The copy and paste problem in fringe history has been with us mostly since the inception of low-quality popular history. Nineteenth century texts were rife with verbatim copying, often uncredited. People like Harold T. Wilkins and David Childress raised copying to an art form, but the internet has turned it into an industry. The Ancient Code website exists almost entirely to rewrite (poorly) other people’s articles, which recently included a wholesale rewrite of an Ancient Origins article on giant bones in Romania, itself an uncredited copy of still earlier Romanian articles, going back to a hoax. Granted, this isn’t much different from the Huffington Post’s business model of rewriting other news organizations’ content to build traffic, but it’s depressing to see how little original content the supposed warriors for truth actually produce.
Today’s case in point is a depressingly racist piece on giants that appeared on the Seven Tales website run by Helena Matias. This Matias is not, so far as I can tell, the scientist of the same name who works at the New University of Lisbon.
Matias begins her piece by copying from Donald N. Yates’s 2012 book on the Old World Roots of the Cherokee, which I am embarrassed to say was published by McFarland, the same company that produced most of my books. Yates, who holds a degree in Classics, is the owner of DNA Consultants, the company that uses alleged DNA evidence to “prove” that New World peoples are descendants of various Old World peoples, notably Greeks and Hebrews. (“Do not believe your government history books!” he proclaims on his website.) He also sells DNA “fingerprinting” kits to track a person’s ethnic origin for just $279. (Jewish and Native American ancestry requires an additional fee of $18 and $19 respectively.) Anyway, I’m getting a bit off topic…
Yates feels that the Cherokee are Greeks because he thinks that the name of the Cherokee warrior class is the same as the Greek term etheloikeoi, a word meaning “willing colonizers.” So far as I know the word appears only in Yates’s work, apparently back-formed from the name Eshelokee, which appears in the Cherokee Vision of Elohi, a migration myth telling of the Cherokee’s escape from a flooded land. (It’s often used as evidence for Atlantis or for Jewish contact by fringe folk on account of the flooded land and the similarity of the word Elohi, or earth, and Elohim, the Jewish plural for “gods,” respectively.)
Matias quotes Yates quoting the Christian missionary Horatio Bardwell Cushman that the first inhabitants of the United States were a “race of white giants.” Matias then follows Yates in following Cushman in declaring that the white giants were the same as a the Atlans, the imaginary Atlantean giants invented by the scientist Constantine Rafineseque, who had given himself over to outright fraud in an attempt to steal back glory (and money) from Caleb Atwater, his rival, who had gained fame and fortune by proposing a Vedic Indian origin for the Ohio mounds. Cushman’s 700-page History of the Choctaw etc. (1899) is generally held to be an unreliable source text, but it preserves some myths and legends not found elsewhere.
This is a bit ironic since Cushman was, for all his faults, an advocate of Native American rights and yet ends up entered in evidence for Native Americans being an Old World people!
Here’s the interesting thing: Yates added “white” to Cushman’s account, which did not use the phrase “race of white giants,” but did assert that large bones proved the account to be based in fact:
Also of the tradition of the Choctaws which told of a race of giants that once inhabited the now State of Tennessee, and with whom their ancestors fought when they arrived in Mississippi in their migration from the west, doubtless Old Mexico. Their tradition states the Nahullo (race of giants) was of wonderful stature; but, as their tradition of the mastodon, so this was also considered to be but a foolish fable, the creature of a wild imagination, when lo! their exhumed bones again prove the truth of the Choctaws tradition. In the fall of 1880, Mr. William Beverly, an old gentleman 84 years of age living near Piano, Collin County, Texas, and who was born in west Tennessee and there lived to manhood, stated to me that near his father’s house on a small creek were twenty-one mounds in consecutive order forming a crescent, each distant from the other about fifty feet and each with a base of seventy-five or eighty feet in diameter, and rising to an average height of forty feet; that he, when a boy twelve years of age, was present with his father, when an excavation was made in one of the mounds in which human bones of enormous size were found, the femoral bones being five inches longer than the ordinary length, and the jaw bones were so large as to slip over the face of a man with ease. This statement was confirmed by Rev. Mr. Rudolph of McKinney, Texas, and several others, all men of undoubted veracity, which places the truth of the former existence of the mounds, their excavations and results, as well as the Choctaw tradition, beyond all doubt and even controversy.
Yates got the adjective from a later passage in the book not written by Cushman but taken from a letter sent to Cushman in 1878 by Henry Sale Halbert, a former Confederate soldier and later expert on the Choctaw, who attempted to “prove” ethnograpically that Native Americans had occupied America only from about 1300 CE and therefore were illegitimate claimants to the land:
The word Nahoolo is a corruption of the Choctaw word Nahullo and is now applied to the entire White Race, but anciently it referred to a giant race with whom they came in contact when they first crossed the Mississippi river. These giants, says their tradition, as related to the missionaries occupied the northern part of the now States of Mississippi and Alabama and the western part of Tennessee. The true signification of the word Nahullo is a superhuman or supernatural being, and the true words for white man are Hattak-tohbi. The Nahullo were of white complexion, according to Choctaw tradition, and were still an existing people at the time of the advent of the Choctaws to Mississippi; that they were a hunting people and also cannibals, who killed and ate the Indians whenever they could capture them, consequently the Nahullo were held in great dread by the Indians and were killed by them whenever an opportunity was presented; by what means they finally became extinct, tradition is silent.
Halbert declared that the Mound Builders were a separate white race, “perhaps almost, if not quite, as fair as we,” who died out due to disease, their last remnants being the “white” Mandan people. Only when the great white race had died, he said, could Asiatics move into America.
Cushman himself was uncomfortable with this conclusion, but made the best of it since it represented what he assumed to be scientific conclusions from an expert. He suggested that Allegewi (a legendary tribe of bloodthirsty giants appearing in several tribes’ myths) or even the Norse—even in 1899 acknowledged as the first Europeans to reach America—were the lost white race of giants. He supposed that the story got mixed up with one of human sacrifice, which degenerated into a tale of cannibalism.
Matias continues copying Yates verbatim. Yates goes on to quote a nineteenth century account by Nelson Lee of a Comanche legend of the same white giants, but which I think any reader will clearly see is nothing but the Biblical story of the Nephilim amalgamated to some now-lost native story. (That is, if it is even real at all: The book it is in is often considered to be a hoax.) Lee is paraphrasing Rolling Thunder:
Innumerable moons ago, a race of white men, ten feet high, and far more rich and powerful than any white people now living, here inhabited a large range of country, extending from the rising to the setting sun. Their fortifications crowned the summits of the mountains, protecting their populous cities situated in the intervening valleys. They excelled every other nation which was flourished, either before or since, in all manner of cunning handicraft — were brave and warlike — ruling over the land they had wrested from its ancient possessors with a high and haughty hand. Compared with them the palefaces of the present day were pygmies, in both art and arms. They drove the Indians from their homes, putting them to the sword, and occupying the valleys in which their fathers had dwelt before them since the world began. At length, in the height of their power and glory, when they remembered justice and mercy no more and became proud and lifted up, the Great Spirit descended from above, sweeping them with fire and deluge from the face of the earth. The mounds we had seen on the tablelands were the remnants of their fortresses, and the crumbling ruins that surrounded us all that remained of a mighty city.
If that isn’t clear enough, Rolling Thunder went on to tell Lee that the “giants” are the same as today’s white people, whom God will destroy for their overweening pride. While Lee and the modern writers seem to take Rolling Thunder for a primitive sage, it seems possible to me that he was offering a sophisticated cross-cultural metaphor that intentionally evoked Biblical stories from the missionaries to make a point, and I would be rather certain that the wealth and whiteness of the giants, regardless of their Biblical connection, were a pointed detail added to make the comparison clear—note that these “white” giants also stole the land from indigenous people. It is rather insulting to suggest Rolling Thunder was any less able to make a rhetorical point than a white man. (The Comanche had been in contact with Christianity for centuries, but actively resisted missionaries.)
But Yates cuts out the context and thus turns this interesting cross-cultural exchange into simple proof that uncreative natives were uncritical reporters of the greatness of the white race.
Matias, who is actually plagiarizing verbatim from this blog post by Yates, makes them into Nephilim, with (sigh) double rows of teeth, adding that “the double row of teeth probably was selected as an evolutionary advantage in their beachcomber origin out of Africa” because giants, as all good gigantologists know, love shellfish, being evil and an abomination to God, that well-known hater of shellfish. Our authors know that the giants are Nephilim because they speak a “Semitic” language!
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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