A while back I wrote a column for the Derry News about the so-called Derry Fairy. That's the critter that was supposedly spotted in our town in the 1950s. That article led to my being interviewed on WMUR's Chronicle show.
That piece of video fluff has now been rebroadcast a goodly number of times. Last week, I heard a Manchester radio station discussing the Derry Fairy. I'm now probably known, from Coos to the sea, as that white-bearded old coot who believes in little green men. I fear I'll be linked forever with those who go on talk shows telling about being kidnapped by aliens, surviving an attack by a malicious poltergeist or having face-to-face meetings with those things that go bump in the night.
To add to my perceived weirdness, I now present for your edification and enjoyment the story of Tsienneto and the other Derry Fairy. My sources are: a 1907 pamphlet by Robert Richardson and an article written by Mrs. Mary MacMurphy in a 1945 book. Determining the truth of these stories is way beyond my pay scale. And just in case you don't know, a century ago Beaver Lake was sometimes called Tsienneto Pond, a name some have claimed to be the original Indian name of that body of water.
The story by Mr. Richardson begins with him admiring a little Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower (correctly called Arisaema triphyllum but sometimes referred to as Memory Plant, Bog Onion or Indian Turnip) that was growing on the shores of Beaver Lake. After a while he began to nap. Suddenly he awoke as the flower's "scarlet-berried spadix" turned into a "little, old gray-visaged wood nymph." Richardson asked the nymph to tell him the story of Tsienneto — the namesake of the pond.
The nymph began by saying that she is centuries old and is the last one alive who witnessed the events of the story she was about to tell. In her words, Tsienneto was "a great hunter, a great traveler, a great magician" who decided to settle in a large island that was in the center of the lake. The island was called "the Isle of Great Enchantment." In the center of the island was a massive pine tree called "the Guardian of the Isle." Tsienneto was old and tired of wandering. All he wanted was to retire and live in peace in his lodge on the island.
The other Indians in the area did not trust the new arrival and plotted to kill him. They could not attack him on the island because it was protected by magic. One day a band of Pawtucket Indians ambushed Tsienneto while he was hunting in the hills to the north east of the lake. He was brought before a tribal council on the shore of Beaver Lake. There, to the assembled braves, chiefs and shamans, he gave the following prophecy:
"A peculiar people with pale-hued faces, shall come from beyond the big water. They will devastate the forest and dwell unmolested in the places thus desolated. The deer will leave the near country, the beaver cease their craft in the waters of that region and your campfires shall be forever out. Yonder isle shall disappear and the fishes prowl where now stands my lodge. In the days of the third forest the deer shall return, but the beaver — never."
The council demanded that Tsienneto offer a "sign" to prove his power. Immediately he grabbed a massive boulder and threw it toward his island. In amazement the Indians watched the stone as it flew in slow motion a half-mile toward the center of the lake. Tsienneto then told the Native Americans that the boulder was about to hit the Guardian Tree and "the spirit within the tree shall die" and the island will "wither away." As they watched in awe, the tree was shattered by the boulder. This was followed by storm waves washing away all traces of the island. The stone Tsienneto threw is today called Point Rock and is in the water near the Pond Road bridge.
Here, Mr. Richardson ends his story. He wakes up from his nap and finds the wood nymph is gone. What happened to Tsienneto is unrecorded. Robert Richardson's granddaughter is the gentle-lady Marion Pounder, a member of the Derry Heritage Commission.
The other story of Tsienneto is by Mary MacMurphy, the wife of Episcopal minister the Rev. Jessie MacMurphy. She identifies Tsienneto as a fairy queen who lived on or in Beaver Lake. The fairy was known by the Indians as Neto, an abbreviation of her full name. It was claimed that Neto was known for having "performed deeds of friendly service to those in distress."
In 1697, Indians kidnapped Mrs. Hannah Dustin and her children in Haverhill, Mass. According to the MacMurphy story the Indians camped on the shores of Beaver Lake as they took Hannah northward toward Canada. There an invisible Neto visited Hannah and whispered in her ear a promised to help her. The next night the Indians camped on an island just North of Concord. Here Neto put a spell on the Indians to make them drop into a deep sleep. This allowed Hannah to wiggle out of her ropes. She immediately began to kill and scalp all the sleeping Indians with their own tomahawks. MacMurphy then completed her tale by having Neto guide Hannah and her son back to the safety of her home in Haverhill.
This is all I know — and probably ever will know — about an Indian wanderer named Tsienneto, a wood nymph in Derry and a fairy queen named Neto. Now, I challenge the great kids of the Derry Library's teenage writing group to use their spirited imagination to create a children's book based on these stories.
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Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry and plans to hold office hours at the municipal center. He is the former chairman of the Derry Heritage Commission. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack's Apples and Derry's libraries.