The Penokee Man
By Doreen Stadelman Wente
The world we live in is full of unexplained mysteries. From the Nazca lines to Stonehenge to cave drawings, people have marveled at and wondered about these objects for centuries. Northwest Kansas has its own mysterious object; the Penokee Man.
Located in the Solomon River Valley of Graham County, Kansas, the Penokee Man is constructed of cobble-sized limestone rocks. These rocks form the outline of a man 57 feet tall by 32 feet wide. The figure lies with his head to the west and legs to the east on what is locally known as “Indian Mound.” It is believed that the Penokee Man was originally constructed of about 168 stones. Today 122 remain. The stones are thought to have been quarried from the Ogallala Formation just a quarter of a mile away.
The Penokee Man is one of less than 10 figures found in the United States and Canada. A few others have been found between Kansas and Canada leading researchers to believe they were constructed by the Blackfoot Indians of Canada. These figures are believed to be between 200 and 500 years old. Arrowheads determined to be more than 500 years old have been found in fields near the Penokee Man.
The figures were discovered when the great plains were being settled. The Penokee Man is 250 miles further south than any other known stone figure and is by far the largest. Many of the other figures have been destroyed due to agriculture. The Penokee Man is the most well preserved.
In 1879, a paleontologist from Harvard journeyed to Kansas to study the figure and determine its possible origin and use. Because of the figure’s positioning in relation to the Indian beliefs regarding the cardinal directions, he felt the figure may have had religious importance. After closer inspection, it was found that the Penokee Man had over-sized genetalia and was possibly a symbol of fertility. The Blackfoot tribes, however, have a legend named Naape. According to Don Blakeslee, Wichita State University archeologist, “Naape is not the creator of the world, but a heroic figure who transformed the Earth to make it suitable for human beings. The Blackfoot in the north believe that is what he was doing when he got tired and laid on a hilltop. He spread out his arms and marked where he was with a series of boulders. The view when you are at the Penokee Man is that you can see 360 degrees on the horizon.” (1)
A final theory of origin was presented by Erich Von Daniken, a swiss author of the late 1960’s. Von Daniken believed figures such as the Penokee Man, Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramids are all calling cards left by extraterrestrial intelligence who visited earth in the past.
Although residents of the nearby unincorporated town of Penokee, Kansas will disagree with the alien theory, they do feel strongly that the Penokee man once had great significance. The figure is located on private land and due to its deterioration over the years, it is not advertised as a tourist stop. However, the local people are fond of their Penokee Man and will always offer up their theories about the mysterious figure to anyone who wishes to learn more about him and area history.