More Little People

You know about the menehune, the fabled little people of the Hawaiian islands.  Well, recently I was reading Mysteries and Legends of Montana by Ed Lawrence, and was surprised to see that our Northern Rockies region is home to stories of similar dwarf-like people.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the Crow Indians inhabited the plains of Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.  The Crow have a traditional tale of the Nirumbee or Awwakkule, dwarves who inhabit the Pryor Mountains region of south-central Montana.  The dwarves are generally harmless (aside from the occasional prank) to the Crow people, who provide them with gifts to keep their good favor; however, enemy tribes were badly frightened of the Nirumbee, who were said to kill horses, pull out the hearts with their bare hands, and eat them.  Whoa.  Fear totally justified, there.

Much like tales of Bigfoot, little-people traditional stories exist in Native American tribes throughout North America.  Even Lewis and Clark recorded such legends during their westward exploration.  Sometimes the little people are portrayed as benevolent forest spirits, such as the Woods Elves of Sioux legend.  Some are just plain evil, like the child-eating dwarves of the Apache.  And some are truly weird:  The “Tailed Ones” of Alaska’s Ahtna Indians are human-like, except for their small stature and monkey-like tails.  They live in the trees and are enemies of the people.  (Visit for more on these legends.)

Mysterious mummified remains of a “little person” were found in a Wyoming cave in the 1930s. The perfectly preserved tiny human was about 14 inches tall.  It was found seated cross-legged on a cave ledge in what is assumed to be a ceremonial burial.  In true American fashion, “In the early 1940s the mummy ended up in the possession of Ivan Goodman, who paid a great deal of money for it and displayed it in a jar at his used-car dealership,” writes Earl Murray in his book, Ghosts of the Old West.

But Goodman was not purely motivated by profit, allowing scientists from all over the country to study his canned mummy.  According to Lawrence, the remains were determined by Harvard anthropologists to be those of a 65-year-old man.  Was it a Nirumbee?  During later examinations, other scientists decided that the remains were not of an old man, but those of an infant suffering from genetic abnormalities. But why its apparently exonerated status, with its cave burial?  Both Murray and Lawrence allege that other little-people remains have been found from time to time, so Goodman’s mummy may not be unique.  But what are they — deformed children or miniature, human-like adults?  We may never know, but in either case, it certainly does seem that the little-people legends are rooted in reality.