• Into the Rabbit Hole

Ep 24: Nain Rouge! The Red Dwarf of Detroit


When: March 10, 1701

Where: St. Louis Quebec, a rich persons house aka a castle!

A party is being thrown. People are laughing and having a good time when there is a knock on the door. A fortune teller was asking to enter. The guests were looking for a distraction so they let her in. The woman who entered was of “an unusual height, a dark, swarthy complexion, restless, glittering eyes”. Also a black cat was perched on her shoulder. Impressing everyone with her palm reading abilities so far, a man named Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac sits down to have his fortune told. After gazing into his palm she tells him how he was going to start a great city. Of course after this, he pressed her to continue, but his fortune took a turn.

“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.”

“Shall my children inherit my possessions?” The man asked.

“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.”

Everyone at the party was impressed with this prophecy, except for the man who received it. Even his wife took more concern of the prophecy then he did.

In July 24, 1701 Cadillac would go on to found the city of Detroit

A few years after the city of Detroit is founded Cadillac and his wife are going for a walk when they overhear two men discussing the city.

They hear one man say, “Things cannot run very long thus. My wife saw a few days ago le petit nain rouge.” Immediately, Cadillacs wife told her husband it could be the “Nain Rouge” the fortune teller warned him about. Cadillac went, “Nah!!” but while they were walking home a “uncouth figure of a dwarf, very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eye.” was advancing toward them.

“ A grinning mouth displaying shartp, pointed teeth, completed this strange face.” Cadillac IMMEDIATELY hits him with his cane.

Soon after Cadillac was arrested in Montreal through some kind of plot of his enemies and had to sell his position in Detroit to pay for his trial. His children never inherited an acre of his vast estates. His colony for the next hundred years was the scene of strife, war and massacre

The Nain Rouge has been seen before a few troubling moments in Detroit history.

In 1763 he was spotted near the Detroit River. The next day, Pontiac killed 60 (?) men during the Battle of Bloody Run

In an attempt to break Pontiac's siege of Fort Detroit, about 250 British troops attempted to make a surprise attack on Pontiac's encampment. (Article said 60 men died, but wiki said 20 did?)

The creek, or run, was said to have run red with the blood of the 20 dead and 34 wounded British soldiers and was henceforth known as Bloody Run

Supposedly, the Nain Rouge “danced among the corpses”

In the Spring of 1805 people said the say the dwarf walking through the streets of Detroit. On June 11 of that year a fire burned down most of the town

Fire was said to start at the local bakers house and then caught a nearby barn and took off from there

Also no local fire department at the time

Its origins in the early French settlement of Detroit are proposed as deriving from Norman French tales of the lutin, a type of hobgoblin, along with Native American legends of an "impish offspring of the Stone God"

In 1813, General William Hull, the only officer in American History to be sentenced to death for military incompetence, claimed he saw the Red Dwarf grinning at him when he surrendered Detroit to the Brittish Army.

Hull surrendered Fort Detroit to General Isaac Brock on August 16, 1812 because Brock had tricked him into thinking that he was vastly outnumbered by his foes.

He was pardoned by President James Madison

Rumor has it someone saw the dwarf before the riots started in 1967

He was seen climbing up a utility pole by two workers in March 1976. Soon after Detroit was hit with one of the worst ice storms the city had ever seen.

Left 200,000 homes in southern Michigan without power and caused millions of dollars in damage

16 people died during this storm

This is the last time the Nein Rouge was seen

There was another ice storm in 1997 but no one has mentioned seeing him before this one.

There was also a big blackout in 2004 with no mention of him either.

I think this is because that blackout hit several states and originated in New York

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. According to Wellesley College assistant professor Kate Grandjean, "My personal feeling is it's really not quite as simple as just European colonists appropriating some Native American spirit".

Grandjean said, "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."

My Skeptic is Showing

Stick in the mud time: 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 was said to have been cursed by the 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

The 2011 event featured a parade followed by banishment and a party in Cass Park, drawing hundreds of guests. At the parade, organizations calling themselves "The Friends of the Nain Rouge" and "We Are Nain Rouge" have lightheartedly "protested" the banishment parade, arguing that the Nain Rouge is not to blame for the city's ills, and that considering Detroit's population loss, no one should be banished from the city, particularly those who have been there the longest. Both groups also work toward making the event a celebration of Detroit's folkloric ancient guardian

March 22nd, 2020

Legends of le Detroit by Marie Caroline Watson published in 1884

Detroit Historical Society

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