Monster Monday- Le Nain Rouge: The Red Dwarf of Detroit #lenainrouge #reddwarfofdetroit #detroit

Le Nain Rouge, which is French for The Red Dwarf, is Detroit’s very own creepy creature mascot of sorts. Also called Demon of the Strait and the Red Devil of Detroit, he is known as a harbinger of doom. Some think he provides a warning when bad things about to happen in Detroit, others think he is the cause of the bad things.

Where did he come from? Did he arrive with the French settlers? Or was he here long before they arrived?

Loren Coleman discusses possible origins in an article on Cryptomundo. His research leads to Le Nain Rouge being based on a mythical creature that originated in Normandy, France, a lutin, which is a type of hobgoblin (females are called lutines).

In a French fairy tale from 1697, Le Prince Lutin, a red hat with two feathers makes the Lutin invisible.  “You are invisible when you like it; you cross in one moment the vast space of the universe; you rise without having wings; you go through the ground without dying; you penetrate the abysses of the sea without drowning; you enter everywhere, though the windows and the doors are closed; and, when you decide to, you can let yourself be seen in your natural form.”

It is interesting that most modern depictions of dwarfs, imps, and gnomes show little people in red hats.

Lutins are discussed in an 1892 issue of The Journal of American Folklore, "In the French-speaking parishes of the province of Quebec, the lutins are considered as mischievous, fun-loving little spirits, which may be protecting or annoying household gods or demons, according to the treatment that they receive from the inmates of the house where they have chosen to dwell."

The article in the Journal also mentions that lutins can shapeshift taking the form of a domestic pet. In French-Canadian myths lutins and black cats have a unique connection. "Black cats have always had a rather suspicious reputation as associates of sorceresses and witches, but it is singular that among our peasants they are regarded as protecting goblins, and that no one would think of parting with them, chasing them away, or ill-treating them in any manner."

Some think Le Nain Rouge may be tied to Native American lore. One figure in Algonquian folklore is Nanabozho, also known as Nanabush, a benevolent trickster hero who could shapeshift into small red creatures.

Kate Grandjean, an assistant professor at Wellesley College, has researched the legend of the Nain Rouge. "My personal feeling is it's really not quite as simple as just European colonists appropriating some Native American spirit," she says. "I think, and it seems to be demonstrable in the historical record, that the Nain that we know in Detroit today probably has both French and Native traditions sort of wrapped up in it."

Those who have spotted Le Nain Rouge say he is about the size of a small child and looks to be wearing red or black fur boots. He is also said to have “blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.” (Skinner 1896)

The first recorded mention of Le Nain Rouge occurred in 1701. But it didn’t appear in print until it was published in Legends of Le Détroit in 1883 by Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin. Hamlin was a proud descendant of Detroit’s early French settlers and published the folklore and legends that had been passed down through the generations.

Her recount of the first Nain Rouge sighting begins on the evening of March 10, 1701 at a party held by the governor of New France in St Louis, Quebec. The grand banquet was held in a castle to honor a man with an incredibly long name- Monsieur Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac, Sieur de Douaguet and Monte Desert, who had just been given permission to build a fort in the area of le Detroit.

Cadillac was a notorious scoundrel but a fighter for his country. At twenty-one he was a French lieutenant. That earned him a post at Michilimackinac, a fort and village in the wilds where the Lake Huron and Lake Michigan mingled their waters. His interaction with the Natives there earned him a tract of land along the strait that connects Lake Erie and Lake Huron. The area of where the Detroit River and St Clair River connect.

Cadillac is quite pleased with himself and enjoying the party immensely. Distinguished guests bustle about the banquet hall. At the height of the revelry an old fortune teller requested entrance to the festivities.

“So strange, so bizarre, was her appearance that a murmur of surprise greeted her. A woman of unusual height, a dark, swarthy complexion, restless, glittering eyes,—strangely fashioned garments yet in harmony with her face. Someone said' "What is your name?" In a deep, sonorous voice, with a slight foreign accent, she answered, "They call me Mere Minique, La Sorciere." On her left shoulder was perched a black, meagre cat. Half a dozen palms were stretched forth for her inspection; one after another she read. When she hesitated the cat would lick her ear, and the more superstitious thought it the devil giving information.”
After reading many palms with supernatural accuracy she finally came to La Mothe Cadillac, who was still skeptical of her gifts.
"Ma bonne Mere’, see what you can tell for me of the future, I care not for the past."
Earnestly scanning his bold, energetic face, she took a brazen basin, into which she poured from a. curiously carved silver vial, which she drew from her breast, a clear, heavy liquid like quicksilver, and holding La Mothe Cadillac' s hand, gazed into the basin.
"Sieur," she said, “yours is a strange destiny. A dangerous journey you will soon undertake; you will found a great city which one day will have more inhabitants than New France now possesses ; many children will nestle around your fireside." She paused and Cadillac, thoroughly interested, bade her continue.  "Mon Chevalier, I wish you had not commanded me to go on, for dark clouds are arising and I see dimly your star. The policy you intend pursuing in selling liquor to the savages, contrary to the advice of the Jesuits will cause you much trouble, and be the cause of your ruin. 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. You will bask in a sunnier climate, but France will claim your last sigh."
"Shall my children inherit my possessions?" asked Cadillac, unconsciously giving utterance to the secret desire of his heart.
"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. Your name will be scarcely known in the city you founded."
The party is soon over. Many guests were shaken by the old woman’s words. Cadillac himself seemed unfazed. He even made fun of the fortune teller later that evening at home with his wife. Madame Cadillac was not pleased. She was fearful of the predictions and thought Cadillac should take heed of the warnings.

The next day Cadillac left Quebec. On the 24th of July, 1701, his expedition rounded Belle Isle and landed at a little cove. The following day pickets for a new fort were erected. Cadillac christened it Fort Pontchartrain. Soon it grew and Detroit was founded. The old fortune teller’s predictions are steadily on track, but still Cadillac pays no attention to her predictions.

Six years pass. Cadillac's colony was prosperous, but all was not well, there is unrest among the classes.

In May 1707 a grand celebration was held. It featured the raising of a May Pole in front of Cadillacs home. After the celebration Cadillac and his wife go for a stroll. They catch fragments of a conversation between two revelers leaving the party. They were complaining about conditions for the poor. One of the men said his wife recently had seen "le petit homme Rouge." Cadillac’s wife gasped and grabbed her husband's hand. “Did you not hear 'Le petit homme Rouge' is the dreaded 'Nain Rouge.'”

"Bah!" laughed Cadillac, "have you not forgotten that nonsense of a silly old fortune-teller?

Suddenly, the Nain appears — "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. A grinning mouth displaying sharp, pointed teeth, completed this strange face."

Ignoring the warning of the sorceress, Cadillac strikes the Nain with his cane, “Get out of my way, you red imp!”

A fiendish laugh pierced the night as the creature vanished.

"You have offended him," said Madame. "Your impetuosity will bring you and yours to ruin. You were told to coax him — to beware of annoying this demon — and in your ungovernable temper you do just otherwise. Misfortune will soon be our portion.”

Soon after the incident with Le Nain Rouge, Cadillac visited Montreal where he was arrested thanks to the machinations of his enemies. He was forced to sell his property in Detroit to pay for his trial. He moved to Louisiana where he became Governor and eventually he died in France at Castle Sarasin. His children never inherited an acre of his vast estates. His colony of Detroit was the scene of strife, war and numerous massacres for the next hundred years. The flag changed five times before it reached that glorious prosperity which the fortune-teller had predicted. All her predictions eerily came true.

Le Nain Rouge is said to have appeared during several other important times throughout Detroit history.

Reports claim he was sighted dancing on the banks of the Detroit River on July 30, 1763 right before the Battle of Bloody Run. During the battle 58 British soldiers were killed by Native Americans from Chief Pontiac’s tribe. The small tributary of the Detroit River turned red with blood for days after the battle. This part of the river now runs through Elmwood Cemetery.

Detroit was the scene of battle upon battle as war raged on for decades.

Multiple sightings of the Red Dwarf of Detroit occurred in the days before the worst of Detroit’s tragedies, the 1805 fire which destroyed most of the city. On June 11, 1805 a spark from a man’s pipe landed in dry hay. The fire spread fast. Within three hours only one building remained standing inside the fort. Miraculously there were no reported fatalities, perhaps those who seen Le Nain Rogue paid homage to him which prevented the loss of life.

On June 12, 1805, the day after the fire, General William Hull arrived in Detroit as the newly appointed Governor. He proceeded to rebuild the city. Then came the War of 1812. Things are not going good for Hull yet he moves forward , leading troops across the Detroit River to Sandwich. The Canadian force was small, Hull could have taken the territory away from the British, yet he hesitated. His inaction turned on him, the enemy troops swelled and he was forced to retreat. Their threats forced him to surrender Detroit and all of the Michigan Territory (which was eventually reclaimed by the Americans).

Later Hull reported a “dwarf attack” that occurred in the fog before his surrender of Detroit in the War of 1812. This attack unnerved him so much he was debilitated.

In 1884 an old woman reported an attack. She described the creature as “a baboon with a horned head…brilliant restless eyes and a devilish leer on its face.”

A similar attack was reported in 1964.

A sighting happened on the day before the 12th Street Riot in 1967. Witnesses reported seeing the dwarf roaming the streets on the hot July night not 24 hours before the riots broke out. Detroit made headlines as President Lyndon B Johnson sent the National Guard in to try and control the chaos. By the end of the 4 day riots around 500 injuries were reported, 43 were dead, and more than 2,000 buildings had burned. 7,200 arrests were made.

In March 1976 during one of the coldest winters two utility workers thought they spotted a child climbing a utility pole right before a huge snow and ice storm hot Detroit. Before they could get to him he jumped from the top of the utility pole and ran away but they got a good look at a tiny bearded man.

On August 16, 1987, Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was taking off from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. The plane crashed immediately after takeoff, killing the entire crew and all of the passengers except for a 4-year-old girl, Cecelia Cichan. Allegedly, just before the crash occurred, several motorists on Interstate 94 spotted the Nain Rouge running under an overpass.

In the fall of 1996 an article published by The Michigan Believer said that Le Nain Rouge was spotted by two drunken nightclub patrons, who both claimed to have heard a strange “cawing sound, similar to a crow,” coming from a “small hunched-over man” who was fleeing the scene of a car burglary. The creature was described as wearing “what looked like a really nasty torn fur coat.”

In 2017 a commenter on Reddit, theinfamous99, recounted two stories about what could be Le Nain Rouge sightings.

These 2 stories came from 2 people who knew nothing of the other. My great Aunt says when she was little she seen a gnome on several occasions. It would stare at her and even followed her. The last time she seen it was at a funeral home and it wanted her to go into a cellar and she felt it was evil by then. When she told me and my sister this story as an old woman she looked disturbed and says she has carried a cross ever since. My sister and I were very young so we didn’t really get many details. One regret I have is not finding out more. My family believed her or at least believed she had thought she seen it. No one is alive that would have any more information about her sighting/encounter.

The next person to tell me a related account was my close friend’s older sister. She said she was chased by an “evil little creature” at her bus stop. She described it as a gnome and my friends would clown on her about it and now that I’m older and more mature and very much interested in the super natural I regret not listening to her. She had a hard time even talking about it or when we would joke about it. She said it was very small, smaller than she was as an 8 year old girl. It had white fur and a pointy red hat.

In 2010 a costumed Nain Rouge-themed community parade began in the Midtown/Cass Corridor neighborhood. They named it the Marche Du Nain Rouge. Now the parade is a yearly event. It is a revival of an earlier tradition of warding off the Nain Rouge from city during the Spring Equinox. At the conclusion of the parade, an effigy of the imp is destroyed, symbolically banishing him from the city for another year. Some people call the event, The Detroit Mardi Gras. Participants dress up in red devil and red gnome costumes, ride floats, and generally have a good time.

Perhaps this parade is why we don’t hear too much about the red gnome anymore. Or maybe with all the surveillance technology on every corner he has decided to shapeshift into less conspicuous forms, like that of a black cat.

Anyone make the connection between the black cat on Mere Minique's shoulder and the lore that lutins shapeshift into black cats? I haven't seen anyone point that out in all the research I've done on Le Nain Rouge. Perhaps it is my writer brain and the fact that I read a ton of paranormal fiction but that just seems too coincidental to me, especially considering the cat supposedly "spoke" to her, telling her everyone's secrets and fortunes.


Le Prince Lutin by Marie Catherine d’Aulnoy , Les Contes des Fees, 1697

Myths and Legends of our Lands, vol. 6, by Charles M. Skinner, 1896

Legends of Le Détroit by M.C.W. Hamlin, 1884

Nain Rouge: The Red Gnome

Nain Rouge Wiki Page

Strange Encounters with the Mysterious Little People of…. Detroit? By Brent Swancer, December 27, 2017, 

The legend of the legend of Detroit’s Nain Rouge Raising Nain By Lee DeVito

The Red Dwarf of Detroit

Detroit’s Red Devil

Le Nain Rouge: The Historical Harbinger of Detroit’s Doom

Beware the Nain Rouge! A chapter of Detroit folklore

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