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Darwin Correspondence Project

From J. P. Chesney   28 October 1877

Saint Joseph, Mo.,

Oct. 28th, 1877.

Mr. Charles Darwin: | Scientist— | London, England:—

My Dear Sir—

I send you herewith a description of a ‘specimen’ which has of late been attracting very considerable attention among the Public and semi Scientific of our western plains,—hoping that it may awaken in your bosom enthusiasm sufficient to have you cross the Atlantic for its inspection, thereby gaining to America the pleasure of a visit from one whose name she delights to honor.1

The history of the fossil, (if such it really is) is as follows:— It was discovered by Mr. Conett2 a retired Journalist, and somewhat a geologist, formerly from the state of New York but now a citizen of Pueblo, a small town situated at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains, in the south eastern portion of the new state of Colorado, and not far distant from the famous “Pike’s Peak” gold and silver region.3

The locality in which this town is situated is noted for its profusion of fossiliferous organic remains, and has more than once been the theatre of research for the noted American Archaeologist, Prof. Marsh; and, I may add, presents numerous traces also of having been in the distant ages of the past the choosen home of the most enlightened among the aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.4 Of the particular geological features of the region however, I am not informed.

Mr. Conett had been in the habit of frequenting this locality in search of antiquated curiosities, and on one of these excursions during the forepart of September last—7 weeks ago, he found himself twenty five miles south west of Pueblo. At noon he sat down on the ground to take his lunch, and while so engaged he observed very near him, protruding from a gravelly spot three or four connical objects which appeared in shape very like human toes. Slight investigation proved that these digital extremities were attached to a veritable foot, the foot to a leg, the leg to a thigh, the thigh to a pelvis, and so upward to the vertex of an immense man, perfect—more than complete, in all its parts.

The general features of the body, as observed by me, when I, in company with my friend Dr. S. F. Carpenter,5 examined it and took its exact measurement in this city, on Monday last, may be thus stated:

Soft tissues entire, but nothing representing hair either on the scalp, face or bodies. The face is that of a caucassian of ordinary intellect; nose long, straight and well proportioned; lips thin, firm, and in close contact; the orbits filled with the globe, and the auricular appendage well and elegantly proportioned—the lobes being small and attached as in the highest-bred Anglo-saxon. The fore head recedes from the supra-orbital ridge at an angle of not more than 20o. above a plain, and gives us the curious ethnological fact of an imcommonly inferior intellectual development associated with a face of pleasing outline. The measurements of the skull will show that the cranium has none of the features common to the American Indian, even of the earliest known type,—the low and receding forehead excepted. It lacks the short antero-posterior diameter, the great breadth between the ears, the flat occiput, towering vertex, high cheek bones and ponderous jaws.

In these particulars it more nearly approaches the Negro. It presents the receding forehead, shortened biparietal measurement, and disproportionally enlarged posterior development, but lacks the prognathous mouth and jaws. The cervix is well proportioned, with pomum Adami prominently appearant, representing an individual not beyond middle life, while the obtuse angle of the lower jaw would make him older. The supra-sternal fossa is well marked, though no claviculae as such can be traced. The right arm rests by the side, elbow flexed, forearm resting upon the chest, hand prone and fingers extended with their tips near the inner extremity of the left clavicle, while the left pectoral region is exposed, but shows no trace of a nipple.

The infra-sternal depression is observed by the position of the arm, while the abdomen maintains the full and rounded outline of a vigorous young man in life—there being no retraction of the soft tissues toward the spine as after death from a wasting malady. No umbilicus can be made out. The penis is well formed, showing the ‘glans’. It is in a retracted condition and measures 312in. The outlines of a scrotum is appearant—and in its relaxed condition falls below the point of the penis. Neither the processes of the ilia nor the trochantus are very well defined, but enough so to allow of very accurate measurement. The patellae and malleoli are, however, well formed and in proper anatomical position.

The inferior limbs are elegantly moulded, but not developed like those of an athlete;—constructed more seemingly for locomotion than for sustaining burdens.

The prime distinguishing feature however of this lithic body is its caudal member,—a veritable tail, which is a prolongation from the point where the coccyx normally terminates, and immediately beneath which is situated a deep fossa representing the sulcus of the anus. The next departure from normality exhibited by this monolith is found in the conformation of its pedal extremities. The right foot only is perfect.— The posterior portion is normal, but passing forward we find an absence of the plantar arch, the foot being almost flat; the dorsal surface is lacking in the high ‘instep’ common to civilized man, consequently the foot is flat, thin and broad in undue proportion; this feature is very much exagerated near to and at the metatarso-phalangeal articulation. The great toe is adherent to its fellow, is very much shorter than the others, its extremity scarcely reaching beyond the metatarsal articulation of the others, while a sulcus on both the plantar and dorsal surface extending far below gave evidence that the toe could have been freely extended at right angles with the foot in the living animal, thus rendering it the analogue of the thumb, and making it probable that the foot was not used much for walking— the toes being utilized as organs of prehension as are the fingers. The toes themselves, however, are of peculiar conformation; instead of the semi-bulbous condition at their terminal extremities as in man, they are acuminate—the slope commencing sharply a little way in front of the first joint on their lateral aspect and terminating the toe in an acute point, thus leaving them separated at the tips by a triangular space of considerable extent. The left foot is the exact counterpart of the other, but the toes are wanting.

The left leg is flexed—knee drawn up, with heel resting near right internal malleolus, the tendons of the Biceps Flexor Crusius and the muscles forming the internal hamstring are sharply prominent, and so leave the popliteal space deep and noticable.

The left arm lies extended with hand outstreached and resting upon the left thigh,—the hands presenting nothing abnormal in shape or proportion save an unusual lateral development of their ulnar border, which renders them proportionally too broad. The fingers are the well shaped digits of a man, with the situation of the nails appearant.

The entire surface of the figure is covered with depressions which I cannot better describe than by terming them ‘digital fossa’, as on the body they are almost the shape and size of finger prints; or perhapse they appear more like the depressions caused by very large raindrops in a smoothe surface of soft mud. On the extremities these pits are smaller and closer together. Passing obliquely across the pelvis and also across one leg is a deep fissure—very narrow, seemingly eroded as if from the action of a small stream of water, while the maculated condition of the surface presented physical evidences of having been the work of the ages.

The material of which this “Colorado Giant” as he is called is composed is a bluish-gray limestone, while internally, as shown by a fracture across the chest which occurred at the time of exhumation, and by borings into the head and body, it is mainly of a christiatine character intersperced with friable material of diferent colors;6—in this particular very much like the ‘geodes’ which were wont to deceive us so egregiously as to their weight in our boyhood days. Its weight is very much less than an equal bulk of solid limestone.

The Measurements:

From Mental Protruberance to Nasal spina 6 in.; Nasal spina to Occipital Protruberance, 14 in.; Occipital Prot. to Atlas, 534 in.; between ex. aug. Processes of os frontis, 514 in.; Nasal spine to Auditory meatus, 7 in.; Auditory meatus to occipital prot., 812 in.; bet. Auditory meati over vertex, 14 in.; circumference of cervix, 16 in.; bet. labial commissures, 212 in.; transverse diam. of orbit, 214 in.; perpendicular diam. of do. 2 in.; bet. malar protruberances, 6 in.; mental prot. to maxilary articulation, 614 in.; ear, from inf. to sup. border, 312 in.; transverse—2 in.; humerous, 21 in.; ulna, 1718 in.; radius, 1658 in.; articulation of wrist to extreme of middle finger, 1212 in.;— from do. to extreme of thumb, 834 in.; metacarpo-phalingeal artic. to ex. of middle finger, 912 in.; breadth of hand, 512 in.; acromion to inf. ex. of sternum, 15 in.; chest bet. acromial extremities, 2512 in.; inf. ex. of sternum to os pubis, 20 in.; acromion to ant. sup. spinous process of ilium, 2414 in.; bet. ant. sup. spi. proc. of ilium, 16 in; circumferance of body at umbilicus, 36 in.; ant. sup. sp. proc. ilium to pubis, 10 in.; caudal appendage 212 in. long—412 in. in circumferance at root; ant. sup. sp. proc. of ilium to great trochanter, 10 in.; great trochanter to center of patella, 2012 in.; center of patella to center of ext. malleolus, 1912 in.; ex. malleolus to center of plantar surface of heel, 5 in.; length of foot, 1334 in.; breadth at art. of toes, 534 in.; circumferance of foot in center, 11 in.; cir. of thigh in center, 20 in.; cir. of leg in cen., 16 in.; cir. of knee joint, 20 in.; full length of stature, 100 12 in., (from crown to sole.) height in erect posture, 7 ft. 512 in.

I send you the foregoing statements as to the facts as I observed them, omitting any comments, because I am not an expert in the solution of such problems. I merely make this statement from the fact that many doubt its fossiliferous character, and express the belief, however illy founded, that it is a work of art. Any information further upon this subject if in my power, I shall be glad to convey upon request.

I am, My dear Sir. | Your obt. Servt. | J. P. Chesney.


On 16 September 1877, a large fossilised human skeleton was discovered near Beulah, Colorado; the backbone extended in the manner of a tail was taken to suggest the truth of CD’s theory that humans descended from an ape-like ancestor (Tribble 2009, p. 211). This ‘Colorado Giant’ or ‘Solid Muldoon’ was thought to be a petrified man by some, but others considered it to be an ancient work of art (New York Times, 27 September 1877, p. 2). It toured the United States before it was revealed to be a hoax in January 1878 (Tribble 2009, pp. 212–13).
The discovery was made by William A. Conant (New York Times, 27 September 1877, p. 2). It later transpired that Conant worked for the showman Phineas Taylor Barnum, and was in on the hoax with the Colorado Giant’s maker, George Hull (New York Times, 27 January 1878, p. 12). Conant displayed the Colorado Giant in Pueblo, Colorado, charging twenty-five cents for a viewing (Stansfield 2011, pp. 51 and 93).
Pike’s Peak is in the Southern Rocky Mountains. It gave its name to the 1859 gold rush in Colorado, when gold was discovered in the region; silver deposits were also found in the same area (Voynick 1992, pp. 15–31). Colorado became a state in 1876.
Othniel Charles Marsh was professor of palaeontology at Yale University; he was noted for his work on dinosaurs. The area around Pueblo is famed for its archaeological excavations of the homes of ancestral Native Americans.
Stephen F. Carpenter.
The crystalline nature of the Colorado Giant was revealed by boring into the supposed fossil; Hull had learned that oxidised iron crystals would be found in the interior of a petrifaction, and had ensured their introduction by sleight of hand during the examination of the stone man in St Joseph, Missouri (Tribble 2009, p. 212).


Tribble, Scott. 2009. A colossal hoax: the giant from Cardiff that fooled America. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Voynick, Stephen M. 1992. Colorado gold from the Pike’s Peak rush to the present. Missoula, Mont.: Mountain Press Publishing Company.


Gives a detailed description of the "Colorado Giant" found near Pueblo, alleged to be a fossil man with a tail. [See also 11272.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Jesse Portman Chesney
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
St Joseph, Mo.
Source of text
DAR 161: 139
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 11215,” accessed on 28 September 2021,