Does the Rougarou still roam Louisiana swamps and haunt childhood dreams? Learn more
Deep in the swamps of south Louisiana, legend has it, there lives the Rougarou —a mythical werewolf type creature with sharp claws and glowing eyes. Generations of children have heard the scary tales.
Terrebonne Parish resident Jonathan Foret was one of those children.
"Growing up my parents would tell us if we weren't good, the Rougarou would come pull on our toes at night," Foret said. "I would sleep extra tucked in whenever I could.
I was told to place 13 pennies on my window to stop him from getting in. Although it sounds silly, now as an adult I still don't like my toes out when I sleep just in case."
The tales were also shared by parents through stories of misbehaving children. In those stories, the creature was often used to scare or warn children about listening to their parents and behaving in school.
What is a Rougarou?
Unlike other legendary monsters there can be multiple rougarous. Folklore scholars like Rachel Doherty, professor at the University of Louisiana, understand the monster to be a dog-like creature.
"The stories and accounts that have been shared describe the Rougarou having the body of a man and the face of a dog or wolf," Doherty explains. "There are stories, especially near the Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish area, of people being chased by monsters and seeing a small dog walk past afterwards."
It's said that people aren't born as rougarous but can be transformed in two ways. Legend says that one person can be cursed by another and become a rougarou. It's believed spells or chants coming from Louisiana's deeply rooted spiritual practices can transform a person into a monster until the spell is fulfilled.
Another way to become a rougarou is by encountering one and telling others. In this version the curse is broken when the monster receives blood from a person. If the person tells anyone about the meeting they are cursed next.
What's the story behind the legend?
The Rougarou also spelled rugaroux or loup-garou is a werewolf-type creature in French, Native American and Louisiana folklore. Many credit the French settlers in America and Canada for bringing the legend with them.
During the 1400s and 1500s in France thousands of people were accused of being werewolves, according to website History.com. In a process similar to the Salem Witch Trials in the United States, government officials were said to torture and kill those suspected of being werewolves to protect the general public.
Recent encounters with the Rougarou
The Rougarou has also made several appearances in pop culture. The former NBA team the New Orleans Hornets once filed a name change to be called the Rougarous in 2012.
In the Harry Potter book series, a hair from this creature is needed to make a wand. Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio named a ride after the Rougarou in 2014.
A distinguishing feature on the creature is said to be glowing eyes. One of the Acadiana's most known paintings, the "Blue Dog", is said to be of a loup-garou.
From the book Blue Dog: In the Beginning, 1984-1989, artist George Rodrigue's wife, Wendy, once told the story of the painting as "in his mother’s version, the loup-garou was more of a crazy wolf or ghost dog… His mother used to tell him that if he wasn’t good today, the loup-garou would get him tonight”
Embracing the tradition
A festival is held in honor of this mythical creature every year in Houma. The event serves to celebrate the rich culture and folklore that exists in southeast Louisiana.
"Less stories were being shared about this part of our Cajun culture," says Foret, who is now director of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center and the Rougarou Festival.
"We really wanted to showcase this for the younger generations and they really like it. The Rougarou is also like our mascot for Bayou preservation. In the stories, he lives in the swamps we are trying hard to protect."
The festival is set to take place October 21-23. This year's event will be the first since 2019 due to COVID and Hurricane Ida.
While some communities still enjoy these often told oral tales as truth, stories of Rougarou sightings are fewer and farther between.
Although there is no proof that these legends are true, dozens of children and adults enjoy and fear the thought of a Louisiana werewolf coming to get them.
And some still heed the warnings from the tales of their childhoods, just in case.