Did a mummy prove the Wyoming legend?

2010-11-07T11:02:00Z 2010-11-07T17:20:31Z Did a mummy prove the Wyoming legend?The Associated Press The Associated Press
November 07, 2010 11:02 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. - 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.

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.

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. 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.

He advertised nationwide for leads.

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.

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.

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.

A Cheyenne family watching the Unsolved Mysteries episode produced a family heirloom found by a great-grandfather. It was a girl, slightly smaller, with the same striking features.

Analysis concluded the tiny mummy was human, but she was most likely a premature baby.

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 300 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.

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, 84, no longer believes in a race of little people and just wants information on that mummy he saw so many years ago. He worries it may be gone, thrown away or lost in someone's boxes.

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

Weed 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."

 

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