It’s a bit long, but it’s worth looking at Thompson’s account in full:
When The Indians first made their appearance on the Klamath river it was already inhabited by a white race of people known among us as the Wa-gas. These white people were found to inhabit the whole continent, and were a highly moral and civilized race. They heartily welcomed the Indians to their country and taught us all of their arts and sciences. The Indians recognized the rights of these ancient people as the first possessors of the soil and no difficulties ever arose between the two people. Their hospitality was exceedingly generous in the welfare of our people and all prospered together in peace and happiness, in their pursuit of human existence (sic). After a time there where inter-marriages between the two races, but these were never promiscuous. For a vast period of time the two races dwelt together in peace and honored homes, wars and quarrels were unknown in this golden age of happiness. No depredations were ever committed upon the property of their people, as the white people ruled with beacon light of kindness, and our people still worship the hallowed places where once they trod. Their morals were far superior to the white people of today, their ideals were high and inspired our people with greatness. After we had lived with these ancient people so long, they suddenly called their hosts together and mysteriously disappeared for a distant land, we know not where. We have no memory of their reason or cause why they abandoned their ancient homes where they had dwelt for untold centuries. Wars did not drive them forth, for we loved them more than brothers, and difficulties were unknown between the two people. On leaving they went toward the North from whence we came, and disappeared from our land beyond the northern seas. It was a sad farewell when they departed from this land, for our people mourned their loss, as no more have we found such friends as they, so true and loyal. In their farewell journey across this land they left landmarks of stone monuments, on the tops of high mountains and places commanding a view of the surrounding country. These land-marks we have kept in repair, down through the ages in loving remembrance. I have seen many of these land-marks myself (and often repaired them) that they left as a symbol of the mystic ages and the grandeur of a mighty nation that passed in a single season. Oh, how little we know of the depths of the ages gone, how wide, how profound and deep is the knowledge we seek; a monument of stone, a stone bowl, a broken symbol, a hallowed unknown spot, a lodge of ruins, all this makes a golden page glittering with diamonds that trills the emotions with mysterious longings for truth and light in the depths unknown.
When the Wag-as left this land they assured my people that they would return to them at some future time. Perchance thousands of years have elapsed since then, and they have not returned, we have waited in vain for it seems that our cherished hopes are fading. However, some of our people are still looking for the return of the white man. The traditions handed down leads us to believe that the Wa-gas returned to the land of their birth, in the far north, the valley of Cheek-cheek-alth, as their traditions were given to us that their origin was in this same land of Cheek-cheek-alth, as they came down from the North when they came to this land. When the Wa-gas first arrived on this continent they handed down the traditions to us that it was inhabited by a giant race of people when they first came. These giants were represented by the Wa-gas as being very swarthy in complexion, and they used implements so large that no ordinary man could lift them. It was an age when large animals roamed the earth, and it seems the birds and fowls were all very large in size. It appeared to be the first age, and was the age of the giants. The recollections transmitted by the Wa-gas were that these giants were very cruel and wicked. It was said that God became displeased with them and destroyed them and they all perished from the earth. It was also said that God appeared to the High Priest of the Wa-gas and told them that he was going to destroy the giant race and that the Wa-gas themselves would survive upon the earth as a new people. Smaller birds and animals would appear upon the earth for the use of man, thus the age of giants perished, but the Wa-gas do not hand down any tradition of how they perished from the earth, as my people have no recollections of ever seeing giants. My mother says that our people in ancient times have seen many relics belonging to these prehistoric giants, such as huge stone bowls, stone slabs and other implements so great that our people could not move them. During the ages of rains and wearing away of the earth, these implements have been buried so deep and have sunk into the earth, is the reason we cannot find them today. The Indian name for the giant race is Pah-pel-ene, which means people that have all died and passed away.
When the Wa-gas returned to Cheek-cheek-alth it is supposed they found a ladder in this beautiful valley which extends from earth to Heaven, and climbed it to Werse-on-now, (Heaven) where they dwell with God. All the half castes with the exception of a few went away with the Wa-gas, and nearly all those that were three quarters Indian remained with our people. This is said to be the reason why some of our people are very fair. Some of the Indians are still looking for their return to the earth, when they come back it is believed that peace and happiness will reign supreme again over this great land and all evil will be cast out. When the present race of the white people made their first appearance upon the American continent, we believed it was the Wa-gas returning and a hearty welcome was extended to them and there was great rejoicing among our tribes. But soon the sad mistake was discovered to our sorrow, when the men began to debauch our women, give whiskey to our men and claim our land that our fore-fathers had inhabited for so many thousands of years, yet not a single family has ever been driven from their house on the Klamath river up to this day. We no longer termed them as Wa-gas, but as Ken-e-yahs, which means foreigners, who had no right to the land and could never appreciate our kindness, for they were a very different people from the Wa-gas. They had corrupt morals that brought dissolution upon our people and wrought the horrors of untold havoc.
Similarly, we see here a reworked version of the myth of the Nephilim from Genesis 6, combined with a political polemic about Anglo treatment of Native people. The story purports to relate primeval history, but instead it sets up a contrast between the harmony Natives had with the original race of white people and the enmity of the new invaders, effectively reversing the then-common Mound Builder myth that America’s lost white race had been viciously murdered by savage Natives. We find similar polemics in other late accounts that purport to be ancient traditions. Nelson Lee’s (probably semi-fictional) Three Years among the Camanches (1859) purports to have a Native American tell the story of a lost race of white savage giants, destroyed by God for immorality, which similarly combines Genesis with an inverse of the Mound Builder myth.
Thompson’s version is suspect because it bears clear traces of Biblical contamination, but to this we must also add Thompson’s own political and social views. Thompson was married to a white man, and she expressed criticism (however muted) of white Americans’ treatment of Native Americans and the natural world. She was particularly incensed by whites over-fishing, and she said as much in her book, and she sought to find ways to unite white and Native people for the common good. The connection between her beliefs and the story should be sufficiently plain. The references to the giant animals of the past seems to bear a close resemblance to the picture of earlier geological epochs that had emerged in the early twentieth century, and Adrienne Mayor has cataloged ways that Native oral traditions embraced and incorporated paleontological discoveries to tweak earlier myths.
It is probably worth noting that the story that Thompson tells does not appear in anthropological and ethnographic collections of Yurok myths, such as Alfred Louis Kroeber’s Yurok Myths (1976), which was a posthumous work of stories compiled from interactions with the Yurok dating back to 1900. In the more typical version of the story recorded in Kroeber and other sources, the elder race was called wogè (= Thompson’s Wa-Gas) but were pygmies, not giants (or knowledgeable about giants), and were not described as white. Where Thompson has them ascend to heaven, traditional stories have them as semi-immortals who transformed into birds, animals, or even landmark geological formations to escape the coming of human beings. Interestingly, Kroeber did record one version, from a man known as Informant B, in which the wogè were described as “large men,” though not exactly the Nephilim of Genesis. (Folklorist Alan Dundes suggested that Informant B offered an “idiosyncratic” interpretation, though this was only an educated guess from comparison with other known accounts.)
The bottom line is that fringe writers don’t bother to consider context, but since when is that news?