By Christopher Balzano
(originally appeared on Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads website; used with permission)
In the Southeastern corner of Massachusetts lies Bristol County, an area known locally as the most haunted place in New England. The energy that sleeps there has been rumored to cause haunted schools, ghostly armies and unexplained suicides and murders. Forested areas of the county have long been known to contain a litany of unexplained animals, from Bigfoot and thunderbirds to large snakes and odd bear-like monsters. For the past forty years cults have flocked there, and their activities, often criminal, have filled the blotters of local law enforcement. Of all the unknown horrors that live in Bristol County, the most feared is not a animal or a ghost or the members of Satanic cults that walk the forests, but a demon only two feet high, and if the history of the area represents the history of our America society, these Pukwudgies are the gatekeepers of our darker side.
The Pukwudgies have haunted the forests of Massachusetts since before the first European Settlers ever thought about setting out for a new land. For centuries they tormented the local Native Americans and crept their way into their creation myths and oral history. They could easily be passed of as legend, and in fact, their physical description is much like mythological creatures from other cultures in other times. The difference is these demons jumped from the page and evolved as the people around them changed, changing from reluctant helpers to evil tormentors. The difference is these demons are still seen by people today.
Most cultures’ mythology has some reference to small monsters that have a strained relationship with humans. In many ways it makes sense. While large monsters have their place in our fears, diminutive creatures find their way into the shadows of our rooms and under our beds. Their names and nature change, but there are always common threads that link them together. Some are called monsters and roam the land looking for human food and kidnapping anyone they can find. Other are called demons, foul spirits that feed of the negative and expose the sins of man. When referring to one, its classification gets blurred and these two words become interchangeable, perhaps showing us how closely associated these monsters are with evil.
Veterans returning home after World War II talked of gremlins tearing apart their planes or getting into jeep engines and causing havoc. The Hindus speak of the Rakshasas or the “Night Wander” who eats human skin and jumps into the dead to possess them. Africans tell stories about the Eloko who lure people with beautiful music only to devour them after they have been bewitched with an ever expanding jaw.
Although passed off as works of fiction and imagination, trolls and dwarfs have existed in people’s fears for centuries. They have become lovable and noble now, but the original stories recorded of these monsters are anything but fairy tales with happy endings. Trolls were notorious for ambushing travelers and destroying whole families on a whim. While some are described as giants with humps and one eye, many older cultures, especially in Scandinavia, described the being as the size of a plump child.
Dwarfs have always been small and their manners much better, but the end result seems to be the same. Like the troll, they are known as metal and stone workers, but unlike their flesh-eating counterparts, dwarves seem to avoid human contact. While they would prefer to be left alone, if impeded upon their work, they become like caged dogs. One variation of the dwarf is the Tommy-Knocker who lives in mine shafts and is sometimes said to be the ghost of miners who have perished in the line of duty and are doomed to work for eternity. They are known to cause cave-ins and fires in the shafts.
Perhaps the most famous of the small nightmare are seen by the Irish. Fairies patrol the roads in Ireland causing problems for any traveler who strays from the path. They live in hills or mounds and dance around fires. If a human comes across their mound or sees their dancing, they are caught and held captive. Even the beloved leprechaun was once a malicious spirit before he was Americanized and transformed into the gold keeper he is today.
Exposure to nature seems to feed these tales, and the more a society depends on the earth for its needs, and the closer the relationship a people have with the natural world around them, the more these stories pop up. In this country, the people the first settlers found had a close, if not friendly, view of small dangers around them. The Cherokee have a mirror image demon known as the Yunwi Djunsti, or little people, that look and talk like Cherokee but are only a few feet high and have long hair that touches the ground. Although most people cannot see them, they are known to throw objects, trip up hunters and abduct people who wander off. In Canada they are known as Mennegishi and look much like the classic alien grey.
The Wampanoag Nation, the dominant Native America tribe in Massachusetts and Southern New England, had a monster who still dominates the landscape they once roamed. The Pukwudgie made its first appearance in the oral folklore of the people of Cape Cod, but recent sightings have forced people to rethink this mythological creature. Standing between two and three feet tall, the Pukwudgie looks much like our modern idea of a troll. His features mirror those of the Native American in the area, but the nose, fingers and ears are enlarged and the skin is described as being grey and or washed-out, smooth and at times has been known to glow.
What makes these monsters dangerous is the multitude of magical abilities they use to torment and manipulate people. They can appear and disappear at will and are said to be able to transform into other animals. They have possession of magical, poison arrows that can kill and can create fire at will. They seem to often be related to a tall dark figure, often referred to in modern times and shadow people. In turn the Pukwudgies control Tei-Pai-Wankas which are believed to be the souls of Native Americans they have killed. They use these lights to entice new victims in the woods so they may kidnap or kill them. In European folklore these balls of energy are know as Will-o-the-Wisps and are said to accompany many paranormal occurrences. Modern paranormal investigators call them orbs, and catching one on film is the gold standard of field research.
Legends of the Pukwudgie began in connection to Maushop, a creation giant believed by the Wampanoag to have created most of Cape Cod. He was beloved by the people, and the Pukwudgies were jealous of the affection the Natives had for him. They tried to help the Wampanoag, but their efforts always backfired until they eventually decided to torment them instead. They became mischievous and aggravated the Natives until they asked Quant, Maushop’s wife, for help. Maushop collected as many as he could. He shook them until they were confused and tossed them around New England. Some died, but others landed, regained their minds and made their way back to Massachusetts.
Satisfied he had done his job and pleased his wife, Maushop went away for a while. In his absence, the Pukwudgies had returned. They again changed their relationship with the Wampanoags. They were no longer a nuisance, but began kidnapping children, burning villages and forcing the Wampanoag deep into the woods and killing them. Quant again stepped in, but Maushop, being very lazy, sent his five sons to fix the problem. The Pukwudgies lured them into deep grass and shop them dead with magic arrows. Enraged, Quant and Maushop attack as many as they can find and crush them, but many escape and scatter throughout New England again. The Pukwudgies regroup and trick Maushop into the water and shoot him with their arrows. Some legends say they killed him while other claim he became discouraged and depressed about the death of his sons, but Maushop disappears from the Wampanoags mythology.
Pukwudgies have been seen at the Ledge in Freetown, Massachusetts.
The Pukwudgies remained however, but something odd happens. The timing of the tales of the monster are a map through the history of the Native Americans relationship with the European settlers. The death of the five sons lines up with the very first settlers, and the flight of Maushop is told along side the changing of attitudes about the new neighbors. The Pukwudgies, always seen in a negative light, become the foot soldiers of the Devil, which may explain their modern connection to shadow people. As more Native Americans began to convert to Christianity, their myths evolved, until the Pukwudgies were responsible for the evil in the village, and the hand of Satan on the tribe.
People who spend time in the forest of New England will tell you Pukwudgies are not symbols, but a real horror that still stalks people. They continue to see them, and as the world develops around them, the monsters remain unchanged and as dark as ever.
Joan was walking her dog through the state forest in Freetown, Massachusetts, on a cold Saturday morning in April when she saw the monster. As she and her dog, Sid, walked down the path, Sid became anxious and strayed a few feet into the woods. Joan followed him in, and stopped short. Her dog was lying completely flat in the leaves, and on a rock ten feet away was a Pukwudgie. She described him as looking like what she would describe as a troll; two feet high with pale gray skin and hair on his arms and the top of his head. The monster seemed to have no clothes, but it was difficult to tell because his stomach hung over his waist, almost touching his knees. His eyes were a deep green, and he had large lips and a long, almost canine nose.
The Pukwudgie stood watching her, staring straight at her with no expression, almost like it was stunned to see her. Joan froze and remembers thinking the air in her lungs had been pushed out. Sid finally came to and ran back towards the trial, dragging Joan who was still holding the leash tightly.
Although the whole exchange took less than thirty seconds, it remains with Joan ten years later. She has not gone back to the forest, but feels that might not be enough. Three times since the event she has woken up to find the demon looking in on her. It has never attacked her or spoken to her, she has merely seen it looking through her bedroom window, staying just long enough for her to notice him. All three times she claims she was fully awake and could move if she had to.
Another man in Framingham, Massachusetts had a experience that forced him to remain away from the woods. Tim was in a forest when he saw a bright orb in front of him. Having investigated the paranormal he was excited and tried to snap a photo with his digital camera. The ball of light disappeared and reappeared a few feet further into the woods. Tim followed, losing the spirit several times before he realized he had traveled more than thirty feet off the path into a thickly wooded area. He became scared and slowly made his way back to the path, only to find a two foot man standing there, walking towards him. He turned and ran, and looking back saw the figure move back into the woods.
Tim reported that what he saw had walked upright and had used its arms to push something aside when he fled to the forest. He had moved with a slight limp, but “like a human”.
The second time Tom saw the Pukwudgies was a few years later in a parking lot near the same forest. He was listening to the radio at almost a whisper and checking his rear view mirror for the friend he was waiting for when he saw the same small figure of a man. Every detail was identical, and the Pukwudgie just stood there watching him. The car turned on by itself and his radio began to get louder. Tim pulled out of the parking lot and took the long way home to try and stop his hands from shaking.
Although the monster seemed content to only frighten Joan and Tim, there are still physical attacks happening. Several people have been assaulted and one person came down with a mysterious illness after seeing them in a cemetery in New Hampshire. Another woman suffered scratches on her arm after following an orb in a forest in Taunton, Massachusetts.
The most disturbing reoccurring attacks might be taking place at the Pukwudgies favorite hunting ground. In the Freetown State Forest there is an hundred foot cliff overlooking a quarry known as the Ledge. There have been many hauntings at this sight, but the most frequent experience is an overwhelming feeling to jump to the rocks and water below. In the folklore of the Wampanoag, the Pukwudgies were known to lure people to cliffs and push them off to their death. There have been several unexplained suicides at the Ledge, often by people who had no signs of depression or mental disease before entering the forest.
A teacher and folklorist living in the Boston area. He has been investigating the unknown for twelve years and running Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, a website dedicated to the paranormal and local folklore of Massachusetts, for more than five. His writing has appeared in such respected publications as “The Haunted Times” and “Mystery Magazine” as well as “Unexplained Paranormal Magazine.” His investigations have been covered by “The Boston Globe”, “The Boston Herald”, “The Standard Times” and “Worchester Magazine” and he has been asked to speak about urban legends and the paranormal at conferences throughout New England. He is a regular on several paranormal radio shows, including “The Ghost Chronicles” and “Spooky Southcoast” and has appeared in documentaries and television specials on the supernatural. He was one of the featured writers in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places and contributed to the collection Weird Hauntings and the soon to be released, Weird Massachusetts. His writing and research have also been featured in Thomas D’Agostino’s Haunted New Hampshire and Haunted Massachusetts and the recently released Ghostly Tails from America’s Jails.