Did a mummy prove the legend?
After word spread about the Pedro Mountain Mummy, other people came forward with mummy-like creatures. A man reportedly paid a lot of money for this specimen -- what he believed to be a mummified head of a Little Person -- displayed here by University of Wyoming anthropologist George Gill. The head turned out to be an elaborately carved potato or turnip. (Contributed photo)

The Little People fabled to live in the Wind River Range are good, as long as you don't make them mad.

Eastern Shoshone elder Morning Starr Moses Weed knows what happens if you cross them.

As the story goes, his father-in-law rode up a thin trail into the Wind River mountains many years ago to check on his cattle. One of the Little People appeared, standing no more than knee high, though otherwise looking like a normal human. He told Weed's father-in-law that it was his trail, and the rancher couldn’t use it anymore. But Shoshone rancher had cows up the hill. He went ahead anyway.

The Little Person shot Weed’s father-in-law with a poisonous arrow, making his arm useless.

But they're not all bad, Weed says. He knows other stories in which the Little People save lives or help Shoshones find their way back home.

The Shoshones aren't the only people to describe a race of Little People. For centuries, other American Indians have had variations of their own.

George Gill, a forensic anthropologist, speculates that white settlers to the Wind River area believed the stories to simply be myths.

Until the mummies were found.

A circus curio

In 1936, Eugene Bashor saw the mummy for the first time. It was in a circus tent in Casper, a brochure claiming it was the remains of a 65-year-old man, weighing less than a pound.

It was during the Depression, and Bashor had to beg his father for the 25-cent entrance fee.

Officials rushed Bashor through the tent so fast that he didn't get a good, long look at the mummy. But he saw that it looked like an old person: big nose, wide mouth, high brows and a head proportional to the body. It didn't look like a child.

Bashor saw it again in 1948, this time for a while longer. The used car dealer who owned it had it sitting on his desk. That was before a New York con-man swindled the mummy away from the dealer, and before the dealer died a mysterious death and the mummy disappeared.

Bashor, a power plant operator on Seminoe Dam, spent the next half-century looking for information on the Pedro Mountain Mummy. He'd wander the Pedros, looking in caves for signs of other mummies.

Were they the mummified remains of the Little People of Native American lore?

He advertised nationwide for leads.

He heard reports of Little People being shot and killed, which he believes were false. Other reports, about three mummies found by miners in veins of graphite, may have been true.

He has a pair of tiny mummified feet found near Buffalo. Analysis on those showed they were from an infant.

Through the years, Bashor heard stories of the Pedro Mountain Mummy turning up in Florida with the New York con man, but none of them materialized. The tiny mummy, and the man, had simply vanished.

Discovery and mystery

In 1971, the University of Wyoming hired its only physical anthropologist, George Gill. Because of his background in studying human remains, students immediately told Gill about the Pedro Mountain Mummy.

During his first week teaching, they brought him brochures of the mummy. Was it a human? Was it from a race of knee-high people? They wanted to know.

By then, the mummy had vanished. All that remained were x-rays, pictures and mummified feet. The students told Gill all they knew: In 1932, two gold prospectors, Cecil Main and Frank Carr, found the mummy in a cave in the Pedro Mountains in central Wyoming.

It was resting on a ledge, sitting upright, mummified by the dry Wyoming climate just as it had been placed.

The mummy ended up with Ivan Goodman, the used-car dealer. He traveled around the country, charging people to see it and looking for someone to prove, unequivocally, that it was an adult from a race of tiny humans.

In 1950, Goodman gave the mummy to a man in New York claiming to be a physician who would prove the mummy was a Little Person. Soon after, Goodman died. The New Yorker, and the mummy with him, disappeared.

As more people investigated the mummies and the Little People, others came forward with mummy-like creatures. Gill has a perfect likeness of one of the mummies in the university’s human remains repository. The man who bought it paid big money for the treasure, a mummified head of a little person.

Unfortunately, analysis at the Wyoming state crime lab showed the man paid big money for what turned out to be a well carved potato head.

Then in 1994, both Gill and Bashor went on Unsolved Mysteries. Host Robert Stack explained the vague details of the mummy and asked for help from the public. Gill explained that the mummy may not have been an adult. It was a human, he believed, and x-rays and a lung analysis done by Harry Shapiro at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, showed that the mummy was an infant, with a disease called anencephaly.

Days after the episode aired, Gill got an unexpected call.

The girl

A Cheyenne family watching the Unsolved Mysteries episode remembered a family heirloom sitting in a trunk. A great-grandfather, working as a Basque sheep herder, had found a similar mummy in the mountains.

It was a girl, slightly smaller, with the same striking features. But she had blond hair.

The family called Gill and brought it to Laramie for analysis that very day. He took it to Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie for x-rays and the Denver Children’s Hospital, where experts removed a femur. The DNA analysis was conclusive: The tiny mummy, sitting slumped over, only four inches high, was human.

But without formed ends on her long bones, a sign of maturity, she could only be an infant.

Most likely a premature baby, she died before birth or shortly after. Anencephaly, while rare, happens occasionally, usually a combination of genetics and diet. Cases appeared in Ireland during the potato famine, and Gill speculates the Pedro Mountain mummy as well as the girl may have been part of a group of people new to the area and unfamiliar with the diet here.

Carbon dating put her age around three hundred years old, not tens of thousands, as the circus brochures initially claimed.

The family took its mummy back to Cheyenne and has since moved. Gill doesn’t know where.

While the testing proves the mummy was neither ancient nor an adult, Gill still wonders why it was preserved in such a sacred way. Even many celebrated warriors’ burials fall to the ravages of time. But these tiny infants, who likely didn’t live through birth, were so carefully positioned and preserved. Another question unanswered.

The unknowns

All of the mysteries behind the two mummies, and how they could link to American Indian stories, may never be discovered.

Only three known anencephalic mummies exist in the world -- two from central Wyoming, one from ancient Egypt.

Bashor no longer believes in a race of little people. Osto Heath, his partner in a quest to find some answers, believed to his dying day that the science was wrong. Little People did walk through Wyoming.

Now, at 84, Bashor just wants information on that mummy he saw so many years ago. Some closure on where it landed. He worries it may be gone, thrown away or lost in someone’s boxes.

Gill won’t say little people never existed. It’s not his job to tell people what they should and shouldn’t believe. What he can say is that neither the Pedro Mountain Mummy, nor the strange, blond girl, were adults.

He also believes there’s much to be learned about the mystery of the mummies, the legends that preceded them, and the possibility of some connection.

When asked if Weed still believes in Little People, he simply said there are too many stories, with too many details, for them not to be real.

"They're good little fellows," he said. "If you don't make them mad."

Contact features reporter Christine Peterson at 307-460-9598 or christine.peterson@trib.com.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments