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The Rougarou: Louisiana's Cajun Werewolf

Darcie is a graduate student who spends her free time writing and learning everything she can about cryptozoology, aliens, and the unusual.

Discover Louisiana's legendary werewolf: the Rougarou.

Discover Louisiana's legendary werewolf: the Rougarou.

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.

Origins

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.

Supernatural Explanations

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.

The Deridder Roadkill.

The Deridder Roadkill.

Supposed Sightings

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.

Cultural Impact

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.

Honestly, I kind of want this.

Honestly, I kind of want this.

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.

Comments

Nicole McCray on April 15, 2019:

we have similar creatures in northeastern NY along with a few other cryptids like pig men and Bigfoot but i also have seen a panther like cat with black bat like wings by the tree line in a small town along lake Champlain

Amber Noel on January 07, 2019:

This a great article!! I am using it as research for a short story that I am wtiting. Thank you!

The hunter on September 02, 2018:

I hunt all over america and even in Africa a couple times ive run across crap that has made me avoid entire states and run across other things that i tried to stalk and kill one of these things i tried to kill is a loup garou i lived in deep louisiana until i was 11 i know about these things your gonna need some back story for this i subscribe to the idea that they are cursed humans and will have the curse till they die like wherewolves and the loup garou may even be a wherewolf because the only time ive ever found a claim of one that i couldnt easily blow off the description was the same as a where wolf like a humanoid grizzly bear on two legs with lots of steroids that aside i was doing some hunting one night for hog and saw a huge animal walk out stood 6 or 7 feet tall on two legs couldnt make out fine details due to light but i took a shot at it after i saw enough to realize it wasnt human i shot it in the head with a 45-70 those of you who dont get that its a rifle capable of taking large game like an elephant with one shot very strong round and for those of you who are gun people ill give some specs it was a 500 grain soft lead bullet hot loaded on 72 grains of powder (that doesnt sound like much but i shoot black powder in it not smokeless and no its not a muzzle loader it shoots brass cased bullets like a normal gun) anyway i hit it in the head and it got really pissed of and started to charge from about 200 yards away i shot it again in the chest and it ran off i spent the night tracking it mind you this all happemed at about 10 i only quit when i lost blood trail and foot print trail right around daylight i went home and that night there was a story of a man whos body had been found with two large holes that resembled bullet holes but it was ruled out because there was no trace of any lead or powder and he was drained of all his blood that chalked it up to a satanic ritual now to me it sounds like i killed a loup garou but hey maybe its still out there and just really pissed off

Nelso on August 20, 2018:

I think he's around Oakdale la

Kelbie on October 14, 2017:

Wow, this is most definitely going to be my art project gonna be difficult but I'll get it done. Glad the information was here.

Dean texas on July 03, 2017:

It happened to three of us on Texas river,not sure if it was real or not ,but what we heard was not native to Texas . Strange noise ?

Laine Farber on May 24, 2017:

Well written and well documented. I am a journalist from Louisiana who has always been fascinated by folk lore and its cultural impact. I'm considering creating a documentary on the legend of the Rougarou when I get some more free time in the future.

A. Pellegrin on September 25, 2016:

Fantastic article. Well written