A reprint from the Hays Daily Newspaper Sunday September 25, 1977

The Penokee Stone Man


Penokee Stone Man still a puzzlement for experts!

The story you are about to read will provide more questions than answers about an unusual configuration of rocks that has become known as the Stone Man. The rocks, more than 100 in all, form the outline of an oversized human figure that rests northwest of town on a hill called Indian Mound. No one knows how long they've been there, who put them there, or, most intriguingly why.

The figure - created from partly buried chunks of limestone - measures 57 feet from the head to foot and 32 feet from the tip of one outstretched hand to the other. Because of it's size, you almost have to be airborne to take it all in at once. Grass covers many of the stones, which measure from 6 inches to a a foot, and the outline is difficult to detect without an experienced guide. Some of the stones are buried, others are missing and a few have been strewn around the site.

It is not visible from nearby U.S.24, and you can be on top of it before you realize anything unusual. There's nothing like it in the state, although a few similar figures have been found elsewhere in the Midwest. Theories about the Stone Man's origins abound. Some think it was a religious site for nomadic Indians, others say it is a symbol of fertility. Regardless, they all insist they're only guessing.

The figure, though of a much smaller scale, resembles finds by Erich von Daniken, a swiss author who in the late 60's began advancing theories about the origins of seemingly unexplainable phenomena around the world. Von Daniken theorized that intelligent life from other planets had visited earth thousands of years ago. As calling cards, the aliens left ancient wonders such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt. "I claim that our forefathers received visits from the universe in the remote past, even though I do not yet know who these extraterrestrial intelligences were or which planet they came from," von Daniken wrote in his 1969 bestseller "Chariots of the Gods?"

State archeologist Tom Witty isn't sure where the Stone Man came from, but he discounts the possibility that it was built by ancient spacemen. "von Daniken uses these kinds of things and lets your imagination tale over," he said. "But I think you can forget his theories."

If not spacemen, then who bothered to carry the cobble-sized stones from a nearby quarry for the Stone Man? "The best guess right now is that it was done by nomads who traveled widely across the plains," said Adam Rome, project director for the University for Man in Manhattan, who visited the Stone Man site in 1977. "But again, you would have to wonder why nomads would have taken the time to do something like that is they weren't planning to stay." Rome's interest in the Stone Man was prompted when it was submitted and chosen as one of eight historic sites to be featured in the university's "Hidden Places" project. The project is funded by a grant from the Kansas Committee for Humanities. The purpose, Rome said, was to remind people about historical places that otherwise could be forgotten and to show that history doesn't have to be found in text books.

The university and KSAC extension radio will produce 30-minute radio programs on each of the eight selected sites. The university will also publish a 48-page booklet featuring information about the Hidden Places.


Image of Judge Birney
Graham County Historical Society President, Ben Birney

Ben Birney, a retired district judge from Hill City who acts as president of the Graham County Historical Society, has wondered about the site many times. He's visited it on numerous occasions in the past dozen years, often acting as tour guide. He hates to send people come to the mound alone, he says, because he fears they will return disappointed. "People expect something a lot bigger, and they sometimes don't seem too impressed when I tell them where it is," he said.

Those close to the Stone Man don't like to tell his address. The site is fragile, they say, and could easily be vandalized if it becomes too well known. Birney disgustingly notes that the state Department of Transportation now marks the location on its Kansas maps. Age, too, is taking its toll. When Witty first visited the site six years ago, he counted 168 stones. Birney thinks about 100 now are left. The site last week was in the worst shape that Birney remembers. Despite his familiarity with the territory, he had difficulty distinguishing the rocks that form the Stone Man's outline from the hardened dung left at the site by a grazing cattle herd. "It's getting hard to find," he said, "it's been deteriorating."

The Stone Man lies with his head to the east, causing some to suggest that visibility to the heavens were important considerations in it's construction. Birney subscribes to the theory that the rocks were arranged by nomadic Indians many as 500 years ago. But he doesn't buy the idea that the figure is in some way religious. The man is well-proportioned, he notes, except that his genitalia are "big enough for two elephants." The Stone Man, he thinks, is a fertility symbol.


A bird's-eye view of the stone man would show him to be 57 feet in height and 32 feet between the tips of his hands.

Birney was not the first to notice that. In the 1870's, S.W. Williston, a professor at Peabody Museum in New Haven, Conn, visited northwest Kansas and discovered the Stone Man. In 1879, Williston wrote about the Stone Man and other figures in the May issue of the Kansas City Review of Science and Industry: "The object in building these is very problematic; it may have been for amusement, but more probably was some superstitious rite, the figure intended to represent some chief, for the sex was strongly indicated." Williston included a drawing with the article, but it doesn't show the genitalia. Witty thinks the omission shows the modesty of Victorian-age scientists. "It was OK to describe it," he said. "But he didn't it in his drawing."

Witty said Kansas was a popular hunting ground for archeologists after the Civil War. Many prestigious Eastern universities sent scientists in search of fossils, he said, and competition for the most spectacular finds were keen. Williston's article and drawing helped determine the authenticity of the Penokee figure. Witty said his office initially doubted that the Stone Man had been in place for centuries. An old school house is located nearby, and Witty said his office thought children probably had created the figure. Then Williston's article surfaced. The article doesn't seem to pinpoint the Penokee site, but Williston's drawing so resembled the Stone Man that Witty was convinced it was the same thing.

Witty said the rocks apparently were collected from the Ogallala formation and there are traces of a quarry about a quarter of a mile north of the site. "You have to wonder why someone would have went to all the trouble to arrange rocks to ressemble a man," Witty said. It's something that two or three people could have built in an hour or so, but you still wonder why."


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