The Nimerigar are legendary race of little people found in the folklore of the Shoshone people of North America’s Rocky Mountains.
According to Shoshone tales, the Nimerigar were an aggressive people who would shoot poisoned arrows from tiny bows. Nimerigar were said to have lived in the Wind River and Pedro ranges of Wyoming. Although thought to be mythical, the reality of Nimerigar tales was called into question in 1932 with the discovery of the San Pedro Mountains Mummy, a 14-inch-tall mummy found in a cave 60 miles south of Casper, Wyoming, which was thought by some researchers to be that of an adult male. However, a more recent interpretation is that the mummy is an anencephalic infant. Uncertain whereabouts of the anomaly leave the verdict open.
Nearly every Native American culture tells of a race of little people. Comanche referred to Nunnupis, Cherokee to the Yumwi, and Hawaii have the Menehune.
In October 1932, while digging for gold in the San Pedro mountains, Wyoming, two prospectors, Cecil Mayne and Frank Carr, blasted their way through some thick rock. When the dust settled, they saw they had opened up a small room.
This is where they first saw the mummy of a tiny person. Upon its discovery, it was instantly called a hoax by most scholars. X-rays were performed on the mummy in 1950 and it was discovered that there was a “manlike” skeleton inside, almost fully formed.
Pedro the mummy was found sitting in an upright position with his arms crossed, covering its crossed legs. It sat perpendicular to the floor on a small ledge in the room. It weighed approximately 12 ounces and was around 7 inches tall sitting, and 14 inches tall (estimated) standing. Its cranium was flattened, the eyes bulging and so well preserved that even the fingernails were visible. The head was covered in a dark, gelatinous substance, leading some to accuse Mayne and Carr of perpetrating a hoax using an infant from a medical collection, since some of the mummy appeared to have been preserved in liquid.
Credit: Chicago Field Museum
Upon its discovery, it was instantly called a hoax by most scholars. Many believed that it was a dummy or some type of Frankenstein taxidermy. Scientists came from all over the country to take a look at the remains. X-rays were performed on the mummy in 1950 and it was discovered that there was a “manlike” skeleton inside, almost fully formed. Some of the bones were broken, including the spine, collarbone and skull. These injuries and congealed blood at the top of the skull insinuated a violent death.
The Pedro Mountains of south central Wyoming photo
Credit: Bureau of Land Management.
Dr. Henry Shapiro’s Findings and Counter Argument
In 1950, the mummy was examined by Dr. Henry Shapiro, a biological anthropologist from the American Museum of Natural History. After examining the x-rays, Dr. Shapiro believed that this mummy was the body of an approximately 65 year old man at the time of his death. Also, this mummy had particularly large canines in comparison with the rest of his body size, almost vampire-like. These findings were substantiated by Harvard University and their anthropology department. However, 30 years later, Dr. George Gill, a forensic anthropologist proposed another theory after looking at the x-ray. He thought that the body could have been an infant of some unknown tribe of Indians. Mummies in Wyoming are not unusual since its arid climate is conducive to preserving tissue, however tiny mummies are a rarity.
A second, similar mummy was found in roughly the same area and brought to the attention of Dr. Gill after he appeared on a television show called Unsolved Mysteries.
After the discovery of the second, this time a female mummy, he could x-ray her and look at her in great detail. She was only 4 inches high, and in a slumped position. Dr. Gill determined that she was an infant and hypothesized that she was either a prematurely born baby, or possibly a child with anencephaly. After his testing the family that owned the girl mummy took her back and was never heard from again. Gill suggested that both mummies were the result of malnutrition of babies born to a tribe (possibly even immigrants) still adapting to the harsh conditions of the area, about three centuries ago.
One problem that arises with trying to date the mummy without it being present is that it was sealed tightly in a cave with thick rock, which could take thousands of years if done by natural processes, or it could have been placed there and sealed at a later date. Thus without the bodies, determining age is improbable.
Little People of Wyoming
Also called the Nimerigar, Native American legends, mainly the Shoshone tribe, speak of an aggressive race of “little people” which ranged in height from around 20 inches to 3 1/2 feet tall. According to Native American lore they lived in the San Pedro Mountains in south central Wyoming and fought constantly with the average sized humans of the area using poisoned arrows. It was often said that if one of the Nimerigar became sick or old, they were killed by their own people with a blow to the head. It was also said that the little mummies brought bad luck to anyone who found them, and to this day Native Americans warn people of the tribe of “tiny people eaters” that roam the San Pedro Mountain Range of Wyoming. Most of these claims were considered folklore until the discovery of what is now known as “Pedro” the mummy.
San Pedro Mountain Range Wyoming
Scientific investigations have come up with wildly different conclusions as to what the mummy is. The initial scientific conclusion was that the mummy was a pygmy that had been given a ceremonial burial by Native Americans. One scientific investigator claimed it was a child, but another team disagreed and claimed it was a 65-year-old man.
In 1979, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming concluded, based on X-ray evidence, that it was an anencephalic fetus or infant. One report notes, however, that the skeletons and mummies of Little People (whatever they might be) have been found as far north as the Yellowstone River and as far south as the Wyoming-Colorado border. Another mummy was found in a cave in the early part of the 20th century near Pathfinder Dam (near Casper, Wyoming), and a few years later another mummy and six small skulls were found nearby.
As of the late 20th century, some Crow remained convinced that the Little People exist. Members of the Crow Nation passing through Pryor Gap sometimes still leave offerings for the Little People. Members of the modern Crow Nation say they have even encountered them while hunting in the Pryor Mountains. Others, taking a wrong road or footpath, say they have seen them blocking the road, and Little People are claimed to have even healed some sick people. Several white people in the area also claim to have seen the Little People, including a local bar owner, ranch hands, and hunters.
Comparisons with Other “Little People” in Native American Folklore
Other alleged discoveries, like that of the 1876 discovery of a “pygmy” graveyard in Coffee County, Tennessee, has some people saying that a race of pygmy people ranged all over the United states, and they often use Pedro the mummy as the proof. A man plowing his field supposedly found graves that were 2 feet long, 14 inches wide, and 18 inches deep. Other explanations have been offered for the burials, that they were of children or disarticulated people. The Cherokee had a legend of little people who lived in mountains, came up to an average sized persons knee and were quite nice unless you disturbed their homes. There are many Native American stories about little people.
According to William R Corliss Ancient Man: A Handbook of Puzzling Artifacts, Sourcebook Project, 1978, citing the Anthropological Institute, Journal, 6:100, 1876: An ancient graveyard of vast proportions has been found in Coffee county. It is similiar to those found in White county and other places in middle Tennessee, but is vastly more extensive, and shows that the race of pygmies who once inhabited this country were very numerous. The same peculiarities of position Observed in the White county graves are found in these.
The writer of the letter says: “Some considerable excitement and curiosity took place a few days since, near Hillsboro, Coffee county, on James Brown’s farm. A man was ploughing in a field which had been cultivated many years, and ploughed up a man’s skull and other bones. After making further examination they found that there were about six acres in the graveyard. They were buried in a sitting or standing position. The bones show that they were a dwarf tribe of people, about three feet high. It is estimated that there were about 75,000 to 100,000 buried there. This shows that this country was inhabited hundreds of years ago.”
The Disappearance of the Mummy
The mummy ended up in Meeteetse, Wyoming, at a local drug store where it was shown as an attraction for several years before it was bought by Ivan T. Goodman, a Casper, Wyoming businessman. A July 7, 1979, article in the Casper Star-Tribune stated that Goodman died in 1950 and the mummy was passed on to Leonard Wadler, a New York businessman. The mummy has not been seen in public since Wadler, who died in the 1980s, took possession of it. The mummy’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Until the mummy shows up again, it will be impossible to know if the mummy is real. If it is, the primary focus will be on finding the age and nationality of the mummy. There is currently a $10,000 reward for the person who finds the missing mummy according to the Casper Star-Tribune.
Little People of the Pryor Mountains
The Little People of the Pryor Mountains (known as Nirumbee or Awwakkulé in the Crow language) are a race of ferocious dwarves in the folklore of the Crow Nation, a Native American tribe. More than one modern historian has referred to them as “little demons.” But the Little People also can impart spiritual wisdom, and played a major role in shaping the destiny of the Crow People through the dreams of the legendary Crow chief, Plenty Coups.
Native American beliefs in “Little People”
Stories and religious beliefs about “Little People” are common to many if not most Native American tribes in the West “Beware of the Little People!” was a common expression. By one account, legends of “Little People” among Native Americans go back at least 9,000 years. Some tribes (such as the Umatilla of Oregon) referred to them as the “Stick Indians,” while the Nez Perce called them Itśte-ya-ha.
Spirit Mound, reportedly home of some Little People.
It is located within Spirit Mound Historic Prairie in South Dakota.
In 1804, the Lewis and Clark Expedition stayed for a time with a band of Wičhíyena Sioux on the Vermillion River in modern-day South Dakota. On August 25, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and 10 other men traveled about 9 miles (14 km) north of the river’s junction with the Missouri River to see the “mountain of the Little People”.
Lewis wrote in his journal that the Little People were “deavals” (devils) with very large heads, about 18 inches (46 cm) high, and very alert to any intrusions into their territory. The Sioux said that the devils carried sharp arrows which could strike at a very long distance, and that they killed anyone who approached their mound.
The Little People so terrified the local population, Lewis reported, that the Maha (Omaha), Ottoes (Otoe), and Sioux would not go near the place. The Lakota people who came to live near the “Spirit Mound” after the Wičhíyena Sioux have a story no more than 250 years old which describes how a band of 350 warriors came near the mound late at night and were nearly wiped out by the ferocious Little People (the survivors were crippled for life).
The Crow (or Absaroke) were originally part of the Hidatsa, a Siouan people who lived a settled, agricultural life along the Missouri River in what is now western North Dakota. Some time prior to the mid-17th century, the Hidatsa leader No-Vitals led a large number of Hidatsa west into the Yellowstone River valley of south-central Montana, where the tribe lived on the plains, by the river, and in the nearby Big Horn, Pryor, and Wolf Mountains. On the move due to pressure from eastern and midwestern tribes moving west due to white encroachment, the Crow may have settled in the Yellowstone Valley only a few decades before the arrival of Lewis and Clark. A fundamental tenet of Crow religion was maxpe, or “the sacred.”
The Little People of the Pryor Mountains
Crow folklore says the “Little People” live in the Pryor Mountains, a small mountain range in Carbon County, Montana. Petroglyphs on rocks in the mountains, the Crow said, were made by these demon-like creatures. Because the Little People live there, the mountains are sacred to the Crow. The Little People are said to be no more than 18 inches (46 cm) (or knee) high.Crow folklore differs slightly from that of other tribes in describing the Little People of the Pryor Mountains as having large, nearly round bellies; incredibly strong but short arms and legs; and little or no neck.
In the story of “Lost Boy” (or “Burnt Face”), the Crow told of a Little Person who killed a full-grown bull elk and carried it off just by tossing the elk’s head over its shoulder.
The Crow expression, “strong as a dwarf,” references the incredible strength of these Little People. However, they are incredibly fierce warriors, feed primarily on meat, and have many sharp, canine-like teeth in their mouths.
Nearby tribes told stories of the Little People tearing the hearts out of their enemies’ horses, stories which may have helped keep these tribes from making war on the Crow. Each year, the Crow made an offering to the Little People at Medicine Rocks (also known as “Castle Rocks”), where they believed some Little People lived. The Pryor Mountains Little People were also known for stealing children, food, medicine, and tobacco. The Crow also believed that the Little People created stone arrowheads, for the Crow themselves only knew how to make bone arrowheads. Anyone who tried to play a trick on the Little People would incur their wrath, which usually destroyed him and his entire family.
The Little People (sometimes referred to as “spirit dwarves”) were also said to be able to confer blessings or spiritual insight (maxpe) to certain individuals. Generally speaking, the Crow would refuse to enter the Pryor Mountains due to their belief in the Little People. However, on occasion a lone Crow would travel to the Medicine Rocks and fast, where one of the Little People might manifest as a lone animal to teach the seeker these insights.
The Crow tell of two ways to pass through the mountains without being harmed by the Little People, however. Both involved offerings. According to their folklore, the Little People had befriended a young Crow boy. The boy told the Crow that there was a pass through the mountains which the Crow could use, but they would need to shoot arrows ahead of them as they traveled as an offering to the Little People. This pass, now called Pryor Gap, was known to the Crow as “Hits With The Arrows.” The Crow name for Pryor Creek was “Arrow Creek,” and the Pryor Mountains were known to them as the Baahpuuo or “Arrowhead Mountains.” However, other kinds of offerings, such as beads, cloth, or tobacco, could also be left in order to win safe passage through the mountains.
The Little People also were integral to the Crow practice of the Sun Dance. The Little People were said to be “owners” of any Sun Dance lodge that was built. The Little People judge who among the participants is truly sincere, and confer only on them any visions or spiritual insight. A dancer’s position in the Sun Dance could only be awarded by the Little People.
Role of Little People in the dreams of Plenty Coups
One of most famous Crow leaders to encounter the Little People was the legendary Crow chief Plenty Coups (Aleek-chea-ahoosh). When he was nine years old, Plenty Coup’s older brother (who was a great warrior and quite handsome, and whom Plenty Coups loved deeply) was killed by raiding Lakotas. Although the tribe was preparing to move out, Plenty Coups fasted for four days, used the sweat lodge, rubbed his body with sage and cedar to remove any smell, and then went into the nearby hills where he had a vision. In his vision, the chief of the Little People took him into a spirit-world lodge, where Plenty Coups saw representations of nature (the wind, the stars, thunder, the Moon, bad storms, etc.). The dwarf chief demanded that Plenty Coups count coup, but since Plenty Coups was just nine years of age he knew that he had no great deeds to count. Nonetheless, the chief of the Little People recounted two great deeds to the spirits gathered in the lodge, and said that Plenty Coups would not only accomplish these deeds but many others as well.
Plenty Coups in 1908
He also prophesied that Plenty Coups would become chief of his people, if he used his wits, and then advised Plenty Coups to develop his willpower so that he could lead his people. “I had a will and I would use it, make it work for me, as the Dwarf-chief had advised. I became very happy, lying there looking up into the sky. My heart began to sing like a bird, and I went back to the village, needing no man to tell me the meaning of my dream. I took a sweat-bath and rested in my father’s lodge. I knew myself now.”
When he was 11 years old, Plenty Coups had a second vision involving the Little People, one that changed the fate of his entire tribe. Plenty Coups’ family had moved to be with other bands of Crow lodging in the Beartooth Mountains. All the young men were challenged to go into the hills to seek visions, and Plenty Coups did so. Plenty Coups walked for two days (fasting as he went) and entered the Crazy Mountains, but had no vision. He returned a few days later with three friends, fasted, and took sweat-baths. He decided to cut off the tip of his left index finger as an offering to the spirits. That night, he dreamt of the chief of the Little People again.
The chief introduced Plenty Coups to a buffalo that turned into a man with buffalo-like features (the buffalo-man), who led him underground and down a tunnel or path toward the Pryor Mountains. For two days, he traveled underground among throngs of American bison. Finally, the buffalo-man showed Plenty Coups a vision of endless streams of bison coming out of a hole in the ground but disappearing. Then a second stream of bison—with different colors (even spots), tails, and sounds—came up out of the ground, and remained on the plains
Plenty Coups had a vision of himself as an old man lodged near the Medicine Rocks, and of a vast forest whose trees had been felled by a great wind. Only a chickadee remained. A voice told Plenty Coups that the day of the Plains Indian was ending, and that white men would swarm over the land like buffalo. But the chickadee remains, because it is a good listener, develops its mind, and survives by its wits.
Plenty Coups sought out the advice of his tribal elders in interpreting this dream. They said that it meant that the buffalo would soon disappear, to be replaced by white men’s cattle But the Crow people would survive the coming tide of white people if the people developed their listening skills and minds, and they would inherit the land seen from the Medicine Rocks. The Crow Nation (guided by this vision) did survive, and today the Crow Indian Reservation is only a short distance from the Pryor Mountains and Medicine Rocks. As one historian of religious belief has said, ” Indeed, the Crow people survived the deepest crisis of the nineteenth century in part because of Plenty-coup’s vision.” The site where Plenty Coups emerged from the underground world and had his vision is now Chief Plenty Coups State Park in Montana.
One Crow Nation folktale involves the “Lost Boy” or “Burnt Face,” and the Little People figure prominently in it. After a young boy falls into a bonfire, his face is left horribly scarred. He receives the name Burnt Face because of this accident. One day, his people move north on their regular journeys following the buffalo, but Burnt Face goes south. He builds a Sun Dance lodge, and the Little People come out to talk to him. The Little People take away his scars, show him where his band has gone to, and give him healing powers to help his people. Burnt Face retained his name, but became a great chief among his people.
In another story, the Crow tell of a child who fell out of his travois as his family moved to new hunting grounds. The Little People adopted the boy and raised him in a cave in the Pryor Mountains. The boy absorbed part of their magic, and grew to become supernaturally strong. He began to build tall columns of stone and rocks for fun, and this is how Medicine Rocks was created.
In the story “The Little People,” a hunter goes hunting in the Pryor Mountains and has little luck. He asks the Little People for guidance. A Little Person’s voice tells him that he has to provide the Little People with an offering. The man shoots a deer, and then drops it over a cliff in Black Canyon as an offering to the spirits. He then has great luck in hunting. He returns home, but returns to the mountains the next day—curious to see if the dead deer is still where he left it. The deer’s body is gone.
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