Nevada has seen many strange hoaxes, part 1 |

Nevada has seen many strange hoaxes, part 1

Richard Moreno
The Nevada Traveler
The discovery of giant footprints in the Nevada State Prison Quarry, seen here, led some experts to incorrectly claim they were proof of giant prehistoric humans.
Courtesy of University of Nevada Special Collections

Maybe it’s all the wide open space, which can sometimes cause the mind to imagine things, but for some reason Nevada has been the subject of a number of outlandish legends over the years.

For instance, did you know that the state was the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden, as one explorer insisted, or that giant, red-headed cannibal Indians once lived in caves near Lovelock?

Some of these bizarre pronouncements have been the result of honest scientific miscalculations while others have been the work of more misguided individuals.

In the 19th and early-20th century — when most of these claims were perpetrated — it was perhaps easier to convince people of their veracity because most folks knew so little about Nevada and such “fake news” was easier to spread.

For example, one of the most unusual claims was one made in the 1920s when a San Francisco newspaper announced that the actual Garden of Eden had been found in western Nevada.

On Aug. 17, 1924, the San Francisco Examiner reported on its front page that archaeologist Alan Le Baron had found the birthplace of mankind on a barren hilltop 30 miles south of Yerington.

For a week, the newspaper printed exclusive reports from the location that stated Nevada was the site of the creation of mankind. Proof, according to the paper, was the existence of rock art that appeared related to — and possibly predated — Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The articles referred to the site as the “Hill of a Thousand Tombs” and included photos of carvings depicting bighorn sheep, snakes, birds and other shapes. Additionally, Le Baron claimed to have found the bones of elephants, lions and camels mingled with the petrified remnants of a million-year-old forest.

Other experts, however, studied the site and determined that the “hieroglyphics” were really Native American petroglyphs. They concluded that Nevada was a nice place — but certainly not the Garden of Eden.

Another noteworthy hoax was the evidence showing that giants once lived near Carson City. Proof of this claim surfaced in the late 1870s, when inmates at the Nevada State Prison discovered footprints that some experts said were made by prehistoric giants.

The inmates had been cutting stone in the prison quarry when they found a large number fossils and a trail of large footprints in the rock.

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco sent a team of experts to study the site. While the group concluded that the intriguing prints were most likely made by animals about a million years ago, a few scientists reported that they believed the prints were made by a prehistoric race of giants.

They based their findings on the fact that the prints appeared to have been made by a two-legged creature wearing large wooden sandals. The prints were thought to be human because they curved like a human foot.

Other researchers, however, studied the prints and came to a different view — the prints were made by a giant sloth.

The controversy raged for nearly 50 years until paleontologist Chester Stock, who excavated the Rancho La Brea tar pits, studied the prints and said they were identical to sloth prints found at La Brea, which put an end to the debate.

Yet another weird theory about giants in Nevada gained notoriety during the 1920s and ’30s when John T. Reid, a mining engineer and avid amateur anthropologist, found bones in the vicinity of Lovelock, which he told local newspapers were from a race of giant, redheaded Indians.

Reid had heard Paiute stories about tall, redheaded cannibals, said to have lived near Lovelock Cave, so when he found red-haired skeletons he assumed he’d discovered the remains of the legendary giants. He measured the bones and calculated that when alive the people had been between seven-feet, seven-inches tall and nine-feet, six-inches.

The bones became lost for several decades — during which time the legend of the redheaded giants grew — before surfacing again in the late 1970s. An analysis showed that Reid had incorrectly measured the bones, which were actually from normal-sized people.

Additionally, the red hair was the result of discoloration caused by natural deterioration of the bodies as well as dyes used by Great Basin tribes during preparations for burials.

In other words, the bones were of normal-size people and not a race of giants.

More great Nevada hoaxes next week.