Oregon Coast Mystery Involves Giant Skeleton, Pirate Ship near Lincoln City

Published 02/19/2014

(Lincoln City, Oregon) – It all started in the 1700's – or 1932 – depending how you think about it. It's a tale of murder, sex, local native legends, a skeleton of an eight-foot giant, possibly a pirate ship, a search for treasure and a local family caught up in the middle of it. (Photos courtesy North Lincoln County Historical Museum).

Thanks to bundles of information from the North Lincoln County Historical Museum, there's a pretty clear record to this intriguing mystery. According to articles archived by the museum, homesteaders who settled in the Lincoln City and Neskowin area had long heard legends from local tribes about a shipwreck and a mysterious black man briefly worshiped as a god. This was all the way back to the mid 1800's, and just before the Calkins family started settling into the bay where the Salmon River dumps out to sea next to Cascade Head.

The son of that family, Elmer Calkins, began laying the groundwork for his own homestead near Cascade Head in 1932, according to a 1972 article in the LA Times. As he plowed the ground in preparation for building he ran across something quite unusual: human bones.

Elmer, according to the LA Times article, had grown up with local tribes people all around him and he knew their ways. So what made this find even more striking was that the bones were buried with discarded sea shells. This was, after all, the Indians' form of a garbage dump. They did not bury their dead in garbage piles.

Stranger still, one of the three skeletons was a giant. The man – later discovered to be African – was eight feet tall.

Calkins quickly contacted historian Dr. John Horner and the local coroner, Dr. F. M. Carter. Historical photos from the North Lincoln County Historical Museum show them examining the burial site. Horner took them back to Oregon State University in Corvallis and dated the skeletons at about 160 years, which would have placed them on the central Oregon coast around the late 1700's.

The other two skeletons were of Caucasian men.

Meanwhile, something immediately clicked with local historians and with Calkins. They had heard many of the tales handed down from generations. One of them was of a gigantic “winged canoe” that came into the bay next to Cascade Head. The time line of that legend matched up with the 160-year-old bones.

The legend said the crew of the ship wandered off inland after the wreck and were never heard from again. Three stayed behind: two white men and the giant African man.

In the LA Times article, Calkins vividly remembers the tale.

“The Indians worshiped the black giant, so the legend went,” Calkins said at the time. “They were in awe of the man because of his color and his size.”

Elmer Calkins in the 1972 article from the LA Times.

Then, the natives decided that perhaps this man was not a god, and they turned against him. Children began being born to the women with distinctly African features.

“When the Indians decided the giant was human they killed him and his two shipmates,” Calkins said of the legend.

In a show of contempt, the bodies were thrown into the kitchen middens – the piles of shells from seafood the tribes lived on.

Calkins also noted many of the local tribes' people he grew up with around the turn of the century had some African features, such as dark, curly hair.

Interestingly enough, this wasn't Calkins' first encounter with real life evidence of the legend. Years before, while gilnetting in that bay (Calkins is actually also responsible for getting the bay the name of Three Rox Bay), his net snagged on part of the rib of a sunken ship.

That discovery created a small media sensation in the 1920's, and Calkins told the LA Times people flooded the area trying to dig up what they thought would be a pirate's booty.

In 1974 – two years after the LA Times piece – Salem's The Capital Journal (the precursor to the Statesman Journal) ran a story about Calkin's son, Ed Calkins. The younger Calkins was about to embark on something that sounds like a sub plot in the new series “The Curse of Oak Island.” He too had caught treasure fever and in 1974 applied for a dig permit from the state of Oregon.

In that article, the younger Calkins said he believed the ship to be a pirate ship that tried to hide in this area, running from the British. It also notes how Calkins had apparently detected gold and silver with a metal detector around that wreckage.

The article said one of the skulls of the human remains was still pierced with an arrowhead, while another man apparently had had his head crushed with a rock.

There are striking similarities between this giant skeleton and its history and the legends of a shipwreck on the north Oregon coast at Manzanita. It's been proven a Spanish ship wrecked near Manzanita in the 1700's and local native legends about it are quite varied. Some of those legends, however, talk about a tall black man as being part of the crew, and one version even says he was buried alive with a supposed “treasure” to ward off interference from Indians.

It begs the question that perhaps this Manzanita story was an offshoot of the more verifiable facts of the Lincoln City discoveries.

Bob Ward, founder of the Drake in Oregon Society, will have some updates on searches around this shipwreck area on February 22 at the North Lincoln County Historical Museum. The presentation begins at 1 p.m. and also includes an examination of the 1579 voyage of Francis Drake and how may have anchored off the central Oregon coast.

More on the Lincoln City shipwreck and giant skeleton history is available when visiting the North Lincoln County Historical Museum. 541-996-6614.

More about Lincoln City and other nearby mysteries at Neskowin at the Lincoln City, Oregon Virtual Tour, Map.

Below: more of the Three Rox Bay in modern times.


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