Fireside Ghost Stories



I’m supposed to write to you about telling ghost stories around the campfire, but the truth is this writer is a big ‘ol scaredy cat and just researching good ghost stories is enough to have the hair on the back of my neck stand up! Why do we like telling ghost stories? Do we like to be scared or do we prefer to do the scaring and see someone else’s reaction? Is it the thrill of the story? The adrenaline rush when your brain is thinking is this a fight or flight situation? I mean, we know it’s not real and can’t possibly be true, but…….why is this so scary then?

I’ve been around firepits where some of the funniest moments that ever happened was when someone got super scared. You know the scared I mean, when they are all tensed up, on high alert, and usually make some really strange and high pitched shrieking sounds. Next thing you know, they are tripping over themselves and acting a fool running back toward the safety of the cabin in a frantic wail! (That may or may not be a rather personal experience, but I’ll let you be the judge of that!)

A dear friend is an amazing storyteller that puts on the Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival and participates in Appalachian Story nights at the Haunts & Harvest at Blue Ridge Community Theater. So, I reached out to her to find out if there are any legends or lore in these Blue Ridge mountains that would be fit for a ghost story tale. She shared this super creepy Cherokee Tail that happened right here in these mountains that you may be interested in. But fair warning, if you don’t like to be scared or don’t want to be super creeped out try these lighter ghost stories and don’t scroll below to read the Cherokee Legend of Spear-Finger!

Ok. I lied. There is no such thing as “lighter” ghost stories. Even the kid’s ones are totally creepy! Why can’t we just stick to roasting marshmallows and singing “Kumbaya” around the campfire?! Ok. I’m pulling myself together. Here we go. I remember hearing this one as a kid. Maybe this was the beginning of my trauma. Courtesy of Café Mom, enjoy “The Pink Jelly Bean”.

Premise: At the end of a long, dark road is a long, dark path. At the end of the long, dark path is a lone, dark house. And the lone, dark house has a single, dark door. Behind the single, dark door is a long, dark hall. At the end of the long, dark hall are some tall, dark stairs. (Story continues, narrowing in from a room to a closet to a chest to a box, etc.) And in the small, dark box is … a pink jellybean!!!!

Notes for telling: The idea here is to build as much suspense as possible before you leap forward and dramatically shout the jellybean line. You’ll know you did it right if your audience reacts by instantly pooping their pants.

Here are a few more:

The Broom Town Curse

Dem Bones

The Ball Pit

Creak

WiFi Connection

As promised, here’s one to make you shiver:

A Cherokee Legend – SpearFinger

Long, long ago there dwelt in the mountains a terrible ogress, a woman monster, whose food was human livers. She could take on any shape or appearance to suit her purpose, but in her right form she looked very much like an old woman.

But not an ordinary woman: her whole body was covered with a skin as hard as a rock that no weapon could wound or penetrate, and that on her right hand she had a long, stony forefinger of bone, like an awl or spearhead, with which she stabbed everyone to whom she could get near enough.

On account of this fact she was called U `tlun’ta “Spear-finger,” and on account of her stony skin she was sometimes called Nun’yunu’I, “Sone-dress.” There was another stone-clothed monster that killed people, but that is a different story.

Spear-finger had such powers over stone that she could easily lift and carry immense rocks, and could cement them together by merely striking one against another. To get over the rough country more easily she undertook to build a great rock bridge through the air from Nunyu’tlu `gun’yi, the “Tree rock,” on Hiwassee, over to Sanigila’gi (Whiteside mountain), on the Blue Ridge, and had it well started from the top of the “Tree rock” when the lightning struck it and scattered the fragments along the whole ridge, where the pieces can still be seen by those who go there. She used to range all over the mountains about the heads of the streams and in the dark passes of Nantahala, always hungry looking for victims. Her favorite haunt on the Tennessee side was about the gap on the trail where Chilhowie mountain comes down to the river.

Sometimes an old woman would approach along the rail where the children were picking strawberries or playing near the village, and would say to them coaxingly, “Come, my grandchildren, come to your granny and let granny dress your hair.”

When some little girl ran up and laid her head in the old woman’s lap to be petted and combed the old witch would gently run her fingers through the child’s hair until it went to sleep, when she would stab the little one through the heart or back of the neck with the long awl finger, which she had kept hidden under her robe. Then she would take out the liver and eat it.

She would enter a house by taking the appearance of one of the family who happened to have gone out for a short time, and would watch her chance to stab someone with her long finger and take out his liver.

She could stab him without being noticed, and often the victim did not even know it himself at the time – for it left no wound and caused no pain – but went on about his own affairs, until all at once he felt weak and began gradually to pine away, and was always sure to die, because Spear-finger had taken his liver.

When the Cherokee went out in the fall, according to their custom, to burn the leaves off from the mountains in order to get the chestnuts on the ground, they were never safe, for the old witch was always on the lookout, and as soon as she saw the smoke rise she knew there were Indians there and sneaked up to try to surprise one alone.

So as well as they could they tried to keep together, and were very cautious of allowing any stranger to approach the camp. But if one went down to the spring for a drink they never knew but it might be the liver eater that came back and sat with them.

Sometimes she took her proper form, and once or twice, when far out from the settlements, a solitary hunter had seen an old woman, with a queer-looking hand, going through the woods singing low to herself:

Uwe’la na’tsiku’. Su’ sa’ sai’.

Liver, I eat it. Su’ sa’ sai’.

It was rather pretty song, but it chilled his blood, for he knew it was the liver eater, and he hurried away, silently, before she might see him.  

At last a great council was held to devise some means to get rid of U `tlun’ta before she should destroy everybody. The people came from all around, and after much talk it was decided that the best way would be to trap her in a pitfall where all the warriors could attack her at once.

So they dug a deep pitfall across the trail and covered it over with earth and grass as if the ground had never been disturbed. Then they kindled a large fire of brush near the trail and hid themselves in the laurels, because they knew she would come as soon as she saw the smoke.

Sure enough they soon saw an old woman coming along the trail. She looked like an old woman whom they knew well in the village, and although several of the wiser men wanted to shoot at her, the other interfered, because they did not want to hurt one of their own people. The old woman came slowly along the trail, with one hand under her blanket, until she stepped upon the pitfall and tumbled through the brush top into the deep hole below.

Then, at once, she showed her true nature, and instead of the feeble old woman there was the terrible U`tlun’ta with her stony skin, and her sharp awl finger reaching out in every direction for someone to stab.

The hunters rushed out from the thicket and surrounded the pit, but shoot as true and as often as they could, their arrows struck the stony mail of the witch only to be broken and fall useless at her feet, while she taunted them and tried to climb out of the pit to get at them. They kept out of her way, but were only wasting their arrows when a small bird, Utsu’ gi, the titmouse, perched on a tree overhead and began to sing “un, un, un.”

They thought it was saying u’nahu’, heart, meaning that they should aim at the heart of the stone witch. They directed their arrows where the heart should be, but the arrows only glanced off with the flint heads broken.

Then they caught the Utsu’ 1gi and cut off its tongue, so that ever since its tongue is short and everybody knows it is a liar. When the hunters let go it flew straight up into the sky until it was out of sight and never came back again. The titmouse that we know now is only an image of the other.

They kept up the fight without result until another bird, little Tsikilili, the chickadee, flew down from a tree and alighted upon the witch’s right hand. The warriors took this as a sign that they must aim there, and they were right, for her heart was on the inside of her hand, which she kept doubled into a fist, this same awl hand with which she had stabbed so many people.

Now she was frightened in earnest, and began to rush furiously at them with her long awl finger and to jump about in the pit to dodge the arrows, until at last a lucky arrow struck just where the awl joined her wrist and she fell down dead.

Ever since the tsikilili is know as a truth teller, and when a man is away on a journey, if this bird comes and perches near the house and chirps its song, his friends know he will soon be safe home.

Trail Trees and Fairy Crosses



For most American kids, our first introduction to the concept of trail markers is Hansel and Gretel’s attempt at leaving crumbs on their venture into the woods. The birds thwarted their efforts and that’s where their fictional journey begins. First published in 1812, their story was read to children in Germany at the same time the Cherokee Indians were creating their own trail markers here in the North Georgia Mountains. Or are Trail trees just folklore?

Trail Marker Trees

Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America. One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow. These distinctive characteristics convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease. The legend is that Native Americans intentionally shaped these trees for navigational purposes or to mark important places, such as sacred burial grounds.

Photo Courtesy of Donna O’Neal

Throughout the North Georgia Mountains, a day of hiking can find you encountering one or more of these gentle bent giants in our forests. As you hike through one of the twenty four top forests in our area you’ll stumble upon some of the most incredible shaped trees and wonder if they are the work of Mother Nature or did an American Indians walk these same trails 200 years ago. It is both highly possible and very likely that the tree was there marking a specific direction or possibly an area where a plant grew at its base that was used for healing.

Fairy Crosses

For many, a hike in the woods is an adventure you remember from your childhood days. It is a child’s foray into uncharted territory, a field or a wooded area close to home where they might discover an old unidentifiable bone, a creek filled with crayfish, or a cluster of butterflies on a floral bush they’ve never seen the likes of before. They come back from these walking expeditions with pockets filled with pretty leaves, unusual shaped stones and always a bird feather or two. As adults we reawaken that lust for exploration and here on these mountain trails, there seems to be one treasure that many are hunting: Fairy Crosses

The Legend of the Fairy Cross derives from the Cherokee Indians and thought to be over 2000 years old! It is said that long, long, ago fairies inhabited a certain quiet and remote region in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fairies roamed freely, enjoying the beauty and serenity of that enchanted place. One day, the fairies were playing in a sunny dell when an elfin courier arrived from a far-away city bearing the sad news of Christ’s death. When they heard the terrible details of the crucifixion, the fairies wept. As their tears fell to the earth, they crystallized into little stone crosses. Though the fairies have long since disappeared, the little stone crosses, known as “fairy stones,” still remain as vestiges in that enchanted spot. There was a belief among the Cherokee that the crosses had the power to reduce the owner invisible at will. In some instances, the tiny crosses were supposed to give the owner the power of diving into the ground and coming up again among the enemy to scalp and kill with unexpected terror.

The Scientific Side

Fairy crosses (aka fairy stones) are small bricks originally formed seven miles underground of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Staurolite crystals form into little tiny “bricks” that, under pressure, twist in 60 degree or 90 degree angles, forming crosses. As they push their way up to the earth’s surface, the action of wind and rain dissolve the softer surrounding stone called schist to reveal the precious cross-shaped minerals within. 

The good fortune of finding fairy stones is best after a heavy rain. Dig with your hands along the soft dirt at the base of the trees. The cross stones are the same color as the dirt, so use your hands to sift the stones from the soil until you find a cross shaped stone about the size of a small marble, usually less than an inch in length. They are wonderful keepsakes when found, and can be polished and used as a lucky pocket token, or designed into a necklace, bracelet, or earrings.

Pezrok

If you haven’t had the good fortune to find a fairy stone on your hiking trip, you can still find a wonderful collection of fairy crosses at Pezrok in downtown Blue Ridge, a gallery full of artistic creations of exquisite minerals, fossils, gems and carved driftwood.

Photo Courtesy of Jim Korzep

There are countless numbers of adventures to be had on your visit to these mountains. You’ll want to capture many of your explorations in pictures to take home and share with us, your family, and your friends. Oh, and while you are taking a cell phone selfie at one of the bent trees you are likely to encounter, remember your phone is also equipped with GPS, which will assure your chances of getting back to your car in the parking lot. As we already know from 19th century literature, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs will not suffice.