Pryor Mountain Little People [The Nirumbee]
The Pryor Mountains is a mountain range located on the Crow Reservation and Custer National Forest in the state of Montana, U.S.A. These mountains are also home to a ferocious race of little people, that the Crow Nation call the Nirumbee. The Nirumbee are said to be eighteen inches tall, with large heads, pointed teeth, pot bellies, with strong arms and legs and little, if any neck. Despite their reputation of fiercely protecting their territory, to the death, they have always been friendly to the Crow people.
It is told that the Nirumbee impart spiritual wisdom, teach the ways of medicine and healing to medicine men, and help shape young boys into great chiefs. One such example is Red Plume (to be known later in life as Long Hair), who after fasting for four days at the top of the Big Horn was taken into the mountain by four little people where they told him that wearing his red eagle feather would be his medicine, it would protect him and he would become a great leader of the Crow People.
Red Plume loved to tell of his visions and the predictions of his future glory and leadership, but though he was quickly approaching manhood with no glory or greatness, he soon became known by a new name, “Fool Boy”. He was constantly ridiculed and taunted by his tribe to act upon the predictions he so loved to spread, and that was exactly what he did, promising to return and prove his medicine was strong. With a small group of warriors, Red Plume attacked a Lakota camp killing many enemies and returned home victoriously. He continued building his reputation with more battles and quickly the ridicule he had faced from his people turned to admiration and he became the great leader the Nirumbee foretold him to be.
The little people appeared to young Plenty Coups in a vision while he was on a four day fast in a sweat lodge. The Chief of the little people told Plenty Coups he would accomplish great deeds and become Chief of his people. They advised him to use his wits and will power so he could lead his people. At age eleven the Chief of the little people appeared to him in another vision. In this vision there was a voice that told him the days of the Plains Indian was ending and that white man would soon cover the land.
After this vision, Plenty Coups spoke to one of his Tribal Elders about his vision, which the Elder interpreted as meaning all the buffalo would be replaced by cattle, but the Crow People would adapt and survive. This vision lead Plenty Coups throughout his life and in fact he did become a great Chief of the Crow people, some even say he was the greatest Chief. Plenty Coup lead his people to work with the white people and help his people make the transition to reservation life, but continued fighting until his death, for the rights of his people and to protect their lands from the white man’s frequent attempts to expand the areas of settlements of the white man onto the Crow lands.
The Nirumbee also helped the Crow when being attacked by an invading tribe and would help them defend their territory. The clever Nirumbee would attack the invaders in the middle of the night, making off with the children and dispatching their horses by ripping out their hearts. The Shoshone, Cheyenne and Sioux refer to the Nirumbee by the name Nimerigar, which means “People Eater”. When the Cheyenne and Sioux arrived at The Big Horn they say they where driven out by hundreds of little people who carried bows and poison arrows.
When the Lewis and Clark expedition stayed with the Sioux tribe in 1804, they traveled to the mountain of the Little People and Lewis wrote in his diary that the Little People were devils that carried sharp arrows that could strike from a very long distance, and would kill anyone who approached their mound. The Nirumbee frightened the Maha, Ottoes and Sioux so much that they simply wouldn’t go anywhere near the place.
The Sioux tell a story that’s over 250 years old of when a band of over three hundred warriors went near the mound late one night and only a few survived. Those few survivors are said to have been crippled for the rest of their lives.
When the Burlington Railroad decided to build a tunnel for a rail line from Billings to Cody, Wyoming, the blasting greatly upset the Nirumbee, who were blamed for repeated collapses of the tunnel during construction. They are also said to be responsible for a Small Pox outbreak (some reports suggest it was an outbreak of Typhoid) that resulted in the death of ten railway workers while building the tunnel. Even after the tunnel had been completed and ready for trains, the tunnel would still suffer cave-ins. In 1906, sparks from train engines started forest fires in the area of the tunnel that consumed 10,000 acres of timber, one engineer claims that he saw “Little People” fanning the flames and helping the fires spread toward the rail line.
The Nirumbee (like the Ircinrraaq in the Artic) continue to be seen to this day, not only by the Crow people but also by non-natives while hunting or hiking in or around Pryor Mountain. Many of the Crow people still leave offerings to the Little People, and some women expecting a baby will leave special offerings for the Nirumbee who in return will leave a gift for the baby. Depending on the gift she received, the woman would know if the baby would be a boy or a girl.
In October of 1932, two gold miners found a tiny 14 inch mummy in the San Pedro mountains, a find which was surrounded in controversy due to conflicting reports from the American Museum of Natural History and the University of Wyoming.
The mummy was first examined by the American Museum of Natural History, and it’s finding certified as genuine by the Anthropology Department of Harvard University. Their report concludes that x-rays showed a perfectly formed skeleton, a complete set of ribs and full set of teeth and was approximately sixty years old. They further concluded that the subject had suffered a violent death with a broken collar bone and a heavy blow to it’s skull.
The subsequent examination by the University of Wyoming concluded that the mummy was that of an Anencephalic (a serious birth defect where the baby is born without parts of its brain and skull) infant whose cranial deformities gave it the appearance of a mature adult.
The mummy’s last known owner died in the 1980’s and its current location is unknown. Since then, another tiny mummy has appeared looking the same as first and is reported to be that of a sick infant.
The Nirumbee are treated with respect by the Crow and are not referred to as Little People, but rather referred to as “The Owners of the Earth”, and like other Little People have lived in Pryor Mountain long before the Crow arrived there. There are petroglyphs on rocks in the mountain that are said to be made by the Little People. If you plan to visit The Pryor Mountains in Montana, remember to show respect and leave an offering for the Nirumbee or you may incur their wrath.
Nice! More good info!
Another excellent article! I’ve written a good deal about Blackfoot oral history on my own website, but never came across the legend of the Nirumbee before. Well done!