When Did Leprichauns come to America?
Fellow Cherokee, Will Rogers, used to say, “My ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower, but they met the boat.”
But “little people” were already a legend among Native Americans. The Navaho and Ute told stories of the “Pitukupf”, a mischievous spirit-dwarf that lived in a badger hole. Author James D. Doss has brought the Ute “Piticupf” back to life in his Charlie Moon murder mystery series. His wonderful character, shaman Daisy Perika, sees and talks to the ornery, magical, Piticupf, to learn about the future or to clear up a mystery. But she is often tricked out of her bribes and left frustrated.
The Cherokee called their legendary little people “Yunwi Tsunsdi”. These little people were magical and mischievous, as well. But sometimes they were quite kind-hearted. One legend credits them for giving the Kingfisher bird his long beak after he killed the snake that ate the eggs of a Yellowhammer bird. When James Mooney chronicled the myths and legends of the Cherokee in the late 1800’s, he described the Yunwi Tsunsdi as follows:
“There is another race of spirits, the Yunwi Tsunsdi, or “Little People”, who live in rock caves on the mountain side. They are little fellows, hardly reaching up to a man’s knee, but well shaped and handsome, with long hair falling almost to the ground. They are great wonder workers and are very fond of music, spending half their time drumming and dancing. They are helpful and kind-hearted, and often when people have been lost in the mountains, especially children who have strayed away from their parents, the Yunwi Tsunsdi have found them and taken care of them and brought them back to their homes. Sometimes their drum is heard in lonely places in the mountains, but it is not safe to follow it, because the Little People do not like to be disturbed at home, and they throw a spell over the stranger so that he is bewildered and loses his way, and even if he does at last get back to the settlement he is like one dazed ever after. Sometimes, also, they come near a house at night and the people inside hear them talking, but they must not go out, and in the morning they find the corn gathered or the field cleared as if a whole force of men had been at work. If anyone should go out to watch, he would die. When a hunter finds anything in the woods, such as a knife or a trinket, he must say, “Little People, I want to take this,” because it may belong to them, and if he does not ask their permission they will throw stones at him as he goes home.
Once a hunter in winter found tracks in the snow like the tracks of little children. He wondered how they could have come there and followed them until they led him to a cave, which was full of Little People, young and old, men, women, and children. They brought him in and were kind to him, and he was with them some time; but when he went back to the settlement and his friends were all anxious to know where he had been. For a long time he refused to say, until at last he could not hold out any longer, but told the story, and in a few days he died.
Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day and watch out for the “Little People”!