The banks of the Detroit river-July 29, 1763
The soldier drew a hand across his sweaty brow. His heavy breathing left only the faintest whisper in the air. He looked around at the 260 men preparing to spend a short night on the banks of the Detroit river. The silence with which they could set up camp no longer surprised him. It was a necessity when only ten miles lay between you and the enemy and surprise was your greatest weapon. Tomorrow they would strike Chief Pontiac and his vast army, breaking his three-month siege on Fort Detroit.
Out of the corner of his eye, the soldier spied a movement across the river. He stood straight up, shielding his eyes from the sun with his hands, and gazed intently at the opposite bank. Another soldier, noticing his sudden movement, followed his gaze and jumped to attention. Was it a child wearing a coat of red fur? Impossible in the July heat.
As the small figure moved from behind the trees to the river’s edge, it began to dance, a grotesque, monkey-like dance. It came closer to the bank and the men gasped in spite of themselves. Both had seen its glowing red eyes. It was making a raucous sound, like the cawing of a crow, showing a row of teeth, the ones not rotted were long and pointed.
The imp continued his bizarre dance until he stood directly across from the captain’s tent. He pointed to it, his movements becoming more frenzied. The movement alerted a few other soldiers. Before anyone could move, the creature scurried out of sight, the sound of his cawing floating eerily back over the river.
The sighting was reported to Captain James Dalyell, but he shrugged it off impatiently. He had no time for imaginary demons. Tomorrow they would ambush Chief Pontiac and he had much left to do.*
In the end, it was the Indians that surprised the British at Parent’s Creek the next day. How Pontiac learned of the planned ambush and was able to prepare for the battle has never been discovered, although rumors whisper of supernatural help. The British were defeated in a battle so bloody, the water of Parent’s Creek flowed bright red that day. It became known as the Battle of Bloody Run. Sightings of a small, red creature dancing on the banks of the bloody creek after the battle were reported by both sides. Le Nain Rouge had paid a visit.
This was not the first appearance of Nain Rouge (Red Dwarf) in the area that would become Detroit, Michigan. In 1701, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Detroit’s founder, had a run-in with the little red demon and soon after lost his fortune. Multiple sightings were reported in the spring of 1805. A few weeks later, most of the city of Detroit was consumed by a fire.
General William Hull and his troops were sent to defend Detroit during the War of 1812. Hull reported seeing Nain Rouge leering at him through the fog. General Hull surrendered to the British a few days later, his troops having never fired a shot. He was later court-martialed and sentenced to death for his incompetence (he received a reprieve).
Several people reported seeing Nain Rouge the day before the break-out of the 1967 Detroit riots. When the riots ended five days later, 43 people were dead; 1,189 injured and 7,000 arrested.
In 1976, two Detroit Edison workers saw what they thought was a child climbing a utility pole. Before they could rescue it, it jumped 20 feet from the top of the pole and darted away. The next day a snow/ice storm, (considered by many weather authorities to be one of Michigan’s worst natural disasters of all time) blasted Michigan. Sixteen people died and 400,000 were left without electricity. My family was among those without electricity; we stayed at my aunt and uncle’s for days.
Nain Rouge. Legend or “harbinger of doom” as he has been called? Are you a believer or skeptic? My advice is the same to both–If you encounter Nain Rouge, flee from Michigan for the time being.
*The Nain Rouge was sighted by British troops on the banks of the Detroit river the day before the Battle of Bloody Run and described as “harassing the captain”. The details of his appearance to the troops are my interpretation.
Do you have anything to share about Nain Rouge or legends that are famous in your area?
The Red Gnome: Scourge of Detroit
The Red Devil of Detroit
The Nain Rouge: Detroit’s Genius Loci?
Myths and Legends of Our Own Lands by Charles M. Skinner (available on-line through project Gutenberg)
The Legends of Le Detroit by M. C. W. Hamlin, a 19th century book.