I don’t think I’ve written about ‘the little people’ on the blog before. The term ‘little people’ refers to mythological gnome or dwarf-like people and are apparently quite common to many cultures around the world. In the Coos language, the word la’la’la’la or la’wala’wa was used to refer to a tiny people (maybe one foot tall or so) that were said to live near creeks and deep in the woods. Lottie Evanoff said their tracks were seen sometimes in the sand dunes near Tenmile Creek (Lakeside). They usually avoided people, but were not said to be particularly mischeivous – they did not cause harm to people. Only Annie Peterson told a story of their origin and I’ve included an adaptation of that story below.
It turns out that the Alsea people also had stories of the Little People. In the early 1930s an anthropologist named Phil Drucker interviewed Indians from many tribes in western Oregon; one of them was an Alsea woman named Leona Ludson. She said the Little People were known to the Alsea as iituukw, they were “small wild people (or their infants) if caught in woods, would die, wrapped up in “blanket” – man trained 15 days & bones turned to big dentalia.” What that means is, finding an iituukw was like finding a wealth power, and if the finder trained spiritually, the iituukw’s bones would turn to dentalia. The Coos had similar stories about finding objects that if buried would turn into dentalium shells (though these stories never mention the Little People).
Origin of the little people (adapted from an unpublished story Annie Miner Peterson told to Jacobs, notebook 93):
Once, news came that a whale washed up on shore. Everyone who could go and help process the whale got ready to go and work. Only the very elderly and very young were left behind in the village.
The elders were taking care of the little children, but soon those little ones started misbehaving. They made their own camp fires away from the main house. The elders told the kids, ‘come back here!’ But they didn’t. They ran farther away from the house. The elders tried to chase after the children, but they were too fast. The elders kept telling them, ‘Come back!’ But the children did not listen. The elders never could catch those children.
Then, everyone else returned from the beach – the moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and older siblings. The elders told them what happened. Then the people went out to chase down the wayward little children and bring them home. But by now, the little ones had wandered far away, in to the deep woods and hills. All that the people could find were the ashes from the children’s fires of the previous day. Eventually, the people had to give up. They were sad to return home without their youngest children.
The little children were gone so long they changed. They were no longer human beings, they turned into the la’la’la’la, the little people. They had their own children, made their own small baskets and their own small homes. Human beings rarely saw them, but sometimes they would see Little People’s tracks near streams or in the dunes near Tenmile Creek and places like that. Once in a while a lone human traveling would see and speak with a Little Person, but that was it.
Sometimes people would find other signs little people were about. They made their tents from skunk cabbage leaves stuck on a stick. So if you see that, you know Little People have been there.