Pukwudgies are a magical, humanoid race of people that feature prominently in Algonquian folklore. To different tribes, the Pukwudgie acts and looks differently. For example, in the Ojibwe tribes they are described as a mischievous but mostly good-natured being that may trick people but rarely has malicious intent. The Wampanoag and many other tribes of New England know the Pukwudgie to be both a trickster but also dangerous. They are known to play tricks but, in some cases, help out a human who has encountered them. If you wrong them or somehow offend them they are known to steal children, commit acts of terror, and can even be deadly.
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Pukwudgies are usually likened to the Western European fairy or gnome. While almost all accounts note that they are tricksters accounts vary on whether or not they have malicious intent. They are typically described as being about knee-high to an average height human. They have large hands, sagging shoulders, a stooped appearance, and a tendency to hunch forward when they walk. Despite this, they still appear to be agile and quick. Although they are small they are typically carrying arrows (which sometimes have poison arrows), knives, or spears. They also can attack in unison to kidnap people, push them off cliffs, or otherwise intimidate.
Their name denotes they habitat. ‘Pukwudgie’ translates directly to ‘person of the wilderness’ and they are often revered and respected of protectors or spirits of the forest. They are also known to have special powers. These powers vary depending on the tribe speaking about Pukwudgie lore, but they usually include the ability to become invisible, confound people, shapeshift, and bring harm to people simply through their gaze.
Native Americans believed that if you were to cross the path of a Pukwudgie you should avoid it as much as possible and not interact with the being at all.
The Wampanoag legend of the Pukwudgie is particularly interesting had a connection to Maushop, the creation giant who is believed to have created the land which is now Cape Cod. He was a beloved god and the Wampanoag people often felt they were blessed and especially taken care of by Maushop. The Pukwudgies felt forgotten and tried to help out the Wampanoag people so the Pukwudgies could be as revered as Maushop. However, their efforts often backfired or their tricksy nature got the best of them and the Wampanoag people were not, at the time, grateful for them.
Sensing that they would never be as beloved as Maushop the Pukwudgies decided to fire back. They became more and more malevolent. They played tricks, scared Wampanoag people, and did nothing to improve their daily lives. One day they Wampanoag were fed up with the feud and decided to visit Granny Squanit, Maushop’s wife, for guidance. Maushop, on his wife’s orders, collected up as many Pukwudgies as he could and flung them all around the area - from New England to the Great Lakes and even as far south as Delaware! He hoped this would lessen their power and if they were more spread out it would be harder for them to have such a big impact on humans’ lives.
Satisfied but exhausted from the work Maushop and his wife took a short sabbatical. However, during this time the Pukwudgies snuck back to Massachusetts. Infuriated that the Wampanoag were behind their scattering they elevated their attacks on them. Instead of just being nuisances and tricksters, the Pukwudgies began stealing children, burning villages, leading those lost in the woods to their deaths, and other horrible misdeeds.
Maushop was aware of this but did not want to fully return yet so he sent his five sons to fix the Pukwudgie problem. However, his sons were not a match for the Pukwudgies and they tricked them, ensnared them, and killed all five of them. Maushop and Granny Squaint were furious over their sons’ deaths and they attacked and killed as many Pukwudgies as they could. However, many escaped to the lands of New England.
Many still survive to this day and, according to some stories, a group of Pukwudgies overwhelmed Maushop and killed him.
It is interesting to note that after this story takes places Maushop largely disappears from the Wampanoags’’ mythos.
The folklore of the Pukwudgie is so pervasive that The Song of Hiawatha, an epic poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, includes a brief section on Pukwudgies. It was published in 1855 and you can read it in full here:
“Far and wide among the nations
Spread the name and fame of Kwasind;
No man dared to strive with Kwasind,
No man could compete with Kwasind.
But the mischievous Puk-Wudjies,
They the envious Little People,
They the fairies and the pygmies,
Plotted and conspired against him.”
Eyewitness accounts of the Pukwudgies and their good (and bad) deeds have been around for centuries. Although running into a Pukwudgie is always a scary situation because of their power and capricious nature it is not necessarily a death sentence. However, it is important to be wary of them and their intentions.
One of the areas with the most activity is in Freetown-Fall River State Forest in Massachusetts. It is on this land that a 227-acre Watuppa Reservation, which belongs to the Wampanoag Nation, is located. In fact, reports in the Freetown-Fall River State Forest forest rangers have put up a ‘Pukwudgie Crossing’ sign. Although this may be in jest, it does reflect the large number of calls, stories, and experiences with Pukwudgies that emerge from this area.
One of the most famous encounters occurred in the Forest. A local named Joan was walking her dog along a path in the forest, something she had done many times before. Without warning her dog began running excitedly off the path and into the forest. When the dog finally stopped running and Joan caught her breath she raised her head and found herself face to face with a small, humanoid creature. According to Joan, the being was roughly two feet tall, with pale gray skin, and short, stocky legs. It had large lips, a canine-like nose, and a human-like face.
The creature did not make a move towards Joan and her dog and Joan simply stared. Soon her dog began pulling her back towards the path and Joan followed. Unsettled by this strange and unexplainable experience Joan tried to forget it. However, this did not seem to make the Pukwudgie very happy. Later that night, and for a number of weeks, the creature would appear at Joan’s bedroom window in the middle of the night and wake her up.
Does the Pukwudgie crave human attention, or perhaps need it in some way? It is important to remember that previous to the Wampanoags’ run-in with them and the fight that erupted between Pukwudgies and Maushop, they enjoyed at least respect and acceptance of the Wampanoag people...they just wanted more. Although sightings are somewhat rare and scattered over the years I wonder if Pukwudgies make themselves known after they have been out of the news for some time. If they didn’t need or care about human interaction...why not just disappear deeper into the woods? If they have the ability to make themselves invisible why would they ever let themselves be seen? For this reason, I believe there is some kind of cross-over or necessity of human attention directed towards Pukwudgies...good or bad attention.
Thanks to Fallyn E T for the #blogstonishing topic suggestion!
The above image is unrelated to the story and is entitled Road through the Forest (Berkshires), Scenic. It is made available under the public domain.