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I-Team: Northern Nevada Cave has controversial past

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This being Valentine’s Day, we’re taking a journey to a place known as “The Heart of Nevada”. It even has love as part of its name.

The town is Lovelock in the northern part of the state.

It promotes itself with a heart-shaped insignia but is best known for an attraction well off the beaten path, one that is not exactly romantic.

Lovelock Cave is world famous as an archeological treasure, a storehouse of antiquities which helped tell the story of the first people to live in what is now Nevada.

But there’s one part of that history that is controversial magnet for the curious and an irritant to scientists who wish the whole thing would go away.

The Great Basin of northern Nevada is stark and beautiful but was a much different place thousands of years earlier.

Back then, most of the region was covered with water. The massive Lake Lahontan, a bounty of resources that allowed the earliest Americans to thrive for centuries.

Remnants of those long ago cultures are preserved and displayed in collections around the world and in museums closer to where they were found.

The Humboldt Museum in Winnemucca is home to ancient tools and technology, as well as animals, now extinct, that once roamed the basin. The town was named for the great Paiute leader Chief Winnemucca, whose daughter Sarah became a celebrated writer and speaker.

Her book is a primary source of the most mysterious legend of all. The story of the Si-Te-Cah, the red-headed cannibals.

According to the Paiutes, this terrible tribe of interlopers met its end in a remote and desolate spot in the desert, Lovelock Cave, wiped out by the people who’d been its prey.

Curators at the Humboldt Museum don’t like to talk about the legend but if one travels down the road a bit, to the heart of Nevada itself– Lovelock — the locals who run the Marzen House Museum know all about the cave, and the legend.

Reporter George Knapp: “The people who come to this museum, how many of them are interested in the story of the red-headed giants?”

Devoy Munk, Lovelock historian: “All of them.”

Bill Snodgrass, curator of the Marzen House Museum: “At least half of them.”

Archeologists tend to scoff at the tales of giants, in Nevada or anywhere else, but there is evidence and testimony to support the story about red-headed cannibals living near Lovelock Cave.

“They were a different culture that was here and were probably eradicated at that time,” Bill Snodgrass said.

“My Indian friends tell me they were cannibals, that they set traps and they said the best parts to eat were the thighs,” Devon Munk said.

Because of the popularity of a few TV shows and Internet sites, these two museums get visited by a lot of people who get ticked off when they are told there are not giant skulls or mummified remains for them to see. That’s why the Humboldt Museum tries to put the brakes on those discussions.

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