Lovelock Cave: Where Legends Of Redheaded Giant Cannibals Refuse To Die

Strange rumors were buried beneath the centuries of bat feces at Nevada’s Lovelock Cave. When two miners started to remove layers upon layers of guano around one century ago, they inadvertently unearthed an old Native American legend of cannibalistic red-haired giants.

Rest assured, the legend of Lovelock Cave is just that: a legend. No evidence of ferocious ginger giants has ever been discovered here, nor any other long-lost cavern. Nevertheless, the story of Lovelock’s rediscovery is still a fascinating one.

Lovelock Cave is located in a remote part of northwestern Nevada close to the Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area, around 32 kilometers (20 miles) outside the town of Lovelock. Just like many other rock shelters in the region, the cave had been used by humans for thousands of years – and, judging by the archeological relics found here, it likely held some significance to the Native American culture that lived in the region. 

The artifacts within the cave started to come to light in 1911 when two miners, James Hart and David Pugh, filed a mineral claim and started mining for bat guano there.

Guano, if you didn’t know, is the excrement of seabirds and bats, and is rich in nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. Since these are the key nutrients needed for plant growth, the excrement makes for excellent fertilizers and was once a highly lucrative material to harvest.

However, the pair of gold diggers found something much more interesting than bat poop. Upon digging through over 1.8 meters (6 feet) of guano, they came across numerous archeological artifacts, many of which appeared to be millennia old.  

A collection of artifacts found in Lovelock Cave on display at Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Llewellyn Lemont Loud, an archaeologist from the University of California’s Museum of Anthropology, was alerted to the discovery and began excavations in the spring of 1912. In total, Loud discovered around 10,000 archaeological specimens. However, his methods were pretty slapdash by modern standards and the thousands of finds only received one paragraph of description in his report. 

He returned to the cave in 1924 with Mark Raymond Harrington, and they discovered some of the cave’s most fascinating relics: a cache of eleven duck decoys fashioned out of real duck skin and feathers. 

It is not clear when exactly, but a massive amount of human remains were discovered in this series of early digs, including several skeletons and whole bones. For even foggier reasons, people started to circulate reports that one of the skeletons stood over 231 centimeters (7 feet, 7 inches) tall and was unearthed with a distinct mop of orange hair.

“One of his great finds was a skeleton, found about twenty miles southerly of Lovelock, Nevada, showing that the body of which it was a framework, was exactly seven feet, seven inches tall. It is one of the ‘giant men’ of an ancient race of which skeletons were unearthed in Central Nevada,” reads a 1935 biography of John T. Reid, a mining engineer who worked in Lovelock.

Somehow, it appears the reports of mysterious skeletons became conflated with a myth of the Northern Paiute people that speaks of an ancient tribe of redheaded giants. The jumbo humans were said to belong to a legendary tribe known as “Si-Te-Cah” who fought against the Northern Paiutes in distant times, but were eventually banished from the region. 

Rumors of redheaded figures might not have been totally off the wall. In her book Fossil Legends of the First American, historian Adrienne Mayor explains hair pigment can often turn a rusty, red color after death if it’s exposed to certain conditions. 

However, she believes other parts of the tale may be more nefarious. Mayor writes that legends of giants may have been drummed up by local entrepreneurs looking to attract tourists to the area. Furthermore, the area already had an abundance of large bones belonging to prehistoric megafauna, like mammoths and cave bears, which could have been confused for a large human to the eyes of a layperson. 

Tales of the legendary giants are still going strong in the 21st century. A quick Google search will provide you with a long list of articles flirting with the idea of Lovelock Cave’s freakishly tall inhabitants. Just remember for next time: giants have never existed and never will (and no, the Vatican didn’t tell us to write that).

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