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Nain Rouge

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Representation of Nain Rouge used to promote Detroit Beer Company "Detroit Dwarf" lager.

The Nain Rouge (French for "red dwarf") is a legendary creature of the Detroit, Michigan area whose appearance is said to presage misfortune for the white settlers of the area. There are no records that indicate the legend of the Nain Rouge existed prior to the 1880s.[1]

According to various narratives surrounding the figure, Detroit's founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was told by a fortuneteller to appease the Nain Rouge, but he instead attacked it with his cane and shouted, "Get out of my way, you red imp!" As a consequence, a string of bad luck befell Cadillac; he was charged with abuse of power and reassigned to Louisiana, later returning to France where he was briefly imprisoned and eventually lost his fortune.[2][3] The Nain Rouge is also known as "the Demon of the Strait."[4][5]

The Nain Rouge legend has become part of contemporary Detroit culture. There are several alcoholic drinks named after the Nain Rouge, and the legend has been the basis for the films Devil's Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge and Eric Millikin's The Dance of the Nain Rouge. Each Spring, there is an event called the Marche du Nain Rouge where hundreds of people chase the Nain Rouge out of the city and burn them in effigy.[6]


The Nain Rouge first appeared in Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin's 1883 book Legends of Le Détroit, where she described the Nain Rouge as a dwarf, "very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eye," and with "a grinning mouth displaying sharp, pointed teeth".[1] The Nain Rouge was then included in Charles M. Skinner's 1896 book Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, described as "a shambling, red-faced creature, with a cold, glittering eye and teeth protruding from a grinning mouth."[5]

Legend holds that Nain Rouge's appearance would presage terrible events for the white people of the city, and foretell success for the Indigenous People. The creature is said to have appeared on July 30, 1763 before the Battle of Bloody Run, where 58 British soldiers were killed by Native Americans from Chief Pontiac's Ottawa tribe. Supposedly, the Nain Rouge "danced among the corpses" on the banks of the Detroit River after the battle, and the river "turned red with blood" for days after. According to the tale, all the misfortunes of Governor and General William Hull leading to the surrender of Detroit in the War of 1812 are blamed on the Nain Rouge.[7]

Several sightings were later reported during the 20th century. Two utility workers claim to have seen the creature just before the 1967 Detroit riots,[1] and supposedly, it was also seen before an ice storm in 1976.[8]

There are no records that indicate the legend of the Nain Rouge existed in the 18th century, 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.[1] However, some claim that it originates in the early 1700s French settlement of Detroit, supposedly deriving from Norman French tales of the lutin, a type of hobgoblin. Some also claim that the Nain Rouge originated with supposed Native American legends of an "impish offspring of the Stone God".[9][1]

Wellesley College assistant professor Kate Grandjean, a specialist in early American and Native American history, says "My personal feeling is it's really not quite as simple as just European colonists appropriating some Native American spirit ... 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."[1]

Grandjean says the Nain Rouge is a defender of sorts for “those on the losing end of history ... Historically, the Nain Rouge has mostly been a menace to those in power.”[10]

Local culture[edit]

The Nain Rouge legend has become an enduring part of the folklore of the Detroit area.[11]

Nain Rouge alcoholic drinks[edit]

Detroit Beer Company, a brewpub in Downtown Detroit, has as its signature brew a "Detroit Dwarf" lager, named in honor of the Nain Rouge.[12] In 2015 Woodberry Wine, a distributor and wholesaler of fine wines and Kindred Vines Import Company, an importer of French and Italian wines both based out of the Metro-Detroit area introduced "Nain Rouge Red"; a French red wine blend named after the Nain Rouge dwarf.[13]

Marche du Nain Rouge[edit]

"Pro-Nain" protesters at the 2019 Marche du Nain Rouge.

Each Spring since 2010, a costumed parade called the Marche du Nain Rouge has been held in Detroit,[14][15][6] in which a person dressed like the Nain Rouge is chased out of the city.[16] and then an effigy of the Nain Rouge is burned,[1] in what the organizers describe as "banishing the evil spirit from the city for another year". The parade participants wear masked costumes, supposedly so the Nain Rouge will not recognize them.[1]

Critics have protested the banishment parade, arguing that the Nain Rouge is being unfairly blamed for the city's problems, and no one should be banished from the city, particularly those who have been there the longest and who are being targeted based on the color of their skin.[17][18] One protester has said "Originally the Nain Rouge was a Native American Earth spirit, a protector of Detroit. They turned him into a devil."[18]

Hundreds of people attend the event.[19][20] The 2014 parade included a speech from Alexis Wiley, a representative for Mayor Mike Duggan, the first white mayor of the majority-black city since the early 1970s.[21]

Devil's Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge[edit]

Devil's Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge is a 2019 English language feature film directed by Sam Logan Khaleghi based on the creature of the same name.[22] The film marks the debut of Eminem's younger brother Nathan Kane Mathers.[23] Swifty McVay, of the hip hop group D12, played the role of the mayor of Detroit and composed the song “Scariest Thing" for the film.[24]

The Dance of the Nain Rouge[edit]

Artist Eric Millikin has been creating work based on the Nain Rouge since at least the early 2000s.[25] His The Dance of the Nain Rouge is a 2023 short animated documentary film about the Detroit folklore legend of the Nain Rouge.[26] The film is described as "an experimental decolonial Detroit demonology deepfake dream dance documentary."[27] It was awarded "Best Animation Film" at the 2024 Absurd Film Festival in Italy.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h DeVito, Lee. "March 16, 2016, Arts & Culture - The legend of Detroit's Nain Rouge". metrotimes.com. Detroit Metro Times. Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  2. ^ Christopher R. Fee; Jeffrey B. Webb (29 August 2016). American Myths, Legends, and Tall Tales: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore [3 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of American Folklore (3 Volumes). ABC-CLIO. pp. 696–. ISBN 978-1-61069-568-8.
  3. ^ Alan Naldrett (19 August 2014). Forgotten Tales of Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Arcadia Publishing Incorporated. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-1-62585-191-8.
  4. ^ Hamlin, Marie Caroline Watson; Campbell, James V. (James Valentine) (1884). Legends of Le Détroit. Cornell University Library. Detroit : T. Nourse.
  5. ^ a b Myths and Legends of our Lands, vol. 6, by Charles Montgomery Skinner, Library of Alexandria, 1896.
  6. ^ a b Matheney, Keith. "Marche du Nain Rouge ushers in spring in Detroit — a little weirdly". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  7. ^ Sheryl James (16 April 2013). Michigan Legends: Folktales and Lore from the Great Lakes State. University of Michigan Press. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-0-472-05174-8.
  8. ^ Serba, John (October 15, 2017). "14 Michigan Monster Myths to Fire Up Your Halloween". MLive.com. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  9. ^ Joanna Gilar; Rose Williamson (September 2016). The World Treasury of Fairy Tales & Folklore: A Family Heirloom of Stories to Inspire & Entertain. Wellfleet Press. pp. 267–. ISBN 978-1-57715-127-2.
  10. ^ Rogers, Christina. "Detroit is Blaming Its Woes on a Mythical Imp Called the Nain Rouge". WSJ.
  11. ^ Baetens, Melody. "8 things to know before 8th annual Marche du Nain Rouge". Detroit News. The Detroit News. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  12. ^ Stephen C. Johnson (16 May 2016). Detroit Beer: A History of Brewing in the Motor City. Arcadia Publishing Incorporated. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-1-62585-733-0.
  13. ^ Wos, Jenny (October 15, 2017). "Troy's Woodberry Wine Premieres Nain Rouge Red for March Parade". DBusiness Daily News. Hour Media. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Marche Du Nain Rouge 2012: Detroit Revelers Kick Out The 'Red Dwarf' (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. 26 March 2012. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  15. ^ Burns, Gus (March 25, 2013). "Detroit's Marche du Nain Rouge revisited; off-beat parade draws record crowd (photos/video)". MLive. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Marche Du Nain Rouge". Marche Du Nain Rouge. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  17. ^ "We Are Nain Rouge". We Are Nain Rouge. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  18. ^ a b Bouffard, Karen (March 22, 2015). "Nain Rouge march returns to streets of Detroit". The Detroit News. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  19. ^ Wattrick, Jeff (21 March 2011). "Hundreds participate in Detroit's 2011 March de le Nain Rouge". Mlive.com. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  20. ^ Benavides-Colón, Amelia (March 24, 2024). "Marche du Nain Rouge 2024: Detroit parade to mark start of spring draws hundreds". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 2024-03-31.
  21. ^ Walker, Marlon A. (March 23, 2014). "Marchers drive evil spirit Nain Rouge out of Detroit for another year". Detroit Free Press. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  22. ^ "'Devil's Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge' filming in Lake Orion". FOX 2 Detroit. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2024-03-14.
  23. ^ Graff, Gary. "Eminem's brother makes film starring debut in "Devil's Night"". The Oakland Press. Retrieved 2020-07-14.
  24. ^ Drake, Monica. "Hundreds show up for premiere of locally filmed 'Nain Rouge' movie". The Oakland Press.
  25. ^ Creager, Ellen (October 31, 2009). "Mysterious Michigan". Detroit Free Press. pp. 9A.
  26. ^ Baetens, Melody (October 25, 2023). "Things to do this Halloween weekend in Metro Detroit". The Detroit News.
  27. ^ Ringler, Chris (18 October 2022). "THE DANCE OF THE NAIN ROUGE". Retrieved 1 November 2023.
  28. ^ "Awards of December 2023 – January 2024". Absurd Film Festival (in Italian). 2024-02-01. Retrieved 2024-03-31.

Further reading[edit]

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