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Penokee Figure

A larger-than-life sized human figure is located on a prominent hilltop overlooking the Solomon River Valley in Graham County. The "Penokee Figure," "Penokee Man" or "Penokee Indian," is made of over 100 cobble-sized stones; stones 6 inches to a foot wide. The stones outline the figure, which is more than 57 feet tall, and 30 feet wide, is oriented with its head and upraised arms to the west and its legs extended to the east. The stones would have been quarried from a nearby Ogallala formation of rock, and taken several people an hour or so to build. The figure takes its name from the nearby community of Penokee.

The creator of the Penokee figure is not known. Dating of the figure is difficult as there is little evidence of people surrounding it. Had a large group of people gathered top make this there would have been evidence of tools and trash left nearby. No such items are found, suggesting it was just a few people working together to build the Penokee man. The figure was certainly created before white settlement within the west, but it is uncertain how much before, and by which tribe. (See exhibit at Graham County Historical Society.)

In 1879 a paleontologist from Harvard University examined the Penokee figure, and described figures elsewhere that matched this figure elsewhere in the Northern Plains. Human, animal and circular stone outlines were found as the country was settled in the 19th century. The majority of these stone outlines were destroyed as the prairie was broken for agriculture. The "Penokee Man" is one of the few survivors.

It is not known why the figure was created. Though its design is not complicated, forethought and planning were required for its construction and it is doubtful that it was created on a whim. The orientation of the figure brings to mind the importance of the cardinal directions described in Plains Indian legends and stories, the figure's hilltop location and the relationship of people to the sun reported in the ethnological literature for Plains Indian tribes. Due to this positioning it is suggested that the figure may have been of religious importance. Another theory suggests it was used for fertility rites. Still another suggests aliens visiting earth created it. There is no conclusive proof either way. Perhaps the best way to appreciate the stone figure is to consider it as an expression of art. The Penokee figure can strike a responsive chord in an observer and give rise to a sense of kinship with the original artist, even though his identity and creative impulse remain a mystery.

Entry: Penokee Figure

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2003

Date Modified: May 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.