The Wee Folk of North America

There’s more mysteries and spirits to these mountains than most folk could shake a stick at. One of these is the Wee Folk. Most have heard of them from Irish folklore. Leprechauns, sprites, and Ole Black  Shuck have made their way down the serpentine trail. If you don’t know about that, I advise you learn on it. And pity your soul if you come across Black Shuck. One tip before dealing with the Good Folk, basically anywhere in the world, they all hate to be called “fairies”. Names they accept are the Little People, the Good Neighbors, Burrowers, etc. I prefer to learn the traditional titles of the people in the area I am in. Which is how, in my travels, I’ve learned the respectful names for them across the country. Okay, except those known by the Azteccs, I found that through google some time ago. Luckily for y’all, I found those notes in one of my notebooks.

The American Indians in the Appalachias knew a different little people: the Nunnehi (nun-nay-hee). While the Cherokee, Choctaw, Iroquois, and others agree on their existence, naturally they had different names for them. The one most particular to me is Nunnehi, which is Tsalagi for “the people who live everywhere” or the “people who live forever”. Simply “the Immortals”. It’s been documented the world over, sightings of faerie funerals so not all of them live forever. I had the opportunity to befriend one once (of the Little Folk, not one of the Nunnehi). I won’t give his name for obvious reasons. Short and stout, stringy hair with moss pieces in it. He was aged in their years.

As I can recall, him and his family came over when Ireland experienced the potato famine. He’d been here since, in the backwoods of  Limestone, Tennessee.

The Nunnehi of the Cherokee are a playful, yet stern people. They are distinct in a way from the Yunwi Tsunsdi (yoon-wee Joon-s-dee), another form of “spirit people” recognized by the Cherokee. The Nunnehi are a powerful and benevolent people, who are described as being anywhere from two feet to seven feet tall. Nunnehi is also a term for those who communicate with them such as healers, medicine people etc.

The Cherokee tell to this day, stories about them caring for those lost in their travels and showing up at festivities where their identity isn’t known until they vanish across the threshold of a door way as they exit. They are fair and beautiful like the Cherokee. They dress a bit different then they did, and it has been speculated who exactly they are. Some say Ancestors, spiritual warriors, others say they are spirits who’ve been here forever. The majority figure they are simply Good Neighbors like the other Wee Folk.

The Nunnehi have been said to fight in battles with the Cherokee. They warned them that Andrew Jackson was going to remove them, and offered the Cherokee to come with them to their world and live forever. A few went, but the majority refused and stayed to fight for their home. For this, they play more of a role as protector than trickster. The one way to tell them apart from the Yunwi Tsundi is that they have a melody about them and the Yunwi Tsunsdi giggle a lot. When the Yunwi Tsunsdi allow themselves to be seen, it’s more so a shadow darting through the forest or a spoken word bubbling up from the creek bed. The Nunnehi, however, usually show themselves through the glimmering sunlight through the trees and waters. Same Little folk, different tribes. The Nunnehi are, however, rarely heard from now. Unless petitioned with rich offerings of milk, beadwork, venison or honey, they won’t come around humans who aren’t lost or troubled, or unless the circumstance is dire.

The Nunnehi were believed to live in the high mountains of Appalachia where barely any timber grew. At night folks, could here them up there singing, dancing, drumming. Some would hear the music while in the forest, but when they would head in that direction to try and find it, the music would shift and come from elsewhere. One of the Cherokee stories about the Nunnehi tells about four women who showed up in a town called Nottley and danced with the men there for hours. Nobody knew that they were Nunnehi women; everyone thought they were just from another village as they looked just like the Cherokee.

As the women were leaving, a group of men standing outside watched the women walk down onto an open trail that lead to the Nottely River. When the women reached the river they suddenly disappeared. It was then that the men realized that the women were Nunnehi and not Cherokee. For this, is was told by the Cherokee to never take off with a woman met in the woods, as she may be a Nunnehi, and their women are very possessive.

The Cherokee also tell of a man named Yahula (Ya-hoo-la) who got lost during a hunting party. His friends and family searched everywhere until giving him up, thinking him to be dead. The Nunnehi found him lost and took him back to live with them for a while.

Yahula began living on the food of the Nunnehi and became immortal like them. Years went by, and he began to miss his friends and family. He went to visit his village and told everyone what happened. They offered him human food, to which he refused saying he had eaten of their food and could never eat human food again (similar to the story of the Man who Became a Bear). They begged him to stay, but he could not. He’s still with the Nunnehi today.

The Nunnehi enjoy offerings of music and tobacco smoke. The Cherokee would leave old arrow heads and tools for them, as the Nunnehi are fascinated by man’s handy work. They also enjoy a good offering of mashed cane root. The places to find them would be deep in the forest and around lonesome water sources. They live usually on the tallest mountains in Appalachia (Mt. Chimney in TN, Mount Mitchell in NC, etc).

Nunnehi house dolls

The second group of little folk the Cherokee tell about is the Yunwi Tsunsdi, who have more of a mixture when it comes to morality. Their name literally means Little People in Tsalagi. Most of the time they are kind, but never forget their trickster shenanigans. The Cherokee sorted them into three groups or clans based on behavior and patterns of temperament: the Rock clan, the Laurel clan, and the Dogwood clan.

The Rock clan is the most malicious. When disrespected, they don’t think twice about revenge. They are also known to steal children, reasons behind this may be to keep their bloodline going The only reason the Cherokee could understand the reason for their behavior is that they hate having their spaces invaded or disturbed. They are also the ones who bestowed illness into man for breaking taboo or utter disrespect.

The Laurel clan is more tolerant of man and his activities. They are joyful and playful, but they also play tricks for fun instead of revenge like tangling the fishing line, hiding arrows, tripping you up on the path through the woods.

The Dogwood clan is the most benevolent of humans, but they are also serious and stern. They prefer to be left alone unless they see help is needed. These were the ones that the Cherokee medicine men called on in their conjuring.

They enjoy offerings of tobacco, apples, honey, corn, fresh meat, etc. It’s seems their cravings are common with those Little Folk of Europe; butter, beans, sugar, chocolate etc. I often take a red apple and cut it in half. I carve a bowl where the seeds are on both halves and fill it with bread and honey, around which I will sprinkle tobacco. They also enjoy venison and rabbit just like the Cherokee. While they are a separate people, the term Nunnehi is sometimes used to refer to both people, as they both live forever.

It’s been said they spoke the Cherokee language and also an “Indian” language of their own. In the Trail of Tears, John Ehle says that the individual names of the women were like the tones of the water, and the men’s closely resembled claps of thunder. While the Yunwi Tsunsdi are mostly helpful, it’s said when a rock falls, one of them threw it. When rocks begin falling on a mountain path, it’s them; they’re up there giggling somewhere. Their tracks can be followed by the spider webs that gleam in the blades of grass at sunrise or sunset.

Found on ; artist unknown

Regarding sightings of them, the Cherokee advised to keep silent about seeing them or speaking with them for sevens days/weeks/months to avoid becoming ill. Beyond their tricks and shenanigans, the Cherokee believed it was they who took souls to the Great Spirit.

While the Nunnehi enjoy rich offerings for help, the Yunwi Tsunsdi are tricky to work with as they have a big mechanism for desire. In the middle of doing something they’ll change course to do something else. They prefer you leave them a bit of food out after dinner, silver trinkets and old jewelry, bread, tobacco etc.

North America has always had native Little People of its own, from one side to the other. The Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming are one place identified by the Crow tribe. Known as Nirumbee, the Crow say they are vicious dwarves, but also play roles in giving spiritual wisdom and even helped shape the destiny of the tribe through Chief Plenty Coups’ dreams. The Pryor mountains are filled with petroglyphs which the Crow say were created by the Nirumbee.

They are described as short dwarves with large bellies and enormous strength. One Crow story tells of one who killed and elk and carried it off, simply by placing the elks head over its shoulder. They feed primarily on meat, unique compared to the knowledge of Little People elsewhere. The Crow wouldn’t enter the Pryor Mountains out of fear of these people. But due to their role of giving spiritual wisdom and insight, some would go up and fast for days until successfully conversing with one of the Little People. A yearly offering of meet was left for them in hopes to keep a truce between the peoples.

The Ojibwe talk of a creature called the Memegwaans (plural: Memegwaanswag). It seems that a little person to them has no definitive form, but commonly appears as a short hairy man. They love children and will approach in the guise of a child to any child who seems upset, scared, lost or injured, and will either protect them or stay with them until help arrives.

However, they are terrified of adult humans and if an adult sees one, they will cower while screaming and crying hysterically before vanishing. They were prayed to as a sort of patron to lost children and petitioned for their safe return.

They enjoy offerings of tobacco, corn and honey. Honey seems to be the only way they will ever venture towards an adult human for 3 seconds.

The Seminole tribe knew them as este lopocke (ee-stee loh-poach-kee), meaning little ones. It’s said they live in hollow trees, on rocky cliffs, and in tree tops. The Seminole would identify their homes by extra thick growth of twigs and leaves. They described them as strong, handsome, having fine features, and their hair was well-groomed. Their toenails grow very long though. They were said to guide people to the medicines of plants. The Seminole would often refer to them simply as “little” to avoid disrespecting them by using their whole name.

Hatak awasa (hat-ock awa-saw) is the Choctaw term for Little People. A particular type, called Kowi anukasha (“Forest dweller). They seize young boys, usually one to four years old, who wonder into the forests.  These spirits would take the child to their cave where three others with white hair and beards. These three spirits would offer the child a knife, poisonous herbs, and herbs with good medicine. If the child picked the knife, he is certain to end up a bad man and possibly a killer; if he accepted the poisoned herbs, he would never be able to help his people.

If he accepts the good medicine, he was to become an important man and doctor for his people. When the child accepts the good herbs, the “forest dwellers” would tell him the secrets of making medicine from herbs, roots, and bark. The reason they are seized is to give them the curative powers to help “Little Brother”, as man is known by the rest of Creation.

Afterwards, the boy would be returned and would not speak of where he was until he was grown and began using the knowledge the Little Folk shared with him.

Others of the Choctaw Little People were helpful, bringing good harvest, helping lost travelers etc. They could also be malicious in turn, attacking a lone hunter or stealing food in the winter. Children were told to be good lest the hatak awasa should come from the earth and swallow them up. However, they are said to bestow gifts to those who faithfully show them respect over years. Usually by those who felt sad they were gifted, these people would regularly spend time in their presence and always bring gifts. Some of these people went mad due to waiting.

The Shoshone of the Rocky Mountains knew them as Nimerigar. They are aggressive and said to shoot poison arrows at trespassers. Their name roughly translates as “people eaters”. Not your tooth-fairy-tutu type obviously. Believed to live in nearby caves, the Shoshone were less than willing to venture into the mountains, unless required by the Great Spirit.

They’ve been said to kill their own if one is too sick or old to contribute to their people, ravaged the scraps the vultures leave, and play pranks on unsuspecting travelers. Their existence was thought to be a myth until a discovery in 1932 when people discovered the “San Pedro Mountains Mummy”, which stands 14 inches tall, 6 inches seated. The mummy was found in a cave near Casper, Wyoming.

Tests done on the corpse found it was a full grown adult, aged about 65 years. The spine, collar bone and skull was smashed in, showing a possible violent death. It was also found that the mummy had a full set of “canine” teeth, which were overly pointed. A second was found and examined as well. This one was estimated to be an underdeveloped infant (there wasn’t a full brain). DNA test done on the mummy showed that it was American Indian and radiocarbon dated to the 1700s.

They were not interacted with.

Then we have the Chanekeh who were described by the Aztecs as elemental forces and guardians of nature. They would frighten trespassers, and in doing so, scare the soul out of the person which they would then enclose inside the land. If the person didn’t get their soul back through certain rituals, they’d soon suffer illness and death. They are described as having the forms of children with faces of old men or women. It’s said if you see their faces then you will be sent into a trance for days, after which no memory can be recalled.

This is comparable to the stories of people who “wander” into their realm and time breaks itself. Sevens days with them with be months or years in our world. Folks say they never wanted to leave.

The Sioux tribe knew them as Canotila (chawn-oh-tee-lah) which means tree dweller. They were considered messengers from the spirit world and would often appear in dreams.

The Iyagȧnasha (I-ya-gay-na-chuh) are about three feet tall according to the Chickasaw tribes. Like others, they will assist those in trouble, but will play tricks on those who offend them. They allow themselves to only be seen by a few, mostly hunters and medicine people.

They interact more so with children, often taking one to live among them for a time, during which they give the child magic gifts. The child then grows up to be a healer or herbalist. They will also be exceptional hunters, often teaching others this knowledge from the Little People.

With the title of “Healers”, the Chickasaw also knew some of them as total tricksters. It was believed that the children’s play area must not be left the way they found it. They must change it up, lest the Little People get to it, and thus to them, and cause mischief or harm.

The Chickasaw thought it ill to live near the Iyagȧnasha, so they would move everytime it was suspected that the Little Folk had a home near. The wasp was the enemy of the Iyagȧnasha, as the sting was believed to be fatal to them.

They also appeased them with offerings of tobacco, squash, sweets etc.

The Iroquois tell stories of Little People they call the Jogah (Joe-ga). Said to be the grandchildren of the thunder god Hinun, they are knee-high to four feet tall. They do indeed play tricks, but can turn to dangerous measures for those who disrespect them or their homes. However, they are mostly friendly and will do favors in return for those who leave tobacco or other offerings for them.

According to stories, these pigmy people are a bit confusing. While speaking with them, they may attempt to confuse you with their melodious voice. If successful, you could be pulled into their realm.

The Iroquois tell of several types of Jogahs. The first is the Gahongas (Stone Rollers) who are earth spirits that live on river banks and in caves. They are extremely strong and they are the ones who move rocks about the countryside and in the mountains. The Gandaya (Drum Dancers) who are always invisible, their presence signaled by the sound of their drums. They often assisted farmers with their crops. Then there are the Ohdows who live under the earth and keep snakes and other “monsters” under control.

The last type of Little People are known as the Menehune to the natives of Hawaii. They are dwarves who live in the deep forests and valleys. What is left of their oral tradition tells of temples, ponds, canoes and other structures they built. Some of them attributed to the Menehune still exist. They also enjoy fish and bananas.

So these are some of the Little People  of North America that I have learned of in my studies and travels. For more info, see the sources below.

Trail of Tears by John Ehle

For a more extensive list of Little People around the world:

The Witche’s Guide to Faery Folk by Edwin McCoy.

Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Buck) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable melungeon woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather, also Melungeon, who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia; Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man; and the Conjure Cards deck, all available for order and preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below:

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