The Truth About Patagonians
The tall tales about South American giants were first challenged by Sir Francis Drake. The British seaman and pirate encountered Patagonians during his own circumnavigation of the globe. As described by his nephew: “Magellan was not altogether deceived in naming these giants, for they generally differ from the common sort of man both in stature, bigness and strength of body, as also in the hideousness of their voices: but they are nothing so monstrous and giant-like as they were represented, there being some English men as tall as the highest we could see, but peradventure the Spaniards did not think that ever any English man would come hither to reprove them, and therefore might presume the more boldly to lie.”
Nonetheless, the belief in Patagonian giants persisted. As late as 1766, rumors circulated that a British Royal Navy ship had encountered a tribe of nine-foot-tall natives. When the ship’s account of the voyage was finally published, however, it turned out that the natives had been recorded as six and a half feet tall. That was tall, especially so for that era. But certainly not giants. In reality, the Patagonians in question, the Tehuelche tribe, were actually taller than average. However, they were taller than average in the sense that their average height was in the six foot range, not in the sense that they towered over people and stood nine, twelve, or fifteen feet tall.