Howdy! I'm Nathanael O. Smith. I've lived in these mountains all my days, wouldn't ever dream of leaving here, my ancestral roots are here to stay. I've been hearing tales and telling tales all my life, its what my family and neighbors have been doing in these parts for generations. Tales about pioneers and the folks that arrived here directly from the "Old World." Some of my fondest tales have been about the Cherokee people, they're really the first mountain people, and they lived here longer than time will tell. On my twelfth birthday my wise old pappy gave me a special charm he carried everyday of his life. It was a stone of staurolite crystals, or should I say two, two-inch long brownish crystals that had crossed through each other. Pappy told me, it was a magical charm, an amulet given to him by a medicine man that once saved his life.
Pappy Smith said, "when I was a little fella, my daddy told me to never go into the high mountains to the north, the Cherokee say they're filled with danger and unearthly sorts. The superstitious beliefs of the tribal people say there's witchcraft and sorcery up there and that the Great Spirit told their people to stay away."
He went on to tell me that curiosity may have killed the cat but he was no cat. So when he was 12 years old, he took the brand new 12-gauge shotgun his daddy just gave him for his birthday and snuck off towards the forbidden mountain. He said,” I was big enough to be a man then, or so I thought, so I didn't need to take anything with me but my new shotgun and 12 shells, I'll fend for myself and bring home a hunter's surprise for mama, I didn't tell her I was leaving."
Pappy said the mountain was bigger than he expected and it took him the better part of the day to meet the ridge. He said he stood on a flat rock at the top of the ridge and gazed into the valley below, the valley the Cherokee said no one should enter. Suddenly the rock he was standing on gave way, he and the rock went sliding down. The rock pappy was riding on slide off an embankment slamming into trees, causing him and the flying boulder to spin one way then the next, finally coming to a halt in a creek.
Pappy said, "I road that rock down, like a magic carpet. I held on with both hands, sitting down with my new shotgun cradled between my knees and under one arm. When that rock hit that darn creek it thru me into the trees, busting my gunstock and bending the hammer sideways. The sight of my new birthday present, lying there on the ground nearly broke my heart. I picked up the gun, the barrel was still straight and that the stock and hammer could be replaced. I then looked up from were I fell and saw it was too steep to climb back up, I'd have to find another way out. With my gun broken, my hunting was finished for the day. If I were still at the top of the ridge I could just head back home, and get there before dark. If I didn't find a trail soon I'd be stuck here all night."
As pappy expected, he spent the night in the forbidden valley. The next day he followed the mountain bottom for hours, looking for a trail. Nothing on the horizon looked familiar, he heard sounds in the trees and bushes, but never saw one animal, not even a bird. Pappy said he saw plants and flowers he had never seen before or since. He walked and walked with nothing to eat but a few berries, he was hungry, tired and just wanted to be home.
It was getting dark again and he was beginning to get scared, he knew he was going to have to spend another night, so he gathered some wood and built a fire the old fashion way with a stick, dry grass, a small piece of wood and a boot string. The night was pitch black without a moon; he heard the night critters and caught the occasional glare of their eyes. Pappy said, "I may have just turned 12 years old and thought I had become a man, but I just couldn't help it, I was scared and I started to cry." Pappy said, "I sat there with my head bent over my folded arms crying like I've never cried before. When I looked up and wiped my eyes I saw the shape of a man across from me through the fire. He was tall and dark, he wore a shirt and trousers made of deerskin and shoes to match, and on his head sat a covering made of rabbit fur with a rawhide band and three eagle feathers hanging from one side. His physical features were like the Cherokee but his skin was somewhat different, a light shone from his face, his eyes glistened like the sparks of the fire. He looked directly at me for a while and then spoke. "I heard your cry and saw your tears and I came to help," the man said. "I saw you fall yesterday and since your were not hurt I decided to follow and watch over you, it wasn't till now that I decided to approach."
My pappy went on to say, "the stranger asked if he could sit down beside me, I told him, please do, I almost jumped out of my skin when the red stranger stepped right into the fire and out the other side without even stirring the flame or burning his clothes. He sat down beside me and started to talk."
He told my pappy that he knew he was lost and that it was ok to cry. He said he could tell my pappy was just a boy on the edge of becoming a man. He told pappy that often, when boys in his tribe passed through the fire from boyhood to young brave there is a stinging in the heart that causes a great sorrow within; it was nothing to be ashamed of. Pappy asked him if he were of the Cherokee tribe, the stranger said he was of a tribe that was more ancient than the Cherokee. He told pappy a tribal name he never heard before. Pappy said he was friendly, spoke English and shared his food with him.
Not knowing what to say next, pappy showed the stranger his broken gun. The stranger told my pappy that he didn't know much about guns but one thing he knew for sure was that neither a gun, or bow and arrow, or hunting knife made a boy a man. It was the sting of the arrow within a young man's heart that brings about a change in what he was yesterday, into what he has become today, it is a quickening of the spirit that brings about this wisdom into a young man's life.
He went on to tell my pappy all about the customs of his people, how they lived out of the sight of both the white man and Cherokee tribe. He told me how his people lived in houses grouped tightly together underground. The stranger told pappy that his people had lived in this region since the beginning of time, both his tribe and a tribe of little people. He told of a time after the great flood when his people and the little people divided over who had control over the sacred powers. He told pappy how the little people had stole the sacred basket of potions, magic and the secrets of making charms. The little people then escaped into the far southern reaches of the Mountains of the Blue Sky.
He told pappy that the young men of his tribe have had to pass several trials in order to become a warrior brave. One of those trials was that each young brave had to steal back one of the magical charms of the little people, the most valuable charm, being the charm of the crossed stones. The power of these stones would enable a warrior to travel through the ground or make himself invisible. He said he had followed pappy for nearly two days, within arms distance and pappy didn't know he was there." My pappy was spellbound; he asked these visitors if he had one of those crossed stones. The stranger reached into his medicine pouch and pulled out a crossed stone two inches long by two inches across, showed it to him and said it was his most prized possession even though there were other charms of great power. Pappy asked him why it was so special; this is what the stranger had to say.
Down in the mountain lands that the white man now calls Georgia, the little people lived hiding in seclusion from his tribe, only coming out at night because they were afraid the people of his tribe would steal back the magical powers. One night, many generations ago, the little people gathered together to celebrate the giving of the Great Spirit. They danced, sang and feasted through the night, near a pool deep in the woods. At the height of their celebration a spirit messenger appeared before them and said he was from a village in the distant, "Land of the Dawn." The spirit messenger told them that the Son of the Great Spirit whose name was Christ had died at the hands of man. The little people listened quietly as the messenger explained how they placed Him on a cross and drove spikes through his hands, that he hung there and suffered for the wrongs of mankind until he was pierced through the side with a warriors spear and died.
The little people's hearts were filled with sadness and they began to cry. As they cried, their tears fell to the ground and turned into stones. The stones were not round or square but formed the shapes of tiny crosses. Long after the messenger left, the little people continued to cry, they cried until all their magic poured out in tears onto the ground. They knew the ways of old were coming to an end and that the sacred magic would no longer be theirs to possess. The little people disappeared into the forest around the fields that held their tiny crosses. When they saw someone come and pick up one of their tear made crosses, they would follow them and watch over them, bringing them good luck. The little people too were changing with the times.
With that, the stranger handed my pappy the cross and said, "I give this to you because your tears today are special, you are becoming a man and you will need great strength to endure what lies ahead in your life. Keep this tiny crystal cross with you always and when you grow old and are ready to pass beyond this world, give the cross to someone special, you will know who that will be when the time comes."
He went on to tell pappy that tomorrow he will lead him to a secret trail that will lead out of the valley and back home, but now he should rest, for the journey is long. The next morning, pappy woke up to find the stranger was gone. On the ground was an arrow made of stones, one arrow lead to the next till pappy found the secret trail. When pappy got home his mama and daddy were sure glad to see him. His daddy said he would get the shotgun fixed right away, but from now on; let them know before he takes off again. Pappy said he stood there in front of his mama, daddy, brothers and sisters clutching the stone in his pocket, never telling his family just exactly what happen. He told me he never told anyone including granny, but everyone that was close to pappy knew he always carried that stone.
He gave me that stone on my twelfth birthday, later that week he died in his sleep. Now pappy was a wise and honest man and he did like to tell a story or two and some of those stories he told me might have been a little too big to behold. Though the crystal cross story has found a place in my heart, I've never walked a day in my life without carrying pappy's cross. That story meant so much to me when I was growing up. As I grew older I heard people called those crystal crosses "Fairy Crosses," and this is what I learned.
The tales and legends of the Cherokee people are many and mysterious; they revered the "Great Spirit" and gave worship and thanksgiving in the open air before the stars, the sun and moon. They believe that everything within the earth is alive, that the Cherokee people live side by side with nature. The mountains have names, they have lives all their own, the wind, rain and the fires from heaven are all a mystery of the "Great Spirit."
Before the Cherokee arrived in the high forest and hidden valleys of the land that rose with the sun, there lived a race of spirit people concealed by the earth, rocks, trees and waters. They were the immortals of the mountains that possess supernatural powers, they were called the Nunnehi. It is said they lived concealed from the sight of world, in townhouses beneath the Cherokee mounds under the hills, and in caverns deep in the mountains. They often found lost hunters, took them back to their hidden townhouses, fed then, let them rest then showed them the way back to the trail. They celebrated the mother earth by the light of day and the brightness of the stars and moon lit night. They danced, hunted and played, moving about directed by a force from another world.
There was also a race of little people like the fairies of Europe. The legend of the "Fairy Crosses" came about when a messenger from the Holy Land arrived in these mountains and told the little people that Christ had died. Broken hearted by the news, the little people cried tears that fell to the ground and became little stone crosses, the little people were so sad they disappeared into the forest never to be seen again. They tell me that the place this happened was in Fannin County, Georgia where the "Fairy Crosses" lie scattered about, just waiting to be picked up. It is also said that some mighty important people in this country’s history have carried these superstitious stones. "Fairy Crosses" are told to be good luck charms, carried by giants like Thomas Edison, Woodrow Wilson, Charles Lindbergh and Theodore Roosevelt to name a few.
I've been told that "Fairy Crosses" have been found in many places throughout the world, and that there was a man in Patrick County, Virginia who might have made up the story about the tears for Christ. I don't rightly know where the line between fact and fiction lies when it comes to this tale, but one thing I do know for sure, I'm really fond of the way my pappy told me that story and nobody can take that from me.
I sure hope you appreciated the way I told this story, I sure did, and I invite you to join me and my other storytelling friends for our next folktale. I thank you...
Nathanael O. Smith, Mountain Storyteller