In 1701, the French soldier and explorer Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac is given permission by the governor of New France to set out and establish a new fort. A party is held at the governor’s residence, in celebration of Cadillac, who is to embark on his expedition the following day.
An uninvited guest arrives at the party. She is a tall, dark woman with piercing eyes, dressed in strange clothes, and carrying a black cat on her shoulder. She is called “Mere Minique, La Sorcière” and is known as a wandering fortune teller.
She reads the skeptical Cadillac his fortune, telling him, “You will found a great city which one day will have more inhabitants than New France now possesses, and many children will nestle around your fireside.”
Cadillac is intrigued, and asks her to go on.
“In the years to come, your colony will be the scene of strife and bloodshed. The Indians will be treacherous, and the hated English will struggle for its possession. But under a new flag it will reach a height of prosperity you never in your wildest dreams pictured.”
And Mere Minique then issues Cadillac an ominous final warning:
“Appease the Nain Rouge. Beware of offending this demon.”
Six years pass since that night, and Fort Ponchartrain du Détroit is indeed prosperous. One evening, Cadillac and his wife go for a walk along the river. Through the fog, he begins to make out a strange figure ahead in his path. Cadillac comes closer, and there the Nain Rouge stands in clear focus before him — small with red skin and black fur covering its body, with the face of an old man and blazing red eyes; its ginning mouth displays rows of rotted, sharp-pointed teeth.
Cadillac remembers Mere Minique’s admonition, but in his pride he lashes out and violently strikes the Nain Rouge with his cane, and the demon vanishes.
Cadillac hears a voice:
“You were warned not to anger him, and in your ungovernable temper you do just otherwise. Your impetuosity will bring you and yours to ruin, and misfortune will now and forever be your portion.”
As the centuries pass, the city of Detroit is relentlessly subjected to misfortune and destruction. And preceding each and every of these tragedies, the Nain Rouge is witnessed, appearing like a harbinger of doom.
In 1763, the Ottawa Indian tribe, along with their Potawatomi and Huron allies, waged what came to be called Pontiac’s War, against British settlements in the Great Lakes region, eventually culminating in the Seige Of Detroit. The day before a battle that subsequently became known as Bloody Run, a British commander named James Dalyell was reportedly stalked by the Nain Rouge along the banks of the Detroit River. Dalyell and 60 British soldiers were killed in the battle, and his head was paraded in front of the fort on a pike. The tributary of the Detroit river, which ran through the battlefield and where Elmwood Cemetery presently sits at the corner of East Lafayette & Mount Elliot, turned thick and red in the aftermath. The Nain Rouge was seen in the bloody mists, cackling and dancing among the bodies of the dead and the dying.
Multiple sightings of the Nain Rouge were reported before the Great Fire Of 1805, which burned all 200 buildings in Detroit to the ground. The Latin motto on the city seal of Detroit — “Resurget Cineribus” — was inspired by that disaster.
Late in the night of July 22 1967, the Nain Rouge was witnessed gleefully cartwheeling and backflipping its way through the darkness down 12th Street. Just hours later, a riot would erupt so massive that thousands of buildings would burn, dozens of people would be killed, and hundreds injured.
A decade after that, on a night in March of 1976, two DTE workers saw what they at first thought was a child run up a utility pole. Upon closer look, the figure’s demonic visage and inhuman agility revealed the Nain Rouge yet again, and the following day a massive blizzard hit Detroit, leaving the city crippled for days. And some even believe that it was the Nain Rouge who possessed gangs of firebugs to set those first fires that would quickly escalate into the sprees of mass-arson known as Devils Night, in the nights leading up to Halloween each year back in the 1980’s.
Beginning in 2010, a tradition dating back to the founding of the city, was resurrected in Detroit. Every spring, a parade procession known as the Marche du Nain Rouge leads down Cass Avenue and finishes with the Nain Rouge being burned in effigy, in a light-hearted ritual to symbolically “drive the devil out of Detroit”.
Nevertheless, as the saying goes, “Should you chance upon a dwarfish red devil that caws like a crow on the dark streets of Detroit… treat him with respect.”