Hunt for the Skinwalker (Full Movie)
[SNARLING] NARRATOR: There is a story told amongst the children of the Native Americans who inhabit the southern swamplands. A story about a perverse ritual performed by the Atakapa tribe, long before white men came to these lands. A ritual so dark that other tribes dared not speak of it. The Skinwalker traditions.
The Atakapa were fierce warriors whose vanquished foes were consumed in a very literal sense. They ate the flesh of their enemies. As the tribe began to overtake more and more land, two tribes called the Opelousas and Chitimacha decided to band together to fight back against the Atakapa. A bloody war raged and through their combined strength, the two banded tribes won the battle driving the few remaining Atakapa deep into the swamplands. Weakened and starving to death, the Atakapa turned to their shamans for answers.
Their spiritual leaders began to seek assistance beyond the physical realm. And in the darkness, something answered them... -[INDISTINCT GHOSTLY VOICES] -...something evil. This evil consumed the Atakapa, granting strength in exchange for every hint of humanity that once existed within them. Over time, their numbers grew and they began to move beyond the boundaries of the swamplands they were once forced into.
An animalistic nature consumed them to such a degree, they took on the form of something beyond human. -Beyond beast... -[WEREWOLF HOWLS] ...the Rougarou. ROY VERRETT: Just... Back when I was young, you know, people hunted different ways. There was a lot of trapping that went on around here, and there was a fur industry that I guess was kind of big.
I was a kid when the fur industry was doing real well. And people hunted and trapped a lot. Well, I loved hunting, and took to hunting at night, too. And there was times that I went off in the woods by myself. And this particular night, I was out there, I was probably every bit of 20 minutes from the house. I'm paddling a pirogue. Pirogue, I mean,
you can't move as fast as you think you can move in them, you know? It's just a slow movement. I heard this noise, this growl that just sounded... Large, like a large animal. I had no idea what... you know... It made a roar, I mean, it screamed like...
I can't even find an animal that can even come close to what it sounded like. And I thought, for a minute, okay, I'm just hearing things. That this can't be real, whatever it is. As I was coasting, and coming close to the land, I knew I was coming to a clearing. At this point, I turned my light on to look, to see whatever that animal was. -And I see two red eyes. -[EERIE MUSIC PLAYING]
[HEART THUMPING] So, now I'm really frozen. I don't know where to put myself. And if I react, I feel like... I'm afraid if I react to it in fear, that it... They can come towards me. So, I leave, I get my distance, I'm about 20-some-minute paddle to the house. And where our house was, was deep in a marsh.
So, my long journey, scared along the way this thing could pop up on me. I get home... My dad's there, like always, he's waiting on me.
And he recognizes that... He says... "Hey, what's wrong with you? You're white as a ghost." I didn't tell him, 'cause I didn't think I was crazy, for what I had heard and what I had seen. So, picked up my stuff, took a shower and went to bed. [OMINOUS MUSIC PLAYING] [HOWLING] [GENTLE MUSIC PLAYING] JONATHAN FORET: We are at ground zero for coastal land loss in southern Louisiana.
All of the soil that we're on currently is alluvial soil. So, all of this was created by the Mississippi River because we're on a delta, right? And so as it's alluvial soil, it compacts over time. So, it starts sinking. Now, when the river was able to flood seasonally, the sediment would add more dirt and add more dirt.
So, it wasn't a huge problem. Well, now that the Mississippi River is levied, it can't flood. And so our land is just constantly sinking with nothing to replenish it.
ROY VERRETT: Where we did live, it's not the same. The area has changed so much. There's always potential flooding. You know, high winds like we having today. There's water in the yard.
And then when a storm comes, it's even worse, It kind of fights back a little bit with these levee protections they coming out with, and they're building the levees bigger and stronger than what they did before. So, I mean, there's some hope for some, some of the people that's inside the levee protection system. But outside the levee protection system, that's potentially, a few years, that's going to be no more.
That's all going to be washed away. WOMAN: You live down the bayou, you're going to see danger you never seen before in your whole life. You know, maybe you blink an eye or rub your eyes, you see things you never seen before in your life, Especially when it's pitch-dark down here in Cocodrie, you snap pictures at night from across the bayou, anywhere in this area, you'll see.
They'll come. They'll show up. Because this place is haunted. Okay? This place is really haunted. NARRATOR: When you picture the south, most people picture Louisiana. Spanish moss, wide rivers, swamplands, ancient forests and fields that were once part of plantations.
Truth is, Louisiana is the south, or at least some sort of strange, miniaturized picture of it. Situated in the Mississippi alluvial plain, Louisiana is defined by the rivers and waterways that make their way across the state. The northern part of the state is forests, fields and prairies. Agriculture has a foothold here. While the southern portion is lowland, with dense swamps and wetland forests and down along the coast, seemingly endless marshes.
We were... I say we... My ancestors were expelled from Nova Scotia In Canada. The English put the French Canadians on boats, set their houses on fire and shipped them away. The French Canadians that were expelled made their way to Louisiana in these boats. And found that there were also other French speakers.
Because New Orleans was a French-speaking area at the time, it was a good place to be. The homeless tribe is a tribe that broke off from Chitimacha tribe, which is more towards Lafayette area. You know, they hold their group as the homeless tribe for a long time, and I think it's still trying to be like a recognized tribe. ELIZABETH COURTEAUX: My father was a chief.
And my mother's grandmother was a Chitimacha princess. And we were very proud of being Houma Indian. But we were banished, because they call us "Sabine" You know what Sabine means? Cypress tree. So now, when I hear that, I say, "Oh, cypress trees are beautiful, thank you." But back then, that was an ugly word for us.
When I started the white school, I was teased, fought with, and my sister, too. And the first day I came back from that school, I said, "Mama, I'm quitting." I don't want to go back because I was teased too much.
She said, "If you quit, they won." And that stayed with me since that. Not to turn around and retreat.
Keep going, and that's what I did. I kept going. BELDRON FOREST: You know, we talk about the people here being very resilient because we grow up going through hurricanes. People get scared of hurricanes, but I got a week to run away from a hurricane. You've got ten seconds to run from a tornado. I was born and raised here. If you starve over here,
something's wrong with you. There's food to eat all over the place. Catch food in the water. You can grow things. FORET: The seafood, in particular...
I think if you're south of I-10, you're probably a little bit heavier than north of I-10, because we get, like, all the really good seafood that you can fry and make jambalayas and gumbos with and seafood boils. That's a huge part of the culture and traditions here. It's a really special place around here. COLE KINCHEN: I think what maybe a lot of people think of Louisiana, and maybe what they picture in their head is very slow-moving bodies of water and swamps and bayous and that's very accurate. It's a very accurate way to think of Louisiana. That actually could be a little bit of the relation, as well, with Louisiana and the Rougarou.
FORET: I would say Houma is one of the larger cities closest to the Gulf of Mexico. You've got the bayou communities of Terrebonne Parish. and those are smaller communities, and those communities then filter up into Houma, the bigger city. So, when folks need to go shopping for things, they're gonna go to Houma even though they live in those outerlying areas along the coast.
KINCHEN: There are some legends that say, and naturally so, that if there were a beast living somewhere in Louisiana that fits that description, it would be in these parts of Louisiana because a creature like that would want to be away from humanity and somewhere that people can't really access. It's possible that some kind of creature like a Rougarou would choose that type of terrain to live in. Most stories have the Rougarou as wolf-like, eight feet, nine feet tall, red eyes, usually...
hairy body, strong, muscular claws, red, red eyes, that's the thing that I think I most remember about the vision I have of a Rougarou. Just these red, glaring eyes at night. [SNARLING] I mean, something's interesting to this area, we say wolf, but there are no wolves in southern Louisiana. There are coyotes and things like that. I think for those stories coming from French Canada and then also from France, coming down here, I think there were some variations of that because the animal didn't really exist in the area.
It was mostly coyotes and things like that. VERRETT: So, I'm turning my light on and I'm looking, and I saw two red eyes. You know, I'm looking dead at it with the light, imagine I'm looking at it straight on, and I'm staring at it, but I'm so scared and nervous that I don't know what to do with it. So, my long journey, scared along the way, this thing could pop on me, I get home. I don't run home, I walk.
I get inside. My dad's there, like always, he's waiting on me. And he recognized that... He says, "Hey, what's wrong with you? You're white as a ghost." I didn't tell him, 'cause I didn't think I was crazy for what I had heard and what I had seen.
I didn't tell anyone for about two weeks. And there was this visit we had with some people, neighbors or ours, and some old people. And they talked about all these people, at this time, they did a lot of trapping and they was always in the marsh.
So, it was people that'd seen things sitting there listening to it, and listening to some of these stories and after they left, that's when I told my dad about it. And I told him what happened to me two weeks prior to that. He said, "I remember that."
He said "That's what was wrong with you," he said. See, that was wrong with me, and then he went to tell me his story about it. Now, his story when he seen something like so... and he described what he had seen, he was actually looking at it what it's like. And he'd seen broad shoulders, Narrow legs. He said the way it looks, it was standing still at first, that it looked like a tree, but it caught him in the corner of his eye, that made him look at it.
And then it looked at him and it ran away. And he said that when it moved in the marsh and ran away from the light, it didn't make a sound. NARRATOR: It's hard to determine exactly when people started talking about the Rougarou. The name itself seems to have derived from the French term for "Werewolf," Loup-Garou. Loup is French for "Wolf," while Garou indicates a man capable of changing physical form. The term seems to have been born out of the numerous shape-shifting man-wolf legends that have permeated French folklore for hundreds of years.
Eventually, the term Loup-Garou morphed into Rougarou, becoming interchangeable today. Presumably, the word came to the United States by way of French settlers who were the first to move into the Louisiana bayous. Stories of half-man canine creatures were already percolating around the outskirts of their early settlements. There are several legends surrounding Rougarou manifestations.
In some cases, these are people seeking out the power of shape-shifting, while in others, the people have no choice regarding their fate. A man crosses the wrong person, and is subjected to a literal bone-twisting fate. Lent isn't followed as it should be.
Someone speaks of seeing a Rougarou before they're permitted. Victims of lycanthropy are shackled by lore. There are only two ways to overcome this affliction.
Either the Rougarou's own blood must be spilled or the Rougarou must pass the curse on to another. A Rougarou looks like a half-man and half-wolf. What it is, is cursed. Somebody curses you.
And that curse becomes something that you can't live with until you are taken out of it by someone else. When I heard this story, I was flabbergasted and it's a true story. My brother Mac, would go every Thursday to go to my uncle's house. Something was following him. When he got to my uncle's house, he asked my uncle, he says, "Somebody's been following me." On the second Thursday he went, he heard it. But then he heard a growl this time. And he told my uncle, he says, "That was no rabbit.
"That was that was something that growled at me." and he jokingly said, "Well, it might be the Rougarou." So, on his third Thursday, He brought a gun and it followed him again. On the way back, he saw a shadow in the woods. And he says, "Uh-uh.
"I'm going to see what that is." And he heard the growling. and there was a clearing and he saw in the clearing, it was a wolf, but walking on two legs. he hollered at him. He says, "Who are you?" He just growled at him, and he shot at it but he didn't get it. [GUNSHOTS] So, it ran. So, the following Thursday he went back,
went to the clearing, and it was there again. And this time it talked to him. ROUGAROU: I want you to deliver me. COURTEAUX: He says, "I want you to deliver me." My brother says, "Oh, no, no, no..."
I am not doing that because if I do that, I become one in a year and a day. My brother shot at him and he fell. He didn't mortally wound him. He just fell to the ground.
And he came back. He saw it was his uncle. So, here up at our house and told my mama to send somebody to bring him.
'Cause we didn't have a car, we had no car. So, the neighbor had a car and the neighbor brought him to the hospital. And the next day he thanked my brother for bringing him back. He says, "Now, I'll become..." He says, "No, as long as you don't tell anybody, "for a year and a day." My mama knew but she wouldn't talk about it. And he would not talk about it to anyone. When he died,
my brother wanted to go to this little camp. We called it the house on the little camp. My brother said, "I've got to go in the house. See what's in the house."
In the house, there was only one coffee pot and one chair. No bed, no nothing else. And they had a had a path going in the back of house, like he was sleeping in the woods instead of in his house. Him and my aunt were separated, and she cursed him. He was no more the supporter of the house. And when he moved across the bayou in that little camp, that little house, and she cursed him.
And that's what happened to him. And she told me, she says, "I hope he becomes something that's very, very ugly." He did. FORET: It's also thought that it could have been a curse, right? Someone that was into witchcraft got upset at somebody and then could put a curse on that person. And then the only way of breaking that curse was for someone else to draw the blood of the Rougarou and then the curse passed from that person to the person that would have drawn the blood. You have these stories of Rougarous going around as a cursed human and antagonizing another person and scaring them to defend themself.
Also, if you see a Rougarou, you cannot talk about it for 100, one hundred plus one days, 101 days, right. Because if you do, then that curse comes on you, and then you're destined to become the Rougarou yourself. [GROWLING] Catholicism is very, very prominent in Louisiana.
One of the things that again was kind of a legend about the Rougarou is that you were going to be cursed by the Rougarou if you didn't follow the rules of Lent. And so for those who are not Catholic and don't really understand what Lent is, it's 40 days and 40 nights of fasting. You know, intentionally. On Fridays, you don't eat meat. In general, you're supposed to kind of give up something that you you enjoy for Lent.
And so that was just a way to... Especially for kids, to tell kids to kind of have good behavior. Follow the rules of Lent. And if you don't, the Rougarou is going to get you [BELL DINGING] [INTENSE GROWLING] Growing up here, it's used as a story to keep kids in line. A lot of times, I mean, my grandparents and parents said, "Oh, be good or the Rougarou, is going to get you." And so you were good, you stayed in line.
So, I think part of that folklore then changed into sort of a "Behave or else" kind of thing for the local kids here. One of the origin stories of the Rougarou... That it's still a werewolf, but that it can shift its shape. There has been some stories of... I guess it draws comparisons to the Salem witch trials, in that somebody could be among you and you wouldn't know if they're different. You wouldn't know if they're the Rougarou.
Because it could have shifted its shape to another human. So, you could be at the market, at church, and the Rougarou could be right next to you and you wouldn't even know it. NARRATOR: Louisiana is rife with stories, stories passed down through generations, morphing to take on a life of their own. Like the waters of the rivers that seep into the vast Louisiana swamps, the tall tales mingle with the reality and become something wholly unique. These stories suggest that the monsters and other dangers lurking in the bayou are not always easily recognizable. The Rougarou is restricted to manifesting in a single form.
Knowing this requires extra caution when running into something that doesn't seem quite right. The Rougarou has been known to utilize its ability to shape-shift for personal advantage. Stories with example of this run the gamut. A farmer transforming into livestock to help boost his personal economic boon.
A Rougarou shucking oysters for a local fisherman at night while taking a generous 50% tax for himself. In other words, the curse of the Rougarou was not always used in a malicious fashion. However, folklore from the area tells us that the Rougarou can be anyone or anything. Someone under the curse could be a tree. Only turning back to human form after an axe pierces its bark.
Some Rougarou appear as white, fur-covered critters in the form of dogs to rabbits. Sometimes, and maybe even more unnerving, the Rougarou looks just like you and I. BRENDA FITCH: The Rougarou, they said the Rougarou is the one that wants to trade souls. It will take your place in human life while you take his place and death. I lived here in Cocodrie. But when I was about
seven, eight years old, I used to live in a plantation called Laurel Valley Plantation. And I used to live with my grandpa and my grandma, me and my other siblings, okay? It's a long time ago. My brother was the one that saw the Rougarou. Okay, what they call the man with no head. Him and my cousin Roy went hunting one night and they went hunting for rabbits down in the woods, so they passed with a mini bike behind the plantation. On their way back from hunting, they was riding on the mini bike, what we call the little mini bike.
They were coming back from hunting and this big tree, called the Moss Tree... My neighbor coming back heard some noise in the trees, and my brother just happened to look up. When my brother looked up... and he saw something moving. So, he told my cousin Roy to take the bull's-eye to shine. He saw something in the tree, but it was coming back and forth, back and forth. He said a little while after, it jumped from the top to the bottom of the tree, and he shined the bull's-eye.
And he shined it to the tree. When he shined it to the tree, he said it jumped right in front of him. And him and my cousin Roy didn't know what to do with each other. He said the next thing he knew when he looked and he looked up with the bull's-eye, a man with no head, called the Rougarou, had blood gushing out. Blood gushing out. They dropped the guns.
They dropped the rabbits. Dropped the bullets, everything. They left everything right there. Well, he took off. We had a big gate that blocked from the road to the back. Jumped over the gate, jumped over the gate, my cousin Roy took the mini bike and he rode to the front with it my brother go run to my papa. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy..."
Okay? He said, "What's wrong, son?" He said, "I saw him, I saw him." He said, "What, you mean?" He said, "Dad, I saw the Rougarou. "I saw the Rougarou." He said, "Come on, son." He said, "Daddy, I'm telling you. "I saw the Rougarou."
So my dad and my mama, my grandma, my grandpa... We all took off to the back. The next morning, we all get up. My mama had a camera in her hand. All was left, was the shells, the gun and the rabbits are the bone, just itself. No meat, no nothing.
The skin... Just the bones were there, That's it. That's all that was there. My grandfather told a story of a Rougarou that was a changeling, that wasn't necessarily a wolf, and was typically a white dog but could also turn into another white animal. I mean, this is like, back in the 1800s, right? So, there's no electricity, air conditioner, there was little shacks, right? And it was this couple that was trying to go to sleep.
And then the Rougarou appears as this white rooster that's jumping along the rafters making a whole bunch of noise and antagonizing the people. And so they said that was the Rougarou, this changeling kind of thing. And then they also said that they saw it as a white dog, this big white dog that you could see at night walking along the roads and in the swamps and everything. So, that's not the traditional version of the Rougarou story. But that's one that a few of us growing up heard, that the Rougarou could be like a shape-shifter kind of thing. NARRATOR: There are just as many variations on how the Rougarou manifests as there are stories where it appears.
A section of Louisiana Highway 57 known as Bayou Sale Road is home to one of these variations. Due to the number of accidents that have occurred on what has been dubbed "the most haunted road in Louisiana", this road has become a prime location for a mix of ghost stories and Rougarou lore. Bayou Sale Road connects Dulac to Cocodrie, twisting and turning through the saltwater marshes, swamps and remnants of oak and cypress groves. Warnings abound about traveling this road, particularly after dark.
The Rougarou is said to stalk this area, sometimes seen standing in the middle of the road in his animalistic form. Other times, he manifests as a hitchhiker to entice drivers to give him a ride. Allowing the Rougarou into your vehicle puts you at severe risk.
The only way to rid yourself of the creature once it enters your car is to give him something extremely important, perhaps even your soul. All I told you is what my grandpa told me, when I was a young girl growing up. If you ever see anyone, I don't care what time it is, walking on the side of the road with light clothes on. Never stop. Keep on going. Don't never turn around. You turn around, you pick up this person that you don't know who it is I don't want to be in your clothes or your skin.
Okay? They want to trade their soul for your soul. I did encounter one. Me and my husband was coming down to Cocodrie to come to work. We were coming from Cut Off, and it just happened to be at night. My husband wanted me to drive, so, I went ahead and I took the wheel. I saw this guy.
I mean, he was all in white. And I kept on going, I told the old man, I said, "We got a guy I seen walking." He said, "Well, turn around and go see." [LAUGHS] Yeah. Okay.
I turned around, turned around on a dime. And I haul tail back the other way. I went all the way, took us to the bridge where we pulled in to come to Cocodrie.
I turned around, I came back. He was at the red light. I jumped that bridge at 60 miles an hour, I took off. I did not stop. How can you get from the road in the middle of nowhere to the front.
Explain that to me. I didn't stop and ask no questions. Because if he would have jumped in front of me? It wouldn't have been nice. It wouldn't have been that nice. No, no, no, I absolutely believe he's a shape-shifter. I've heard stories from not just family members, but other people from Chauvin.
We could see him, or the ones who have seen him can see him. But he's not really walking our plane, like, he could be anywhere. He could be hiding over there and we not know about it. And he he could be a rabbit, a person. He could be a coyote.
He could be anything, and we're not going to know. I believe he's a lost soul. I want to say I was nineteen at the time.
I went to a home that was destroyed by Hurricane Gustav. I had a family pet who was buried against the fence and I wanted the cross that was put on his grave. Kind of a weird thing for me to do. But I was really close to this pet and I wanted something that belonged to him. So, me and my oldest son's dad, and our cousin came to Chauvin and went to the home, picked up the cross, and we were like, "We're gonna go take a trip down to Cocodrie." We ended up on Bayou Sale Road which is, like, kind of a drive up the street.
When we took the right turn onto Bayou Sale Road, it had a woman, in a white dress, black hair, dark black eyes. WOMAN: What the heck? HEBERT: My first instinct was like, "We need to stop, let's check on this person." And after I was like, "No, you know what? We just need to go." And when we got back to the stop sign, she was standing at the stop sign.
[SCARY MUSIC PLAYING] The car was at a complete stop at that point, and me and my oldest son's dad kind of looked at each other and I started hitting him on the arm. "We need to get out of here, like something is not... something's not right. "We need to go." When she was in front of the hood, it was like she was looking into your soul. I like... I literally felt like I was in danger. I wanna say that was 2011, 2012, and I finally came back in 2018.
That was the last time I ever been to Bayou Sale Road. NARRATOR: Shape-shifters are not new to Native American lore. Different tribes occupied Louisiana, and with the variety of cultures came various stories of humans with the ability to transform.
Choctaw Legend speaks of the Stikini, malicious witches who look human during the day. At night, however, they transform themselves into undead owl-beasts, feeding on human hearts and consuming souls, that would later be regurgitated. Another Choctaw legend is the Kashehotapolo, a creature that manifests with cloven hooves and deer legs on a human body.
Yet another Choctaw legend warns hunters about a creature known as the Nalusa Falaya, a shadowy, tall, thin humanoid with pointed ears and a pointed snout. This monster patrols the woods and swamps, away from populated areas. Undoubtedly, some influence on the Rougarou legend came from the French Canadians, particularly the Acadians, who moved into Louisiana centuries ago. The Acadians lived in eastern Canada. They occupied areas of Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
Prior to leaving Canada, the Acadians were fierce allies with the Mi'kmaq tribe during the French and Indian War. Not only did these two groups fight together, but also lived together at times. Certainly, through this closeness, Mi'kmaq lore could easily weave its way into stories that the Acadians would eventually bring to Louisiana. Luks is a spiteful wolverine spirit in Mi'kmaq legend, that was associated with negative behaviors.
Another Mi'kmaq tale recounts a wendigo-like creature known as a Chenoo. A Chenoo was a man possessed by an evil spirit, a man who turned against his own kind when in duress. The only escape from this curse was death. Native American lore in southern Louisiana tells of a proud, warrior-like tribe that held the tradition of consuming their enemies after battle. The Atakapa legend says the tribe was eventually defeated and forced into the remote swamps, where they called upon dark spirits to grant them the powers of shape-shifting, eventually leading to their transformation into what we call the Rougarou. For decades, the tale has been retold without any attempt being made to determine if the origins are rooted in actual Native legend, or if it's just another modern day addition to the origin story.
The Atakapa were a very, very proud tribe, and when they were living in the swamps, they were like us. They weren't invited to go anywhere else. Several of their tribes' people became Rougarous. And if you went in their tribe without being invited, it would eat you. But to them, it wasn't like... they didn't say it was cannibal.
They were eating you to get your strength. Because I'm related to them, and I would never eat a person. I wasn't raised that way, anyway. They made a deal with the devil, but they were proud, proud people.
Pretty much anybody that grows up down here, we all know about the Rougarou, and I mean, there's several little stories they tell all the kids down here, if you're not good, the Rougarou's gonna get you. And it's different things like that, especially if you live in the woods. I never had a fear of the woods, personally, but I was always attracted to it. I grew up with my mama and papa. In that particular spot, where our house was, I believe, I can't confirm, but I believe that it was on Indian burial ground.
They had cleared out the land for the house, it was it was about five or six acres, and then, at the very back of the property, there was sort of like... it was flat. But then it came to a balcony, sort of, of like, dirt, and I'm pretty sure that was part of the burial mound. We had been doing a garden, every year. And everybody knows that you can't plant in the same spot every single year, otherwise you won't get really good crops.
So, we had moved to an area of the property that we have never used before, and he started tilling up the land, and it just made this really horrible noise, and it started shooting out what looked like rocks. And we go over, and we're going through everything, and we found out that it's arrowheads, and bows, arrows, pottery. He was part Native, and he immediately realized what it was. And so he started picking up the pieces, putting it back, I thought, "Hey, these are really cool." I took pieces, and I kinda put them in my pockets, and I brought them back in the house, and that pretty much kicked off what would be about five nights of... the...
I don't really know what you call it. I'm not even sure I'd necessarily call it the Rougarou, but it was a dog-man-looking entity. The first night, I woke up just out of nowhere. It just felt... different in the house.
And I always slept with my door open. There was a bathroom down the hallway and there was a nightlight always in there for me. And so it would shine down the hallway and so my bedroom door would be illuminated. -And so I looked to the door and there is this figure... -[WOMAN PANTING]
completely black. But I noticed that... I compare it to Anubis now. When I was a kid, I didn't know anything about Egyptian culture.
I guess I kinda thought at first, I might have been dreaming, So, I sit up in bed and I started to try to get out of bed, and... I stopped. Because in my head, it spoke to me and it said, "Don't move." It didn't move. It didn't do anything. It just stood there and it said, "The things that you picked up today, you need to put them back." And of course, nobody knew I had 'em.
And then it told me to lay down, which I did. And then I just instinctively closed my eyes and fell back asleep, and that was pretty much it. And it pretty much did that for three nights. The same thing, exactly the same. And then the very fifth night, when I woke up, it was directly beside my bed. -[LOW GROWL] -[WOMAN PANTING] -And that kinda scared me. -[GROWLING]
You know? I mean not like a... it was sort of just a visceral fear, I guess. And it said, "You need to honor your ancestors. "You need to put these back in the ground, where they had been." So, the very next morning... because it had been so close,
it did scare me. And the very next morning, I went back outside, I kinda snuck out there before anybody else woke up, and I put everything back in the ground and it never came back again. Two different nations occupied that area at some point, And I have both of those in my bloodline, Choctaw and Atakapa. NARRATOR: In this part of the country, the Rougarou isn't just a regional boogie man or a ghost given physical form. The beast is said to appear for a multitude of reasons in a myriad of ways to people of all ages, but especially to children.
Although most see the Rougarou as something to be feared, there are times the beast transitions from the role of a monster to that of a guardian. Before stories of the French Loup-Garou crossed the Atlantic, some tales spoke of a shape shifter that went against the stereotypical brutish nature. On the way back to his monastery, Abbot Gilbert, in a sleep-induced haze, fell from his horse and was injured. His wounds were serious enough that the scent of his blood drew the attention of wildcats, keen to make him their next meal.
Too weak to defend himself, the abbot survived solely due to the interference of a werewolf. In the mid-1800s, in response to the Great Hunger in Ireland, immigrants found their way to America. New Orleans was one port that saw a huge influx of Irish immigrants. With these immigrants came their own stories, including tales of benevolent werewolves.
In Louisiana, the Rougarou has served as a guardian of children, warning them through its mere manifestation to avoid misbehavior. Youths have reported encountering the beast while they were trespassing, or taking sacred artifacts that were uncovered while exploring the land. If the Rougarou appears, perhaps you should return home and promptly return anything you took without permission. the Rougarou is also a protector of the land and its ecosystem. Hunters who have chosen to take a life on sacred days, have lived to regret their decision. This aspect harkens back to the religious undertones that are sprinkled throughout Rougarou lore.
Certain days of the year, animals should be safe from the violence of man. Dishonoring that obligation can cause the Rougarou to appear. My uncle had an encounter with the Rougarou as a kid.
It all wraps around Catholicism, right? So, this was during a holy day of obligation. What I like about that story and how he shares it is he shares it as the Rougarou being sort of a protector of the swamp and a protector of all these... You know, the rabbit that should not have been shot on the holy day of obligation. So, any other day would've been okay to go hunt rabbits, but just not this one. And so the Rougarou is telling him, that's the wrong thing to do. "Not in my swamp, buddy."
FOREST: Down here, a lot of people, they say that the adults use the Rougarou to scare the kids to keep 'em out of the woods. I grew up in the woods, that was my second home. When I came home from school, the shoes went off and I was in the woods. We weren't allowed to wear shoes in the woods 'cause we only got one pair a year So, we gotta go to school with 'em. So, the parents would tell these stories of these creatures to scare the kids so that when the sun went down, they get out of the woods, 'cause the parents wouldn't go chasing in the woods out after 'em. But we knew that when the street lights came on, you better get your butt back home.
That was just a rule. So, growing up with it, it was all around us. Did we fear it? No. Once I seen it? Yeah. [HOWLING] I was 13 years old. Back then, we didn't have a whole lot of money,
and you pretty much grew your food or you shot your food. Because the store... when we went to the store, you got rice, bread and just the essentials. Couldn't afford meat, except chicken every now and then.
So, my sisters and all had got together, my older siblings, and had bought me a shotgun for my Christmas morning. I was all excited, 'cause, I mean, now I get to go hunt me some food. So, the following year, when it was time to hunt in October, I was ready.
I had my box of shells, I had a hunting dog. Woods I go. When I started hunting, my mama had told me that two days after Halloween, that I'm not supposed to go hunting. Because whenever you go hunting, you can't draw blood two days after Halloween.
So, if you kill something, you're taking their life. The two days after Halloween is All Souls' and All Saints' Day. And down here on the bayou, we religious as heck. So, that was something that you didn't just take lightly.
It was the day after Halloween, and we'd went trick-or-treating the night before, So, I was all excited, hopped up on candy. Come home, my mom and dad had went to the grocery store, I was by myself. Lo and behold, my head clicked, shotgun, dog, rabbits, took off. Nothing seemed strange. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
Hunted for probably about two hours. I didn't even see a squirrel, So, I started making my way back toward the house. On the side of the headland, they had these big tall grass growing that we would call blood reeds. When you're walking in the woods, there's never a time you don't hear a bird, a lizard, something. But I had been walking all this time, and I realized that, like, I hadn't even heard a bird. There was no wind, but the blood reeds started shaking.
Like they were trembling, like scared, and I saw these... It looked like a human hand, I guess you could say, but it was long fingers and, like each joint, was exaggerated like, it was like swolled up. But then on the end of the claw, I call it a claw, but it was like a hand.
It had like, this long nail and it opened up the blood reeds, and then its foot stepped out. It was like a human foot, but made like a dog, because when it stepped, it stepped on the ball, like, the front, and this thing, it just looked out and looked around at me. At that point, I was exiting the scene. I took off. [CREATURE GROWLING] [GROWLING CONTINUES] I was scared crapless. I took off, nothing was on my mind except getting back to my house.
I was running as fast as I could but the whole time that I was running, [GROWLING] I could feel its breath and its growl just rumbling right behind me. And the only thing I could think of is that claw was gonna cut me in half. And I'm just running and running. [PANTING] When I cleared the trees, it stopped. When I looked down, I had lost one of my boots.
I'd run so fast, I'd run clean out my boot. My mama looked at me when I walked into the house. I don't know how she knew, but she knew. She looked at me in the face and said, "You saw it.
"So, now, go pick up your gun and don't touch it for nine days." She said, "You can't touch... "You can't kill nothing for nine days." I didn't touch that thing for nine months.
NARRATOR: Another cultural influence in Louisiana, reflected in both communities and lore, has Italian roots. In Italy, there is a legend of a boy who was born into a lifetime of shape-shifting. Due to his birth on Christmas Eve, he was doomed to shape-shift into a bloodthirsty werewolf on that day, every year, for the remainder of his life. This child was pitied, but accepted by his village. The community made annual efforts to ensure all remained safe until the boy returned to his human form on Christmas morning. Eventually, the boy grew into a man and married.
He and his wife devised a plan to keep her safe during his hours of transformation. The plan was to lock the house prior to his change and not open the door until he knocked three times. This strategy worked until she became too complacent in the routine. One Christmas Eve, while in his werewolf form, the man was allowed to enter his own home. There, he slaughtered his wife during the night. [WOLF HOWLING] [SCREAMING] [WOLF HOWLING] Another notable influence on the Louisiana Rougarou comes from Haitian culture.
Caution regarding the Loup-Garou is still very prevalent in Haiti. It is a very unwelcome creature whose main goal is to steal children and suck their blood. Here, the Loup-Garou can literally be any animal, and the concern over its presence grows each time homes and families are torn apart due to natural disasters such as earthquakes. Other stories in Louisiana involve children or teenagers being left alone to monitor younger siblings or to babysit other children.
[WOLF GROWLING] Once the adults leave the home, the youth in charge will hear a knock on the door, even if at first, the child refuses to answer the knocks, inevitably, something enters the home. [CHILD SCREAMING] The Rougarou. In some cases, the beast seems to simply serve the purpose of instilling fear in the children. Other times, the creature enters the dwelling with a specific purpose in mind. It wants to be released from its bonds.
Since blood must be spilled in order for the Rougarou to return to its normal human state, it begs the children to wound it, thereby freeing it from its curse. [GROWLING] [ROARING] Years later, my son was in a band and a young lady that was in the band with him, started talking of an experience that she had while being babysitted on the same bayou. The adults was doing something, and her cousin was a teenager. And her cousin was watching her. And, she said, when her cousin had went to the store to go get some stuff, she was at the house and her younger cousin... ...probably about five years younger than her, they were there alone, for a few minutes, and she heard a knock outside the door.
She thought it was her older cousin coming back from the store, and that she had her hands full of groceries and needed help to get in. But when she heard the knock, when she opened the door, whatever this thing was, entered. [DOOR CREAKING] And she grabbed her cousin... [CREATURE GROWLING] And then, it looked at her... And she had her cousin... little cousin was in the corner.
And it just looked, and stood over her. And it was breathing heavily and growling. She closed her eyes, and then, she heard some noise, and when she looked up, this thing was gone.
She didn't go outside to see where it went or what happened to it. She was just terrified. And when the older cousin came back, she was like, "What happened to the house? Why is it all torn up?" They were still sitting in the corner, scared. So, she, right away, like me... People started making fun of her. because of her story.
And, well, she thought I was gonna do the same thing. And I just laughed and said, "No..." I told her my story, she was like, "Holy cow."
And, her too, she was thinking that maybe she's seen something, maybe it was all in her mind. [MECHANICAL WHIRRING] I told a couple of my cousins about it. Of course, they think you're full of it, you know? And described it, what I had seen, and what I'd heard, the sound I couldn't describe because there's no animal that comes close to it.
Well, after about a couple years passed by, my dad had passed away and everything. There was this time, that me and the same guys that I'd told the story to, decided to go frogging. And pretty much... Close to the same area. And while I was in that area, and I mean, I'm just getting my light together, at that moment, the same sound came up so loud. [LOUD ROARING] It was like the first time I had heard it.
I mean, I knew instantly that was my time to show them, this is what I was talking about. So, we were trying to be quiet. Now we didn't see anything, but you could hear it loud and clear as day and they're freaking out. I mean, they're scared as hell, and I'm not as feared like I was the first time, I've heard this already.
Now is the time I get to show you what I heard. Let's listen to it one more time. I want y'all to listen to it one more time. Got to be clear. Hear this thing clearly one more time.
And... and they did and it made another noise. I mean, it was just so loud. It was... It was a roar that I can't even explain. [LOUD ROARING] They got to hear it clear as day. and there was no stopping them this time.
It was not... the boat was not sitting still. We got all the way home, ran inside, freaking out, telling that story all night. They can't believe... what the hell was that, trying to figure out, what the hell was that? I really never gave it much thought after what I've seen. [MECHANICAL WHIRRING] NARRATOR: Folk tales shared throughout Louisiana provide us with a glimpse of the cultural tapestry that makes this particular part of the South so unique.
the Rougarou is a reflection of this tapestry, with each piece woven together, while still preserving their own individualism. The stories and manifestations of the swamp-dwelling werewolf have been shaped over time morphing with the integration of each distinctive piece from lore around the world. The stories of the Rougarou have varied just as much as the landscape of Louisiana itself has morphed over the centuries. Coastlines are disappearing. Freshwater marshes are giving way to salt water. Plants and animals, once in abundance, are all but gone.
A drive down Bayou Sale Road is a glimpse of what is to come in places that were once home to a freshwater environment. Scattered along Louisiana's coast are ghost forests. Vast areas of dead cypress trees that cannot survive due to saltwater intrusion in the region. Residents along the coast are being forced inland as their homes are being lost due to flooding.
As this slow migration occurs, it leads one to wonder what will become of the tales once told from one generation to the next. If the home of the Rougarou disappears, what will happen to the stories? COURTEAUX: You know, all the stories you hear when you're young, it's just, "Oh, you made that up, you made that up." No, I actually witnessed it. No, you didn't make it up.
It actually happened. I think it's the swamp... The area itself, it was all trees, and it was... And from this day, that area there is still all woods, almost. On that side of the bayou. But on this side, they got the levee now, it's all cleared.
And a lot of them died and moved out. The house that I grew up in, it was torn down. There's no more house there. Only the... property. Cajun people will always be in Louisiana. It's part of the heritage because so many French Acadians migrated to Louisiana.
But, I think, French influence was a little stronger in Louisiana a couple hundred years ago, the Rougarou probably was very prominent. We kind of live in a society where information is so quickly at our fingertips, things that are believed to probably not be real, can easily be established as being not real. I would think as long as I've been alive, it probably has been less prominent in Louisiana than it used to be.
One of the reasons why we decided to do the festival, was because So few people knew the story anymore. The children, like, none of the kids, knew the story of the Rougarou or what the Rougarou was. You know, what are we doing to preserve the traditions and preserve the culture, as we experience this coastal land loss and people are having to migrate north? And I think that it's probably the best thing that we could have done is put the folklore into a festival and celebrate who we are as a people.
And when people say, Oh, do you think... is the Rougarou real or not? I get that question often and I feel the correct response is that it almost... it doesn't matter if you believe that the Rougarou is real or not. What matters is that this story unites a group of people that...
Their ancestors have told these stories and have kept them going, generation after generation and it's sort of like we failed for a little bit. But I feel like the festival has really picked up the torch again, to keep that story alive. You know, we say, if the Rougarou doesn't have a place to live, then neither will we.
And so that's why we need to restore the swamps, protect them so it protects us at the same time. VERRETT: I tried to find sounds that made... things that made this sound. I even looked it up, you know? And there's some of them that came close, but almost none of them were the other one.
This thing was was... I can't even describe it. But it was definitely terrifying. I'd love to hear it again... Bring back memories. [CHUCKLING] For sure.
I think the habitat where... Because all that area where it was, where it happened, now, today is... It's just open marsh. Whey used to have trees there, big trees and the animals that it used to have, deers and rabbits and stuff, they don't have them that much anymore. No, since the coastal erosion is constantly changing things the habitat for that is not there anymore. Definitely. I'd say, maybe someplace else, but around here, no.