With New England being the oldest region in the United States, it’s no secret that this eastern corner of the America is rich in history. From beautiful landscapes to unique culture, New England is without a doubt bustling with excitement. But when it comes to folklore, it doesn’t stop short of some interesting tales to say the least. TAP TO GET PODCAST
With New England being the oldest region in the United States, it’s no secret that this eastern corner of the America is rich in history. From beautiful landscapes to unique culture, New England is without a doubt bustling with excitement. But when it comes to folklore, it doesn’t stop short of some interesting tales to say the least.
Mary had managed to get into a bit of a routine the last couple weeks. Every morning, come 4 or 5 am, the large, black, Labrador retriever she had agreed to watch for her traveling friend would hop out of bed and begin pacing about, demanding to go on his ritualistic morning walk. Groggily, Mary would untuck from the covers slip out of bed and into a set of comfortable sneakers, and wrap up in a soft, warm coat. Then she’d grab her water bottle and leash up her friend’s peppy pup to begin their early morning stroll. Despite the sun still hours away from making its appearance, Mary found herself growing accustomed to the dark morning walks with her friend’s Lab. They gave her time to clear her head and relax before the rush of the day set in. But little to Mary’s knowing, the real rush was lurking just around the corner.
They say it is darkest just before dawn but to Mary, things were looking pretty bright, metaphorically at least. It was the first day of March after all. Though the current weather lay just on the edge of freezing, spring would be coming soon. Cold mornings would soon give way to warmer weather. But as they rounded the corner on the edge of the swampy watershed, a frigid chill began to crawl up marry’s spine – and it wasn’t from the cold. As they approached the swampy trail her k9 companion stopped hard in his tracks, pulling the leash tight in refusal to go any further. Then, the lab began to let out a deep, guttural growl. Mary, startled at the dog’s sudden reluctancy, began looking around to see if she could locate what had the pup spooked. Raccoons and coyote’s weren’t uncommon here, especially in the park along the swampy watershed where she frequently walked. But as her eyes adjusted into the distance, she quickly realized that this wasn’t an ordinary wildlife encounter.
Just off the trail she noticed a silhouette along the wood line. But as the creature turned to face the dog, fear flooded across her. The shadowy creature stood roughly 3 feet tall and was covered in black, matted fur. It’s eyes glowed green despite the lack of light to cause eye-shine. But that wasn’t the part that freaked her out the most. The creepiest thing, the thing that sent Mary yanking on the dogs leash and running home in fear was that the creature stood on two legs, like a human as it watched her turn and run.
Mary hastily ended her morning dog walks. Just a few days later her friend arrived back home and picked up the lab thanking Mary for watching him and Mary did her best to put the thoughts of the prior week out of her mind. And all seemed to go back to normal, that is, until just a few days later when she was awoken in the middle of the night to the sounds of a small humanoid tapping and scratching the glass of her bedroom walls and window.
The scratching continued over the next several nights. Always the same. She would go to sleep only to be awoken to a silhouette outside her window and the slow tapping of a nail on glass. Finally, sleep deprived and rattled, Mary confided in a co-worker about the experiences she had over the last couple of weeks. Taken aback at her story, her coworker mentioned how Mary might not be so crazy after all. Similar things had been happening in the area for years, decades, centuries even. Tales of small, humanoid creatures haunting the New England forests had been passed down long before settlers ever landed at Plymouth Rock. And if the tales told of these small shape shifters are to be believed, Mary’s encounter with a pukwudgie could have ended much, much worse.
Across the great lakes and into New England, tales of mischievous woodland humanoids have been told by the natives who have long inhabited the area. The Ojibwe people named them the bagwajinini. The Abenaki called them bokwjimen. But more commmonly, we know them by their name given to them by the Wampanoag, the Pukwudgie.
Pukwugies are short, precarious humanoids that supposedly called the northeastern united states and southeastern parts of Canada their home. Often believed to be shape shifters, Pukwudgies morph from small people to woodland creatures, often porcupines – Though many depictions describe them as something in between. Almost as if small human’s backs were covered in quills and whose snouts were like that of a wolf’s.
Most of the Algonquian tribes thought the Pukwudgies to have been trickster spirits of the forest. These creatures were often blamed for misplaced items, strange sounds, and other odd woodland occurrences. Benign things really. After all, pukwudgies like humans… or at least they did.
According to legend, Pukwudgies shifted from playful forest spirits to maniacal fiends that are to be avoided at all costs. There was a time humans and Pukwudgies co-existed. Humans often left treats for Pukwudgies and pukwudgies… well, didn’t pick on humans too much, other than the occasional prank – you know, just for laughs. But when the Algonquian tribesman began spending more time with Maushop, the kind-spirited giant who credit is given for shaping cape cod and creating Nantucket Island out of his pipe ash, the Pukwudgies became jealous. They didn’t care much for Maushop and his peaceful ways. And now that the tribesman were spending time with Maushop they grew to dislike them too. It seems jealousy is just as common in the folk realm as it is to us humans. But who could really blame the local natives for preferring the company of a kind hearted giant who often fed and looked after them as opposed to a group of tricksters who used them for their own enjoyment? I’d pick the giant too.
But the Pukwudgies didn’t seem to care about the human’s perspectives. In a jealous rage folklore tells of how the pukwudgies snuck in and killed Maushop’s 5 sons before turning and slaughtering the good giant as well. Then they turned and set their sights on the tribesman themselves. And the story goes that these angry shape shifters have yet to forgive the friendship of the Algonquians and Maushop. The Pukwudgies stil hold a grudge to this day, luring people into the forest never to be seen again. Some folks get off with nothing more than a bit of trickery like the woman walking her friends dog back in March of 2023. But others end up face to face with far worse.
Stories tell of darts shot through the woods at people who venture too far off the trail. Some have told stories about a small person they saw in the distance only to watch them shift into a cougar or bear and begin pursuing them. Still yet, some tell tales of pukwudgies stealing children from young mothers or even pushing innocent victims off nearby cliffs. Pukwudgies have been sited as manifesting will o’ the wisps – or small, glowing orbs of light that bob through the forest to lure curious onlookers into their traps. And should you fall victim to one of the Pukwudgie’s more sinister schemes don’t think death for a second that death is the end to their torment. Because it’s also said the Pukwudgies can conjure the spirits of those they have killed to do their bidding. So the common advice of “just stay away” might just be the best advice one could receive. Unlike Sasquatch, maybe Pukwudgies aren’t the cryptid to try and chase down in the night.
Pukwudgies aren’t one of those cryptids that really need a lot of explaining. The Algonquian people, like most tribes native to North America, are highly spiritual and symbolic. The stories they tell are often deeply rooted in allegory, used more as a tool to teach and less a literary fact. To them, the spirit and the flesh walk amongst the same world. And this exact point has been a bit of a hangup for Europeans since we first arrived in this “New World”.
Remember our episode on the Ogopogo? Settlers asked the syilx people why they left offerings along the lake and when the locals told them of the water spirit that resided there, the more literal thinking Europeans took them to mean an actual, flesh and blood water dragon was eating folks in the lake.
So I think it wise to take tales of Pukwedgies more like those of the Irish Leprechaun or European gnomes. Spiritual representations of a living, breathing ecosystem that quite frankly, can be a bit precarious and trickster-y in and of itself. And if you don’t know what I mean, just go spend some time in the woods and it’ll make sense, I promise.
But maybe you’re not a spiritual person and are looking for a more tangible way to explain some of these occurrences. No worries! We have you covered!
It’s entirely possible that some of the supposed Pukwudgie sightings through the years are non other than (Drumroll please) actual Porcupines. The North American Porcupine just so happens to be roughly 2-3 feet in length and they have been reported by witnesses – more than once I might add – to stand up and seemingly wave at people. No, seriously.
And while porcupines cannot actually shoot their quills like darts, that common misconception used to be pretty popular – not at all unlike the Pukwudgie’s darts. And Porcupines have a wide variety of noises they can make too. shrill screeches, coughs, groans, whines, teeth chatters, and low grunts are all common with these critters. Lastly, porcupines, according to mass.gov are “common and abundant in Massachusetts”.
So maybe Pukwudgies are a lot more explainable, at least in the literal sense, than cryptid lovers care to realize. They say the simplest answer is most often the correct answer and well, in this situation the shoe seems to fit. Except if pukwudgies are as tricky as the tales claim, maybe that’s exactly what they’d want you to think after all…
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.