Waokiye and the Trail of the Whispering Giants

Waokiye," meaning "Traditional Helper" in the Lakota language, was carved in 1978, by Hungarian-born sculptor Peter "Wolf" Toth.

During a 21-year period (1971-1992) Toth carved 67 giant Native American heads; at least one in each of the 50 states plus several in Canada. The first giant, which he began at the age of 24, was carved from the cliff at Wind and Sea Beach in La Jolla, California. All of the subsequent colossi have been made from giant logs. Waokiye was the 27th sculpture in the "Whispering Giants" series.

Born in 1947, Peter Toth (rhymes with "oath") was one of eleven children. His family fled from Hungary during the 1956 uprising. They lived in refugee camps for two years before emigrating to the United States and settling in Akron, Ohio. Learning about Native American culture, he empathized with the tribes’ situation and saw a parallel to the violent repression he had experienced in Hungary. Expanding on his desire to highlight the struggle of American Indians for justice and recognition of their human rights, the statues represent all humanity and stand against injustice to all people. He has been adopted into several tribes as the result of his mission.

The Desert Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce invited Toth to come to California and carve a sculpture. Toth, later joined by his wife Kathy, traveled the US in a Dodge van, spending summers in the north and winters in the south, and "stopping wherever local officials would allow or invite him to carve one of his ‘Whispering Giants.’" He did not accept money for his work and lived on donations, sales of small carvings and sales of his self-published book. Cole Eyraud, who was the vice-mayor as well as the curator of Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, saw the similarities between Toth’s tribute to Native Americans and Cabot Yerxa’s and volunteered the museum to be the site for the statue.

A 45-ton giant Sequoia redwood log was donated through the efforts of the Riverside County Fire Department and the state Division of Forestry. The 750-year-old tree, which was almost 200 feet tall, was originally from the Sequoia National Forest near Porterville. It had been struck by lightning in the mid-1950s. Moving the log which had been earmarked for the sculpture, a segment 10 by 20 feet and weighing 40,000 pounds, from central California was no easy task. Bad weather delayed the arrival of the log until the end of February 1978.

Toth used power tools for the rough shaping, and then set to work with a #5 chisel and a hammer. All of the work was done on site. The finished face is 22 feet high, eight feet in diameter and weighs 20 tons. The feather is made from an Incense Cedar from Idyllwild, it is 15 feet tall, four feet with and one-and –a-half feet thick. The pedestal is 5 feet tall, extends 4 feet into the earth and is made of 2,000 pounds of steel and 33 yards of cement. Local rocks decorate the outside surface. The overall height of the sculpture – base, face and feather – is 43 feet. The project was sponsored by Landmark Conservators (Cole Eyraud’s management company for Cabot’s Pueblo Museum), the Desert Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce and the California State Department of Forestry.

On May 20, 1998, Waokiye was ready to meet the public. Dennis Banks, educator and founder of the American Indian Movement was the guest speaker, and about 250 people showed up for the event. This project could never have been achieved without donations and community support – the donation of Peter Toth’s time and talent, the donation of the land, of the tree, the transportation… every step of the project required an act of generosity. At the dedication ceremony, Peter Toth said simply "The American Indian is a proud and often misunderstood people. They have suffered atrocities ever since the first white man landed on this shore. Even as a young boy I had admiration for my Indian brothers and perhaps this monument and all the others… will bring awareness of a proud and great people."

We are fortunate that Waokiye has survived the years in relatively good condition. Other giants have not been so fortunate. See the list on the following page for the other Whispering Giants – not all of them remain. Some websites, such as this one from David Schumaker, can provide current information.Whispering Giants


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~ by ravenjake on February 12, 2008.

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