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Clay Coppedge
Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Mysterious Malakoff Men

by Clay Coppedge

In early November 1929, a work crew mining pea gravel from a quarry near the little East Texas town of Malakoff came across a big ol' rock that wasn't like any big ol' rock anybody around there had ever seen.

Aside from it weighing about one hundred pounds, somebody had apparently gone to the trouble of carving ears, nose, mouth, teeth and eyes into it. Or at least that's what it looked like. The obvious question was, who carved the face of what archaeologists would dub Malakoff Man? And why?

Geologist Elias H. Sellards took a look at the egg head and said he believed it was authentic, meaning he thought somebody carved it a very long time ago-it wasn't a fluke or a fake. In fact, Sellards went so far as to say that the first Malakoff Man came from an Eocene geological formation dating from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, which predates the first known occupation of the continent by the people we now call Paleo-Indians. Some people say he went too far.

After the discovery of a second head in 1935, archaeologist Glen Evans with the University of Texas assembled a crew to look for more Malakoff Men. They found one in 1939. Despite dozens of other subsequent excavations, the Malakoff Men remain a trio.
* * *
If somebody was going to find something from thousands of years ago in East Texas, Malakoff would be a likely place to find it, mainly because people have spent a lot of time underground in and around Malakoff for a long time. The discovery of lignite in 1912 kept as many as eight hundred miners busy in underground Malakoff for thirty years. But the find came as a result of a Malakoff's first and more lasting business-brick making.

Thomas A. Bartlett, owner of the Malakoff Pressed Brick Company, had discovered how to produce an exceptionally durable white brick, a discovery that won him a blue ribbon at the 1904 World's Fair. When Bartlett decided to build a big house next to the plant, he used his prize-winning white brick and reinforced it with steel rebar to withstand shock waves from all the dynamite detonation his business required. Quarry workers were blasting away to get enough clay to make bricks when they found Malakoff Man staring back at them. The workers reportedly put a hat on Malakoff Man and left the ninety-eight-pound head on Bartlett's porch.

Archaeologists Evans and his collaborator, George Shafer, believed Malakoff Man was authentic, agreeing that it was as old as the geologist Sellards thought it was. Current-day believers consider the Malakoff Men authentic, though not as old as Sellards and Shafter thought. Skeptics insist that all three Malakoff Men are imposters.

Today, the Malakoff Men are housed together-for the first time-at the Pearce Museum inside the Cook Education Center at Navarro College in Corsicana. One of the heads has been there for many years, but the other two formerly resided at the Texas Memorial Museum and the Texas Archeological Research Lab at the University of Texas, respectively, until a couple of years ago.

Of the three heads, the third one, the one that Evans and his team found, looks less like a face than the other two, and most modern scholars now believe it's nothing more than a geological peculiarity. Malakoff Man number two never had his head examined, so we don't know much about him.

As for head number one, the one that really does look sort of like a face, the Texas State Historical Association notes that "evidence indicates that modern metal tools were used to carve head number one and that it is a modern product."

But the Malakoff Men have their supporters. Pat Isaacson, former Malakoff mayor and president of the Malakoff Historical Society and Museum, told the Houston Chronicle that she believes the Malakoff Men are authentic.

"I like to think they're real, and archaeologists came so close to proving it," she told columnist Joe Holley. "They did carbon dating and everything else, but the museum people decided 10 years was enough time to work on it, so they pulled the archaeologists off."

The state historical association notes that even though scientists have largely discredited them, "the Malakoff finds occupied a colorful corner in the archeology of Texas for many years."
Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" May 28, 2019 column

Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Seven-Up Gang 3-1-19
  • The Border Blasting Goat Gland Doctor 2-18-19
  • Peg Leg Stage Robberies 2-2-19
  • The Rubbing Doctors 1-18-19
  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18

    See more »
  • Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • The Seven-Up Gang 3-1-19
  • The Border Blasting Goat Gland Doctor 2-18-19
  • Peg Leg Stage Robberies 2-2-19
  • The Rubbing Doctors 1-18-19
  • Too Full of Alabama 12-30-18

    See more »

















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