Myths & Legends


Iroquois: Pygmies

The opposite of legends involving Giants of old are stories of men and women of diminutive stature and bold deeds, Pygmies. The legends that follow are attributed to the Iroquois, and were published by Erminnie A. Smith in Myths of the Iroquois, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology.
— Orly


Pygmies carved out the beauties of rock, cliff, and cave, but also, like Hi-nuⁿ, they were endowed with the mightier power of destroying the monster animals which endangered the life of man. Cliff, rock, and grotto attested the skill of that departed race, and the exhumed bones of giant animals bore as perfect witness to the truth of their existence as did the "Homo diluvii testis" of a century ago to the truth of the story of the deluge.


It was customary for the Iroquois tribes to make raids upon the Cherokees while the latter inhabited the swamps of Florida.

One of these raiding parties had been away from home about two years, and on the very evening of the journey homeward one of its number was taken quite ill. After a long consultation (the man continuing to grow worse), the party concluded to leave him, and when they had reached one of the rivers of the Alleghany Mountains they abandoned him on the shore. After their arrival at home the warriors were questioned in regard to the missing war-chief. In reply, they said that they did not exactly know what had become of him, and that he must have been lost or killed in the "Southern country."

During the night the sick chief lying on the bank heard the soft sounds of a canoe's approach, and saw three male pigmies landing hurriedly. Finding him, they bade him to lie there until they returned, as they were going to a neighboring "salt-lick" where many strange animals watered, and where they were to watch for some of them to come up out of the earth.

Reaching the place the pigmies found that the animals had not come out from the ground. They hid themselves and soon saw a male buffalo approach. The beast looked around and began to drink, and immediately two buffalo cows arose out of the lick.

The three animals, after quenching their thirst, lay down upon the bank.

The pigmies seeing that the animals were becoming restless and uneasy, concluded wisely to shoot them, and succeeded in killing the two buffalo cows.

They returned to the man and told him that they would care for him. This they did, and brought him to his friends, who from his story learned that the returned warriors were false, and they were accordingly punished.

From a strong desire to see the "lick," a large party searched for it and found it surrounded with bones of various large animals killed by the pigmies.



The following story is told as having actually occurred:

Mr. Johnson and others of the Seneca Reservation went out on a hunting expedition to a region quite remote from their homes. Upon their arrival at the hunting grounds they found game so plentiful that they were obliged to throw away large quantities of meat to enable them to preserve and carry the skins of the many animals they had slain.

Several months after their arrival they moved farther into the wilderness, and found, to their sorrow, that game was growing scarcer each day until they could find none. As a consequence of their prodigality they were soon in want of that very meat which they had so wantonly thrown away, and were finally pushed to the verge of starvation.

At length a pigmy appeared to the hapless hunters, and said that their present condition was a just punishment to them for their wastefulness and greed for gain. In despair the hunters inquired of the pigmy what they must do to obtain food. The pigmy said that they must either starve or give up all the skins and furs which they had collected and prepared for use. The hunters asked how long they would be permitted to consider the proposition. The pigmy replied that when they had decided they could call one of his race by simply tapping on a rock, and then they could tell their decision.

Not agreeing upon any answer after a long consultation, they called one of the pigmies to ask for better terms. The hunters said they would rather die than submit, if the amount of food were small, since, with a small supply and being in a strange, unknown country, they could not possibly find their way home. They further asked him to show them their homeward journey. The pigmy said that he could not grant their request without the full concurrence of his race, but that he would give them food enough to satisfy them in their present distress. He then showed them into a capacious and furnished cavern, in which they were to await the answer of the pigmies.

On the following day the pigmy returned and said they had been forgiven for their wastefulness, and that they would be furnished with provisions without parting with their furs. He said that the hunters must remain in the cavern, and that some time in the night they would be called for.

About midnight they were awakened and found themselves in their first camping-ground.

The Senecas were informed that they were brought there by their ever-vigilant pigmy friends.



There was once a pigmy living in a little cave. Near him dwelt a hunter in a wigwam. The pigmy sent to him and bade him visit him. The hunter went accordingly, and saw many wonderful things; the little people themselves in great numbers, and the corn and huckleberries and other berries which they had in plenty to eat. And the pigmy said: "This is our home, and all we have is given to us free, and although I am small I am stronger than you." Then he showed him the games, and the bows and arrows and the dances, even the war dances and the hunter said when he had seen it all, "Let me go." But the pigmy said, "Stay! Do you know my name? I am called Go-Ga-Ah (little fellow). I had my choice of name. I will let you out when I have told you our mission. We are to help you, and we have never injured you, but now we are going to move away from here. We are going where there is more danger from the giant animals, that we may help those who need our aid." Then having finished his speech, he opened the door and let the hunter go on his way.



TheOrly | © 2017

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