Catawba Little People picked on children


CATAWBA INDIAN RESERVATION, S.C. – A self-guided walk on the Yehasuri trail here may stimulate a hiker’s imagination of Catawba Indian history.

The trail is an old reservation wagon road which has been preserved for a culture and nature walk from the cultural center to the Catawba River, a distance of one and a half miles. It has been named, ”The Yehasuri Trail,” for tribal accounts of the Little People. Yehasuri is the Catawba word for ”not human ones.”

Tribal employees at the Catawba Cultural Center of 1536 Tom Stevens Road on the reservation are looking for a $20,000 state grant to renovate the trail. For the grant process, a public hearing was held at the cultural center.

Like many other tribes across the country, Catawbas talk about the Little People, also known to them as ''wild Indians.'' According to tribal lore, the Little People are spirits living in the forest on the reservation, especially along the hiking trail and around the cultural center.

They are about two-feet tall and live in holes beneath the trees and stumps. They eat acorns, fungi, stink turtles and tadpoles. They stay off to the side of the trail and they look at hikers going by.

They are pranksters who like to pick on children. Parents were once admonished to not leave their children's clothes hanging on the line at night. It was said that the Yehasuris would play with the children's clothes and make them cry all night. Children's footprints were swept away clean every evening because the Little People would play in the prints at night, upsetting the children and making them lie awake all night.

Horses are not allowed on the trail today, but years ago, Catawbas watched their horses on the road because the Little People would braid the horses' manes and tails, if left alone.

Little People can be dangerous to bad-tempered adults. The Yehasuris will shoot invisible arrows at people who are mean and unkind. One who gets hit by an arrow may die the following day.

According to Catawbas' neighbors, the Cherokees, the Little People are handsome people with long hair. They are helpful, kindhearted spirits who love to sing, drum and dance a lot. They are here to teach people about living in harmony with nature and with each other.

There are three types of Little People. There are the ''get even'' ones who like to steal children because their spaces have been invaded. They tell us if we do mean things to others, what we did will come back to us. They teach us to have respect for one another.

There are those who are humorous and spread joy. When a child is laughing in his sleep, they are entertaining him. They teach us not to take the world too seriously and to share joy with one another.

And there are those who take care of people and do good for them. They teach us to do things for people out of the goodness of our hearts, not because we want to gain personally from helping others.

Along the trail, a hiker will notice traces of homes that once stood in several areas. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Catawba homes were made from cut lumber. The floors were worn, smooth planks with cracks in between. Parents told their children not to sit on cracks in the floor, because one of the Little People may reach out and pinch them.

On the trail, a hiker may notice ruts in the ground where wagons once were pulled by horses to the river. There were times when Catawbas took their wagons to the river, crossed it on a ferry, and went on to towns to sell pottery and buy supplies.

Years before, Catawba men took their canoes down such a trail to the river to go fishing or hunting. Canoes were made from yellow poplar trees, hollowed out in the middle by axes and burning.

Most of this information is provided on self-guided walk along the Yehasuri trail. The Catawba Cultural Center also provides guided tours to the river and back. The Cherokees have several articles and books about their Little People. Some tribes feel that the Little People are a very sacred part of their culture and do not share the information with the public.

Leslie Campbell, Cultural Center accountant, who provided the information at the public hearing, explained that a proposal for the grant was given to South Carolina Division of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

If granted, the money will be used to improve the Yehasuri Trail, putting up rest benches and signs explaining the Little People, archeological sites, plants and wildlife. Campbell said that on the trail an old ''homestead uncovered itself'' from the ground and information about it needs to be explained.

''I have learned so much while working here,'' she said. ''I have lived here all of my life, but I have learned so much about the myths, the language, the stories of the Catawba people. We want to share that with the public.''


This article first appeared at Indian Country Today ©2004 Indian Country Today