American Folklore

American Folklore: Louisiana

American Folklore: Louisiana

Louisiana has a long and rich cultural history that is quite unlike any other in North America. With such a magical blending of cultures and languages there, it is not surprising that Louisiana has some of the most spellbinding folklore in the country. Here are some of the highlights of it.

Listen to the Genealogy Clips podcast on YouTube or iTunes.

Admitted to the union in 1812 as the 18th state, Louisiana was purchased in 1803 from the French as part of the Louisiana Purchase. It had previously been a French, and briefly a Spanish, colony, and also had a large mix of both enslaved and free Africans. It was one of the only places in North America where cultures and races could freely mix with each other before the Civil War, and it had a variety of languages spoken there. Many residents were bilingual, and this continues in the state today, which has no official language in its state constitution.

With such a rich and varied history, it is only natural that Louisiana has some truly spectacular examples of folklore. Here are some of the highlights.

The Rougarou

Located in the swamps and bayous of the southern part of the state is a creature known as the rougarou, or sometimes, loup-garou. This is a wolf-like creature, with features of a man, and may well be the original Wolfman myth in North America (wolfmen were reported for centuries prior in France). The French immigrants to Louisiana brought the legend with them.

The rougarou is supposed to be seven to eight feet tall, with brown and black hair that is wet and tangled and has red eyes that glow, along with large canine teeth. The original rougarou came about as a mutation. Others could become one by being bitten by one, or by having a hex placed on them by a witch.

The rougarou is a popular bit of Louisiana folklore. Because there are no wolves indigenous to the state, though, the legend has transformed to make the rougarou into shapeshifting creatures that can become various animals in addition to wolves.

Madame LaLaurie

Delphine LaLaurie was part of the family who moved into a house on Royal Street in New Orleans in 1832. She hosted elaborate and lavish parties in her sumptuously furnished mansion. She was said to have exceptional taste and charm, and the prominent locals were impressed with her.

She might have been a favorite among the society folk, but they did not see her cruel side. She took pleasure in abusing and torturing her slaves in twistedly creative ways, such as chaining a cook to a stove by day and locking him in a small room by night. She whipped at least one young slave to death, possibly more. She might have kept on torturing her slaves forever, had she not been seen by a neighbor burying a young slave girl in her yard.

The neighbor who saw this notified the authorities, who were horrified at her cruelty, which was so over-the-top even in the days when slavery was accepted that the city could not let her acts stand. The city authorities took her slaves away, but her relatives bought them back when they went up on the auction block. The tortured cook eventually had enough and set fire to the mansion’s kitchen. The LaLaurie family fled, and when the fire was put out and authorities examined what remained of the house, they found a locked room where dozens of slaves were chained up. The room had a table where twisted operations were performed on living slaves without sedation or anesthetic. Some of them were still alive, but most had crossed over when they were discovered.

The LaLaurie family did not return, and other families moved into the mansion, none ever staying long. The house soon gained a reputation as being haunted. Though the hauntings have diminished over the centuries, they still happen, which is why no one wants to live there.

Alligator Annie

Alligator Annie was a real-life woman with a lasting reputation similar to that of Annie Oakley or Calamity Jane. She lived in the bayou, being born in 1915 as Annie Billiot. She hunted and trapped alligators with her parents, beginning when she was a very small child. She received a shotgun for her eighth birthday and was considered a skilled alligator hunter by the time she was nine. Though her father had a job on a sugarcane plantation, he lost it during the Great Depression, when the plantation had to be sold. The family began relying on alligators for their sole source of income. Both their skins and live alligators were considered precious commodities and could bring in money.

Annie eventually married, and she and her second husband, Eddie, began chartering fishing boats and guiding swamp tours to promote bayou tourism. They even appeared on TV, showing off the beauty of the swamps. Though Eddie and Annie are both gone now, crossing over in 2002 and 2004, respectively, their sons still guide swamp tours as Annie established as the family business.

The Immortal Compte d’Saint Germain

The Compte d’Saint Germain was an alchemist who appeared on the historical record for the first time in the court of Louis XV of France, declaring himself to be six thousand years old. He said he had invented the elixir of eternal life, and the French aristocracy loved him. He moved to Germany after a while and supposedly died there, but he continued to be seen in many different parts of Europe after that.

A relative of the Compte named Jacques St. Germain came to New Orleans in 1903. He lived at a house on the corner of Royal and Ursuline Streets and was known as quite a ladies’ man. However, one day, a lady he’d brought to his home jumped from a window there and told authorities he’d bitten her. When police entered the home, it was empty of everything except a few bloodstains, and wine bottles full of blood.

Since that time, no one has lived at the house. However, all of the taxes on it continue to be paid, though no one can find the owner, or even knows who it is. The vampire, who might be the Compte or Jacques (who might have also been the Compte in disguise), is still said to roam the city’s French Quarter.


Will Moneymaker

Will established Ancestral Findings in 1995 and has helped genealogy researchers for over 25 years. He is also a freelance photographer, husband of twenty-eight years, father of four children, and has one grandchild.