Did tiny cavemen live on an island in the Connecticut River in the 1970s? Let's face it, that's a bizarre question to ask. Obviously, the answer is no. And yet that claim was made by Betty Hill in 1998.
Her name may be familiar. Betty and her husband Barney claimed they were abducted by a UFO in New Hampshire on September 19, 1961, and their experiences were made into a book (The Interrupted Journey) and a movie (The UFO Incident). The Hills' story was one of the first UFO abduction narratives in America and helped popularize the concept of alien abduction.
The Hills were active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but are now best remembered for their UFO encounter. Barney Hill died in 1969 at the young age of 46, but Betty lived until 2005, when she died at age 85. She continued to see UFOs throughout her life, and became a beloved figure in the UFO/paranormal community. Many people came to Betty with their own stories of unexplained phenomena.
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In 1998, she contributed several of these stories, all focused on Bigfoot and set in New England, to a book titled The Psychic Sasquatch and Their UFO Connection by Jack Kewaunee Lapersitis. (The Psychic Sasquatch is one of those weird and amazing books that everyone should read.) Betty Hill claimed the following happened near Springfield, Massachusetts:
My informant said that at one spot in the middle of the Connecticut River there was a good-sized island that was uninhabited. Then one day it was inhabited by small, prehistoric-appearing people. They don't know how many of them there were, maybe 50. They lived on the island for three years. No one ever succeeded in getting near them. The police had gone out to the island on boats and had gone onto the island. These small, primitive people could outrun anyone. They would take off running and then could not be found... It is not known how they lived or what they did for food. No fires were ever seen on the island, but they lived there year-round for approximately three years. Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, they disappeared.
... Planes and helicopters had flown over the area, hoping to get pictures, but these little people - they're not really tiny people, but maybe four feet tall or so - would take off running at such speeds that no one could even get pictures of them. These prehistoric looking people would be there one instant, then would start running and in the next instant they would just disappear.
Hill claimed she was given this information by a local police chief, who also told her the little people were naked and covered with "sparse hair."
There is a lot to unpack here. First of all, the only source for this story is Betty Hill and The Psychic Sasquatch. I don't doubt the sincerity of Betty Hill or Jack Lapersitis, but if small cavemen had really been living on an island in Massachusetts for three years I think more people would know about it. Hill claims anthropologists went to the island, and that local residents would stand on the riverbank trying to see the speedy little cavemen. I think someone would have alerted the press if this had happened.
On the other hand, these speedy miniature cave folk reminded me of New England's most famous magical little people, the pukwudgies. When I say "magical little people," I mean fairies. Like these cavemen, the pukwudgies are generally described as being small and hairy. The word pukwudgie originally comes from the Ojibwa, a Native American group in the midwest, and made its way into New England folklore via local 19th century poets like Henry Longfellow, town historians, and Wampanoag storytellers on Cape Cod. Puwudgie is generally said to simply mean "little people," but poet and folklorist John Greenleaf Whittier thought it meant "little vanisher," which certainly is descriptive of the cavemen Betty Hill discusses.
Vintage brownie illustration found here.
People who encounter fairies across Europe and North America often say they wear archaic or old-fashioned clothing. It is rare to meet a fairy wearing yoga pants and a hoodie. This may be because fairies represent the past, whether that's an older way of life, a culture that has vanished, or because they are actually spirits of the dead who remain nearby. The tiny naked cavefolk could easily fit into all these categories.
Some fairies also appear naked. For example, in Scotland the fairies called brownies generally appear as small, naked, hairy beings. Brownies were said to perform chores for the humans whose homes they inhabited, but would disappear if given a gift of clothing.
I'm not necessarily saying the tiny cavefolk on the Connecticut river were fairies or brownies, but just that the story about them has themes similar to fairy and pukwudgie stories. If there are fairies in New England, and many people believe there are, I can certainly see why they'd appear as small hairy humanoids. It just feels like the right fit for our stony, woodsy biome and occasionally inclement climate. Flowing gowns and diaphanous wings would not fare well here.
If anyone has more information on this story please let me know in the comments or by email. I would love to know more about this topic.