AppLit Home Native American Tales from Appalachia Tina L. Hanlon

"The Little People" or Yûñwï Tsunsdi'


Note: The Cherokee homeland was in the southern Appalachian Mountains for hundreds of years before Europeans and Americans forced most of the Cherokee to move west. AppLit includes tales from Cherokee oral traditions that continue to be retold within Appalachia and elsewhere. The Little People are called Yûñwï Tsunsdi' in the Cherokee language.

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Little People

Little People in Longer Books Background Related Appalachian Tales Related Tales from Other Regions Brown quilt square

Blevins, Wade. Ganseti and the Legend of the Little People. Cherokee Indian Legend Series. Prairie Grove, AR: Ozark Publishing, 1996. A young boy searches in a dark cave after his grandmother tells him about The Little People. A short story with drawings by the author. Blevins, from Northeast Oklahoma, is of Cherokee and Irish descent.

Little People of the Cherokee. Online at Stonee's Web Lodge. This is an overview of legends about Forever Boy and Little People of the Cherokee, "a race of Spirits who live in rock caves on the mountain side," who "are here to teach lessons about living in harmony with nature and with others." They are sometimes called Brownies. There are three types of Little People: the Rock People are mean and spiteful "because their space has been invaded," the Laurel People are mischievous, and the Dogwood People "are good and take care of people."

"The Cherokee Little People." In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998. pp. 68-70. With background on storyteller Kathi Smith Littlejohn and Cherokee culture. This tale tells of the "Forever Boy," who didn't want to grow up so he was persuaded by the Little People to go and live with them. They sent word to his parents that he was safe. Little People and Forever Boy laugh and play tricks, "to keep us young in our hearts." The stories are transcribed in this book in a free verse form that represents the storytellers' "rhythmic style," using the "oral poetics" method developed in the 1970s. Foreword by Joyce Conseen Dugan, Principal Chief, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. 

"The Cherokee Little People—Forever Boy" and "Nunnehi, the Gentle People." As retold by Kathi Littlejohn. In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. The Origin of the Milky Way & Other Living Stories of the Cherokee. Caravan book. Illus. Shan Goshorn. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008. These tales are in section 4, "Living with Sprits." "Presented by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in their own words, the stories appear in free-verse form, like poems on the page, so that if you read them aloud, you can hear the rhythm of the stories as they were originally told."

Littlejohn, Kathi S. "The Cherokee Little People." In Cherokee Legends I. Cassette recording. Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Publications, 1990.

"The Little People and the Nunnehi." In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998. pp. 183-87. With background on storyteller Robert Bushyhead and Cherokee culture. This tale says the Little People are spirits who aren't born and don't die. Several incidents are told in which people saw them when bad things happened. "They are not mischievous. They are protectors." The stories are transcribed in this book in a free verse form that represents the storytellers' "rhythmic style," using the "oral poetics" method developed in the 1970s.

Moore, MariJo. The Cherokee Little People: A Native American Tale. Illus. Emma Shaw-Smith. Rigby Literacy Series. Crystal Lake, IL: Rigby, 2000. 24 pp. Published by Pearson Education in Steppingstones series, 2013. In this tale the Little People help a couple who live in the mountains by saving the corn from the crows while the wife sleeps. Polly and Tooni then make tiny servings of cornbread and little moccasins to thank the Little People who play in their tree and dance in the moonlight. Moore is a North Carolina writer of Cherokee, Irish and Dutch descent. Colorful realistic illustrations of the aging couple who live in a cabin and farm in the mountains. This and other books by Moore are recommended by Debbie Reese, a member of Nambe Pueblo, in northern New Mexico, and expert on American Indians in Children's Literature (see Reese's list of Recommended Children's/YA/Reference/Resource Books). See Moore's First Fire and The Ice Man.

Daughter of the Sun is a Cherokee tale online at Stonee's Web Lodge, from James Mooney's work collecting myths of the Cherokee. It contains helpful Little Men and Uktena, the water monster. It is like the Greek myths of Demeter and Persephone (or Ceres and Proserpine), and Orpheus and Eurydice, and a little like "Snow White," when seven men carry Sun's daughter from the ghost country in a box they must not open, but she convinces them to open the box, escapes and becomes a redbird. Thereafter, people can never bring others from the ghost world. Sun is a cruel and sad old woman until the people's dances cheer her up at the end.

"The Sun's Daughter," a Cherokee tale in Yolen, Jane and Stemple, Heidi E. Y. Mirror, Mirror: Forty Folktales for Mothers and Daughters to Share. New York: Penguin, 2000. pp. 96-98. A collection compiled by a mother and daughter, arranged by theme, with conversation sections by Jane and Heidi. The section labeled "Persephone" includes "The Sun's Daughter." When the jealous, spiteful Sun is killing people with her heat, the Little Men change two men to copperhead and spreading-adder snakes to bite Sun, but they fail. The Sun blinds spreading-adder so that he can only spit out yellow slime to this day. Again the Little Men change two men into Uktena and a rattlesnake to kill the Sun. The rattlesnake kills the Sun's daughter, leading to a period of darkness when the Sun stays indoors. The Little Men try to bring the Sun's daughter back from the ghost country but she turns into a redbird, as in the version described above. People dance for the Sun to make her stop grieving and smile.

Chiltoskey, Mary Ulmer. Aunt Mary, Tell Me A Story: A Collection of Cherokee Legends and Tales. Ed. Mary Regina Ulmer Galloway. Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Communications, 1990. This collection contains the following Little People legends.

"The Rabbit and Old Flint." pp. 58-61. In "Old Flint was one of the Little People who could assume shapes and use magic powers. . .. He enjoyed doing mean and evil things to the other animals." Rabbit is late for a meetings of animals and always draws attention to himself. He brags that he can take care of Old Flint. He's lucky to find Old Flint in a weak and sick state. When he's asleep, Rabbit hits him with a mallet and he breaks into 999 pieces of flint, one of which cuts off Rabbit's long bushy tail, while another one splits his lip. Tom Cat finds the tail and attaches it to his stubby end with pine resin.

"The Little Girl and Her Pig," pp. 21-23. Cherokee villages were visited by hogs called ridge-runners in winter, after European settlers brought pigs to this continent. A little girl persuades her stern father to let her feed a runt piglet to save its life, and keep it inside in cold weather. In spring it disappears and when she follows too far from home, she finds the Little People in a cave. They can't take her home so she lives peacefully with them for a time, but when she gets homesick they agree to help her find her way home if she never tells where she has been. When her best friend pressures her to tell, she eventually gives in but disappears in a puff of smoke when she starts to tell. Cherokees associate a puff of cloud with the little girl looking for her pig or the girl who couldn't keep her promise.

Lossiah, Lynn King. Cherokee Little People: The Secrets and Mysteries of the Yunwi Tsunsdi. Illus. Ernie Lossiah. Cherokee, NC: Cherokee Publishing, 2001. 151 pp. "From the Publisher: A [young adult] book about the Little People—small, mystical, elf-like beings—of Cherokee life and culture. This book is as beautiful as it is informative, with full-page art depicting the Little People." See description of this book at Cherokee Pub. web site.

Bierhorst, John. The Deetkatoo: Native American Stories About Little People. Illus. Ron Hilbert Coy. New York: Morrow, William, 1998. 153 pp. A collection for children of 22 tales from 14 Native American groups. Background on folklore and history are included. They are called "not-quite-folktales" because many are direct accounts of an individual's experience with the supernatural. The Cherokee tales are "Little Ones and their Mouse Helpers," "Little House in the Deep Water," "How the Dead Came Back," and "Thunder's Two Sisters." "Little people predate the Europeans in the Western Hemisphere. They live in forests, in water, underground, and on mountains" (WorldCat).

Reed, Jeannie, ed. Stories of the Yunwi Tsunsdi': The Cherokee Little People. Cullowhee, NC: Western Carolina University, 1991. 70 pp. An English 102 class project at Western Carolina University, with many different stories of Little People collected by the students, including first-hand and second-hand accounts of people who say they have seen Little People.

"The Little People." In Greene, Gary. Tales from the Enchanted Land of the Cherokee. CD. [Kingston, Ga.?]: G. Greene, 2004. Other contents (from Worldcat): Introduction, "Rabbit and Old Man Flint," "Why Possum's Tail is Bare," "The Legend of the Corn Beads." "Spearfinger," "Why Owl Has a Spotted Coat," "The Ravel Mockers," "The Return of the Iceman," "Cherokee Names," "The World is Full of Stories," Bonus track: "The Wolves Within" (a Lakota Sioux story).

"Keepers of the Secrets." In Bradley, Ramona K. Weavers of Tales: A Collection of Cherokee Legends. Published by the author, 1967. Rpt. Cherokee, NC: Betty Dupree. No date given in book if this is a reprint later than 1967. Rev. W. David Owl told this tale to the author, wife of an Eastern Cherokee. The story describes the shamans going to Smoky Mountain rock caves for seven days and nights to share secrets with the Little People. The shamans told stories, performed sacred ceremonies to bring good hunting, and accepted "spirit gifts" of secrets from the Little People, who appeared in ceremonial garb and animal costumes. With a sepia full-page drawing by the author for this tale.

"The Little People." In Judson, Katharine Berry, ed. Native American Legends of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000. Includes other Cherokee tales "The Corn Woman," "Origin of the Bear," "The Death Trail," "Rabbit Goes Duck Hunting," "Rabbit and Tar Wolf," "How Rabbit Stole Otter's Coat," "Welcome to a Baby," "Baby Song," "Song of the Mother Bears," "The Man in the Stump," "When the Owl Married," "How Partridge Got His Whistle," "How Kingfisher Got His Bill," "Ball Game of the Birds and Animals," "The Groundhog Dance,""Why the 'Possum's Tail is Bare," "The Wolf and the Dog," "The Star Creatures," "The Thunders," "The Man of Ice," "The Nunnehi,""The War Medicine." Originally published Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1914.

The Snowbird Cherokees. Columbia, SC: South Carolina ETV, 1995. "An historical overview (with interviews and background music) of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Tribal Nation features Cherokee creation myths, stories of fairies ("little people"), family life, continuing native and Christian rituals, ceremonial dances and folk music. Shows archaeological digs at the former Cherokee capitol of Echota, North Carolina, a site subsequently inundated by lakes resulting from the construction of area dams. The Cherokee language and its continuance is discussed throughout. Short biographical profiles are presented of George Guest (Sequoyah), James Vann, Samuel Worcester, Tomolusca and Oconastota." ): English narrator, Richard Panter; Cherokee narrator, Fred Bradley; missionary voice, Sidney Palmer; with Ned Long, Lane Smoker, Freeman Owle, Kenny Garrett, Ella L. Jackson, Lou Jones, Bud Jones, Paul Teesdale, Jan Crowe, Mary Cogdill, Abe Wachacha, Michael Abrams, Edna Chickelele, Clarence Jackson, Fred Bradley, Brandy Jones, John Greene, Billy Welch, Maybelle Welch, Hunter Welch, Alfred Welch, Bessie Long, Posey Long, Lloyd Owle, Melvin Wachacha, Shirley Oswalt, Jim (Brown) Welch, Tom Belt, Herman Wachacha, Nacie Conseen.

"The Little People Song." In Vann, George. Cherokee Children's Songs. CD. Tahlequah, Okla: Various Indian Peoples Publishing, 2002.

More Little People in Longer Books:

Cornelissen, Cornelia. Soft Rain: A Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. New York:  Bantam, 1998. Nine-year-old Soft Rain loves hearing stories daily from her grandmother, until her family is separated during the forced removal of their people from North Carolina to Oklahoma. In an early chapter called "The Little People," Grandmother describes Cherokee beliefs in attractive, child-sized people who "were kind to lost ones, especially children" (p. 11). She tells of a brother and sister who were cared for by Little People when they were lost, and later in life could hear the distant drums of Little People. See more at Folklore Themes in Longer Fiction.

Mills, LaurenMinna's Patchwork Coat. Illus. Lauren Mills. Boston: Little, Brown, 2015. In this novel, an expansion of Mills' 1991 Cherokee Little People illus by Millspicture book The Rag Coat, Minna is the child of an early twentieth-century West Virginia coal miner who dies of black lung disease. Minna learns traditional lore, including folk medicine, from the Cherokee midwife they call Aunt Nora. In chap. 4, Aunt Nora says she views Minna as "more like one of the little folk of the forest than one of the white folk" (ebook p. 30). Chap. 12 is titled "Little Folk." Aunt Nora sings to the little folk "asking them to tell the bears and panthers to let us pass unharmed. In return for the favor she'll put out extra grain and milk for the little folk" (p. 89). When Minna (after her argument with Lester) asks whether the little folk have trouble getting along with the animals, Aunt Nora says, "No, the Yunwin Tsundi are friends with everyone and know the language of all the plants and animals. They help the plants grow so the animals have food, and they even store nuts for the squirrels so they can find them in winter" (pp. 89-90). When her grandson Lester asks what the animals do in return, Nora has to think and then answers, "They give them rides through the woods. On a full moon sometimes you can hear screeching. Those are the Yunwin Tsundi children racing on the backs of bobcats" (p. 90, as in the illustration by Mills). Aunt Nora also says it's bad luck for a child who sees them to tell anyone within seven days. When she describes them as being about a foot high, dressed in old Cherokee clothes and speaking old Cherokee language and dancing, Minna thinks of the Welsh little folk her grammy had told her about. She says they are playing in a rainbow in the mist of a stream they pass, and that all the colors mix together in little people. When Minna says she is "glad the little folk all get along with each other," Aunt Nora replies, "They are smarter than us, Minna. Little folk can teach big folk a few things, if big folk would only listen" (p. 93). This is part of the theme of racial discrimination in the novel, since Lester is mixed race and isn't allowed to attend school with the white children, although he is a better friend to Minna than others who make fun of her poverty.

Wood, Francis Eugene. Wind Dancer's Flute. Illus. Judith N Ligon. Farmville, VA: Tip of the Moon Pub., 1998. 76 pp. The Tip of the Moon web site has information by and about the author and the book, with pictures and reviews. "The main character, Wind Dancer, is part Cherokee, part Irish, and a free-spirited lad who lives with his adopted mother, Sarah Ogle, and roams the great Smoky Mountains. A gifted flutist, Wind plays his music in the nearby village" until an evil man interferes. Wind's uncle and "mysterious little people, known as the Yunwi Tsunsdi," in "a sacred place," help his spirit recover. The author describes the book as being about racial intolerance, "the beauty in the free-spirited among us," and the power of forgiveness. Woods' books about the Nipkins are fantasies that focus on a woodsman and tribes of "minute forest dwellers."

Webb, Shirley G. Tales from the Keeper of the Myths: Cherokee Stories for Children. 104 pp. iUniverse, 2003. "Children's stories based on authentic Cherokee legends...stories of adventure and friendship, of magic and Little People...taking you back in time to the realm of the all possible." More details at

Allen, Paula Gunn. Grandmothers of the Light: A Medicine Woman's Sourcebook. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991. One of Gunn's retellings of oral legends about Native American goddesses is on Deer Woman, one of the Cherokee little people.

Moynahan, Denise Hillman. The Great Cavern of the Winds: Tales from Backbone Mountain. Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press, 2005. With drawings by the author. As the Author's Notes explain, these are original tales set on a real mountain that spans the border of western Maryland and West Virginia, where the author lives. The introduction is a fictional story about an Indian youth finding a community of miniature people that the Indian village call Alyphanties, meaning "little mountain people." This idea is loosely based on Native American legends about little people. Most of the tales are named after characters such as Esseldorph, who magically knows all the stories of his people's history, even ones the elders had not told him, and he invents a writing system to help children remember the stories. The bibliography gives sources on the mountain and its caves and ancient history.

Conley, Robert J. Cherokee Medicine Man: The Life and Work of a Modern-Day Healer. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005. "The author introduces John Little Bear, a Cherokee medicine man, and stories from those who came to him for help, and examines the history, culture, and myths of the Cherokee people." Includes a section called "The Little People."

Byrne, Ian X. The Wayfarer. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing, 2005. "Many years ago, long before the white man arrived, a Mohawk brave, Ayawentha, son of Kateri, makes a trek of maturity. He travels down the Hudson, the Atlantic seaboard and deep into the hills to the land of the Cherokee. There he meets his beloved. They marry and return to Mohawk country, having many adventures along the way. The Little People watch over them and the angelic Nymphs of Risceal give them a divine mission. It is revealed to them that they will have a holy descendant known as The Lily of the Mohawk."

More Background:

Davis, Lynette Claire. The Role of the "Little People" in Cherokee Culture. M. A. Thesis, Northern Illinois University, 1979. 68 pp.

Joyce, Mary A. Cherokee Little People Were Real. Dillsboro, NC: Mary A. Joyce, 2014. 121 pp. "The book features testimonies of men who discovered ancient little tunnels, small skeletons and even a child-size skull with all its wisdom teeth when they were working on early construction projects at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. Discoveries also were made at old moonshine and mining sites south of the campus. The book features lots of photos, including one of an intriguing face on an ancient metal oval that was found after an historic flood washed away significant topsoil in the region. Discovery sites are clearly pointed out on maps that may help archaeologists discover even more evidence that an ancient race of Little People once lived in the North Carolina Mountains." Joyce has worked for metropolitan newspapers as an artist, writer, columnist, Sunday magazine editor and feature editor, and she has written magazine articles and other books. In you can find videos of Joyce discussing this book.

Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees (originally published in 1900) records tales with different types of Little People and gives extensive background notes. See section 74. The Tsundige'wï and section 78. The Nûñnë'hï And Other Spirit Folk and Notes at the end of the book. From Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology 1897-98, Part I. These links are to a copy in John B. Hare's The Internet Sacred Text Archive. See also Mooney in Appalachian Folktale Collections.

O'Connor, Regina L. Understahl. Echoes from the Hollow Hills: An Examination of Celtic Fairy and Cherokee Little People Encounters and Liminality. M. S. Thesis, University of Colorado, 2001. 96 pp.

Prajznerova, Katerina. Cultural Intermarriage in Southern Appalachia: Cherokee Elements in Four Selected Novels by Lee Smith. Taylor & Francis, 2003. "Examining four of Lee Smith's mountain novels from the point of view of cultural anthropology, this study shows that fragments of the Cherokee heritage resonate in her work. These elements include connections with the Cherokee beliefs regarding medicinal plants and spirit animals, Cherokee stories about the Daughter of the Sun, the Corn Woman, the Spear Finger, the Raven Mocker, the Little People and the booger men; the Cherokee concept of witchcraft; and the social position of Cherokee women."

Yates, Donald N. Old World Roots of the Cherokee : How DNA, Ancient Alphabets and Religion Explain the Origins of America's Largest Indian Nation. McFarland & Co., 2012. "Most histories of the Cherokee nation focus on its encounters with Europeans, its conflicts with the U. S. government, and its expulsion from its lands during the Trail of Tears. This work, however, traces the origins of the Cherokee people to the third century B.C.E. and follows their migrations through the Americas to their homeland in the lower Appalachian Mountains. Using a combination of DNA analysis, historical research, and classical philology, it uncovers the Jewish and Eastern Mediterranean ancestry of the Cherokee and reveals that they originally spoke Greek..." (WorldCat). Chap. 8 is "She Who Walks with the Little People."


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Related Appalachian Tales:

"Nunnehi, the Gentle People." In Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: U of NC Press, 1998. pp. 71-73. With background on storyteller Kathi Smith Littlejohn and Cherokee culture. In this tale the Nunnehi foretell of coming disaster (the Trail of Tears removal), so many people go to live with them in a beautiful place underground, but the old people, young people, and their leader decide they must stay above in the mountains. Noises in the woods are reminders that the Nunnehi are always with us and will return if another disaster occurs. They are not little people, but immortals, described as gentle people who "look a lot like Cherokee people."

"The Nunnehi, the Gentle People." In Cunningham, Maggi. The Cherokee Tale-Teller. Illus. Patrick DesJarlait. Minneapolis: Dillon Press, 1978. 158 pp. Also contains "Atagahi, the Wonderful Lake. - Selu Corn Woman and the Crows.- Deer Song. - Princess of the Deer. - The Monster Utlunta. - Desata and the Forever Boy. - The Fire Watcher. - The Red Bird. - Tlanuwa, the Great Hawk. - (WorldCat). Cataloged as a juvenile book.

Carden, Gary. The Cherokee Stories. Audio cassette. Highland, NC: Media Divide, 1992. Contains "Uktena" and "The Nunnehi." Carden is a NC storyteller who worked with the Eastern band of the Cherokee for some years.

Dancing Drum, or The Sun's Daughter

Vaughn, Sherry T. Melvin's Melons. Illus. Ernie Ross. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1995. A short Appalachian novel combining realism and folklore, in which young Melvin meets small friendly creatures called Wee'uns, who introduce him to watermelons. See cover and description at Overmountain Press.

Vaughn, Sherry T. Grandpa's Eyes. Illus. Ernie Ross. Johnson City, TN: Overmountain Press, 1996. Continues the Mountain Magik series about young characters and Wee'uns. See cover and description at Overmountain Press. See also AppLit's Folklore Themes in Longer Fiction.

Appalachian Animal Tales

A giant villain transforms into a dragon underground in "Jack and the Fire Dragon."

Compare with:

"Wihio Meets One of the Little People: A Cheyenne Legend." In Max, Jill, ed. Spider Spins a Story: Fourteen Legends from Native America. Illus. Robert Annesley, et al. Falgstaff, AZ: Rising Moon, 1997. The Cherokee story in this book is "Spider, The Fire Bringer," told by Shan Goshorn.

Kilpatrick, Jack Frederick and Anna Gritts Kilpatrick. Friends of Thunder: Folktales of the Oklahoma Cherokees. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1964. Rpt. Norman, OK: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1995. Includes a section on Little People. Available as electronic book through NetLibrary.

Little men of the earth (dwarfs) help the heroine in "Snow White."

Forever Boy is like Peter Pan, the boy in James Barrie's classic English stories and play, who didn't want to grow up and went to live in Neverland with a band of Lost Boys. There is an online version of Peter and Wendy at Fireblade Coffeehouse.

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