Lovelock Cave: A Tale of Giants or A Giant Tale of Fiction?
The Paiutes, a Native-American tribe indigenous to parts of Nevada, have an oral tradition that they told to early white settlers of the area about a race of red-haired, white giants or ‘barbarians’ that their ancestors referred to as the “Si-Te-Cah.” The story was written down in 1882 by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, daughter of a Paiute Indian chief in her book Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims . These “giants” were described as being vicious, unfriendly and cannibalistic. In this story, the Paiutes speak of a great battle that took place which led to their extermination at site known today as Lovelock Cave. During the early part of the 20th century archaeologists found thousands of artifacts inside this cave leading to a lengthy excavation of the site and leading to some speculation that the Paiute legend was real.
Sarah Winnemucca, Paiute Writer and Lecturer, alongside her father and Chief Poito Winnemucca of the Paiute Natives in Nevada. Circa 1882. ( Wikimedia Commons )
“Si-Te-Cah” or Saiduka literally translates as “tule-eaters” in the Northern Paiute language. The tule is a fibrous water plant, which according to legend, the giants wove into rafts to escape attacks by the Paiute. They used the rafts to navigate across what remained then of Lake Lahontan, an ancient lake that once covered most of northern Nevada during the last ice age. As the Paiute tale goes, after years of warfare, all the tribes in the area joined together to rid themselves of the Si-Te-Cah. One day, as the tribes chased down the last remaining red-haired giants, they took refuge in a cave. The Paiutes demanded their enemy come out of the cave and fight, but the giants refused. The coalition of tribes proceeded to shoot arrows at them while starting a large fire at the mouth of the cave. The smoke drove out a few who died in a hail of arrows while the rest were all either burned alive or asphyxiated. Over time, the entrance to the cave would collapse leaving it accessible only to bats and cut off from human contact.
Lovelock Cave, known also as Bat Cave, Horseshoe Cave, Sunset Guano Cave and Indian Cave is located 20 miles south of modern day Lovelock, Nevada. It’s a very old cave that pre-dates humans on the continent and in prehistoric times was underneath Lake Lahontan. In 1886, a mining engineer from Lovelock named John T. Reid was told of the legend by local Indians, who took him to the site to prove it existed. Reid was unsuccessful in getting an archeological dig started immediately but two miners, James Hart and David Pugh, realized the value of guano as an ingredient of gunpowder, and created a company to start digging it out in 1911. They stripped a layer of guano from the cave approximately three to six feet deep, using a pick and shovel with little regard to the artifacts, and shipped some 250 tons of it to the Hawaiian Fertilizer Company in San Francisco.
The outside of Lovelock Cave ( Wikimedia Commons )
Alfred Kroeber, founder of the University of California Anthropology Department was contacted by Hart and Pugh when they reported finding prehistoric artifacts. This spurred the first archeological dig of Lovelock in 1912 led by L.L. Loud also of the University of California. A second dig took place in 1924 and after finishing the excavations, Loud collaborated on a report that was published in 1929. What L.L. Loud found was nothing short of amazing. Approximately 10,000 archaeological specimens were uncovered including tools, bones, baskets, and weapons. According to the report, 60 average-height mummies were unearthed. Duck decoys (among the oldest known in the world with feathers still attached) and a sandal over 15 inches long were excavated. A donut-shaped stone with 365 notches carved along the outside and 52 corresponding notches inside was found, which some scientists believe is a calendar. Interestingly, radiocarbon dating done on follow up visits found vegetable material dating back to 2030 B.C., a human femur dating to 1450 B.C., human muscle tissue dating 1420 B.C., and basketry dating back to 1218 B.C. Archaeologists concluded from this that human occupation of Lovelock cave, by this culture, started in 1500 B.C. Today's anthropologists call the people who lived in the area the Lovelock Culture with the Period lasting some 3,000 years. Many archaeologists believe that the Lovelock Culture was replaced by Northern Paiutes.
Pictures are some Duck Decoys, circa 400 BC – AD 100, they are on display at the National Museum of the American Indian of the Smithsonian Institute. ( Courtesy of Ernest/Amoroso .)