the giant left enormous footprints on the ground that led him to the mountain where Tsul ‘Kalu lived. In the side of the mountain, there was a cave where he saw his sister and others dancing. It was too steep for him to reach; he called out for his sister and she came and met him. This happened a number of times but she never invited her brother inside. He also didn’t get to see his new brother-in-law.

Four years later, the girl came home for a visit while Tsul ‘Kalu was out hunting. She told her mother and brother that she and her husband would be leaving in the morning but if they wanted to see him before he left to come out early in the morning. If she and Tsul ‘Kalu left before they got there, the great hunter would leave meat for them. Morning came but the giant and his bridge were gone. As promised, freshly killed deer were hanging. In fact, there was enough meat to feed the entire village.

The people of the village also wanted to see the great Master of Game, Tsul ‘Kalu. Tsul ‘Kalu, a booming, unseen voice from the sky, spoke to his brother-in-law and told him that no one could see him until they were dressed in new clothes. He instructed the people to meet in the communal house and fast for seven days. At the end of seven days, he would provide new garments for everyone and allow himself to be seen. There was a caveat: no one was to leave the townhouse or raise the war cry.

As fate would have it, the giant’s orders were disobeyed. The people stayed in the communal house and fasted for an entire week. There was one person among them—from another village—who left each night to get something to eat. On the seventh day, this same man fled the townhouse in fear when a loud sound kept getting nearer—the sound of rocks crashing down a mountain. As the disobedient man fled, he sounded the war cry. With that, the sound disappeared; Tsul ‘Kalu did not show up to reveal himself to the people.

The giant’s brother-in-law returned to the mountain and asked why he did not come with the new clothes. Tsul ‘Kalu answered, “I came with them, but you did not obey my word, but broke the fast and raised the war cry.” The brother-in-law explained that it was a person from another village who transgressed and pleaded with Tsul ‘Kalu to reconsider. He would not be swayed, however, he said, “Now you can never see me.”

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The Moon-eyed People

Most of present-day West Virginia was void of permanent Native American settlements when European colonists began their westward push. Why? The area is rich in game and other resources; why not live there?

In 1773, at the behest of Virginia Governor Lord Dunmore, Thomas Bullit travelled to present-day southwestern Ohio to seek permission from the Shawnee to establish settlements in the Can-tuc-kee lands (which included large portions of modern-day West Virginia). Shawnee chief Black Fish was unable to grant permission; he did not feel it was his to give, the land belonged to the ghosts of the Azgen, a tribe of “moon-eyed” people who were murdered by the ancestors of the Shawnee. Because of the ghosts, the Shawnee refused to settle on the land and only used it—respectfully—as hunting grounds.

Who were these moon-eyed people? According to many legends, they were a light-skinned, nocturnal people with large eyes. They had a sensitivity to light and could only see in the dark.

The Cherokee also have legends of moon-eyed people. According to Cherokee legends, the moon-eyes were nocturnal and lived in circular earthen houses. Long ago, as the Cherokee made their southward migration, they encountered the large-eyed white people and waged war against them. Like the Shawnee, the Cherokee also rid the land of these peculiar people.

There is another tradition in which the Creek tribe annihilated a group of moon-eyed people.  According to this legend, the strange people could not see during certain moon phases. The Creek used this to their advantage and attacked the moon-eyes when they were vulnerable.

Who were, or, what were, the moon-eyed people? Some say they were albinos; some claim they were Europeans—possibly descended from Madoc, the Welsh Prince; author Barbara Alice Mann, of Seneca descent, has written that the moon-eyed people were mound-building astronomers who merged with the Cherokee. What we do know, is that a group of people strange to the Native Americans were in present-day West Virginia long ago; they were eventually annihilated. The question then becomes, could the ghosts of the Azgen—the moon-eyed people—play a role in the paranormal in West Virginia?

Feature Image: By TranceMist (Flickr: The Legends of Fort Mountain) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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Many  reading this blog post are aware that Chris George Zuger and I are coauthoring a book titled Men of Renown in which we delve deep into the subject of a race of giants that once inhabited the earth. In the book, we will discuss explanations, actual encounters with giant-folk, and myths and legends.

The following account, from New Zealand, is representative of some of the things we will be discussing in the book:

In his book The Old Frontier, James Cowan recounted the legend of Kiharoa, a giant warrior chief of the Ngāti-Raukawa and Ngāti-Whakatere tribes. According to Cowan, there was a curious landmark near the village of Whenuahou known as the “Giant’s Grave.” The grave was 12–14 feet long and 4 feet wide. Enquiring about the the grave, Cowan learned the legend behind it from two warriors from the Ngāti-Maniapoto tribe. He wrote:

There certainly seems to have been a veritable giant, a man of enormous stature and length of reach with the hand-weapons of those days, six generations ago. This Kiharoa, or “The Long Gasping Breath,” was a chief of the Ngati-Raukawa and Ngati-Whakatere tribes, who in those times owned the Tokanui hills and the surrounding fruitful slopes.

Kirahoa was said to have stood at twice the height of an average-sized man. He wielded an enormous taiaha—a traditional Māori close-quarters staff. His weapon was named “The First rays of Morning Light,” or Rangihaeata in the native tongue.

Cowan described Kiharoa thusly:

Kiharoa was tattooed on body as well as face, and when he leaped into battle, whirling “Rangihaeata” from side to side in guard and feint and cut, his blue-carved skin glistening with oil and red ochre, his great glaring eyes darting flame, his moko-scrolled features distorted with fury, few there were brave enough to face him.

Though Kiharoa was a mighty man and struck fear into the hearts of those he faced, no one is invincible; Kiharoa would fall in battle at Whenuahou. A bad omen preceeded the giant’s death; as he was rushing down a hill, he slipped on some leaves and fell nearly breaking his taiaha.

Kiharoa may have become unsettled by his fall; he was outfought and killed by the Ngāti-Maniapoto warriors led by chief Wahani—also a man of gigantic stature. Kiharoa’s warriors panicked and fled once their leader had fallen; many of them were slaughtered.

The fallen warriors were butchered for meat. Kiharoa’s corpse was carved up and eaten on the spot. The giant’s head was smoke dried and kept as a souvenir from the battle. Before dismembering the body of Kiharoa for their feast, the Ngāti-Maniapoto warriors measured him—he was 2 fathoms, or 12 feet long.

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Colonel George Washington’s Giant Skeletons

During the height of the French and Indian War, a fort was built in the frontier town of Winchester, Virginia to protect the local citizenry from attack. Named Fort Loudoun, after the Governor General of Virginia and Commander-in-Chief John Campbell, the fourth Earl of Loudoun, construction began in 1756.

John Campbell, the Fourth Earl of Loudoun

The fort was designed by the commander of the Virginia Regiment, Colonel George Washington, who supervised its construction. During the excavation of the fort’s foundation, Washington’s men dug up large skeletons; according to Washington, they were 7 feet long.

Colonel George Washington, Commander of the Virginia Regiment

Today, the property is owned by the French and Indian War Foundation and is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

If you guessed that the 7-foot-skeletons are not housed in the museum on the property, then you are correct. What happened to them? My guess is that they were lost—possibly never even stored. A war was going on, and Washington and his men were not out to prove to the world that an ancient race of giants walked the Shenandoah Valley in the past.

For what it’s worth, there have been a number of reports of apparitions of giant Indians walking around old town Winchester. This is especially true around the intersection of Indian Alley and Piccadilly Street. Whether the large ghosts are related to the skeletons found at Fort Loudoun is unclear. In the immediate area, stands the Piccadilly mansion—well-known for paranormal activity. But, that is a topic for another day…

Further reading, check out Historic Haunts of Winchester: A Ghostly Trip Through the Past by Mac Rutherford.

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Mammoths, Mastodons, and Mound Builders?

Last week on the Den of Lore’s weekly Crypto Corner segment, we began a series about giants. During the episode, a question came in through the live chat feature asking if there were any stories of giants and the domestication of megafauna, such as mastodons. The answer is yes; there are a number of Indian traditions that suggest a knowledge of both mammoths and mastodons and also a connection to giants.

There may be reason to believe that mastodons and mammoths lived much longer than we have been led to believe—the last of these mighty animals may have survived up until about 500 years ago. Of course, there’s really no way to prove it; it does make for an interesting conversation, though.

To begin, it should be noted that there is an earthwork in Grant County, Wisconsin, an effigy mound, shaped like an elephant. Since most effigy mounds in the area are thought to have been built during the Late Woodland Period (350-1300 CE), North American pachyderms must have lived far beyond the mass extinctions at the conclusion of the last ice age in order to provide a model for the mound.

There have also been a number of artifacts found with the likeness of mammoths and mastodons. The Lenape Stone, found in Pennsylvania and shown below, depicts Indians fighting a mammoth. Mammoths, of course, supposedly went extinct about 10,000 years ago; the stone was found with other relics that were about 2,000 years old. Before you start emailing me or messaging me on social media to inform me that the stone is said to be a forgery, rest assured I am aware of the questions surrounding its authenticity.

In Iowa, pipes were found near burial mounds, again bearing the likeness of an elephant-type creature.

The Popular Science Monthly said this regarding elephant-like artifacts in July 1885:

Constantly objects are being brought to the attention of archaeologists as having some bearing upon this question [of “the contemporaneity of man and the mastodon in North America”]. As to whether the ” elephant-pipes,” of Iowa, or the “Lenape-stone,” of Pennsylvania, be genuine or not, no opinion is here expressed; but it is unquestionable that many of the remains of the mastodon found in New Jersey and New York are far more recent than some of the relics of man, and it is simply impossible that even so late a comer as the Indian should not have seen living mastodons on the Atlantic seaboard of this continent. Elephant-pipes and carvings should not be condemned, merely because of an impression still prevalent that the mastodon was a creature of an earlier geological epoch than the recent. This is but half the truth: he also shared the forests of the present with the fauna of historic times.

Indian Traditions

There are numerous traditions among Native Americans of mammoths and mastodons living until fairly recent times. Thomas Jefferson wrote the following in Notes of the State of Virginia regarding mammoths:

…To add to this, the traditionary testimony of the Indians, that this animal still exists in the Northern and Western parts of America, would be adding the light of a taper to that of the meridian sun. Those parts still remain in their aboriginal state, unexplored and undisturbed by us, or by others for us. He may well exist there now, as he did formerly, where we find his bones.

John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne (1809–1884) a congressperson from Mississippi, wrote the following concerning Indian traditions in his work Mississippi, as a Province, Territory, and State, With Biographical Notices of Eminent Citizens:

The Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks, or Muscogees, were in the occupation of a large portion of what now constitutes the States of Mississippi and Alabama, when the French first colonized the country. How long they had been here, and whence they came, is merely traditional and has never been established. The Natchez tribes, and the Caddo’s on Red river, had preceded them, and these had been preceded by the mound builders. All the Indian traditions dimly shadow a gigantic race of people, their predecessors who were contemporary with the mammoth, and the fossilized monstrous reptiles. Birds and quadrupeds that have been frequently unearthed, all which became extinct by the wrath of the Great Spirit about the same time.

Claiborne further expanded on this theme:

The Choctaws preserve a dim tradition that, after crossing the Mis sissippi, they met a race of men whom they called Na-hon-lo, tall in stature and of fair complexion, who had emigrated from the sun rise. They had once been a mighty people, but were then few in number and soon disappeared after the incoming of the Choctaws. This race of men were, according to the tradition, tillers of the soil and peaceable. There had likewise been a race of cannibals, who feasted on the bodies of their enemies. They, too, were giants, and utilized the mammoth as their burden bearers. They kept them closely herded, and as they devoured everything and broke down the forests, this was the origin of the prairies.

This cannibal race and the mammoth perished about the same time, by a great epidemic. Only one of the latter escaped, who made his. home for several years near the Tombigbee. The Great Spirit struck him several times with lightning, but he presented his head to the bolt and it glanced off. Annoyed, however, by these attempts, he fled to Soc-te-thou-fah, (the present Memphis,) and at one mighty leap cleared the river, and made his way to the Rocky Mountains.

Horatio Bardwell “H. B.” Cushman (1822–1904) was the son of missionaries to the Choctaw Nation. His parents, Calvin and Laura, left their home in Massachusetts in 1820 and moved to Mississippi to minister to the Choctaw people. Cushman, who was raised among the Choctaw, considered them to be his earliest and most faithful friends. Having grown up around the Choctaw, and having a great affinity for them, Cushman became acquainted with their history, legends, and myths. In 1899, he published History of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Natchez Indians; the book sheds much light on the traditions of the native inhabitants of the southeastern United States.

Cushman told of a tradition of giants among the Choctaw legends. There is also a legend of mammoths and their extinction:

An ancient Choctaw tradition attributes the origin of the prairies along the western banks of the Tombigbee River, to some huge animals (mammoths) that existed there at the advent of their ancestors from the west to Mississippi. Their tradition also states that the Nahullo, (Supernatural) a race of giant people, also inhabited the same country, with whom their forefathers oft came in hostile contact. These mighty animals broke off the low limbs of the trees in eating the leaves, and also gnawed the bark off the trees, which, in the course of time, caused them to wither and die; that they roamed in different bands, which engaged in desperate battles whenever and wherever they met, and thus caused them to rapidly decrease in numbers; and that, in the course of years all had perished but two large males, who, separate and alone, wandered about for several years—each confining himself to the solitude of the forest many miles from the other. Finally, in their wanderings they met, and at once engaged in terrible conflict in which one was killed. The survivor, now ‘monarch of the forests, strolled about for a few years wrapt in the solitude of his own reflections and independence—then died, and with him the race became extinct.

These are but a few traditions, there are far too many to recount here. It is interesting to note that from the Ohio Valley, stories come to us stating that the Mound Builders used mastodons as beasts of burden in the construction of their earthworks. Fritz Zimmerman lays much of this out in his latest book Mysteries of Ancient America: Uncovering the Forbidden.

In conclusion, I will part with the words of the great Native American scholar, author, and activist Vine Deloria Jr (1933–2005) written in his book Red Earth White Lies:

“This testimony about the contemporary existence of the mammoth should not be lightly dismissed.”

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Madam Blavatsky on Giants

I was a bit surprised to learn that Helena Petrovna Blavatsky  (1831–1891), the Russian-born occultist and co-founder of the Theosophical Society , had a bit to say on the subject of giants. Like many in her day, she believed in the existence of a race of giants in antiquity. She also believed in a cataclysmic flood that destroyed much of the ancient world.

We know that long ago, megafauna and megaflora flourished on the earth. According to Blavatsky, humankind was also much larger then as well. However, as conditions on the earth changed, the size of people diminished. As humans decreased in size, though, they increased in brainpower—being much more intelligent, the need for massive bodies was a thing of the past.

Page 5 of the Chicago Tribune, October 18, 1908.

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Giant Skeletons in Virginia

Most talk of the giant skeletons recovered in nineteenth century America come from places like the Ohio and Kanawha  valleys and in the western states. Really, though, giant skeletons have been recovered all over the land. Still, Virginia is not a place you think of when you hear the term “giant skeleton.”

With that in mind, I found this newspaper clipping to be very interesting:

Note the article states that a tablet containing hieroglyphics was found. Several such pieces have been found in West Virginia—most notably, the grave creek tablet.

A replica of the Grave Creek Tablet. Photo taken by the author at the Grave Creek Archaeological Complex.

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In today’s post I would like to examine the story of David and Goliath, found in the Old Testament, and compare it to stories from Mesoamerica.  

David and Goliath, one of the first Bible stories taught to young children in Sunday school, is a timeless tale that has permeated our culture. It is spoken of metaphorically—how many motivational speeches have referred to the hero David rising to the challenge and confronting the evil giant?  

Let’s take a look at the David and Goliath story as recounted in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel 17: 

4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. 

5 And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. 

6 And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. 

7 And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him. 

8 And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me…(KJV) 

The size of Goliath cannot be overstated. His spear was likened to a weaver’s beam, used in looms of the day, and would have been about 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) in diameter. For comparison, a soda can measures 2.6 inches in diameter. The spearhead weighed 15 pounds (6.8 kg)! Goliath wore a coat of mail armor which weighed 125 pounds (57 kg). At the time of this writing, the United States Army’s Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV)—the standard issue body armor worn by ground combat units—weighs about 33 pounds (15kg). Obviously it took a man of incredible physical stature to wield such an enormous spear, wear armor weighing the equivalent of an average 15-year-old American male, and to have a normal-sized man carry a shield in front of him.  

Goliath’s height is described using cubits and a span. A cubit is a unit of measurement, used by ancient people, in which the forearm length from the tip of the middle finger to the bottom of the elbow equals a cubit. A span is the distance measured from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger. Cubits vary among cultures; an Egyptian Royal cubit was about 20.6 inches long, whereas a Roman cubit was 17.5 inches. The Babylonian Royal cubit is thought to have been 19.8 inches. It is hard to know exactly the cubit measurements for biblical verses. Some say there were two Hebrew cubits, the long and the short. The long cubit was 20.4 inches; the short cubit was 17.5. To muddy the waters, I have read in several places that length of the cubit in the Bible is 25.025 inches in length. To add further confusion, it is generally accepted among biblical scholars that Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Moses, of course, was raised in the Egyptian Royal court; did he use an Egyptian Royal cubit for his measurements?  

So how tall was Goliath? If we use an Egyptian Royal Cubit, Goliath would have been 11 feet tall—he would have been a foot taller that a regulation basketball rim! If we were to accept the 25.025 inch cubit, Goliath would have stood at an incredible 13 feet. From this point forward, I will use the “common cubit” which is 18 inches (45.72 cm). According to this unit of measure, Goliath would have stood at close to 10 feet (3 meters) in height.   

When looking at the story of David and the enormous Philistine, the question always arises: Is this an allegorical account or is a literal interpretation in order? Perhaps a bit of both? One aspect of the tale that sticks out to me is the specific weights and measures recorded regarding Goliath and his armaments. We find this in Deuteronomy 3:11 as well when Og, the king of Bashan is described:  

For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man. (KJV) 

Here we have a bed described that was constructed from iron. The king’s bed was 13.5 feet long and 6 feet wide, or 4.1 x 1.8 meters. This is an enormous bed! I sleep on a queen-sized mattress; the measurements are 6’8” x 5’. I am 5’10’ tall, so I have nearly a foot extra on the length of my mattress. If we apply roughly the same criteria to Og’s bed, then he would have stood at an approximate height of 12 feet. 

Continuing on with the David and Goliath story: 

16 And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days… 

…23 And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them. 

24 And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him, and were sore afraid. (KJV) 

Clearly the Israelites feared Goliath and were greatly intimidated by his stature. David, though, a small shepherd boy, strengthened by his faith in God, is not afraid. He volunteers to fight the giant: 

32 And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. (KJV) 

Something else to note in the David and Goliath story, is that Goliath lived among the Philistines. He did not live in a castle in the clouds or in a cave on the outskirts of a village—he lived among average-sized people. This coincides with other legends especially those from the Americas. In North America, there is a tradition of an elite class—shamans, chiefs, and warriors—who were giants. Large skeletal remains, buried in an elaborate manner, have been found in Mound Builder sites throughout the United States. 

Finishing the tale of David and Goliath, an epic battle takes place. The mother of all underdog stories unfolds: 

44 And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field… 

49 And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. (KJV) 

50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. 

Goliath was not the only giant who lived among the Philistines. 2 Samuel 21 says the following: 

15 Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines: and David waxed faint. 

16 And Ishbibenob, which was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David. 

17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David sware unto him, saying, Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel. 

18 And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant. 

19 And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. 

20 And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant. 

21 And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah the brother of David slew him. 

22 These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants. (KJV) 

The Bible is full of tales of giants; we might owe these stories a closer look. Perhaps there are elements of truth in the accounts. Now I would like to look at another account of a Goliath-like character—this time, from Mesoamerica. 

An Aztec Goliath 

In 1519, Hernán Cortés landed on the Yucatan Peninsula with about 500 soldiers. His arrival was eerily similar to a prophesy set to be fulfilled that year of the return of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, promised to return after being banished long ago. Cortés, though, was no deity; Cortés was a man, driven by a lust for gold and power, who would bring the once mighty Aztec empire to its knees. 

The conquistadors laid Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, to siege in 1521. This was the decisive event that facilitated the fall of the Aztecs. For the purposes of this book, there was a hero—a giant—who fought against the Spanish. 

Like the Philistines, the Aztecs also had giants who lived among them. One of these giants, named Tzilacatzin, was a member of an elite class of warriors, known as the Otomi.  

Tzilacatzin showed no fear of the Spanish; in fact, the giant struck fear into their hearts. According to the account of Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar who came to the New World to convert the indigenous people to Christianity studied the beliefs of the Aztecs: 

Then Tzilacatzin, a very brave warrior, came forth with three great, huge stones, one in his hand, two carried upon his shield. They were white wall stones. He cast them and thereupon pursued the Spaniards, scattering them and dispersing them into the water. They were soaked. 

Hernán Cortés, in his letters to Charles V, said this about Tzilacatzin: 

The Aztecs had one formidable warrior of giant stature, called Tzilacatzin, who was wonderfully skillful with his sling, every stone he sent bringing down its man. He was made aim of all the Spanish archers and musketeers, his great stature making him easily distinguishable, but they could never hit him. On one of these days eighteen Spaniards were captured alive and sacrificed, their bodies afterwords cut up and distributed to be eaten.  

Unlike the account of Goliath, who was killed by the lowly shepherd David, there is little said about the death of Tzilacatzin. It is assumed that he was killed as Tenochtitlan fell.  

The story of Tzilacatzin is not an isolated incident; tales of giants permeate the legends of Mesoamerica. A group of giants known as the Quinametzin lived on the earth during a previous age. These giants, who stood at over 10 feet in height, were responsible for building the city of Teotihuacan and the pyramid at Cholula and founded various other cities.  

The end of the reign of giants is something we have heard before in other myths. The gods sent a series of catastrophes to punish the giants because they refused to worship them. This is similar to the giants who ran amok in the days of Noah before the Great Flood. In an Andean myth, the creator fashioned people from large stones. These were who giants who greatly displeased their god. They were wiped out with a flood.  

The world over, the similarities in the myths are too much to ignore. It cannot be simple coincidence. So the question becomes, what is the truth behind the stories?

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Gyants in the Earth in Those Dayes

The largest burial mound in West Virginia is the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, just south of Wheeling. The mound, at 69 feet tall and 295 feet in diameter, is one of the largest conical-type burial mounds in the United States.

When the Grave Creek Mound was opened in 1838, several skeletons were found. Each skeleton was surrounded by beads; one was covered with thin strips of mica. A stone tablet was allegedly found as well; it was said to have been engraved with characters resembling hieroglyphs.5

Figure 4: Replica of the Grave Creek Tablet on display in the museum at the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex. Photo taken by author.

An article written in the Charleston Daily Mail on October 22, 1922 had this to say about the Grave Creek Mound:

Archaeologists investigating the mound some years ago dug out a skeleton said to be that of a female because of the formation of the bones. The skeleton was seven feet four inches tall and the jawbone would easily fit over the face of a man weighing 160 pounds. That the women of that ancient day were not unlike the women of today in their liking for finery was evidenced by the articles that were found beside the skeleton of what centuries ago was a “flapper.” Seventeen hundred ivory beads, 500 seashells of an involute species and five copper bracelets were found in the vault. The beads and shells were about the neck and breast of the skeleton while the bracelets were about the arms (emphasis added).

Not far from the Grave Creek Mound, laborers on a road by the river uncovered a skeleton “of a very large person” thought to be the remains of a Mound Builder.6

The second largest mound in West Virginia is located in South Charleston. This mound is 175 feet in diameter and 35 feet tall. In 1883, scientists from the Smithsonian Institute excavated the mound. Inside of a vault in the center of the mound, a large skeleton was found with other skeletons laid out around it. The central skeleton was over 7 feet tall.7

The 7-foot skeleton from the Charleston mound is certainly an impressive size. This is not a fluke or an outlier—skeletons well over 8 feet tall have been found in burial mounds throughout the Kanawha Valley.8

Colossal skeletons have been discovered along the Cheat River as well. In 1774, Jack Parsons was walking along the river, which had recently flooded, and saw bones protruding from the ground. He pulled a femur from the ground and when he compared it to his own, it was seven inches longer. He removed the remaining bones and laid them out—the person would have stood at 8 feet when alive! Moreover, the jawbone fit completely over Parsons’ face.9

Similarly, in Hardy County, a jaw bone was discovered that belonged to a giant. The lower jaw, with 16 perfectly preserved teeth, easily fit over top of a person’s face.10

Large skeletal finds have prompted many to believe than an ancient race of giants inhabited North America centuries ago. In 1930, Professor Ernest Sutton of Salem College excavated two mounds in Doddridge County. Sutton uncovered four skeletons during the excavation. The smallest was 7 feet long; the largest—9 feet! The best specimen measured 7’6. Professor Sutton believed the remains belonged to a group he referred to as the Siouan Indians.11

Across the river, in Ohio, large skeletons have also been found. The Ohio Science Annual reported in their 1898 issue that a skeleton measuring 8’7 was recovered in Morgan County.

Martin’s Ferry, just across the river from Wheeling, was the site of a mound that was demolished in 1893. The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer reported on April 6, 1893, that a skull was recovered in the mound that was at least twice the size of a normal human skull. According to the paper, the massive skull was put on display in the window of the post office news stand.

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