Native American legends describe it of an “impish offspring of the Stone God”.
Before he left France, Detroit’s founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was warned by a french fortune-teller that if he ever encountered a strange creature in the new country he planned to visit, -to avoid it.
Months later when he was exploring Cadillac, Michigan, Antoine was riding home when he saw a large animal hunched over and growling, directly in his path.
It was hunched over and looked wounded, as if it had been in a fight. As his horse neared, the creature suddenly rose, being grotesque in appearance -the horse reared, and threw Antoine.
Antoine fell reached for his gun and shot the beast which fled into the woods. But he had twisted his ankle so bad from the landing of the fall that he had to walk with a cane, thereafter.
The creature was hit but survived, as a consequence, a string of bad luck befell Cadillac; he was charged with abuse of power and reassigned to Louisiana, later returning to France where he was briefly imprisoned and eventually lost his fortune.
The Nain Rouge legend has become part of contemporary Detroit culture. Each Spring, the city hosts a community festival and costume parade called the Marche du 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”.
Other accounts describe the Nain Rouge as a small creature with red or black fur covering an animal’s body but with the face of an old man with “blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.”
According to some scholars, the legend of Nain Rouge has its origins in local Native American beliefs of spirit creatures that inhabited the region, which were subsequently retold by European colonists.
There are no records that indicate the legend of the Nain Rouge existed in the 1700s when Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was in authority in Detroit. The earliest record, Hamlin’s Legends of Le Détroit, wasn’t published until 1883, 180 years after Cadillac and Detroit, was said to have been cursed by the Nain Rouge.
Yet he continues to be a re-occurring presence that continues to presage terrible events for the city throughout history.
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.
The Nain Rouge legend has become an enduring part of the folklore of the Detroit area. Two utility workers claim to have seen the creature just before the 1967 Detroit riots, and supposedly, it was also seen before an ice storm in 1976.
Marche du Nain Rouge
Each Spring, Detroit holds a costumed community parade called the Marche du Nain Rouge in which the creature is traditionally chased out of the city, although the revival parade stays entirely within the Midtown/Cass Corridor neighborhood.
At the conclusion of the parade, an effigy 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 that when the Nain Rouge next returns, he will not recognize the persons who ousted him from the city limits and thus will not be able to seek personal vengeance.
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