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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter 1962

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Vol. XVIII, No. 4, Winter, 1962

Louis C. Jones

“UP IN Saratoga County they still talk of Bill Greenfield. He was one of those farmer-woodsmen of our countryside around whom gather a multitude of tales, most of them tall. All the old American stand-bys can be heard of him; how his dog was split down the center while hunting and Bill slapped him together the wrong way to, one pair of legs up and one pair down; the multiple catch; the bent rifle for shooting around mountains; and all the others. But they also tell of Bill that once he was out in the woods logging when he heard tiny voices and when he finally looked around he found the littliest people in the world, a whole family of them living in a quart oyster can. Bill saw a father and two sons bringing in their winter food supply: a single beech nut which they were dragging along with a cant hook, smaller than a hairpin. Bill talked to them for a spell and afterward he reported that, “They were good, smart talking people.”

Now the origin of Bill’s little people is clouded: they might be descendents of the little people who were here in the days of the Indians or, York State being what it is, they may have come over with some good Irishman who settled in the mountain foothills. Stories of the presence here of Irish little people are rare indeed, but not entirely unknown. There was a woman in Port Leyden who was convinced that the fairies took her child and left her a changeling one day when she was picking blackberries. Naturally she felt no obligation to raise the child of the fairies, especially since they had taken away her own and so, if the story is true, the child was neglected and died. One can hardly blame her under the circumstances. And I have word of a man whose granddaughter vouches for the fact that he saw fairies a few years after he came to this country. One night when his son was a baby he sat in a rocking-chair near the crib and saw something tugging at the little bed clothes. He jumped up yelling and the tugging ceased; then he saw what he was looking for: a tiny bit of a wee girl scampered out of the room through the keyhole.

But such instances as these are hard to come by. Most of the talk of fairies concerns those known of in the old country. And full length tales of fairies are far less common than information about them; for the most part the pages which follow will retell what people raised in Ireland tell their children and grandchildren about the “good people,”" the “"wee people,” the “gentry” they knew in their youth. Most of those who remembered had believed and many who said there were no fairies in America knew beyond all question that there had been in Eire when they were young. Some had seen them, or seen evidences of them, all had known others who had seen them.

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