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The Pelican Lake Giant

Photo from 1908 news clipping.
Photo from 1908 news clipping.

“Massive Human Bones and Indian Relics Unearthed near Pelican Lake” read a Rhinelander New North newspaper headline on July 28th, 1908. The sensationalist commentary that followed was all the “proof” the unidentified writer needed to confirm that giant people once lived and were buried in the vicinity of Pelican Lake, Wisconsin.

According to the article, George Patton, and L.H. Eaton of Chicago were visiting the northern lakes country when they passed by an unusual mound in the forest near Pelican Lake. Burial and effigy mounds are not particularly unusual to the state of Wisconsin, thought to have at one time contained approximately 15,000 before colonization. Many of them, such as the following, were destroyed by early treasure seekers, amateur archaeologists, or farmers. Experts count approximately 4000 of them that remain.

The two men fetched some tools and began to unceremoniously excavate the mound. About 4 feet below the soil they discovered an intact skeleton reported to be nearly 8 feet in length. Included in the burial, according to the article, were a stone hatchet, a copper knife and jewelry, and a necklace containing the “tusks of some prehistoric animal”. This burial was evidence that some “tribe of giants” once walked in the area “over 1000 years ago”.

The article goes on to mention a three foot arm bone found near Monico. The write up corroborates the evidence with legends passed down by the “Chippewa Indians”, of men in their tribe having been “10 arrow lengths high”. Finally, it mentions the skeleton and artifacts would be presented to some unnamed geological society.

That’s where any documentation of the Pelican Lake Giant ends. It’s unknown where the bones went, or what happened to the men, or if they ever truly existed at all. What we do know is that this story wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last article about ancient giant people. These types of giant human bones discovery stories can be found throughout history, across the globe, even in the state of Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, giant bones were alleged to have been discovered in Chetek, Delavan, and other places. A giant skeleton was even exhibited in a sideshow by two Wisconsin men in the early 1900s

Of course, none of these giant skeletons appear to exist anymore, if they ever did. There’s no doubt that lay archeologists, or grave disturbers one might call them, found the burials of people that inhabited the Northwoods of Wisconsin generations earlier. After all, it’s documented by actual evidence that people have lived in this area for thousands of years. But to date, no giant human remains have ever been catalogued by authorities in Wisconsin, geological or otherwise.

Giant bones found near Pelican Lake makes for a good story, newspapers knew it then, and this host knows it now. Certainly, the idea of giant people living in the Northwoods is intriguing and mysterious, but does that make it history? At least in the instance of a dramatic news story, yes, in the case of proof they actually existed, the evidence, says no.

Sources: Rhinelander New North Newspaper, July 1908

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Kerry Bloedorn joined WXPR in 2022 as the host of A Northwoods Moment in History. A local historian, Director of Pioneer Park Historical Complex for the City of Rhinelander and writer for The New North Magazine, he loves digging into the past and sharing his passion for history with the Northwoods community.
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