The Nunnehi

The Cherokee believed there was a race of spirits called the Nunnehi. The were only seen when they wanted to be seen, but usually looked like ordinary people when someone did see them. Here are some stories about the Nunnehi.

A 10 or 12 years old boy was playing one day near the river, shooting at a mark with his bow and arrows, until he became tired, and started to build a fish trap in the water. While he was piling up the stones in two long walls a man came and stood on the bank and asked him what he was doing. The boy told him, and the man said, "Well, that's pretty hard work and you ought to rest a while. Come and take a walk up the river."

The boy said, "No"; that he was going home to dinner soon. "Come right up to my house," said the stranger, and I'll give you a good dinner there and bring you home again in the morning."

So the boy went with him up the river until they came to a house, when they went in, and the man's wife and the other people there were very glad to see him, and gave him a fine dinner, and were very kind to him. While they were eating a man that the boy knew very well came in and spoke to him, so that he felt quite at home.

After dinner he played with the other children and slept there that night, and in the morning, after breakfast, the man got ready to take him home. They went down a path that had a cornfield on one side and a peach orchard fenced in on the other, until they came to another trail, and the man said, "Go along this trail across that ridge and you will come to the river road that will bring you straight to your home, and now I'll go back to the house." So the man went back to the house and the boy went on along the trail, but when he had gone a little way he looked back, and there was no cornfield or orchard or fence or house; nothing but trees on the mountain side.

He thought it very strange, but somehow he was not frightened, and went on until he came to the river trail in sight of his home. There were a great many people standing about talking, and when they saw him they ran toward him shouting, "Here he is! He is not drowned or killed in the mountains!"

They told him they had been hunting him ever since yesterday noon, and asked him where he had been. "A man took me over to his house just across the ridge, and I had a fine dinner and a good time with the children," said the boy, "I thought Udsi'skalš here" -- that was the name of the man he had seen at dinner -- "would tell you where I was."

But Udsi'skalš said, "I haven't seen you. I was out all day in my canoe hunting you. It was one of the Nunnehi that made himself look like me."

Then his mother said, "You say you had dinner there?" "Yes, and I had plenty, too," said the boy; but his mother answered, "There is no house there -- only trees and rocks -- but we hear a drum sometimes in the big bald above. The people you saw were the Nunnehi."

Once four Nunnehi women came, to a dance at Nottely town, and danced half the night with the young men there, and nobody knew that they were Nunnehi, but thought them visitors from another settlement. About midnight they left to go home, and some men who had come out from the townhouse to cool off watched to see which way they went. They saw the women go down the trail to the river ford, but just as they came to the water they disappeared, although it was a plain trail, with no place where they could hide. Then the watchers knew they were Nunnehi women. Several men saw this happen, and one of them was Wafford's father-in-law, who was known for an honest man.

At another time a man named Burnt-tobacco was crossing over the ridge from Nottely to Hemptown in Georgia and heard a drum and the songs of dancers in the hills on one side of the trail. He rode over to see who could be dancing in such a place, but when he reached the spot the drum and the songs were behind him, and he was so frightened that he hurried back to the trail and rode all the way to Hemptown as hard as he could to tell the story. He was a truthful man, and they believed what he said.

There must have been a good many of the Nunnehi living in that neighborhood, because the drumming was often heard in the high balds almost up to the time of the Removal.

On a small upper branch of Nottely, running nearly due north from Blood mountain, there was also a hole, like a small well or chimney, in the ground, from which there came up a warm vapor that heated all the air around. People said that this was because the Nunnehi had a townhouse and a fire under the mountain. Sometimes in cold weather hunters would stop there to warm themselves, but they were afraid to stay long. This was more than sixty years ago, but the hole is probably there yet.

Close to the old trading path from South Carolina up to the Cherokee Nation, somewhere near the head of Tugaloo, there was formerly a noted circular depression about the size of a townhouse, and waist deep. Inside it was always clean as though swept by unknown hands. Passing traders would throw logs and rocks into it, but would always, on their return, find them thrown far out from the hole. The Indians said it was a Nunnehi townhouse, and never liked to go near the place or even to talk about it, until at last some logs thrown in by the traders were allowed to remain there, and then they concluded that the Nunnehi, annoyed by the persecution of the white men, had abandoned their townhouse forever.


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