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Cannibal Dwarves: Native American Legend

Native American tribes that lived on the plains of middle North America between the Rocky Mountains and Mississippi River are collectively referred to as the Plains Indians. Several different tribes compromise the plains. They are the Arapaho, Assiniboine, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Palins Apache, Plains Cree, Plains Ojibwe, Sarsi, Shoshone, Sioux, and Tonkawa. They were nomadic tribes following the buffalo herds and lived in teepees. Besides their way of life, these tribes shared a common fear. The dreaded Cannibal Dwarves!

As with folklore in other areas of the world, there exists within Native American legends stories of little people. While there are benign races of small and magical creatures there are also little people who are super-humanly strong, blood thirsty and aggressive. In the Arapaho language they are alternately called Teihiihan (strong) and Hecesiiteihii (h’yeah-chass-ee-tay-hee) (little people). Like Vikings, this race of little people believed that they must perish in battle to enter the afterlife. And like the berserkers of Viking tradition, these wee beasties ferociously attacked in large numbers.

These wild little people are called by many names in tribal folklore.

  • Gada’zhe, mong-thu-jah-the-gah, or ni’kashinga man’tanaha (Omaha-Ponca)

  • Hecesiiteihi (Arapaho)

  • Mi’-a-gthu-shka or mialuka (Osage)

  • Nimerigar (corruption of Shoshoni nemetakah, numu-tuhka)

  • Nirumbee or awwakkulé (Crow)

  • Nunnupi or nunumbi (Comanche)

  • Vo’estanehesano (Cheyenne)

The cannibal dwarves are said to be the size of a child. They have sharp teeth, and dress in ragged animal skins. Each tribal story teller has their own tradition so variations in the folklore do exist. For example, some story tellers relate that the dwarves can turn invisible at will while others claim that they can move at astounding speeds.

Despite the differences in attributes, there are some aspects that each tribe agrees upon. The dwarves are hostile to humans and they are gluttonous. It is quite common for them to kill far more humans than they could possibly eat. Further, they possess magical powers and have been known to kidnap children or use witchcraft to harm others similar to their European counterparts. They have their own villages, trails, and other places. One of which is Spirit Mound in Clay South Dakota. They can only be seen, however, when they want to be or are taken unawares.

In 1804 members of the Lewis and Clark expedition lived with the Sioux and were taken to see the Mountain of Little People (Spirit Mound). Lewis recorded in his journal that the Little People were devils with large heads. Further, the Lakota who came to live near Spirit Mound have a story less than 250 years old telling of a band of 350 warriors went to the mound one night. They were almost completely wiped out by the dwarves and of those who survived, they were crippled for life.

While almost always hostile to human beings, there are some Crow legends, however, in which a nirumbee helps a mortal, especially during a sacred fast or in return to a kindness done to them. Furthermore, they are said to have played a major role in shaping the destiny of the Crow nation through the dreams of the Crow chief Plenty Coups in the early twentieth century. They thus can be seen as imparting spiritual wisdom despite their overall hostility to humans. According to the Crow people, the petroglyphs at the Pryor Mountains in Montana were made by the dwarves. The mountain is sacred to the Crow and the Little People live there.

The Crow legend is one of the few which depict these wee creatures as anything other than violent. In the end, a war was waged. According to legend, the Arapaho along with allied tribes engaged in a war against the small wild people long ago and completely destroyed them.


Pursiful, D. (2016, August 9). Cannibal dwarves: Hostile little folk of the Great Plains. Into the Wonder. Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

Native American Legends: Cannibal dwarves. Native American Languages. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

Teihiihan – The Little Cannibals of the Plains. Legends of America. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2022, from

McDannell, Religions of the United States in Practice, 2002, p. 184.

Saindon, "Lewis and Clark and the Legend of the 'Little People'," in Explorations Into the World of Lewis and Clark, 2003, p. 481.

Montgomery, Many Rivers to Cross: Of Good Running Water, Native Trout, and the Remains Of Wilderness, 1996, p.32.

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