Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk: Louisiana Folktale
Louisiana twist on the legend of the Fair Folk, written by Sam McDonald.
You see it all started many years ago in Shreveport, Louisiana. These days Shreveport is the third largest city in the entire state of Louisiana, but in those days Shreveport was just a tiny little settlement on the banks of Red River. Captain Henry Miller Shreve, from whom the city gets its name, was still clearing off the great log jam. Before the good captain arrived you could drive a horse and buggy all the way across the river. Everyone was very excited about the new opportunities the new waterways would bring the little settlement, but that isn’t what this story is about.
It was around this time there lived a fellow named Irwin Sherwin Tarheel. He was the son of an Indian maiden and a white settler. You see mixed race marriages faced a lot of prejudice back then, and poor Irwin had been dealt quite a few knocks in this life. One day Irwin was taking a walk out in the woods to go fishing at his favorite stream. When he got to the stream he came across a group of boys messing with a turtle that was flipped on its back. Irwin, never one to let a helpless creature be tormented, quickly shooed the boys away and gently put the turtle right-side up.
The turtle looked at Irwin and in a tiny voice it said. “Oh, thank you kind sir! I thought I’d never escape those tormentors.”
Irwin nearly jumped back four feet. He’d never heard a turtle utter so much as a single word before! When Irwin looked back the turtle was gone and in its place stood a beautiful young lady with raven-black hair, copper skin and a dress like a goddess of some ancient land. At this point Irwin was so terrified that he tried to back away, but he tripped over a log and fell flat on the ground.
“W-who are you? What are you?”
A strange girl giggled. “I have many names, but you can call me Red Ears. Now hurry and get up, everyone is waiting for us!”
Irwin looked and, sure enough, the girl’s ears were as bright and red as a ripe tomato. Irwin wanted nothing more than to run to his home, draw the curtains and huddle underneath a blanket. Still, there was no telling what else Red Ears could turn into, and he wasn’t so keen on finding out the hard way. After a while, and well after it had started to turn dark, Red Ears lead Irwin to a clearing of sorts. The bright lights, joyous music and wonderful smells told Irwin everything he needed to know. Red Ears had led him to a party!
Irwin didn’t get invited to many parties, but he soon found himself as the guest of honor. Red Ears made a point of introducing Irwin to everyone at the party and telling of how he saved her. Irwin had a grand time as he danced up a storm, sipped on sweet drinks, ate tasty foods and generally felt like he’d found some place he belonged. Soon, however, Irwin noticed that there was something a little off about the people throwing the party. Some of them had hooves like deer, others had eyes like cats and a few had scales like alligators!
Irwin nearly lost it all together when a man with an alligator head and deer antlers walked up to him. “You’re the Mr. Tarheel I’ve been hearing so much about?”
“I, uh, yes. May I ask who you are?” Irwin stammered.
“Oh, dear, where are my manners? My name is Chief Cernunnos, and you have earned my daughter’s hand in marriage. Now don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll make a fine husband for Red Ears.”
“But who are all these people? They don’t look right.”
Chief Cernunnos gave Irwin a big alligator smile. “Well now, that depends on who you ask. Some would say we are gods, while others would say that we are demons, and yet others would call us spirits. But if you want to call us something you may call us The Fair Folk. We really are quite reasonable.”
Irwin considered what the chief had told him. The Fair Folk had certainly been more kind and welcoming than anyone he’d ever met, but he had his suspicions that all was not as it seemed. Both of his parents had told stories of tricksters who lured unsuspecting traveler’s to all sorts of horrible fates. If he could only slip away to see if anyone else had heard of these strange people.
Red Ear and Chief Cernunnos tried their best, but Irwin insisted that he needed to go attend some matters in Shreveport, though he promised he’d be back as soon as possible. Reluctantly, they sent Irwin on his way, but not before Red Ear gave Irwin a tiny pouch. She instructed Irwin to absolutely never open the pouch under any circumstances. It didn’t take Irwin long to find the path he’d taken to get to the Fair Folk’s part, but when he made it out of the woods he did not find the Shreveport he remembered.
Shreveport had grown from a tiny little settlement into a city of glass towers and strange metal carriages that drove without horses. Irwin searched and asked around, but everyone he’d ever known was gone. The more he searched the more Irwin realized the horrible truth. Everyone he’d known was dead because he’d been away for over 160 years! There wasn’t any point in staying in Shreveport so Irwin decided to make his way back to the Fair Folk.
Unfortunately, Irwin soon found himself completely disoriented. There had to be something that would remind him of the way back. Irwin decided to ignore Red Ear’s warning and see if the pouch held a clue. What Red Ear hadn’t told Irwin was that the pouch contained all of the years he would have aged if he hadn’t stayed at the Fair Folk’s party. As soon as the pouch was opened Irwin aged until he was a feeble old man.
As if carried on a gentle breeze Irwin could hear Red Ear’s voice say to him, “I told you not to open the pouch.”
With that Irwin crumbled into dust and was carried away on the wind. The white man brought many things with him when he colonized this land. Perhaps a few Fair Folks decided to come along for the ride.
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3 Responses to “Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk: Louisiana Folktale”
I like this story! It has the fairy/folksy feel like a lot of our heritage southern tales.
I sent an email regarding using this story for non-commercial purposes! Please look at it if you get a chance.
[…] So good was it, in fact, that it inspired me to create my own retelling of Urashima Taro: “Irwin Tarheel and the Fair Folk“. Now it’s pretty much impossible to discuss this story without spoiling the twist, so […]