In cultures all over the world, there are tales of short, humanlike creatures that are either very helpful or very dangerous to humans. They are known by a number of names: gnomes, dwarves, trolls, elves, imps, goblins, and so on. And yet despite the fact that most of the world's cultures are separated by oceans, they all seem to share similar traits. They are small in stature, have humanlike bodies, possess a number of supernatural powers, and tend to be beneficial, mischievous, or even downright malicious in regards to how they interact with humans. In the folklore of the Wampanoag Indians in Massachusetts, one such little creature is the Pukwudgie, a demonic troll that is greatly feared by Native Americans and white men alike.
In general, the Pukwudgie (which means "little man of the wilderness") is described as being two to three feet in height (some say as tall as four feet) and looks somewhat human, but the creature's physical features are somewhat exaggerated. The creature's body is covered with thick hair, having an oversized nose (which is said to look like a dog's sometimes), big pointed ears, and an oversized mouth filled with sharp, jagged teeth. This little monster is said to have smooth skin that is either bluish-gray or ashen in color, and it has long fingers that are tipped with sharp talons. It is said to have a sweet odor and is usually associated with flowers. The creature is sometimes said to wear clothes which it has made from natural materials like grasses, tree bark, leaves, reeds, tree limbs, and sometimes fur. This gives the Pukwudgie the ability to camouflage itself, enabling the creature to easily blend in with its forest surroundings. Sometimes the little troll is described as being able to glow in the dark, but this may have more to do with the Pukwudgie's magical powers than anything else.
According to Wampanoag legend, the Pukwudgie is said to possess a number of supernatural powers. Despite its diminutive stature, the Pukwudgie has a supernatural degree of strength, and thus can overpower a fully-grown man rather easily. Furthermore, this creature is able to appear and disappear at will, can emit flashes of light from its body, is able to call forth the forces of magic, and can summon and control fire. In addition, the Pukwudgie is thought to be capable of shapeshifting. Some tales say that the little troll can take the form of a porcupine that walks on its hind legs, while other accounts tell of this creature taking the shape of a dog, a bird, an insect, or a cougar. However, the creature may not be limited to these forms. The monster is also said to be able to confuse the minds of humans, can entice them with the sound of its voice alone, and it has the power to cause harm to people simply by staring at them, similar to the European belief in the Evil Eye. But what perhaps is most disturbing is that the Pukwudgie is said to be able to control the souls of the people who have fallen victim to the creature's enticements and died as a result. The monster then turns these souls through its magic into balls of light, which are known to the Wampanoag as "Tei-Pai-Wankas". These spirit lights are essentially the same type of phenomenon as the will o'the wisp, and the Pukwudgie uses them to lure innocent victims to their doom. Somehow, these lights are able to compel people to follow them, making them disregard their own personal safety in the process. This hypnotic effect causes the people to pursue the lights wherever they may lead, whether it's into the middle of a swamp, a pool of quicksand, or even straight off of a cliff. The lights may even take the enthralled person right back to the Pukwudgie itself! But regardless of how the troll gets ahold of its prey, it's still a nasty way to go.
Although the creature's powers are formidable, the Pukwudgie is known to use weapons to hunt and kill its prey as well. The little troll is known to use small knives (possibly made of bone or flint), pointed sticks, and bows that fire magic or poisoned arrows. The Pukwudgie is also fond of throwing a type of poison dust at its victims, and will even toss sand into the eyes of its prey. Additionally, it should be mentioned that the legends are rather vague as to what the Pukwudgie and its kin do after they have killed their prey. It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that the Pukwudgies devour the flesh of their kills and store away the souls of their hapless victims for later use in their insidious "Tei-Pai-Wankas".
According to Loren Coleman's excellent book Mysterious America (Paraview Pocket Books, 2007), the Pukwudgie is said to inhabit the dismal Hockomock Swamp, which in itself is a part of the fabled Bridgewater Triangle in southeastern Massachusetts. This area is notorious for anomalous phenomena and strange occurrences, and is also known to be home to a variety of monsters, including Sasquatch, Thunderbirds, giant snakes, black panthers, phantom black dogs and, of course, Pukwudgies. This area, consisting primarily of dense swamplands, covers approximately two hundred square miles, with the towns of Rehoboth, Abington, and Freetown forming the points of the Triangle. On the inside of the Bridgewater Triangle are the towns of Raynham, Norton, the Bridgewaters, Mansfield, Taunton, Easton, and Brockton. The Native American tribes of the area have long viewed the Hockomock Swamp as being a sacred place, but they also see it as being dangerous and even evil at times. Several Native American burials have been discovered within the confines of the Triangle, which really isn't surprising considering that this area of the Bay State in all likelihood has the highest density of prehistoric sites in all of New England (Coleman 2007, 33-39). Given the area's history of high strangeness and Native American inhabitation, it really doesn't come as any surprise that the Pukwudgies choose to dwell within the confines of the Bridgewater Triangle and the Hockomock Swamp.
Although most modern-day encounters with the Pukwudgie take place in Massachusetts, stories and accounts of the little troll have also come from Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and most interestingly, Indiana. According to Loren Coleman's newest book Monsters of Massachusetts: Mysterious Creatures in the Bay State (Stackpole Books, 2013), most of the activity has occurred in the area of Mounds State Park in Anderson, which is located in the central part of Indiana (Coleman 2013, 64). The park itself contains ten ceremonial burial mounds, which may have been used for burying the dead (artifacts excavated from the mounds seem to confirm this). They were built by the prehistoric Adena culture, and the surrounding area was used by the later Hopewell Indians. It would seem that any area that was once (or still is) inhabited by Native American tribes is quite likely to be home to the Pukwudgies as well.
According to Wampanoag legend and Christopher Balzano's article Pukwudgies: Myth or Monster?, the Pukwudgie wasn't always a vicious little monster. At one time, the little trolls were friends of humanity and would try to help people whenever they could. The only problem was that whenever they made any effort to help, it would backfire and become a huge catastrophe. The god-giant Maushop stepped in several times to clean up after the Pukwudgies. Maushop was beloved and revered by the Wampanoag as a hero and a creator (he was credited with having created most of Cape Cod, after all), while the Pukwudgies themselves grew jealous of the native people's love for the giant and began to despise him. Eventually, the diminutive trolls became so frustrated that they decided that, if they couldn't help the Native Americans, they would make their lives miserable instead. They became mischievous, and gradually aggravated the tribes enough that the people went to Maushop's wife Squanit (sometimes called Quant) to complain. Squanit then went to Maushop and demanded that he do something about the tiny tricksters. The giant complied and began to gather up all of the Pukwudgies and put them into a leather bag. He shook the bag both violently and vigorously, until the trolls were thoroughly dazed and confused. Then, Maushop threw the Pukwudgies as far away as he could, scattering them all across New England. Satisfied with his work, Maushop went away to rest for awhile.
Unbeknownst to Maushop and his wife, the Pukwudgies were not so weak that they could be thrown away like so much garbage. Although many of them had died, some of these creatures had survived. Regaining their senses, they were now incredibly angry and vengeful because of the harsh treatment they had received and the deaths of their people at the god-giant's enormous hands. Hungry for revenge, the surviving Pukwudgies began making their way back to Massachusetts. Blood spilled demanded that the blood be repaid, and now there was hell to pay...
Satisfied that his work was done and that his wife was happy, Maushop went away to rest. But while he was gone, the Pukwudgies returned to Massachusetts. And in Maushop's absence, the diminutive trolls yet again changed the nature of their relationship with the Wampanoag. They began luring the Native Americans deep into the forests, and then proceeded to slaughter the people. But not only did the Pukwudgies kill the people, but the creatures also burned their villages and began kidnapping their children as well. Squanit once again intervened, ordering her lazy husband to do something about it. In reply, the god-giant sent his five sons to fix the problem. It was a decision that Maushop would forever regret...
Upon hearing their father's instructions, Maushop's five sons (some versions of the legend say that there were three) boldly headed into the woods in pursuit of the evil trolls. But unbeknownst to them, the Pukwudgies were prepared for the god-giant's plans this time around. The little monsters proceeded to entice the five sons deep into the tall grass where the tiny Pukwudgies were all but invisible to the larger giants. Once the brave warriors were within range, the Pukwudgies ambushed Maushop's sons and shot them with magic arrows, killing each one of them. Once this news reached Maushop and Squanit, the two were consumed with unbearable rage. They went out into the forest, killing every Pukwudgie they could find. However, some of them once again escaped and scattered themselves throughout New England. Eventually, the Pukwudgies regrouped and decided to end their problems with the giants once and for all. They tricked Maushop into the marshes and peppered him with arrows. Some say that the god-giant fell down dead, while others believe that Maushop was so upset about the deaths of his sons (what happened to his wife Squanit is unknown) that he went away and has remained hidden ever since. But regardless of which ending to the story one prefers, Maushop completely disappears from Wampanoag mythology at this point.
It is interesting to note that, according to Christopher Balzano's excellent article Pukwudgies: Myth or Monster? (first published on the Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads website in 2005), the timing of these tales lines up precisely with the arrival of the first European settlers. The Europeans saw these little monsters as being soldiers in Satan's service, and believed them to be responsible for any evil or ailments that descended upon both the Native Americans and the settlers themselves. Eventually, the Wampanoag and the other tribes in the surrounding area became converted to Christianity and began to share the European views. With this, the myths and the folklore of the native peoples began to change, until the people began to see the Pukwudgie as being the hand of the Devil himself! But while most people believe the Pukwudgie to be nothing more than a myth, the people who know the forests of the Bridgewater Triangle will say otherwise...
Although the Pukwudgie is believed to be an ancient Wampanoag legend by most, it doesn't explain the fact that there have been a number of recent sightings of small, humanlike creatures that fit the general description of the Pukwudgie. And in each one of these encounters, the eyewitnesses have described feeling enormous fear, despite the fact that the witnesses are generally bigger than the creature itself. One of the most intriguing (not to mention chilling) encounters is that of Bill Russo, a retired ironworker (welder) who lives in Raynham, Massachusetts. His home was built on a knoll just a few hundred yards away from the Hockomock Swamp. For six years, Bill worked a shift from three in the afternoon till midnight. When he finally got home, it became his habit to take his eighty-pound female Rottweiler-German Shepherd mix Samantha for a late-night walk to get a little exercise and relax. They walked every single night, no matter what time of the year it was. And then everything changed one night...
On one night in 1995, Bill and Sam went out on their nightly walk at about one in the morning. Usually, the two friends walked on the sidewalks towards the center of town and avoided the swamps. That particular night, however, the two changed their routine up a little. They cut through his backyard and headed into the deep woods next to the swamps towards an old dam, which had once provided much-needed water power for an early ironworks. Sammy pulled Bill along into an area that he calls "the High Tees", and when they had gone about half a mile, they came to a break where a road cut through the swath. At this point, Samantha began acting up, pulling hard on her leash and looking up at Bill. She trembled and her hair stood on end, and looked at her master for protection. Bill asked her, "What's wrong, Samantha? I don't see anything. It's okay, baby. We'll go home now. Come on." He tugged on her leash, but she wouldn't move an inch. She was afraid of something, and according to Bill, Sam was not a dog that frightened easily. She just cried and quivered. It was clear that something in the darkness was terrifying the poor dog.
It wasn't long before Bill began to hear the thing that was frightening his beloved dog. It was faint at first, but it was unmistakable. An eerie voice was calling through the night air, saying "Eee wah chu. Eee wah chu. Keer. Keer. Eee wah chu." The high-pitched, unnatural voice repeated itself, getting louder and closer at the same time. At first, Bill couldn't see anything, even though there was a streetlight about twenty feet ahead of him. The lamp cast a bluish circle of light on the pavement in front of him. And then, in Bill's own words, "into the circle walked a hairy creature about three to four feet tall which probably weighed a hundred pounds." What happened next has been haunting Bill for twenty long years...
"Eee wah chu, eee wah chu. Chew chew, eee wah chu", the creature said repeatedly. It stood straight on two legs and stared at Bill "with eyes that were too large for its head - like the eyes of an owl." The two friends were paralyzed as they watched the creature, but the creature just stood there and didn't appear to be threatening. Samantha trembled, and then she looked at Bill as if to ask "What is it?" Bill looked at his dog and said "It's okay, Sam", in a somewhat unconvincing manner. The creature kept speaking and began to motion to him with its arms, asking him to come closer. The creature wasn't wearing any clothing to speak of, and "was covered in course, unkempt hair that was about five or six inches long." The thing appeared to have a pot belly, and Bill "took it to be in the young stages of old age." What in the world was he dealing with? Bill had no idea.
What was this thing? Possibilities began running through Bill's mind. Perhaps it was just a local kid, dressed up for Halloween? Then he realized that this thing couldn't possibly be a toddler, nor was it any animal that he had seen before. Bill knew that there were beavers, muskrats, foxes, and bears in the Hockomock Swamp, but this creature didn't even remotely look like any of those animals! Bill and Samantha stood there looking at the creature for what seemed to be hours, but in reality the encounter itself probably lasted only a few minutes. Although it appeared to be friendly and nothing overly threatening could be detected in its mannerisms, Bill had heard stories from other people about bizarre things that they had seen in the swamps, stories that he could neither confirm nor deny...
Bill was scared. The tiny creature was much smaller than he was, and yet he was still very frightened. Worse yet, it was the middle of the night, and the thing was talking to him! Bill eventually worked up enough courage and asked the creature a few questions, but the only answer that he received was "Eee wah chu" over and over again. It was at this point that Bill and Samantha made a very big circle around the creature and went home as fast as they could. The two friends didn't look back, not even once.
When Bill arrived home after the encounter, he was very shaken up about it. He made a big pot of coffee and kept drinking it throughout the night, one cup after another. That night, he relived the entire experience over and over again in the confines of his living room. He wondered if he should've tried to talk to the creature more, or if he should have at least walked up to it. "What was it? What did it say?", he asked himself. As near as he could figure, it was trying to speak English and was saying, "We want you. We want you. Come here. Come here." Bill took this to mean that there was more than one of this creature. Needless to say, Bill didn't get much in the way of sleep that night.
To this day, just over twenty years later, Bill still doesn't really know why the tiny creature wanted him. He has come to believe that he narrowly avoided his own death that night, but he also regrets not having taken action. "If I had been Darwin, or Dr. Livingston," he recounts, "I would have walked to the thing and would have made a great discovery and would have written a new chapter in human history. But I was just a weak, frightened man who slinked away and lost a chance to catalogue an entirely new species. I am ashamed to admit that I walked away."
Did Bill encounter a Pukwudgie that night? He believes that he did, and the description of the creature's appearance and behavior all point out that he may have indeed encountered one of these tiny trolls. If one buys into the legends, then Bill was very wise to walk away from the creature. If he hadn't, then it is very possible that the creatures would've made a meal out of Bill and his faithful dog, Samantha. The man also believes that as more and more of the Hockomock Swamp is filled, such encounters will become more and more commonplace. Who is to say that Bill isn't right?
Bill Russo's encounter with the Pukwudgie is just one of the many reported sightings of this little monster with the isolated confines of the Bridgewater Triangle (and elsewhere). And according to Christopher Balzano, a number of these sightings have taken place in the Freetown State Forest. A woman named Joan (no last name is given) was walking her dog Sid on a cold Saturday morning in April 1993 or 1994 (the exact date isn't certain). As they made their way down the path, the dog suddenly became anxious and strayed from the path. Joan followed, and when she found Sid, he was lying down flat in the leaves. Ten feet away and standing on a rock was a strange, troll-like creature that was "two feet high with pale gray skin and hair on his arms and the top of his head." She noted that the creature didn't seem to be wearing any clothes, but it was hard to tell because the creature had a distended stomach that hung down over his waist and just about reached its knees. She said that its eyes were a deep green color, that it had large lips, and it had an elongated, almost caninelike nose. Joan had never run into anything like this before...
The hairy little creature stood perfectly still and stared at the woman, with not even the slightest hint of an expression on its face. It was like the little monster was surprised to see her. Joan was frozen in place, and recalls feeling like "the air in her lungs had been pushed out." At that moment, her dog Sid finally came to, and ran back to the main trail, dragging Joan along with him. At the most, Joan's encounter lasted about half a minute, but her experiences with the creature didn't end there.
Joan still recalls the experience to this day, over twenty years later. She hasn't been back to the forest since then, but the creature still continues to haunt her. Since her experience, she has been visited by the little monster three times (or perhaps more) while she's sleeping. Although it hasn't tried to hurt her or to speak to her, it is still very unsettling. She only sees it staring at her through the bedroom window, and even then the creature leaves once Joan takes notice of the creature. Each time this happened, Joan was fully awake and was able to move if she needed to. Could this be the Pukwudgie's trickster side showing? It's definitely a possibility.
To reiterate, Joan isn't the only one who has encountered the Pukwudgie. One man who lives in Framingham, Massachusetts claims that he's had not just one, but two different experiences with these creatures. Tim is a paranormal investigator, but his experiences have forced him to remain well away from the forests. In 1997, he was walking through the woods when a ball of light appeared to him. He became very excited, and pulled out his digital camera to take a photo. The orb suddenly disappeared, and it reappeared a few feet away. Tim followed, and the orb repeated its actions several more times. Clearly, this light had an agenda...
It wasn't long before Tim realized that the ball of light had led him more than thirty feet off of the beaten path into a thickly-wooded area. Tim became frightened, and proceeded to make his way back towards the path. When he got there, he was startled to find a two-foot tall, manlike creature making its way towards him. Tim turned around and ran the other way, only looking back to see the creature walk into the woods. He noted that the thing was bipedal and walked with a slight limp, and that it had used its arms and hands to push branches aside, in the exact same way that a human does.
A few years later, Tim was waiting for a friend in a parking lot close to the exact same forest where he'd had his original encounter years earlier. The impish creature just stood there, watching him intently. Suddenly, Tim's car revved itself of its own accord. Then, the radio became louder. It was clear that there were unnatural forces at work here. In a panic, Tim backed out of the parking lot and took the long route home to get his hands to stop shaking so much.
What exactly did Joan and Tim see on those fateful days? Judging by the eyewitness descriptions, there is little doubt that these creatures were in fact Pukwudgies. But what is surprising is that, despite the Pukwudgie's propensity for violence towards humans, these creatures seemed content merely to frighten their victims. It's possible that, much like humans, each Pukwudgie varies in regards to personality. That is to say, perhaps some Pukwudgies are less evil than others, perhaps even to the point of being beneficial or helpful towards people. Keep in mind, however, that these individuals are likely to be few and far between. One can never tell with supernatural creatures.
And as for Tim's encounters, one is inclined to believe that the hairy creatures that he saw were Pukwudgies as well. But what about the ball of light that nearly put him in danger? If one believes the legends, then it may very well have been one of the Tei-Pai-Wankas. To reiterate, these orbs of light are said to be the souls of people killed by the Pukwudgies. The creature controls these orbs and uses then to entice more people into the forests, where they are killed to create even more of these lights. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle. However, while Massachusetts may be home to the Pukwudgies, it isn't the only state where these creatures are seen...
In the state of Indiana, often called the Crossroads of America, it is interesting to note that the Pukwudgie is said to dwell here as well. Author Michael Newton records in his book Strange Indiana Monsters (Schiffer Publishing, 2006) that in June 1927, a ten-year-old boy by the name of Paul Startzman was walking along Indiana's White River when he discovered an abandoned gravel pit. There, he met a strange, barefoot creature that stood two feet tall and was wearing a light blue robe, which may have been a man's shirt that was taken from a clothesline. "We stood about ten yards apart and looked at each other," the young boy later stated. "He had thick, dark blond hair, and his face was round and pinkish in color, like it was sunburned." After a moment or two, the creature turned around and ran back into the woods.
A short time later, possibly within days of the first encounter, Paul was hiking with a friend in the same area. Paul and his friend came across a similar creature. Eerily enough, instead of immediately fleeing into the woods, this time the tiny creature followed Paul and his companion before the creature disappeared into the surrounding forests. Paul later repeated his encounters to some TV reporters. But one question remains: why did the Pukwudgie choose to reveal itself to the boy, and more than once? Interestingly enough, it was later revealed that the boy's mother was a full-blooded Native American. This could explain why the creature chose to show itself to the boy. It wouldn't be unreasonable to assume that the Pukwudgie might have been able to sense Native American blood running through the boy's veins. But what did the creature want? Perhaps it is for the best if that question remains unanswered.
For all of its formidable powers, the Pukwudgie does have a few weaknesses. Some people have speculated that these creatures are demonic in nature, while others believe that they may be closely related to the faeries of European folklore. It is said that both salt and iron, both of which are known defenses against faeries and demons alike, are feared by the Pukwudgie. So, it may be possible that these tiny terrors are related to both faeries and demons. In a similar vein, it is believed that reciting the Lord's Prayer will frighten the Pukwudgie away. But according to Native Americans, the best defense against these little monsters is to simply ignore them. Acknowledging their presence or paying any attention to the little troll will only aggravate the creature, even if one sees it. Doing so will only cause the Pukwudgie to follow that person and cause them misery at every possible opportunity.
As for actually killing the Pukwudgie, Wampanoag folklore does not cite any specific methods for doing so. Decapitation and burning the creature's corpse afterwards are almost always effective for dealing with monsters and supernatural beings. However, burning the creature before it is actually dead would be unwise, since the Pukwudgie is able to manipulate fire and could easily turn such a blaze back on a would-be monster hunter. As mentioned earlier, the Pukwudgie abhors iron. This metal could easily be used to manufacture weaponry for destroying these creatures in the form of blades or projectile points. But be warned: if this creature isn't destroyed properly, then the Pukwudgie may very well return and seek revenge on its killers. Nobody wants that to happen.
Many (if not most) people in this day and age believe that monsters like the Pukwudgie are only a myth. But if that is indeed the case, then why do people keep seeing these creatures? If they aren't hallucinations, and it isn't mass hysteria, then what is it? One can only come to the frightening conclusion that Pukwudgies do indeed exist, and that these eyewitnesses are telling the honest-to-God truth. But it also leaves one disturbing truth: that the Pukwudgie is out there stalking through the forests, hunting for its next victim...
Coleman, Loren. Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation's Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures. New York: Paraview Pocket Books, 2007.
Coleman, Loren. Monsters of Massachusetts: Mysterious Creatures in the Bay State. Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2013.
Newton, Michael. Strange Indiana Monsters. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2006.
Weatherly, David. Strange Intruders. Arizona: Leprechaun Press, 2013.
Pukwudgies: Myth or Monster?
What's in Your Swamp? Perhaps Bridgewater Triangle Creatures
I Survived the Bridgewater Triangle
Legendary Native American Figures: Pukwudgie (Puckwudgie)
The Demoniacal: Pukwudgies
What Exactly is a Pukwudgie?
In Search of Puckwudgies
The Pukwudgie of Wampanoag Lore
I would like to take this time to thank Loren Coleman, David Weatherly, Christopher Balzano, Michael Newton, and Bill Russo for allowing me to use their books and articles in my research. Without their help, this would've been a very short entry. I cannot begin to tell all of you how much you have helped to expand my research, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of your help. I am forever indebted to each and every one of you, and I am proud to call all of you my friends. Thank you all so much, and I hope that my essay does you all proud!!