The Damned Story: From pixies and leprechauns to brownies and elves, legends abound of “little people” who live hidden away from most eyes. Found on almost every continent and in many cultures, these wee folk are responsible for all manner of magic and mischief, and often predate the history of whatever peoples to which they are connected.
Stories of little people are especially prevalent in Native American lore. In Connecticut, the Mohegans (and to a lesser extent, the Pequots) told tales of the Makiawisug, believed to live under Mohegan Hill in what is now Uncasville.
According to legend, the Makiawisug are generally good spirits. When treated with respect and kindness, they grant occasional favors, protect the tribe, and ensure bountiful harvests. It is said they also taught the Mohegan how to grow maize (corn) and the healing secrets of certain medicinal plants.
Described by some as knee-high tall, the Makiawisug wear moccasin flowers for shoes. (What all the most stylish little people wear!) They are believed to have the power of invisibility, and have been reported to carve symbols into stone. In addition, they supposedly create stone piles, which are used to help protect the Mohegan. In 2012, a development in the area was interrupted by tribal members wanting to preserve such piles, described as “being made of the bones of Mother Earth” and containing messages that “guide generation after generation of Mohegan people.”
Mohegan tradition requires that gifts be left for the Makiawisug, particularly baskets of food, such as corn cakes, berries, and meat. The Makiawisug come at night to collect gifts, heralded by the call of the Whip-poor-will; the name “Makiawisug” derives from a combination of “Whip-poor-will” and “moccasins.”
Of course, being magical beings, the Makiawisug have a few idiosyncracies. The Mohegan believe if you see one of the Makiawisug, you should not make eye contact, which is interpreted as being rude. In retaliation, the Makiawisug will point a finger at you, causing you to become rooted to the spot. Once you’re frozen, the Makiawisug will then take your belongings and leave you alone in the woods.
The Makiawisug apparently are also sensitive to their name being brought up in conversation—especially, in the summer, when they are reported to be most active.
So the basic rule of thumb is: See no Makiawisug, speak no Makiawisug.
Of course, there are various stories involving the Makiawisug.
Here’s one of the best known, from the Mohegan tribe’s site:
When the English settlers came and disrupted the traditional way of Mohegan life, many forgot to help the Makiawisug. As a result, many Mohegans and Makiawisug fell ill. At this time of Bad Spirits, there lived a medicine woman. One night, during a terrible storm, she heard the whip-poor-will. When she looked outside, the bird wasn’t to be found, but a small boy stood in the rain on her doorstep. It turned out he was a grown Makiawisug named Weegun, who told her to come help someone who was sick. Though the storm was fierce, he led her through the woods a long way.
Suddenly, the storm seemed to stop as they began to descend into the ground. They were in the realm of the Little People. Weegun led her to a beehive shaped chamber of rocks. Inside, a very old woman lay in bed, very ill. The Makiawisug told the medicine woman that this was Granny Squannit, who must be made well. Granny Squannit is very powerful, and she is known to cause storms when she argues with her husband. Her illness was the reason for this storm. Worse, healers often look to Granny Squannit when the need is dire for help in healing, and here she was the one who was sick. The medicine woman treated Granny Squannit for nearly a moon before she got better. In return for restoring Granny Squannit’s health, the Makiawisug gave the medicine woman a basket of gifts and told her to remember them. She was blindfolded and taken back home.
Only when she returned did she open the basket. Inside were quartz crystals, painted skins and bunches of herbs.
Interstingly, legend has it that in order to maintain balance of nature, Granny Squannit is married to Moshup The Giant, who—of course—represents large creatures. (Not quite sure of the proper wedding gift—jumbo shrimp?)
Mohegan Hill and the surrounding area have become more developed over the centuries, as you can see in the Google Maps image below.
As such, reports of interactions with the Little People of the Mohegan are fewer and fewer.
For more information, “The Others” episode of the highly recommended “Lore” podcast covered the story of the Makiawisug, if you care to give it a listen.
And if you want to share the story of the Makiawisug with future generations, the image above is from the illustrated children’s book Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People. (Cover image courtesy of Indian Country Today, which offers more information about the Makiawisug.)
Just remember: If you’re in the woods of eastern Connecticut and come upon the Little People of the Mohegans—don’t make a big deal of it!
Our Experience: We have been to Little People’s Village and Mohegan Sun Resort Casino, but we’ve never encountered any confluence of the two. We have also driven along Route 32 and over Mohegan Hill, but haven’t ever witnessed any mythical folk (yet!).
If You Go: Mohegan Hill is located in Uncasville, close to Mohegan Sun Casino. It is bisected by Route 32, and as mentioned, is fairly well developed including private homes and public businesses. We do not condone any sort of trespassing, and as always, ask that any visiting be done respectfully and lawfully.
The Tantaquidgeon Museum, which chronicles the history and culture of the Mohegan, is located on Mohegan Hill at 1819 Norwich New London Turnpike. Admission is free; check for hours and availability.