The Rougarou: Louisiana's Cajun Werewolf
The Rougarou, also known as the loup-garou, is essentially Louisiana's bayou-dwelling werewolf, and it's a prominent figure in Cajun folklore. It is most often described as having a human body with the head of a wolf or dog, with glowing red eyes and razor-sharp teeth. Variations also associate it with animals such as pigs, cows, and chickens, due to the fact that wolves are not often seen in the area.
The Rougarou is often also associated with the Skunk Ape or the Honey Island Swamp Monster, likely due to another variation of the myth that states the creature is a shapeshifter that can change forms between human and animal at will, sometimes making it seem more like a swamp Sasquatch than a werewolf.
Local stories say the Rougarou roams the streets at night, antagonizing people to attack it. When the first drop of blood is drawn, the creature returns to human form and tells the attacker who it really is. If this witness tells anyone about this encounter within a year and a day, they will become a Rougarou themselves. Other variations say a Rougarou can turn their victims merely by making eye contact.
The Rougarou has a varied history, though all variations seem to trace it back to the French. Some sources claim the myth originated in medieval France, when belief in werewolves would have been far more prevalent.
The Rougarou's Roots in France
A version from the 16th century paints it as being seen as something similar to a genetic disorder, rather than the curse most other versions of the myth portray the Rougarou as being. In this version, the Rougarou would live life as a normal person until some event occurred that triggered their condition. Their body would then undergo a transformation, and they would develop a craving for meat. Their full transformation into their Rougarou form would be completed once they had their first bite of human flesh.
The story of the Rougarou supposedly changed once French immigrants—or possibly also French-Canadian immigrants—came to live in the area that is now Louisiana. Across French Louisiana, it is a very common legend, and most Louisiana natives are very familiar with at least the name, if nothing else.
Just a Bogeyman?
The Rougarou is also thought to be nothing more than a bogeyman story to scare children or Catholics into obedience. Children are told by their elders to behave or else the Rougarou will get them. Catholics are told it will hunt down and kill them if they don't obey Lent. And speaking of scaring Catholics, one French Catholic myth claims that in order for someone to turn into a Rougarou, they must break Lent seven years in a row. But as someone who lives in Louisiana and knows many Catholics who break Lent, I'm not so sure about this myth's validity.
There also exist more supernatural explanations for the origins of the Rougarou. Some versions of the myth involve witchcraft, wherein a witch has the ability to curse someone to be a Rougarou. The unfortunate person is under the spell for 101 days. The curse is transferred when it draws another human's blood.
Native American Stories
There is also a Native American story of the "Rugaru." This version varies from being a Bigfoot legend to resembling something more like a wendigo. There has been some dispute about whether or not this myth is actually related to the French Louisiana Rougarou legends.
Despite the Rougarou legend seemingly beginning as a way to scare Catholics and children, many locals maintain its existence and have their own personal stories, especially among the older generation. A story in The Daily Comet titled "Tales of The Rougarou Still Haunt Local Memories" states that, "In the past, rumors about strange or eccentric neighbors would float through small bayou communities, labeling various people as the dreaded rougarou." This suggests an explanation for the abundance of stories from locals about seeing a Rougarou for themselves.
A story in The Nicholls Worth, a local college paper, titled "Rougarou Remains Strong Figure in Cajun Folklore," recounts a story from a woman about an experience in her youth. She says a local boy was being followed by a dog when he decided to cut it with his pocketknife. The boy saw the dog turn into a man, then ran home to tell his family. According to the woman, "The next day a prominent physician appeared in town with his right arm cut and in a sling. I remember when the physician shot himself here in Lockport. A year later the boy killed himself and left a letter that the family turned over to the sheriff. Even today he refuses to let anyone see it."
The Deridder Roadkill
The Rougarou has also been tied to the story of the Deridder Roadkill. A woman named Barbara Mullins discovered a supposedly unidentifiable carcass on the side of the road in 1996. Some have claimed it to be the body of a Rougarou, though others have speculated it might be a Chupacabra or Devil Monkey. However, many people also believe it's just a dog.
In the same story from The Nicholls Worth, the author, Brandon Folse, heavily quotes from Patricia Perrin, a retired English instructor and folklore specialist. She describes the Rougarou as "an important identification marker for South Louisiana's culture." Perrin's statement is quite obviously true due to the Rougarou's clear influence in local culture and beyond.
- The Audobon Zoo in New Orleans has an exhibit dedicated to the Rougarou, which includes a statue of the creature itself. Audobon's website also has Rougarou t-shirts for sale.
- The New Orleans Pelicans, Louisiana's NBA team, were formerly known as the Hornets. When they were choosing the new name, one of the trademarks filed for was for the name the New Orleans Rougarou.
- On the last Saturday in October in the city of Houma, Rougarou Fest is held.
- The Rougarou myth is even so prevalent that the term "rougarouing" or similar terms have become used to describe a person who stays up late or is active at night.
Outside of Louisiana, the Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio has a rollercoaster named Rougarou.
The Rougarou has even been made into an action figure, part of a series that also features Sasquatch and the Yeti.
Whether the Rougarou is truly a cryptid stalking the streets at night just waiting to pass its curse on to the next unfortunate soul, or whether it is merely a tool used to scare Catholics into keeping Lent, it is clear that the Rougarou has left its mark on Southern Louisiana.