Officials at the History family of networks might think their programs are just entertainment, but people take them seriously. You’ll recall that in episode S01E04 of America Unearthed Scott Wolter went in search of the skeletons of “giants” in Minnesota. Although Wolter found no giants—the skeleton he investigated was 5’3”—that isn’t the impression viewers got after an hour of speculation about how and why super-tall skeletons have been dug up across America. So it was only a matter of time before fans of Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot came across the “giants” episode of America Unearthed and began to ask the only logical question: “Could these giant bones actually be Bigfoot bones?”
I will remind you again that Wolter found no giant skeletons, and the Victorian-era “giant” skeletons he referenced in the episode were hoaxes. Earlier “giant” skeletons found in the eighteenth century, such as the famous bones seen by Cotton Mather, were later determined to be wooly mammoth bones.
While America Unearthed is unintentionally giving succor to Bigfoot believers, this is hardly the first time nineteenth century accounts of giants have been turned into evidence for Bigfoot. Here’s one claim from 2004, used as an example of a conspiracy theory in the book Cryptozoology: Science and Speculation: “We don’t have any Bigfoot skeletons today because giant skeletons found in America’s past were all carted off to museums and stashed away so that prevailing theories wouldn’t be upset.” And again in 2011’s Eerie Tales: “Some claim that the giant skeletons found in old Indian burial mounds in the nineteenth century were actually Bigfoot remains.” Here again, though, the claim is raised to swat it down since the alleged giant skeletons had human rather than ape skulls. More seriously, the Unexplained Phenomenon Rough Guide Special claimed “In North America, Bigfoot has numerous ancient prototypes in the giants which have been excavated from ancient Indian mounds. (The records of these giants have been thoroughly suppressed by the archeologists…).” This practically demands that we ask how Unexplained Phenomenon found out about them...
In a similar vein, Jay Rath, in The I-Files, asked whether the Windigo legend was a Native American “memory” of the Neanderthals—from prehistoric Europe—before claiming that archaeologists were suppressing the discovery of giant skeletons in Native mounds and that these skeletons could be those of Bigfoot, etc.
These claims seem to descend from an earlier layer of myth in which the Bigfoot was merely associated with Native American burial mounds as places of mystery and magic. In Wisconsin, in 1936, Mark Shackleman met a hairy creature that has been variously described as a Bigfoot, Windigo, or werewolf digging in a Native burial mound off Highway 18. Today it is used as early evidence for the 1980s-era Beast of Bray Road. In 1979, A. J. Moore claimed to have found a Bigfoot skeleton laid out ritually on shells either on or beside a Native American burial mound in Florida; of course no trace of this alleged find ever turned up. Various other semi-legendary stories of hairy beasts and burial mounds exist.
In turn, these are physical interpretations of earlier colonial and Victorian tales of how burial mounds were associated with ghosts, phantoms, and other strange phenomena. This, in turn, derived from the mistaken belief that the Native mounds contained buried treasure (an idea as old as De Soto’s expedition) and the folkloric belief that buried treasure had ghostly guardians. I’m sure I’ve told the story before of how in the 1700s in rural Virginia (now West Virginia) a legend arose that if a person plunged a stick into a particular Upshur County burial mound, a ghostly scream would emanate from the mound from sunset to sunrise each night until the stick was removed. Such stories were widespread, and in time the ghosts gave way to Bigfoot, but without an appreciable change in the aura of the supernatural hanging over the mounds. This same whiff of the sacred or supernatural also led the Mormons to envision the mounds as the burial place of the lost race of Jews they believed had been slaughtered by Native Americans, as well as the place where the Book of Mormon had been buried on golden tablets. (Joseph Smith believed Hill Cumorah to be a mound, but it was actually a natural hill.)