What’s more Irish than a leaping, green-garbed leprechaun, hoisting a pint of ale and stashing his gold coins at the bottom of a rainbow? Pretty much anything. According to California State University’s Yeats instructor Warren Wedin, that description originated as an American version of an ancient Irish male fairy.
Like Little People all over the world, Ireland’s wee ones are much more reserved, keep a low profile, and inspire respect for their powers, though the tiny shoemakers are known to enjoy a pint or two.
Fairies occupied Ireland long before other people did, and according to Loretta Lynde, Irish-American novelist, fairies of all sorts may reside in the stone mounds seen throughout the Emerald Isle. Evidence of leprechauns may be few and far between, however, a cry for help was heard by bar owner P.J. O’Hare, near a well at Carlingford Mountain in Slieve Foy, Ireland.
O’Hare went to investigate and found tiny clothes, musical instruments, a set of small bones, and three gold coins. When O’Hare died, the coins were passed on to Kevin Woods and he in turn will pass the coins on to the firstborn of his seven sons.
In a YouTube video, Woods admits having seen three leprechauns sitting in the same area, and his experience was so profound, he successfully campaigned the European Union to designate the area a preserve, making it illegal to disturb or hunt leprechauns in their habitat. Woods said there are now only 236 leprechauns left in Ireland. Though he did not say how he knew that.
Little People populate the world and almost every country has their stories. In 1932, two gold diggers in Wyoming’s Pedro Mountains blasted through a mountainside and found a 14-inch fully formed mummy. The Little Man was in a sitting position, and described by one website as having wrinkled brown skin, a low, flat forehead, and the appearance of an old man.
Timothy McCleary, liberal arts instructor at Little Big Horn College, Crow Reservation, Montana, said the mummy ended up with a car dealer in Wyoming. “He kept it in a jar on his desk, but eventually somebody from the Museum x-rayed it.” The American Museum of Natural History in New York, and the Anthropology Department at Harvard University declared the mummy to be that of a 60-year-old man.
McCleary and other sources say that Wyoming is heavily populated by Little People who co-exist amicably with the Crow. “They live like humans do, but they have spiritual powers. They cook, they hunt, they eat, they have fire,” McCleary said. “They are not going to hurt anybody but they do like to play tricks, but it isn’t mean. It’s more that they have a sense of humor. They have in the past been known to take babies and raise them as their own and on occasion, when families are camping in the mountains, parents might tell their children to come back to camp before it gets dark because of the Little People.”
Frequently referred to as pygmies on non-Native websites, McCleary said, “In the Crow language they are not called Little People, they are called the owners of the earth. They protect the animals, so when people hunt for meat in the mountains they leave some for them. They are the ones who take care of the game so you have to show them respect. There is an old trail to get to the mountains and there is a 1,000-year-old monument where people to this day leave things for the Little People, because you are going into their home, where they live.”
McCleary told a story of a friend who went into the mountains to get away for a few days, and while sitting around the campfire, a little man came and visited. This went on for three nights, and when his friend left, the little man accompanied him home. Shortly after, both agreed it was uncomfortable for the little man to be away from his familiar surroundings, and the man returned the little man back into the mountains.
Leslie Hannah, who is Cherokee and a cultural expert, told of a similar story that happened in his own home. Hannah, his wife and daughter traveled frequently between his home in Oklahoma and Kansas, where he was working. When returning to Kansas from a Thanksgiving trip, his daughter, who was only 3 or 4 at the time, came into her parent’s room and asked to sleep with them. “My wife and I were half asleep and said okay. The next morning, I asked her why she had got in bed with us and she said, ‘That little man in my room, he’s bothering me.’ I kind of dismissed it and thought maybe she had a dream. Well, the next night, she again climbed into our bed, and the next day she again said, ‘That little man was bothering me.’”
The next night, before she went to bed, Hannah asked his daughter if the little man was still there and she replied, “He’s right there in the closet.”
“I asked her what he was doing, and she said, ‘He’s just standing there looking at you,’” Hannah said. He sat down and spoke in the direction of the little man, “Clearly you came back with us from Oklahoma and you are welcome to stay here so long as you behave. But if you scare my daughter I will come after you with some [medicine] and I know people who can do that. And from that time on, she said he left.”
“So long as you respect them and didn’t mess with their stuff, they’d leave you alone. If you are out in the woods, hunting or fishing, you might sit on a tree stump with a hole in it—that might be a portal to their world,” Hannah has heard over the years. “It’s like you are sitting on their front porch and they might do something to get back at you, like untie your shoes or take something of yours and hide it, but they do it for a purpose, not just to be mischievous.”
The Cherokee Nation website describes their protocol for dealing with Little People. “The Little People live in rocky shelters, caves in the mountains or laurel thickets. They don’t like being disturbed and may cause a person who continually bothers them to become ‘puzzled’ throughout life. Because of this, traditional Cherokees will not investigate or look when they believe they hear Little People. If one of the Little People is accidentally seen, or if he or she chooses to show himself, it is not to be discussed or told of for at least seven years. It is common practice to not speak about the Little People after nightfall.”
Research from Ireland to North America proves that a little respect goes a long way. The YourIrish website explains, “Irish leprechauns are very friendly, but tend to dislike humans, who always seem to chase them for wishes and pots of gold.”
Because that behavior is more prevalent among non-Indigenous Peoples, it may well explain why tribes have been able to maintain good relationships with the Little People. In the children’s book, Makiawisug: The Gift of the Little People, by Melissa Jayne Fawcett (also known as Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel) and Joseph Bruchac, the Little People even requested help from medicine woman Martha Uncas to heal Granny Squannit, the female leader of the Little People and the keeper of the earth.
The cover of “Mikiawisug: The Gift of the Little People” is the story of the relationship between the Mohegans and the Little People, who they call Makiawisug.
Mohegan Rachel Sayet wrote a master’s thesis about her great-aunt Gladys Tantaquidgeon, who told her, “We Mohegans still leave baskets filled with things for the Little People, to appease them and show them gratitude for taking care of us.”
Judging by the stories from many different tribes on the website, “Native American Little People of Myth and Legend,” Little People have the ability to appear and disappear, and are most often seen by children and the elderly. Since those who treat them with respect seem to maintain the best relationships, be mindful when walking in the woods or mountains where they are known to reside.