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The Moon-Eyed People: Folk Tales from Welsh America

The Moon-Eyed People: Folk Tales from Welsh America

by Peter Stevenson


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Available for Pre-Order. This item will be available on November 1, 2019


A mining settlement in Appalachia is described as being unfit for pigs to live in, Welsh weavers make cloth for enslaved people, a monster is defeated by a medicine-girl, a Welsh criminal marries an "Indian Princess," Lakota men who witnessed Wounded Knee re-enact the massacre in Cardiff, and all the while, mountain women practice Appalachian hoodoo, native healing, and Welsh witchcraft. These stories are a mixture of true tales, tall tales and folk tales, that tell of the lives of migrants who left Wales and settled in America, of the native people who had long been living there, and those curious travelers who returned to find their roots in the old country. They were explorers, miners, dreamers, hobos, tourists, farmers, radicals, showmen, sailors, soldiers, witches, warriors, wolf-girls, poets, preachers, prospectors, political dissidents, social reformers, and wayfaring strangers. The Cherokee called them "The Moon-Eyed People."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750991421
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 11/01/2019
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.08(w) x 7.80(h) x (d)

About the Author

Peter Stevenson is a professional storyteller and illustrator, and is the organizer of Aberystwyth Storytelling Festival. He regularly does storytelling tours of North America and has told stories of Welsh America in Greenwich Village. 

Read an Excerpt


Wolf-Girl Visits Wales

Cherokee elders tell how some of the old ones could change into animals: bears, bison, owls, wolves, coyotes, ravens, jackrabbits, eagles, hawks and frogs. This sounds exciting if you're into Gothic fiction and graphic novels, and you like the idea of shapeshifting superheroes, or enjoy the darkness of fairy tales. But what if you were told these stories as a child, and all your friends heard them, and they happened in the remote place where you lived, and there were noises at night that terrified you, and the old granny who lived nearby told you they were true?

We lived near one of these elders, and one day while me and my six sisters were playing stickball, a dog came up and joined us. It was just a mutt, with one brown ear and one white, and a patch around its eye. Father found us and asked where we'd gotten that dog from, and we said we didn't know, but could we keep it. Father said he would see, maybe if it was still around in the morning.

Next morning the dog had gone, but that evening it returned, and every evening, till Father said he would find out if it belonged to anyone. He asked around, but no one had lost a dog, so we kept it. And each evening we played games, we threw rolled up socks for it to fetch, we put our arms round its neck and tried to wrastle it to the ground, and we hunted jackrabbits for it to eat.

Then the dog got a bit frisky. It bit my hand and drew blood, and when I kicked it off, it chased Father's chickens, and he said if this didn't stop it would have to go. And we knew what he meant. You know. Bang!

Well, us children didn't want to lose our dog. We tried to train it, but it still chased the chickens, so we caught it and took it inside and tied it to our old iron bedstead with bailer twine and told it to hush.

In the night there was a howling and a hollering, and Father came in and the dog said, 'Let me go before the morning.' But Father knew the stories about the elders changing into animals, and he wanted to see who the dog really was, so he left it tied to the bed. In the morning we found an old woman curled up on the floor at the bottom of the bed, and we recognised her as the old granny woman who lived nearby. He released her and off she scurried. A week later, the old granny was dead as a squashed skunk in the middle of the road.

The elders told Father he had a lucky escape. Old Granny was a cannibal who ate the youngest and weakest in the family, and she turned herself into a dog so she could play with the children and work out who to eat next. And that would have been me. I'm the youngest in the family, so if Father hadn't spotted her trick, I wouldn't be here to tell you the story.

Well, after that we upped and left. Father, and all of us seven girls. His grandad was a miner from Romania, and his granny a Welsh seamstress, so that was that, we came to Wales. We settled in a cottage high up in the Black Mountains, and the locals stared at us, 'cos we looked different to them and spoke a language they didn't understand. They had never heard Tsalagi before, and probably had no idea where Appalachia was, and thought we were the fairies. We weren't afraid of them. They were likely more frightened of us, especially as we all had pointy hairy ears. We left them alone, and moved around by night, like cats and owls. And howling was heard coming from the woods.

We kept sheep and goats, rabbits and chickens, and Father made sure the farm buildings were in good repair. The farmers left us alone, though they thought it was odd that we never took our animals to market. Truth was we needed all that meat for ourselves. Word went round our more superstitious neighbours that we were descendants of humans who had bred with wolves. Lycanthropes, that's the word. Soon we were blamed for every sheep that died, every cow that refused to give milk, every crack of a twig in the woods at night, and every nightmare of every child.

After a flock of sheep were found with their throats cut, the air turned black with anger. Father said it was time to move on again.

One night, by the dim light of the crescent moon, my family left, in a single line, carrying all their belongings on their backs, wrapped in shawls and woollen blankets.

The farm became unmanageable and soon fell into disrepair. The corn refused to ripen, the hay crop was poor, and folk believed that the wolfman and his family continued to haunt their old homestead long after it fell into ruins.

The wolf family had fled the country and settled in Cluj in Transylvania, where Father had relatives. They spawned a thousand and one stories and inspired countless writers and artists, not one of whom acknowledged that we had come there from Cherokee via Wales. As they grew, my sisters spread out across Europe, living hidden lives, relying on friends to supply them with haunches of meat, much to the pleasure of the local abattoirs, and the displeasure of parents who feared for their children.

Let me tell you a tale that my Father told me.

* * *

A man was waiting at a Welsh railway station when he fell into conversation with a tall man in a trenchcoat and a trilby hat. The man told the stranger that he had come home to help his father manage the farm. One morning, they found all the sheep with their throats cut. There were wolf tracks in the snow, and as they followed, the prints became human. His father's face turned white as the very snow, and he told his son that this was the work of his own elder brother, the boy's uncle, who was born with pointy ears, slanting green eyes, and forefingers longer than his middle finger. Years ago his brother had left the farm, angry at receiving no inheritance, and now he had returned for revenge. So the farmer told his son to go before he was killed, and here he was, catching the train to leave Wales for America to start a new life, before his pointy-eared uncle caught up with him. And he stared into the stranger's shaded eyes beneath the brim of his hat, and asked if he believed the story. The stranger said yes, of course he believed him, and removed his hat to reveal long pointy ears, slanting green eyes and a forefinger longer than his middle finger. Just like U'tlûñ'ta, Spearfinger, the Cherokee witch who stabbed her sharp forefingers into children and tore out their livers.

* * *

And I ain't gonna tell you what happened next, 'cos it was real messy. You can imagine. But the man never caught the train. And I still have nightmares about meeting Spearfinger.

Back in Breconshire and over the border in Radnorshire, reports of sheep carcasses plagued the local farms. An incomer's pet wolfhound was suspected, along with a black panther that had escaped from a travelling menagerie, and a coven of local witches who were accused of unspeakable pagan rites under cover of darkness. The truth was more obvious, especially if you were brought up in the company of wolves and vampire slayers.

It was me. Me, the youngest of the wolfman's daughters. I came to Wales from the Cherokee Nation, but I didn't flee to Romania with the rest of my family. I stayed on the farm. I knew all about the stories of how the youngest of seven children could be eaten by a witch dog. But I'm a dark girl, and I argued and fought with my father when he told me we were leaving. I spat on the floorboards and said we had already left one homeland, and I was not going to be chased away a second time by no man. I'd been bitten by that old granny witch when I was little, and I knew what I had become.

After my father and six sisters left, I slept alone in the hay bales in the barn, avoiding the farmhouse for fear the neighbours would come for me. I prowled the hedges for beetles to eat, scavenged leftovers from dustbins, took carcasses from gin traps, stole cooling food from windowsills, and hunted for rabbits. But I couldn't resist the sheep. They were so easy. Trapped by the fences and hedges that were there to protect them, they couldn't escape my sharp teeth. And I smelled the neighbours approaching long before they suspected I was there. They never saw me clinging to the rafters in the barn.

At night, lying in the hay with warm blood in my belly, I told myself the stories Father had told me. This one he called The White Wolf.

* * *

An old man had three sons and a daughter, and he was cruel to them. His wife had died, and he took out his loneliness on his children, screaming at them, beating and abusing them. His daughter knew that something was wrong with her father, and she protected her brothers, wrapping them in warm blankets and covering their ears when the old man came home at night with too much liquor in his blood. And since the death of his wife, people in the town had been found murdered and mutilated, and they feared being out in the dark alone. One night when the old man went out, his daughter took his gun and followed him. Through dark streets she traced his footsteps, until she came to a quiet alleyway full of garbage bins and washing lines. She watched as her father turned into a great white wolf, and the ghost of a young woman appeared and kissed the old man, and his daughter knew this was her dead mother. The white wolf and the ghost lady prowled the streets, and their daughter followed, silently and stealthily. She watched as they approached a small untidy boy, a guttersnipe, a street urchin, and she saw her parents were about to attack, and she knew enough was enough. She took her father's gun, touched the trigger with her finger, and shot the white wolf through the heart. Her mother vanished, and oh how their daughter cried for her lost parents.

* * *

Time passed, more years than could be lived in a single lifetime. I became wrinkled on the inside but still freckled on the outside. A field full of mutilated sheep was discovered near Pontrhydfendigaid, and dog prints were found nearby. There were more sheep attacks, and sightings of wild cats, or hideous half-creatures with slavering tongues that were believed to be breeding in the area, skulking silently along the hedgerows, remaining largely unseen, until they pounced. The newspapers called it 'The Beast of Bont'. It was time I laid low for a while and found another food supply.

One evening I was prowling along the shelves at the Coop in Aberystwyth, and was about to slip a leg of frozen lamb inside my parka, when I sensed I was being watched. It wasn't the CCTV. I was so quick they never captured more than a blur. Only once did a security guard see me, but I disappeared before he blinked, and he concluded I was his imagination. But this was different. I could smell someone. Behind me. I turned and came face to face with one of those young men who have the look of a sensitive poet. Curly hair, hooded blue eyes, you know the sort. He knew I was stealing, and I knew he would say nothing. We met eye to eye. He smiled. This was totally awkward.

I took him by the hand and whisked him out of the shop. All the security man saw on his screen was a young man scurrying away on his own, and he made a mental note of face and clothes for next time. I dragged the young man to an organic vegan cafe where I often passed the days, dreaming of gnawing on the customers' arms, and enjoying their ignorance of a carnivore in their midst. He threw questions at me: where was I from, was I living on the street, why was I shoplifting? And why didn't I eat or drink anything when I was clearly hungry? I cocked my head to one side and asked him about his strange accent. He told me he was from the far North. Pen Llyn. Aberdaron.

I was leaning towards him now, staring into his eyes. I remembered another of my father's stories, told by his grandfather's friend, Anthony Booth, a Romanian from Cluj, who had emigrated to work in the mines in West Virginia.

* * *

A young affluent couple called Erich and Lorraine Meštrovic lived in a fine house on the outskirts of the city. One night, they threw a party and all was well until a blood-curdling scream shook the air and a young man was found outside lying in a pool of blood by the fishpond. The flesh had been flayed from his body and one arm chewed in two. Everyone agreed it was the attack of a wild animal. Next night Lorraine went out into the garden for some air, and Erich heard her shriek. She had found another dead man and had seen a creature running away, dressed as an old woman. Suspicion fell on an old witch who lived nearby, so the villagers marched to her house, burned it to the ground, and chased her out of town. But there were more killings, one on the Meštrovics' patio, and now the whole town was consumed with fear. Then one night Erich saw a beast dressed in a young woman's clothes attacking a man. He took his gun and as his finger closed on the trigger, he realised the woman's clothes looked familiar. A shot rang out and there was a howl. He ran to see if the man was still alive, and he found, lying on the ground with a bullet hole in her forehead, Lorraine Meštrovic.

* * *

The young Welshpoetman I had dragged from the supermarket looked as white as a startled jackrabbit in a car headlight. I was leaning right over him, staring wide-eyed, red lips twitching. He must have thought I was a vampire. Blood-suckers were fashionable at the time. There was no end of films, books, graphic novels. I must have looked like a grown-up Eli, from that Scandinavian film, who could only come into a room if she was invited. Though I like to think I look more like the girl who walks home alone at night. She's cool. Much more me. I like Iranian films. No one goes to see them, so I can stretch out in the dark and scratch the seat in front with my fingernails.

He asked me outright. Was I a vampire? I laughed, very convincingly. And I told him he had a vivid imagination, and that of course I wasn't a vampire. How ridiculous would that be? I was a wolf-girl. He choked, a werewolf? I told him to hush, we were in a vegan cafe, and no I wasn't a werewolf, I was a wolf-girl. Werewolves were monstrous creatures that could change into humans, bloodthirsty men, or menstruating women, who would tear you to shreds as soon as smell you. No, I was human, just like him, but with all the emotions and abilities of a wolf. There is no outward transformation, I will always be who I am. I am wolf-girl.

* * *

Ivan was a good-looking bear of a man, who was engaged to a clever and strong young woman named Tina. She loved him dearly, but Ivan had been wounded in the head during one of the too many wars and he had become like a child. Laughed at by the villagers, he ran away from Tina and hid in the hills, locked inside his own insecurity. A witch found him living in a damp cave, and persuaded him to sell his soul in return for being able to turn himself into a werewolf. On the next full moon three men were found torn to shreds, and so it was, night after night, more and more deaths until the villagers became hysterical and said the werewolf must be killed. Tina decided she would hunt the creature. She loaded her pistol with silver bullets and set off for the hills. She found the werewolf hiding in the cave, and she raised her gun. It stared at her for a fraction of a second and held out a filthy paw. A flicker of recognition appeared between them, but Tina's finger twitched on the trigger, and before her mind could catch up with her instincts, there was an explosion of fur and the werewolf fell to the ground. She watched as it transformed into Ivan, and now she saw him for the mistreated and misunderstood man that he was. She lay down by his side and held him until the lifeblood flowed from his veins into the dry earth. In the morning they were found entwined in each other's arms, like dog rose and honeysuckle.

* * *

The young Welshpoetman's eyes lit up. This was just too cool, he could write poems, maybe 'cywydd', and be all enigmatic with his friends. 'Yeah, this is my girlfriend, she's a wolf, don't worry, she won't eat you, she's not a werewolf. They all change into animals where she comes from.'

He was going to take this very much in his stride. He was a Pen Ll?n boy, after all. He took out a black moleskin sketchbook and asked if he could draw me. I didn't answer. I listened to the scratching of his pen while he drank a muddy cup of organic coffee with all the sweet things taken out. I ignored the slurping. He asked if I had anywhere to stay tonight, so I went back to his red-doored flat and he invited me in. It was untidy, full of books about poetry and football, and a black cat with pea-green eyes.

I felt safe for the first time in my life. It was a simple existence – it had to be, because he was a poet and therefore couldn't earn a living, and I was a kleptomaniac wolf-girl. Food and money were scarce, but I did my best. He was so gentle and kind, he irritated the hell out of me, but as time passed, his kindness became overwhelming. He soothed me by reading while we huddled in the warmth of the fireside, I held him tightly when the storms rattled the door, and listened to his heartbeat as it slowed, until he prised himself out of my grip so the blood could flow round his body again. He kissed me on the hand when I sat alone. I liked him. I had never liked anyone before. It was beyond weird.


Excerpted from "The Moon-Eyed People"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Peter Stevenson.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Wolf-Girl Visits Wales,
2 The Moon-Eyed People,
3 Where the Welsh Came From,
4 Lone Man Coyote,
5 The Bohemian Consul to Cardiff,
6 When Buffalo Bill Came to Aberystwyth,
7 The Cherokee Who Married a Welshman,
8 John Roberts of the Frolic,
9 The Legend of Prickett's Fort,
10 Ghosts of the Osage Mine,
11 Brer Bear and the Carmarthenshire Muck Heap,
12 In Search of Fanny the Barmaid,
13 The Devil and the Mothman,
14 Owl-Women and Eagle-Men,
15 Hoodoo and Healers,