The Nain Rouge, also known as the “Red Dwarf of Detroit,” has been a harbinger of doom since the time of Detroit’s founder, Cadillac. According to the legend, seeing the Nain Rouge is a sign of something terrible to come. There are slight variations of this old tale depending on what source is referenced, but one of the oldest stories comes from a book called, Legends of Le Detroit, published in 1883. The telling of the legend in that book goes as such.
On March 10, 1701 in St. Louis, Quebec, a party was being held in honor of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the founder of Detroit. As the party went on, a fortune teller with a black cat perched on her shoulder, came to the home. They let her in and she began to read palms. The men were amazed at her ability and she finally wandered over to Cadillac. She gazed into his palm and told him how he was going to start a great city. Cadillac urged her to continue, but the future became grim. The fortune teller told him, “In years to come, your colony will be the scene of strife and bloodshed, the Indians will be treacherous, the hated English will struggle for its possession, but under a new flag it will reach a height of prosperity which you never in your wildest dreams pictured.” Cadillac continued to press the woman for more answers, asking if his children would inherit from him. The teller told him, “Your future and theirs lie in your own hands, beware of undue ambition; it will mar all your plans. Appease the Nain Rouge. Beware of offending him. Should you be thus unfortunate, not a vestige of your inheritance will be given to your heirs.”
Cadillac didn’t think too much of the fortune tellers words and considered it nothing more than entertainment. He told his wife about it when he got home that night for a good laugh.
Years later, after the founding of Detroit, Cadillac and his wife were talking a walk and overheard the conversation of two men who were unhappy with the city. As Cadillac passed by the men, he heard one man say, “Things cannot run very long thus. My wife saw a few days ago le petit nain rouge.” Cadillac’s wife was instantly startled and told him “le petit nain rouge” was the Nain Rouge the fortune teller had warned him about so many years ago. Cadillac laughed it off but as they started for home, a grotesque, dwarf-like figure with a sharp toothed grin hobbled onto their path. Cadillac hit the creature with his cane and told it to, “Get away!” The dwarf took off laughing. He was warned to not offend the Nain Rouge if he was ever to see it, but that’s just what Cadillac did.
Soon after that encounter, Cadillac’s luck took a turn for the worst and everything the fortune teller told him about his doomed future came true. Even worse, his children didn’t inherit any of his property like he had wished. The Nain Rouge was indeed a harbinger of doom. For this reason, in recent years, there is now a parade called the Marche du Nain Rouge to help push the dwarf from the city.
NAIN ROUGE SIGHTINGS IN DETROIT’S HISTORY
- First spotted by Cadillac. After seeing the dwarf, everything Cadillac worked for went to ruin.
- July 30 of 1763, the dwarf was spotted near the Detroit River. The next day, Pontiac killed over 60 men during the Battle of Bloody Run.
- 40 years later in the spring of 1805. People saw the dwarf walking through the streets of Detroit. On June 11 of that year, a fire burned most of the town.
- General William Hull, the only officer in American History to be sentenced to death for military incompetence, claimed that he saw the Red Dwarf grinning at him in 1813 when he surrendered Detroit to the British army.
- Someone saw the dwarf before the week long riots started in 1967.
- The Nain Rouge was seen climbing up a utility pole by two utility workers on March 1, 1976. Shortly after that, Detroit was hit with one of the worst ice storms the city had ever seen. This was the last time it was seen.
- An ice storm in 1997 even worse hit Detroit and in 2004 the city had a huge blackout, but no little devil was reported. Maybe the Nain Rouge prefers to stay out of the spotlight now that’s he’s a well known legend in Michigan.
So the next time you find yourself wandering around the Detroit area and catch a glimpse of something small and imp-like hobbling around in the distance, avert your eyes quickly and hope to God it’s just a reaction from the Taco Bell you ate earlier. Or else, start wearing your lucky rabbit’s foot and picking pennies heads up off the ground, because bad luck is sure to strike your path and the city of Detroit at any time. If you have a Nain Rouge story, comment below.
But there’s also another side of the Nain Rouge to consider. Perhaps he wasn’t an actual bringer of doom and destruction, but a sign that something bad was about to happen and to pay attention to his warning. Could he actually be a “protector” of the city and not a tormentor? Check out these links to learn more about the other side of this excellent legend.
- Asfar, Dan. Ghost Stories of Michigan. Ghost House Publishing: Canada, 2002.
- Hamlin Watson, Marie Caroline. Legends of Le Detroit. Thorndike Nourse: Detroit, 1884.