Did you know that real-life Texas Giants existed in the 19th century? While these boys weren’t as famous as other circus curiosities, they sure made a statement to the people back in the day.
In 1883, four brothers, known as the Texas Giants, entertained the people of Canada and the Northern US by joining the circus. They were a famous sideshow that fascinated people from all walks of life, but there’s some debate on their true heights.
The giants were the Shields brothers, namely Augustus “Guss,” Frank, Jack, and Shadrick “Shade” Shields. The four siblings were so tall compared to an average Texan that Barnum and Bailey Circus marketed them as the Texas Giants in the 1800s.
Originally from Alabama, the brothers moved to Texas to settle with their family and have a farm in White Rock, Texas.
Yet, only four of the seven Shields brothers were convincingly tall and received an offer to tour with P.T. Barnum’s circus as the Shields Giants or Texas Giants for one hundred dollars a week. This might not seem like much now, but it was a hefty paycheck back then. So, they gladly accepted it over the hard life on the farm.
Would you line up to see a real-life giant? Well, in the 1800s, circuses and sideshows were a huge hit!
Circus owners would profit from people who would pay to see “freaks of nature” or those that looked odd due to physical abnormalities. These shows made P.T. Barnum one of the richest men in the US by 1855.
The four brothers toured large cities with the circus as “giants.” Odds are, they didn’t mind because they were making good money and enjoying a luxurious life by only displaying themselves.
Also, they earned well by selling their pictures wearing customized military uniforms with their height stated. In short, they were like celebrities living high life!
The circus owner, Phineas Taylor Barnum, promoted them as the “tallest men in the world.” Since he advertised them to be over 7’8” tall, the crowd was pleased to witness real-life giants in the show.
So, how tall were they billed to be? Let’s see how the circus owner promoted each brother with blown-up heights:
- Augustus “Guss” Shields, the eldest, was 7’10’’ tall.
- Frank Shields stood at 7’11 and ¾” tall.
- Jack Shields had the same height as Frank.
- Shadrick “Shade Shield” was 7’8” tall.
Imagine standing next to these guys. Of course, anyone would look downright minuscule if the advertised numbers were accurate, wouldn’t they?
Although the Shields brothers were taller than an average Texan, they weren’t as gigantic as P.T. Barnum claimed. In fact, it’s a common belief that their advertised heights were a bit exaggerated to promote the circus show.
Here are some things Barnum did to make them appear colossal:
- He let them use platform shoes to augment their height.
- He let them wear custom-tailored military uniforms with tall hats to create the illusion of more height.
- Some people believe that he used a modified ruler (not exactly a foot in height) to make their size nearly 8’ whenever he tried to measure them in front of the audience. So, it’s possible that the measurements were off by a foot or so!
Overall, the originally claimed heights can be up for debate. It wouldn’t be the first incidence of hyperboles in circus shows.
While the Shields brothers come from a family of large-sized people, most of their descendants were just average. However, there are always a few exceptions to consider.
Let’s take a look at their family highlights:
How did the Texas Giants end up being so tall? Despite being dubbed giants, their descendants claim they were only around 6’8” to 7’. That’s still bigger than an average Texan, though.
The answer to their extraordinary height is on their paternal side of the family. The tall gene may have come from their father, John Shields, who stood around 6’6’’ to 7’ as a ball-park figure. Meanwhile, their mother, Penelope, was only average in height.
When Shade Shields’s brothers returned to Texas due to a smallpox epidemic, he married a 7’ tall woman who goes by the stage name Annie O’Brien.
The couple toured with P.T. Barnum’s circus as the “tallest married couple on earth.” They later had children, but their kids were all average in height.
All in all, only a handful of members from the Shields family were known for their extraordinary height. That said, a few notable tall descendants are Marcus, Terry, and Louis Freiberger. These were Frank Shields’ grandsons.
Interestingly, Marcus, who stood 6’11” tall, joined the US basketball team and actually made it to the Olympics. So, the genes might have been passed along to bring some fame after all!
Texas Giants FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions regarding the Texas Giants and their heights:
Who was the tallest among the Texas Giants?
Jack and Frank Shields were the tallest among the Texas Giants. Jack Shields may be the youngest among the four, but the show promoted him to be 7’11 and ¾” like Frank. He toured with the circus for seven years before retiring.
Who was the shortest among the Texas Giants?
The shortest among the Texas Giants was Shadrick “Shade” Shields. He may not be as tall as his brothers, but he performed the longest as a “giant” on the show. He was arguably the most famous among the four of them.
How tall is an average Texan?
An average Texan stands around 5’10” tall. It’s probably why the Shields brothers stood out. With a height of 6’ or more, it was still hard to miss these boys in a crowd of average-sized people!
Christian Linden is a seasoned writer and contributor at Texas View, specializing in topics that resonate with the Texan community. With over a decade of experience in journalism, Christian brings a wealth of knowledge in local politics, culture, and lifestyle. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Texas. When he's not writing, Christian enjoys spending weekends traveling across Texas with his family, exploring everything from bustling cities to serene landscapes.