Yesterday I discussed Xaviant Hazes’s podcast appearance in which the DJ, Trump supporter, and bush-league conspiracy theorist described a project he says he is working on for the History Channel. He claimed that he is hunting for a cave containing the monstrous remains of giants, a cave first discovered by a German missionary named Bernard Middendorf, whom standard accounts say came to New Spain in 1756 and began a mission to convert the Natives. I had never heard of him having found a cave of giants, so this took a little digging to learn more about. The story is strange, and apparently obscure.
The only major modern source to discuss the tale is Mormon in origin. The 2001 book Hidden Treasures of Ancient America was written by John Heinerman, who approvingly cites Mormon fantasies about ancient history in his discussion of the prehistory of the continent. In the early pages of the book, Heinerman claims that a man named Hector Rosales provided him with information about, and a translation of, a manuscript in the Jesuit Archives in Mexico City called the Relation de las Indias de Visita de San Javier del Bac written by Middendorf to describe his time living in the area around what is now Tucson.
According to Rosales’s translation, the story runs something like this: One day, Middendorf encountered a Native who had been converted to Catholicism. He informed Middendorf that there was a cave containing “monstrous bodies of human form, and much riches.” They went off together into the Arizona desert and came to a cleft in some cliffs, which gave entrance to a cave sealed with a door of rock that they were able to slide open because it was carefully hinged on a juniper pole that passed through a perfectly bored hole in the rock. Inside, the cave was filled with niches, each of which held a large stone casket with an ornately carved lid. Each casket was sealed with resin. One had been broken open, and within was a man of “monstrous size” wearing silk clothes. Around his neck, he wore an amulet of marble in the shape of a unicorn—a lifelike depiction of a horse with a single spiral horn. Despite the fact that the unicorn was a longstanding symbol for Christ, Middendorf destroyed the amulet as the “devil’s work.” He also found in the cave a cache of weapons and an unspecified treasure. Condemning the whole thing as the sepulcher of the wicked, he ordered it sealed, and no one ever found it again.
Later, Heinerman speculates that a tall tale from the 1890s, about a prospector named Pauly finding a cave in the same area with seven giant skeletons and some copper weapons, might have been the same cave as the one Middendorf found. “Was Pauly’s tomb discovery similar to, or, in fact, one-and-the-same made by Father Middendorf of Tucson with his Indian guide some 125 years earlier?”
In his interview, Haze stated that Pauly did in fact revisit the same tomb, and thus “proved” Middendorf’s account correct. The coincidence of accounts between Haze and Heinerman proves as much as one can prove such things that Heinerman is the source for Haze’s claims, and his History Channel “investigation” is yet another secondhand exercise in futility.
As best I can tell, no one else has published any other information on Middendorf’s manuscript, and I have been unable to find evidence that this manuscript has ever been published. The mission referred to in the text’s title is real, spelled today San Xavier del Bac, and Middendorf was briefly in charge of the mission there in 1757. It’s also true that in that year Middendorf explored parts of what is now Arizona. It is further true that the works he wrote in the late 1750s were sent to the Spanish Viceroy in Mexico City in 1760. But it is also true that Middendorf was suspected of being an alcoholic, and he was imprisoned following the expulsion of the Jesuits from America in 1767 until the Empress Maria Theresa intervened with her Spanish counterpart to secure his release. His maps are considered historically important, but I have not seen any evaluation of his other accounts, except for brief references to his scientific narratives in books like Early History of the Southwest through the Eyes of German-Speaking Jesuit Missionaries, none of which even allude to a cave of giants. Hubert Howe Bancroft, who reviewed all of the extant documentation he could find on the Jesuit presence in Arizona known to him in the 1800s, reported nothing about caves of giants, though he does allude to legends of giants circulating among the Spanish in the 1600s.
Heinerman’s limited information provides too little to judge the veracity of the account. The fact that what was published is a summary of an English translation of an alleged account from Mexico that may or may not have been written contemporary with events does not inspire confidence. Similarly, the name “Hector Rosales” is so common that no profitable information can be gleaned from it, either. Unfortunately, the Jesuit Archive of the Province of Mexico is not indexed, and according to library and archival records, there are hundreds of boxes of archives with no index or catalog, nor are the materials online. To confirm the story, one must travel to Mexico City and make an appointment with the Archives, and then sift through 300 boxes of material!
It’s rather frustrating to know whether to trust report that Heinerman provides. Parts of it seem to parallel other colonial-era fantasies, like the near-contemporary “Manuscript 512,” but parts of it seem much closer to more modern fantasies, like the Moberly Hoax of 1885 or the Grand Canyon Hoax of 1909.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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