The Nain Rouge, or Red Dwarf, is a legend that has plagued Detroit, Michigan for decades. Cadillac (French), is a city in Michigan named after French explorer, Antoine Cadillac.
French folklore has long depicted non-human creatures that hold a grudge and wreak havoc if disturbed. Detroit’s founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac found a dwarf-like creature, apparently injured, and struggling to get up near the bank of the Detroit River.
The dwarf was horrible deformed and appeared mis-shappen. He was exhausted and laying face down, blocking the path through the forest that Antoine was traveling.
Antoine, arrogant and proud, was a rich man, and tried to walk over the dwarf on horseback, but when the horse approached the dwarf-like creature turned over and hissed, then the horse reared and threw him off.
Antoine, had a torch (because it was nightfall), and he grabbed it off the ground and poked the dwarf with it, as he ran towards him. The monster was burned and cursed him, and then threw a glass vial (of its blood), which it wore around its neck, and it broke and splattered on Anotines clothes.
Antoine retaliated by beating him with his cane, and cornered him by two nearby trees, then he held the torch on him until the dwarf caught fire, and ablaze went screaming into the woods. This area would later be Fort Detroit in the Battle of 1812.
After this experience Antoine was plagued with health problems, and went back to France, there he was became embroiled in legal problems, and imprisoned until he lost his entire fortune.
As the decades wore on Cadillac’s story was told again and again and Nain Rouge the red dwarf, took on several characteristics of Native American folklore. He was said to appear (like the Moth man), right before a tragedy, when misfortune occurred.
Conflicting reports say a similar creature is said to have appeared on July 30, 1763 before the Battle of Bloody Run, where 58 British soldiers were killed by Native Americans from Chief Pontiac’s Ottawa tribe.
Supposedly, the Nain Rouge “danced among the corpses” on the banks of the Detroit River after the battle, and the river “turned red with blood” for days after.
Critics say there are no records indicate the legend of the Nain Rouge in the 1700s when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was an authority in Detroit.
The earliest record, Hamlin’s Legends of Le Détroit, wasn’t published until 1883, 180 years after Cadillac, and his namesake, was said to have been cursed by the Nain Rouge.
Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin’s 1883 Legends of Le Détroit described the Nain Rouge as a dwarf:
“very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eye; instead of burning, it froze, instead of possessing depth emitted a cold gleam like the reflection from a polished surface, bewildering and dazzling all who came within its focus,” and with “a grinning mouth displaying sharp, pointed teeth, completed this strange face.”
But continued stories of the creature has been witnessed right before many of Detroit’s most tragic events. For example, a small deformed creature was witnessed by several people, running through the streets on 1805 the night before most of the city burned to the ground.
It was spotted again in 1812 when the British began bombarding the American forces at Fort Detroit. A poem, written by Francis Scott Key (later set to music in 1931) becomes America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was written after Key witnessed the bombardment by the British, firsthand, during the War of 1812.
General Hull of Fort Detroit had reports that according to Indian Legend, the land was cursed, and the Fort was haunted. Hull accepted the British unconditional surrender, because it was reported that a strange creature, ran thru the wood laughing throughout the night, who shot at continuously would not fall.
His men were terrified, and despite having the tactical advantage of a strong defensive position (as forts are strategically built on), he suffered incredible losses.
In the 20th century police raids sparked race riots in 1967 and again, ten years later in 1977. A strange creature, was seen by Detroit Edison linemen (while on lunch break) shimmy up a utility pole.
They screamed at him to stop, until he reached the top and was electrocuted, afterward he fell to the ground. The men ran over, but as they approached the monster jumped up and tried to attack them, leering and hissing until terrified they ran away.
They reported the creature to the police as being “very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eyes and sharp, pointed teeth, with a deformed face.”
The next day a historic ice storm left roughly 400,000 residents in Detroit without electricity. Legend holds that Nain Rouge’s appearance was the precursor for many terrible events in the city.
Each Spring, Detroit holds a costumed parade called the Marche du Nain Rouge in which the creature is ceremonially chased out of the city. At the conclusion of the parade, a statue of the Nain Rouge is destroyed, thus “banishing the evil spirit from the city for another year.”
According to tradition, parade participants and spectators are encouraged to wear different costumes each year, so if the Nain Rouge returns, he will not recognize the persons who ousted him from the city limits and thus will not be able to recognize them and seek his personal vengeance through a curse.
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