The Iroquois nations of upstate New York have as developed a tradition of Little People – “the Djogao,” the “Jungies,” the fairies – as any folk on earth. The wee folk still surface now and again, if reports are to be believed.
The young guys hang out at a certain tobacco shop on the Tuscarora Reservation where Mike Bastine used to visit Mad Bear. Mike and his friends walked a trail to it through the woods many a time, and a certain gnarled old maple always caught his eye. Late Tuscarora healer Ted Williams told me a story about it in the spring of 2005.
When Ted’s father – the still-remembered healer Eleazar Williams (1880-1968) – was a boy, his own father had brought him by the tree one morning in a horse and carriage. There was no one else to watch him that day, but his father was on his way to dangerous work felling trees and was afraid his boy would get hurt. He dropped him off at the special tree. “Just wait by the tree,” he said. “You’ll have playmates all day.”
Ted’s father was alone for the first time in his life. As the carriage pulled completely out of sight, little people came out, first one, then others, from around the tree, as if they had a door behind it. They played with him the whole day. It was magical and delightful. The wildlife, the trees, even the passage of the sun and its changing moods, were fascinating. He could understand the talk of the birds. It was the brightest day in his memory. He made many friends, and one special one never left his side.
With the first jingle of the carriage-bells, his fairy playmates bid him bright farewells, and one by one went behind the tree. By the time the carriage was in sight a long way off even his special friend, waving to the last, was gone. Ted’s father never saw them again, but he always said that the story was true.
Young Ted wasn’t so sure. “Were the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy there, too?” But Ted never forgot the fabled tree, and it was standing forty years later – around 1970 – when three illuminated Iroquois walked by it.
The two Tuscarora Ted and Mad Bear, let us say, did not need metaphysical bodyguards when they walked at night, and Beeman Logan was a celebrated mystic. He was, however, a Seneca, and not of this reservation. He shouldn’t have known much about its local curiosities. At one point after they had passed the tree Ted and Mad Bear noticed that they were now a duo. A hundred feet back, Beeman Logan was studying the tree and the ground around it as intently as if he was looking for a lost ring.
Ted and Mad Bear came back to him and asked what was up. “I think the Little People live here,” he said. “I could swear they’ve been around here.”
© Mason Winfield 2018