The Legend of le Nain Rouge
A legend of the Feast of the Ste. Claire
Le Nain Rouge stood on the shores of Lake Huron where it joined the Ste. Claire River (Modern Port Huron) and watched the long line of canoes coming towards him. “About time,” he snorted through his broken and pointed teeth. “Why in the name of good St. Joseph had I been transported here?” he began to think. “I was happy back in France watching over my valley and warning the people of danger.” Now he had been whisked to the straits between the two great lakes of Huron and Erie. This was the area which the French called le Detroit (French for the straits). Le Nain Rouge was to watch over the people who would live there. Would they listen to his warnings and then take care to avoid tragedy, or would they ignore and dishonor him and then meet their doom?
Fort St. Joseph had been established in 1686 at the head of the straits, but by August of 1687 it was time to abandon it. The Baron Lahontan, who commanded there, decided move to the French settlement at Mackinaw. The day before he was to take his soldiers, load the great canoes and leave on the week long journey, he was walking along the shore of the Ste. Claire River. There he encountered le Nain Rouge. To the Baron Lahontan le Nain Rouge looked like a dwarf, a nain. He had a long red beard, a red toque hat, and red stockings. His eyes seemed to blaze with a fierce red light. He carried a staff with a single red leaf upon it. “Beware Lahontan! “ Le Nain Rouge cried, “If you leave tomorrow you shall all perish! Wait for the new moon before you travel!”
The captain was taken aback. “Why should I believe you, le Nain Rouge? I have heard of you, do you mean me harm or good? “
Le Nain Rouge replied, “I am neither here for good nor evil, I am to warn. If you are guided by my prophecy you may avoid your doom.” Le Nain Rouge then turned and vanished into the woods.
Lahontan worried that night. Should he believe le Nain Rouge? There was a danger of great autumn storms if they waited even a little while longer. The next day the lake was calm and the skies were clear. Should they begin the long paddle north to Mackinaw or wait for the full moon? He decided to believe the le Nain Rouge. He ordered his soldiers to pull the great canoes back from the beaches and unload them. There were whispered words of criticism, but all had heard of the warning by le Nain Rouge. The next night a great wind arose and a tremendous storm came from the north blowing all before it, raging for five days. Lahontan knew they would all have perished if they had departed on the voyage.
Thus the Legend of “le Nain Rouge” was born. Believe his words and prosper, disbelieve and suffer.
In the coming years le Nain Rouge would move south along the straits until he was at the French settlement in Detroit City. In 1701, Detroit’s founder, Cadillac, would drive le Nain Rouge away when he appeared to warn Cadillac. Because of this, Cadillac would suffer the loss of his fortune and freedom.
In May of 1763 British Major Gladwin would heed a warning by le Nain Rouge about a planned uprising by Chief Pontiac and save Detroit from capture.
Later that year, in July, English Captain Dalzell would ignore the le Nain Rouge and perish in an ill-fated attach on Chief Pontiac’s camp.
In 1805 Detroit leaders would not take a warning from le Nain Rouge on fire protection and the entire city would burn to the ground.
In August of 1812, when American General Hull chased le Nain Rouge away, Detroit City fell to the British invaders. This took place during the War of 1812.
Many other times the people of the Straits have avoided disasters or fallen prey to them, depending on whether or not they believed and treated the le Nain Rouge with respect.
Le Nain Rouge, is he good or is he bad? Or, does it depend on your own actions?
So if a small man dressed all in red approaches you with a warning,
How will you respond?