Patagonian Giants, the Ona Tribe. Dr Frederick Cook’s photos, and notes: 7 foot giants.

Dr Frederick Cook, the controversial explorer and physician made some interesting claims of having encountered “giants” among the “Ona” people of Patagonia during his “Belgica” expedition in 1896-97. His photographs and notes which I recently discovered in online publications, I feel,  might offer some explanation to the endless stories of giants in that part of the world — that actual tribes averaging six feet tall for men, with some individuals 6-1/2 and even 7-1/2 feet tall–indeed existed.

Endless tales, eye witness descriptions, and legends of Giant Indians encounters were common from the 1500’s into the 1800’s in Patagonia, here are some of the many reports from that era:

Amerikaner Leipzig 1796

Stories of 7 to 12 foot tall Patagonian giants had been circulating for 500 years. They were commonly accepted, and portrayed on maps, and in atlases and books of the day. Amerikaner Leipzig 1796.

Back in January, 2015 I stumbled upon old photos in a newspaper from 1899 showing how tall some of the Patagonian Ona tribesmen were. I sent the image to the “Search For the Lost Giants” Facebook page: The photo of what appeared to be two nearly 7 foot tall Ona Indians, next to one of the ship-mates from the Belgica expedition, raised immense curiosity in my mind! (Incidentally, Dr Cook and most of his ship-mates were from 5 ft 8 in. to 6 ft tall:

The Virginia enterprise. (Virginia, St. Louis County, Minn.) September 29, 1899, Image 3

The Virginia enterprise. (Virginia, St. Louis County, Minn.) September 29, 1899, Image 3

I later found a February 1938 interview in “Popular Photography” Magazine, with Dr. Frederick Cook, and in this interview he claimed the Ona tribe he met in 1897 were from “6 to 7-1/2 feet tall” , wore animal skins, had “horse endurance” and “Bull’s strength” and lived in simple wigwam huts made of tree branches.

Onas Indians Dr Cook

“Popular Photography” Feb. 1938. Full PDF:

Ona Indian woman 6 ft 6 Dr Cook

Ona Indian woman 6 ft 6, 1897 photo by Dr. Cook – Popular Photography, Feb. 1938

One of the amazing photographs he took featured a man 7 feet 2 inches tall, and another of a woman 6 feet 6 inches in height.

Ona man 7 ft 2, Dr Cook

Ona man 7 ft 2, Dr Cook – Popular Photography, Feb. 1938.

Photo- Ona man,7 ft. 4 in,Patagonia,Antarctic,c1897,nude,fur

The Library of Congress Lists the same man photographed by Dr. Cook, as 7 ft 4: Title: Ona man, 7 ft. 4 in., standing Date Created/Published: [1897 or 1898]

The people Dr. Cook photographed in 1897 were the Onas, or Selknam nation, a nearly extinct people who were mercilessly pushed off the land, and massacred by new coming settlers in the 19th century. The tall, and impressively built Selknam, averaging somewhere around 5 ft 10 to 6 feet for most males, they wore long fur pelts, lived in stick huts, and carried bows and arrows — these were ultimate survivors, and among the most primitive tribes in all of the Americas. So “primitive” were the Fuegians and Patagonian tribes, that Charles Darwin himself had some surprisingly harsh words to describe these peoples. “Wild men”, “Cannibals”, “absolutely naked”, the most “miserable state of barbarism” & etc., I shall not repeat what Darwin had to say in entirety, as you can read his endless prejudice comments here for yourself:


Fuegian, 1840 – Tierra Del Fuego, Chile.


Selknam / Ona people.

So “wild”, and intimidating a people to the early Europeans, could the fabled stories of giants, or even wild hairy men, be in part, based upon such encounters with these strange, but terribly misunderstood, and now exterminated indigenous tribes? Perhaps.  We have some legends among Indigenous persons in North America regarding the cannibal red headed giants, in addition to some historical accounts of the tall and powerful Karankawa, also alleged cannibals. I think these fierce and powerful types may have left a lasting impression on neighboring tribes, and later European colonists — that they became the “bogey men”, and wild giants — the stuff of fairy tales. We need to remember, the average height of the Spanish, English, and early Navigators of the 16th to 18th century was about 5 feet 5 or 5 ft 6 inches tall, and that was almost a head shorter than the “Tehuelche” tribe of Patagonia, who averaged about 6 feet for men, and some even 6 feet 6 in. (See Documentary: And now, with the revelation of Dr. Frederick Cook’s notes, there is yet more evidence of some individuals up to 7 ft 4 among the Selknam, Ona tribe, existing right up into the turn of the century.

Patagonian and Fuegan 1871 Wood engraving

Patagonian and Fuegan 1871 Wood engraving.

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3 Responses to Patagonian Giants, the Ona Tribe. Dr Frederick Cook’s photos, and notes: 7 foot giants.

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Ancient Giants of the Americas |

  2. Kenneth Cohen says:

    In the great book,. “Jenkins’ Ear”, narrated by Horace Walpole circa 175 end editied by Shepard and Shepard circa 1950, there is a part of the book that tells abot the experience of some English sailors who lived with very tall natives in the Pampas. The natives are said ro be of great height and strength. They had, it is written thousands of horses that had gone wid and greatly multiplied in the Pampas.

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