THERE ARE PLACES ON THIS EARTH that touch the soul with the sheer power of their magnitude. The Hickory Nut Gorge in Western North Carolina is such a place. Evident in its people is a distinctive characteristic that has resurfaced over and over throughout generations and echoes within the whole community, for it is the very thing that brought them together in the first place. And even now, this monolithic gorge still has the power to siphon out, from the thousands of people who come each year; those with certain cast of mind, and draw them close to its bosom.” In the Shadows of Chimney Rock by Rose Senehi,
The Story of the Little People of Hickory Nut Gorge!
By: Russ Meade
For those of us who are blessed to live, work, or play in this area that as Rose Senehi so elegantly stated “touch the soul” known as the Hickory Nut Gorge of North Carolina, we know almost intuitively and deeply in our soul of souls that we live in a small area of this planet that is truly a “magical place!”
People who live and come here intuitively feel a certain peace with themselves and each other. It appears that all past personal histories, status, and honors fades away when encountering the great people of our area.
So many came to live here, as I did, to simply quote Henry David Thoreau:
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”
They also can feel if they are very still and very open, the children like presence of the Little People or Fairies of our area who have resided here for thousands of years!
Here is their story!
Tucked into the western Blue Ridge Mountains of NC, this magical and environmentally sensitive area is located a mere 18 miles southeast from Asheville, NC. Sheer granite cliffs and mountain “balds” engulf one as he or she enters this unique place from Gerton, NC through Lake Lure.
The Hickory Nut Gorge is home to 37 rare plant species, while its massive caves provide habitat for rare salamander and endangered bat species and its steep slopes and high peaks host an array of bird species. Much of the land is protected by many great conservation groups and kind people of our area.
The forever rushing Rocky Broad River bisects the gorge and encourages one to stop and listen.
In the massive caves, on the large boulders, and high on the mountains of this unique area the Little People are watching over us and our mountain home all the time!
As far back as recorded history in our area, people have seen, felt and written about the little people of the Hickory Nut Gorge. Many called them “Little People”, others “Fairies”, and to the Cherokees “Yunwi Tsundsdi”
“Yunwi-Tsunsdi are a race of small humanoid nature spirits, sometimes referred to in English as “dwarfes” or “fairies.”
They are usually invisible but sometimes reveal themselves as miniature child-sized people.
Yunwi Tsunsdi are benevolent creatures who frequently help humans in Cherokee stories, but they have magical powers and are said to harshly punish people who are disrespectful or aggressive towards them. Their name literally means “little people.” (See: http://www.native-languages.org/morelegends/yunwi-tsunsdi.htm. Legendary Native American Figures)
To the Cherokees and the Catawba Indians who inhabited this area from before recorded history, this area known as the Hickory Nut Gorge was truly sacred
The native Americans would venture into the Gorge to practice their spirituality. The area beyond the towering stone pillar now known as Chimney Rock was called “Suwali-nunna”.
This area of “Suwali-nunna” was said by generations of native Indians to be inhabited by spirits, Fairies, ghosts or most importantly Little People (Yunwi Tsundsdi).
James Mooney a well-respected researcher of the nineteenth century described the Fairies and Little People of our area best in his History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees as:
“A race of spirits who live in rock caves on the mountain side. They are little fellows, hardly reaching up to a man’s knees, but well-shaped and handsome, with hair falling to the ground. They are great wonder workers and are very fond of music, spending half of their time dumbing and dancing.
They are helpful and kind hearted…”
The Little People do not like to be disturbed at home and they throw a spell over the stranger so that he is befuddled and losses his way….”
The Little People of our areas are said to love to drum! Sometimes their drumming is heard high in our mountain peaks. However, simply sit and listen as they do not like to be disturbed and they will throw a spell over the person so that he is bewildered and get lost in the woods.
It has also been retold that they often come near the houses of our area at night and the people hear them talking!
When a hiker or hunter finds anything in the woods of our area such as a knife or trinket they must say “Little People I want to take this”. If the Fairies and Little people do not give permission they will throw stones at him until he surrenders the ill-gotten item! So perhaps we should heed these warnings of thousands of years ago and leave the woods with only our foot prints!
There are so many stories of the Little People of our area that have been recounted over the years but do not want to bore you as you need to see and feel them for yourself!
Now, let’s get into :
How the Cherokees Brought Back the Sacred Tobacco Weed and Tricked the Little People of the Hickory Nut Gorge!
(I have broken down this story as follows to make it more readableJ)
Chief Kalahu, A/K/A All-Bones and Flying Squirrel, (See Myths of the Cherokees, by James Mooney) in 1848 described the great attempts to pass through our Hickory Nut Gorge and the Little People with the following:
This area that we now call the Hickory Nut Gorge was a foreboding trail to the “big water” east of here where tobacco weed (“tso-lungh”) could be found. That “ gateway to the “ big water” was for thousands of years our very own Hickory Nut Gorge and it was guarded by an immense number of the Fairies and Little People who live there to this day!
Tobacco was sacred to the Cherokees as it was used in all spiritual and rituals. It is used in all deliberative or religious ceremonies Having smoked it in their large stone pipes; they became inpatient to obtain it in abundance. They needed this sacred weed for their very own survival.
Passing through our area to get the sacred tobacco for the Indians, was however a challenging task!
They would first have to see, befriend or defeat or outwit the Little People and Fairies in order to pass to the east and obtain for the tribe the sacred herb of tobacco.
The Cherokees were dying for lack of this sacred tobacco.
A council of the bravest Cherokee warriors was convened and they discussed the dangers of trying to travel though our Hickory Nut Gorge area to bring back a large knapsack of this sacred week Finally they selected a young hero and brave Cherokee to attempt to pass through the Hickory Nut Gorge. He died in the Gorge and was never seen again.
The Council was in great dismay Next they selected a celebrated magician to see if he could get past the Little People to secure the tobacco.
He tried first turning himself into a mole to no avail and then a hummingbird. They selected the hummingbird (“wasulu “) because it could fly fast, silently, and not be noticed by the Little People. He was pursued by the Little People of the Hickory Nut Gorge and returned almost empty handed.
On returning to his country, he found a number of his native American friends at the very point of death on account of their intense desire for this fragrant weed! He took the little that he snuck by the Little People put it in his pipe and blew it into the nostrils of his dying friends. They all were revived and became very happy
Finally he turned himself into a whirlwind that stripped the mountains of its vegetation and turning over the massive boulders that we see every day in the Gorge.
In the bed of the Rocky Broad River, The Magician then found the bones of the first warrior and turned him back into a man again.
Perhaps the best lesson of the Little People, spirits, and fairies of our beautiful area was stated in Cherokee Community of the Inland Empire.
The…“Little people are here to teach lessons about living in harmony with nature and with others “
So when you are visiting or living in our little slice of paradise slow down take a much needed slow breath!
Get out of your car.
Perhaps sit and smell the flowers on our unique Flowering Bridge for a while and look back and imagine the Hickory Nut Gorge before the road was build.
See the towering cliffs in the distance and try or better yet feel the Fairies and Little People who are here to make you happier and more yourself!
Take a walk into the vast forests that to this day still covers our area and protected by so many, sit by a rock on the Rocky Broad River and you will perhaps see or feel the Fairies and Little People who have been here for untold generations!
“ “And even today when you are out in the woods and you see something, and you look and it is not what you really thought it was, or if you are fishing and you feel something on the end of your line, and you think it is the biggest trout ever, and you pull it in, and all it is, is a stick that got tangled on your hook, that is what the Little People are doing”.
- They are playing tricks on you so you will laugh and keep forever young in your heart
- Because that is the spirit of Little People of our mountain community:
To remind us to stay forever young in our hearts!
http://www.native-languages.org/morelegends/yunwi-tsunsdi.htm. Legendary Native American Figures
History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee, James Mooney,
Charles Lanman Letters from the Alleghanies
The Oddities of the Hickory Nut Gorge http://remembercliffside.com/history/the_county/oddities.html