Louisiana is home to some of the most intriguing lore of any state in America. Home to New Orleans, which is well-known for its very unique practices involving voodoo and spirits, it is no surprise that there are countless ghouls and goblins said to roam the bayous and swampland around it. Lore-rich as Louisiana is as a whole, however, there is one creature who predates even the state’s frightful traditions of voodoo dolls and witchcraft. In some tales, this beast even predates the state itself.
Anyone in Louisiana will immediately recognize the name “rougarou”. Because it is such an old legend, the beast has a variety of different spellings and pronunciations of its name. Rougarou is the most recognized, but it has also been referred to as the rugaru, roux-ga-roux, and the traditional French name, loup garou, which means “werewolf”. Indeed, the rougarou does share a lot of characteristics with the classic werewolf, although there are some major differences.
The rougarou most commonly takes the form of a massive, hairy person, seven to eight feet tall, with the face of a dog or wolf and blood red eyes. The biggest difference between this creature and a werewolf, however, is its ability to take multiple forms, although whether or not it has the ability to shape-shift at will depends on who you ask. What changes someone into a rougarou, or if it even had the form of a human at one point, varies wildly. Some believe that it was summoned from hell by witches, some believe that it has always marauded the wilderness, and some believe that witches created the rougarou themselves by casting curses upon mortal men. These tales are the younger ones, created by the settlers when they first arrived in the area. Older myths surrounding the rougarou have it linked to divine punishment for disobedient Catholics who break Lent. There is even one theory that it is a genetic defect that some people have and the transformation is triggered by bouts of extreme anger, grief, or sadness, although one does not fully become a rougarou unless they have consumed a mouthful of human flesh.
Forms that the rougarou can take are startlingly numerous, and there is no real way to tell if a creature you encounter is a rougarou unless it transforms before your very eyes. People who have encountered it have stated that they felt that it was unnatural in some way, but that the creature’s appearance was completely normal, provided it took one of the more mundane forms like a pig or a dog. The beast is most often depicted as a wolfman, but has also been said to take the form of a big hairy ape, something resembling Bigfoot, but much more aggressive. Ragged men, shaggy dogs, flesh-eating swine, leopards, bears, and all manner of predatory animals spotted throughout the area have been labeled as the rougarou. There have even been people linking the werewolf-creature with the Skunk Ape, although the stories surrounding that monster in particular are too close to Bigfoot to realistically be added to the list of rougarou forms.
One woman recalled a story that her grandfather told her about the beast. He was on his way home one evening when a wild dog jumped him. Understandably startled and upset, the young man pulled out a pocket knife and slashed at it in self-defense. He was astonished when the dog vanished, replaced by a homeless-looking man who fled the scene. The woman’s grandfather never saw him again, but was convinced that he had come in contact with the rougarou.
No Louisianan would outright admit believing in the creature. Like most cryptids or myths, it is a part of their culture, but mostly regarded as a fairytale within the public eye. The stories were used, even when the very first settlers were establishing towns, as cautionary tales to spook children into behaving, much like the werewolf stories in Europe. “Don’t go into the woods or you’ll be snapped up by a rougarou!” or “Don’t stay out after dark, you might run into a rougarou!” The stories are still retold today, although the legend has mutated and become more and more fantastical, adding abilities and forms with each generation. With the stories being such a big part of the culture in southern Louisiana, it is no wonder that when faced with strange and unusual events that the locals would immediately leap to the conclusion that the rougarou was roaming about. This is not to say that the rougarou does not exist, but it is a very big stretch to believe one creature could do so many things and take so many different forms.
Rugaru is the creature’s name in the Native American tongue, having been introduced to the native peoples of Louisiana through interactions between hunters and traders. While the word is very similar to rougarou, how the Native Americans saw the beast was rather different, and used only to refer to a creature similar to Bigfoot. Like Bigfoot, when the natives spoke of the rugaru, they seemed to consider it to be closely bound to the land and nature, not to supernatural spells and witches. Unfortunately, the term and stories eventually melded with the wendigo, a horrid spirit said to be created whenever a man consumes the flesh of another man. This is really not surprising, given that some stories of the rougarou also have to do with flesh-eating.
No matter what set of stories you find the most logical, there was an incident in 1996 that could be linked to this supernatural entity. A woman by the name of Barbara Mullins stumbled across an interesting carcass by the roadside. She described it as being the size of a St. Bernard, and she took it to be a dog when she first saw it, but something seemed off. It was enough to bring her to pull over and examine the dead thing more closely. What she saw was definitely startling.
Her second impression was that it must have been a baboon, though the tail and backside of the animal did not match. Its tail was much thicker, bushier, than any baboon’s, and its rump was coated in a matted layer of fur. The face, although it more closely resembled a baboon’s face, still had distinctly canine characteristics, such as pointed fangs and a dog-like nose. The ears were rather short, however, and instead of paws the thing had what seemed to be hands, though the back feet more closely resembled paws.
Barbara snapped a few pictures and posted them online. The creature she took pictures of became known as the “Deridder Road Kill”. It was a good thing she did take those pictures, as when the news got ahold of the story they published word that the creature she found was nothing more than a feral Pomeranian that had been struck down by a car. Yet, in her account, Mrs. Mullins had put great stress on how big this creature was. Unfortunately, the photos she took hold no clues as to the size of the dead beast. Many were quick to point out that without something to scale it against in the picture, it could have very well been a Pomeranian. But Barbara Mullins stands by her claims that it definitely was not.
Could this have really been the famed rougarou? With so little evidence, it is hard to say one way or another. In many tales if a rougarou is struck by something it changes form. It is very possible that, if the legends are true, it may have been hit by a car while in dog form and attempted to get away or unnerve its opponent by taking the form of an ape-man or half-human half-dog. At this point it is likely that the beast was already mortally wounded, and it died on the roadside, laying there for hours before someone eventually found it.
Whatever you believe, if the legends are true, Louisiana has not seen the last of the rougarou. Like the werewolf, they could be ordinary people. Your banker, your doctor, your mother… there’s no telling when the next rougarou will once again take to the streets.