Giant Skeletons

During the mid 1800's to early 1900's, America was undergoing a great national expansion. Following the Civil War,  Americans "looked West" and by 1912 ALL of the country that was once owned by Native Americans became The United States. The truth is that in doing so, there would be racist propaganda that would seek to dehumanize the Native Americans - and to also try to discredit their great works of art, great cities and others accomplishments as being those of a "different lost ancient race."

This is an excerpt from the History of Waverly, by Albertson:

As you can see, one only needs to go back to early historical writings of our locality to find such propaganda that makes our prehistoric past more a hodgepodge of the Lost People of Atlantis , Lost Israelites, Vikings, Phoenicians, Aliens and yes, even strange GIANTS than what it actually was - the living space of many different Native American cultures since the Ice Age, nearly 15 thousand years ago.

Recently, the Search of Giants TV program has again perpetuated the dehumanizing propaganda of strange, monstrous-sized skeletons supposedly found again during that time of American expansion that was promoted through newspaper clipping after newspaper clipping... In my opinion, the shows, books and other efforts such as this filled with mystery and the controversy only help to muddy our understanding of our true Native American past, and allow the the "ancient lost race" propaganda to continue.

Simply stated in my opinion, we need less "Ringling Brothers", Controversy and Curiosity - and more Respect and Reverence for a Native American culture that existed here and was literally annihilated.  The Susquehannocks were human beings just like you and me folks, but of even greater stature and deserving of more talk about their LIFE than their REMAINS....


But the question still remains - "Were giant skeletons really found here?"

There is no doubt in my mind that after reading numerous accounts of these gigantic skeletons being found throughout this area, that this is not a "legend," it is a fact. These Susquehannocks (Andastes) were GIANTS-- of a sort anyway....

--Most especially to the men of average height (4- 5.3 feet) of that time period, but also seemed "huge" to the people who dug them up over the past 100 years.  The Andaste's AVERAGE height seems to be between 5 and 6 feet, with some exceptional human specimens being recorded to be larger.

So the question then becomes: " Is that REALLY A GIANT or just a larger than average person?"

Here is more about the so-called giant skeletons that were found in our area:

1.) Towanda Daily Review - 1897 - "The Grave of a Giant"

2.) Aboriginal Sites in and  Near "Teaoga," Now Athens, Pennsylvania, 1921 (make sure to read the footnote too) This is a great article about the sites in our region written by Louise Welles Murray in 1921 and published in American Anthropologist.

3.) History Of Waverly, Chapter IV, page 7 (second paragraph) Capt Charles Albertson, 1943

"The Andastes also had numerous villages and stockades as far south as the Chesapeake Bay, where Captain John Smith mentions in his "General History" having met them, and describes them as being "giants". This statement has been in doubt until recent years, when several skeletons of this departed race have been discovered, which tend to prove the truth of Smith's statement.  When excavating for the Spalding Memorial Building at Athens (locally known as the Athens Library today) they exhumed a skeleton about eight feet in height, which can be seen in the collection immediately over where he had been buried several hundred years before...The Broadhead expedition in the summer of 1916 secured the skeletons of several of this people on Queen Esther's Flats near the public highway leading to Towanda about 1/2 mile west of the Chemung river Bridge at Athens; many or all of these remains indicated that they were about seven feet in height."

Obviously, there are no other references to this skeleton being 8ft tall, as Murray and Moorehead both claimed it was more like 6.5 - 7ft....Most importantly, is the point that it was there, and while I haven't been able to find a picture of the skeleton in the case, I am getting closer at least ~ I found the card that was in the case with him!
Case Card #1

Above: Actual card from the glass case the large skeleton was placed in form the Tioga Point Museum Opening in 1895

And remained there for many years...I remember seeing the skeletons on my 4th grade field trip!

This card was provided by the Tioga Point Museum

Case Card #2
Interestingly, there is a second card in the same folder...obviously for the same skeleton...I find it a little humorous that they kept changing how many years ago it was buried!

This skeleton was re-interred along with all skeletal material at this museum in compliance with the Native American Graves Repatriation Act. 

4.) Moorehead - Susquehanna River Expedition 1918 - page 49

 -(Note - This relates to the same skeleton discussed in the "History of Waverly" excerpt)

Concerning the formal opening of the Historical Museum in Athens PA in 1895 ...

"The owner like his forebears, long refused to examine the grave at the center of the plot but at last had consented to celebrate the formal opening of the Historical Museum, and June 27th, 1895, the work was begun.  The circle of stones proved to be over a sepulchre about 3 to 5 feet, with an upright stone at each corner, apparently as a marker, for, of course this would have been well above the surface originally...

The writer, hoping to save the pottery, assisted Messrs. Murray and Ercanbrack in the excavation. Finally, two large flat stones, full of devonian fossils, proved to be the covering to a skeleton of six feet or more in height.  While laying on back with head to the southeast, with hands crossed on breast, the crushed front of the skull and the unusual position of legs, right foot under thigh, left leg fallen acrossed right, seemed to indicate that he might have been buried in a sitting posture, and overturned by settling of stones of the sepulchre, which had evidently crushed the large pot, fully eighteen inches in diameter, at the left side of the head." 

5.)  Louise Welles Murray -"History of Old Tioga Point and Early Athens -"1908."Little attention has ever been paid by students of ethnology to the valley of the Upper Susquehanna...we have resolved here to present in a separate chapter the results of the work of amateur investigators...trusting that more learned students may help us decide to what race belong the almost gigantic skeletons often found..."

"A number of huge skeletons found in the various Indian burial grounds of Tioga have suggested, by the size, that they are Andastes."  ~Louise Welles Murray -"History of Old Tioga Point and Early Athens -"1908.

6.)  Pennsylvania Archeologist, Volume 61  No. 2  September 1991

Dr. Marshall Becker

The Stature of A Susquehannock Population of the Mid-16th Century Based on Skeletal Remains from 46HM73
Marshall Joseph Becker
When John Smith first contacted a group of Susquehannock in 1608 he described these people as "gyant-like." Direct confirmation of this observation can now be provided through studies of the long bones of a population which was part of the Susquehannock "confederacy." Recent excavations at a Susquehannock site on the South Branch of the Potomac River in Hampshire County, West Virginia, re- vealed portions of a palisaded village and associated features dating from the middle of the 16th century. This remnant of a flood-destroyed site yielded 13 relatively intact burials. Surface collection of skeletal material immediately downstream of the site after the flood provided long bones from at least 18 other adults. Calculation of the stature of the individuals represented in this sample and comparisons with the other Native American populations of this period confirm John Smith's observations. 

7.) Captain John Smith's Account of the Susquehannocks

From The Voyages of CAPTAIN JOHN SMITH (of Jamestown, Va.) during the Years 1607-9:

". . . 60 of those Susquehannocks came to us . . . such great and well proportioned men are seldome seene, for they seemed like giants to the English . . .these are the strangest people of all those countries both in language and attire; for their language it may well beseeme their proportions, sounding from them as a voice in a vault. Their attire is the skinnes of beares and woolves, some have cassocks made of beares heades and skinnes . . . The halfe sleeves coming to the elbows were the heades of beares and the arms through the open mouth . . . one had the heade of a woolf hanging from a chain for a jewell . . . with a club suitable to his greatness sufficient to beat out ones brains. Five of their chiefe wereowances came aboard us . . . (of) the greatest of them his hayre, the one side was long and the other shorn close with a ridge over his crowne like a cocks combe . . . The calfe of whose leg was f a yard around and all the rest of his limbes so answerable to that proportion that he seemed the goodliest man we ever beheld!"

These people were a grand site and very powerful. This is very easy to see just by looking at John Smith's map - you will see the picture on the right of this page representing these great warriors casting a shadow on the whole upper east area

 8.) 1882 - Sepulchre Discovered with Giant Skeleton - Farm of Gen. McKean - 1884

In 1822, while digging a cellar on the farm of General McKean, excavations came  to what was supposed to be "an impenetrable rock, but striking it with a crow  bar it gave forth a hollow sound." They re-doubled their efforts, and at last  the stone broke and fell into a vault. And now, with visions of long-buried  treasure flitting through their minds, they carefully removed the earth from the arch, speculating the wile as to the probable extent of the "treasure-trove," and the amount of salvage the General would be likely to claim. On removing the cap they found "not what they sought," but a sepulchre. A careful examination of the sarcophagus reveled it flagged at the bottom, the sides artistically built up, and a flat stone laid on the top. The sarcophagus measured nine feet in length, two and a half feet in width, and ten feet deep. In it was found a skeleton measuring as it lay, eight feet and two inches in length. The teeth were sound, but the bones were soft and easily broken. There were ten of these sepulchres within the space of the cellar, one of which had a pine growing over it three feet in diameter.

Source: BRADFORD REPORTER, Towanda, Pennsylvania Aug 14, 1884 - article on Burlington Township.

Here is another account of the same incident, with a variation.

In 1822, while digging a cellar on the farm of Gen. McKean, the excavators came to what was supposed to be an "impenetrable rock, but striking it with a crow, it gave forth a hollow sound." They redoubled their efforts, and at last the stone broke and fell into a vault. And now, with visions of long-buried treasure flitting through their minds, they carefully removed the earth from the arch, speculating, the while as to the probable extent of the "treasure-trove," and the amount of salvage the General would be likely to claim. On removing the cap they found "not what they sought," but a sepulchre. A careful examination of the sarcophagus revealed it flagged at the bottom, the sides, artistically built up, and a, flat stone laid on the top. The sarcophagus measured nine feet in length, two feet six inches in width, and two feet deep. In it was found a skeleton, measuring, as it lay, eight feet two inches in length. * The teeth were sound, but the bones were soft and easily broken. There were two of these sepulchres within the space of the cellar, one of which had a pine growing over it three feet in diameter.

*This measurement being made by Dr. Williams late of Troy, now deceased.

History of Bradford County 1770 - 1878 by The Reverend Mr. David Craft - History of The Townships, Burlington Township

This information was provided by:
J. Kelsey Jones
Bradford County Historical Society
President Elect

9.) The Story and the TRUTH Surrounding  the "Horned Skeletons" 

Horned Skeletons? As you look for more information on Google or on the web in general - you will undoubtedly see stories of not only giant skeletons, but "horned" skeletons as well found in our area.

I have read where this horned skeletons story immediately hit the "wires" and was covered by papers across the nation. Click here to read an article (1916) from a local newspaper concerning the "Horned Skeletons."

It seems that when the newspaper articles died down, the story continued with a life of it's own, and was included in many books covering the "strange and unexplained," such as:

From Robert R. Lyman, Sr.'s (1971) Forbidden Land: Strange Events in the Black Forest, Vol. I. (Coudersport, PA: Potter Ent.): 

"At Tioga Point, on the Murray farm, a short distance from Sayre, in Bradford County, an amazing discovery was made. Dr. G. P. Donehoo, State Historian..., together with Prof. A. B. Skinner of the American Investigating Museum, and Prof. W. K. Moorehead, of Phillips Andover Academy, uncovered an Indian mound. They found the bones of 68 men which were believed to have been buried about the year 1200."

"The average height of these men was 7 feet, while many were much taller. On some of the skulls, 2 inches above the perfectly formed forehead, were protuberances of bone, evidently horns that had been there since birth." 

This story has again surfaced quite heavily on the internet as well.


Here is text from an actual witness to the beginning of the "horned skeleton" story: (Louise Welles Murray, 1921)
It seems that there was quite a few people observing the digs at the Murray site in 1916, and this was do in part because the word was getting out that they were unearthing  mysteriously "huge" men. It is easy to see that it didn't take much for a visitor who was already "excited" by what he was witnessing to let his imagination run wild when he heard something like, "There are horns on his head!" from one of the workmen unearthing yet another so-called "giant."
From the Tioga Point Museum

In my opinion, you have to define what a giant really is. To me - Goliath was a giant. He was more than a few feet taller than the average person - he was SEVERAL TIMES larger. The fact that we see people all of the time that are a foot taller than us and more to me says they are larger than average, not giants. 

More importantly, these are not a lost race, aliens, or anything other than a mighty tribe that once lived here - the Susquehannocks - and to me - THEIR STORY is more important and even bigger than any of these "giant skeleton" stories that continue to exist.
In the end - I have provided the information here for you to make your own decision on the so called giants who lived here and are an important part of our region's heritage.