Can Mythical Creatures Learn To Smile and Dance?

In my last article I bragged about all the state, uh, well, things that Louisiana has made official. Louisiana claims strawberry, sweet potato, mayhaw jelly, Louisiana sugar cane jelly, gumbo, 

Natchitoches meat pie, beignet, pirogue, and crawfish as our official state stuff. 

My last paragraph pondered what the Louisiana state congress will choose to vote upon next. Will the Rougarou become our state’s official supernatural creature? I ended my article with a teaser—someone is actually working on it. But let’s back up a bit.

What is a Rougarou? According to southern Louisiana legends, the swamps house a ferocious monster, half human half wolf, that preys upon unsuspecting people. What kind of unsuspecting people, you might ask? According to the stories, Catholics who don’t observe Lent, people who don’t follow the traditional rules of resting on the Sabbath, and even misbehaving children. If the Rougarou draws blood on its prey, the curse transfers from the creature to the poor human. That’s enough to make even the most hesitant rule follower behave.

Unfortunately for the Rougarou, and for us too, the coastal wetlands it calls home are diminishing. Over the last century, hurricanes, the rise of our sea level, and development projects (such as damming the Mississippi River), have created the loss of more than 2,000 square miles of wetlands. Studies show that over the last few decades, one football field of coastline has been lost per hour. As the mythical creature’s home has shrunk, so have the tales of his existence. Until Jonathan Foret got involved.

In Terrebonne Parish, a patchwork of bayou and lowlands within the Gulf shore, Jonathan grew up learning the legend of the Rougarou. “Our parents would say things like, ‘you better behave or he’s gonna get you’.” Jonathan has started a movement to save both the wetlands and the tales from his childhood.

Foret, a middle school teacher, had mentioned the stories to his students. He was surprised they’d never heard of his childhood nemesis. “I realized that parts of our folklore and our oral traditions were getting lost.” Foret is now director of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, a nonprofit that educates students in the classroom and on field trips about the Louisiana wetlands and the fight to preserve them. There is a real possibility the loss of the wetlands will force the residents to move. “We got kicked out of Nova Scotia, and now we’re getting kicked out of Louisiana.” 

In 2011, Foret launched the Rougarou Fest in Houma, as a fundraiser for his center and a method to revive interest in Louisiana’s mythical creature. “The festival is cool because it links folklore to current issues that people need to be aware of.” The Rougarou’s reputation for scaring people into being good has changed. Now this creature reminds us to protect our precious coastal wetlands. As Foret says, “The Rougarou is like our Smokey the Bear. Only you can prevent forest fires, and so only you can save Louisiana’s wetlands.”

Makeovers aren’t new—look at how children’s authors have rebranded the alligator. Instead of trying to eat people, now they dance and smile. I don’t have a problem with the Rougarou’s rebranding either—I think it’s great. I just hope part of that rebranding process involves more smiling and dancing and less attacking people and transferring curses.

If you’re down near Houma towards the end of October, you should check out the Rougarou Fest ( And please let me know if he’s dancing and smiling.

Note: all quotes taken from

Jann Goar Franklin graduated Russellville High School in 1989. You can reach her at