Stature of the Patagonians

From all I have seen, heard, and read on the subject, I have no doubt that the Patagonians were once (as some of them are now), the tallest race of men in the world. They were seen by Magalhanes and others a long time ago, and there seems to be a natural tendency in all animated nature to degenerate in size. Other countries have at a former period contained inhabitants of as gigantic a size as that imputed to the Patagonians three centuries ago; but their descendants are now degenerated by luxury, refinement, and intermarriages with others of a small stature. The Patagonians, separated from the rest of mankind, have not degenerated by luxury or refinement; but there is no doubt that they have from oppression. From whatever stock they may have descended, they were doubtless once existing under more favourable circumstances than at present. They have been driven from the southern banks of the La Plata, and the pampas of eternal verdure, where they once grazed their flocks and herds, to the extreme southern verge of the continent, where they preferred to starve in freedom and independence, rather than become slaves to their remorseless and unprincipled invaders. They are now but the scattered fragments of a colossal fabric - the ruins of a pastoral nation. Though their minds have scorned to bend, it is not surprising if their bodies have degenerated in stature.

One thing is certain, as I can assert it from my own observation and actual inspection, - there is just as strong testimony in favour of a former gigantic race in Patagonia as there is in favour of the former existence in our own country of a race of animals now known by the appellation of mammoth. We have the bones, and even entire skeletons of this huge creature in our museums; and I have seen in the interior of Patagonia the bones and entire skeletons of men who, when living, must have measured more than seven feet in height. The tombs or sepulchres in which I found them were covered with large heaps of stones, probably to prevent their being molested by wild beasts. The position of these was uniformly the same, with the head to the east; and I sincerely regret that after thus violating the sanctity of their final resting-place, I had not silenced skepticism by taking posession of one of these gigantic skeletons, and bringing it to the United States. Such an acquisition to a museum would be a very suitable accompaniment to the mammoth, and such a one shall be exhibited if I ever visit Patagonia again.

Pym's connection to this selection is speculative. It seems quite possible that the notion of a former race of giant humans affected Poe's imagination with regard to the end of Pym. Morrell's specific reference to the "tombs or sepulchres" in which he discovered the skeletons could have caught Poe's eye.

Table of Contents