“Tall tale” (Si-Te-Cah)


In the Nevada desert sits a small cave that 130 centuries past was part of Lake Lahontan. Unlike the parched landscape today, this area at the time represented one of the continent’s largest bodies of water. When it dried, native tribespeople inhabited Lovelock Cave.

Legend refers to this population as Si-Te-Cah, described as 10-foot tall redheaded cannibals. As one might suspect (or would never suspect, based on one’s gullibility), no bones exist to support this extraordinary claim.

The most thorough study of the area – and indeed, one of the most exhaustive researches in anthropology history – was completed by University of California professor Llewellyn L. Loud, whose parents presumably fixated on the letter L.

Loud collected more than 10,000 artifacts over his 17-year excavation, and his massive publication about what he had uncovered contained nary a giant reference. All subsequent examinations and digs were likewise behemoth-free.

Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning wrote that a complete radiometric history has been done of the cave, and once again, there’s no evidence of anyone falling from a beanstalk.

The idea of the tribe being redheaded is much less shocking, but would still fall beyond the scope of what has ever been known to exist. Every Native American tribe has members with raven hair, as opposed to auburn.

Dunning deduced that the tribespeople had red hair, but only post-mortem. He wrote, “Pigment in dark hair nearly always turns red after centuries of burial in certain temperatures and soil chemistry.”

As to the cannibalism, this also has an element of truth, albeit barely. A tiny percentage of the bones found at Lovelock Cave had been split and had their marrow removed. This suggests desperate tribe members had once resorted to cannibalism as a last-ditch attempt to stay alive. To describe the people as cannibals would be no more accurate than saying that Uruguayans are, based on what happened in the aftermath of the famous 1972 plane crash.

So where did this idea of flesh-eating ginger giants come from? Two-thirds of it we owe to a 19th Century book by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins of the Paiute tribe. She tells how her brave people rose up against a savage population of redheaded cannibals.

In this tale, the heroic Paiutes chased the brutes into the cave, which the good guys then covered with firewood. The barbarians were given the choice to forsake their barbarism and join the Paiutes. They gave no response and suffered a fiery fate.

As to their being giants, Dunning suspects that may have stemmed from a common misidentification that occurs when unearthing Native American burial sites. The skeletons are often separated in such a way that the bones appear, especially to one unfamiliar with burial customs, to have belonged to a person eight feet tall.

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