The Giants at West Point

By SCOTT AKRIDGE

T

he July 30, 1867, edition of the Arkansas Gazette reprinted the following report from the Searcy Record three days earlier:  GIANT BONES — On the McDaniel farm, several miles below West Point, the river made a kind of cutoff, sweeping the earth to a depth of eight or ten feet.  In doing so, it washed up an unusual number of human bones, in size at least one–third larger than those of the present age.  Dr. Deener measured a jaw-bone, and he could easily put it over his; he also measured a shin-bone which was a great deal larger than his.  The lower portion of the cutoff was literally covered with these skeleton bones, and made one feel kind a’ ghostified to behold them. There must have been a graveyard at this place in days of old, when people were of a larger growth than at present. Probably that was ere chills and fever became fashionable.

According to the White County property tax records for 1867, P.A. McDaniel owned 5,775 acres below West Point in 1867. The location seems most likely to have been on the south bank of the Little Red River in section 29.  The Dr. Deener was likely Dr. Richard Deener who lived in Searcy (Muncy, Raymond Lee. Searcy, Arkansas:  A Frontier Town Grows up with America. Searcy, AR: Harding Press, 1976, 93).  The idea that skeletal size in the ancient past was larger than that of the present is common in nineteenth century writing. There is no evidence to support this conclusion. Stephen Williams, Curator of the Peabody Museum, has written that "if you had done fieldwork in the backcountry of Missouri in the 1950s, as I did, you would have found them [the myth of a lost race of non-Indian Moundbuilders] alive and well –still standing as much as seven feet tall and still very mysterious.  The myth lives on and is constantly regenerated.  After doing some excavations in rural Mississippi (1958–60), I returned some years later to hear stories about the seven-foot skeletons that I had uncovered in my excavations. The largest male we dug up was well under six feet in height, but what is one to do?"   (Williams, Stephen. Fantastic Archeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991, 75.)

Edward Palmer of the Mound Exploration Division of the Smithsonian’s Bureau of Ethnology visited the area in October 1883.   Palmer wrote:  …at Arnolds crossing 3 miles from West Point …on the old McDaniels farm here is the old house sights [dwelling sites] … washed out by a flood some years ago. A large space was covered by these house sights which was a short distance apart and easily told by a circular patch of black earth left more or less in tack [intact] by the water, the earth from between was carried away.  Many human remains was uncovered, with pottery and a great variety of implements. The plow since has obliterated all traces of these house sights.     vvv

(The writer is a WCHS member and past president of the Arkansas Archeological Society who lives at Bradford.)