I have hinted at my obsession with folklore, especially those dark tales from rural places, whose stories are rooted in superstition that goes back many generations. Today on the blog I am beyond thrilled to host fellow Louisiana author, Chere Dastugue Coen, who is somewhat of an expert on Folklore in her area of the state, Lafayette. Chere is sharing a piece from her book, HAUNTED LAFAYETTE LOUISIANA. You can snag your copy by clicking right HERE!
From “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” by Cheré Dastugue Coen
Une Grosse Betaille
“If you hear a dog howling, someone you know is dying.” — Kaplan superstition
In the 1940s there was a jaguarandi reported in Florida, a wild cat native to Central and South America and sometimes into southern Texas. The animal sports short and rounded ears, short legs, an elongated body and a long tail.
When an article surfaced of the Florida cat in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Louise Veronica Olivier or Arnaudville contacted the paper to report of her own unusual hairy animal — this one sported along Bayou Bourbeau in St. Landry Parish, just north of Lafayette. She called her creature “une grosse bétaille.”
The Rev. Jules O. Daigle in A Dictionary of the Cajun Language defines bétaille as “almost all unknown bugs or animals, also for humans to denote bestial qualities.” The Dictionary of Louisiana French has several definitions for the word, but also bug, worm, beast and monster. Naturally, a gross bétaille is an animal or bestial man of large proportions.
Olivier explained that Rameau Quebedeaux had spotted une grosse bétaille at midnight in June 1942, but no one believed him, chalking it up to “whiskey talk.” Then Antoine Lanclos admitted to seeing a dog “with evil intent” while plowing his fields.
“He said he had called his own dog ‘a la recousse,’” Olivier recounted in The Times-Picayune article. “In the interval between his dog and the encroacher, Antoine made good his escape.”
Unfortunately, his dog was never seen again.
Someone in nearby Prairie Basse claimed a wolf was killing the resident dogs and “dragging them to the bayou banks.” Chickens and turkeys were disappearing and cows and calves being spooked for no reason. As word spread, people avoiding going out at night.
One night a group of residents were gathered together when they heard the distressing cries of dogs. They grabbed their guns and headed out. “In the thicket of weeds and brambles was la grosse bétaille feasting on Ti Louie’s Fido,” Olivier recalled.
The animal was described as resembling a police dog with a large mouth and neck, heavy coat and a slender body that tapered to the rear. When approached that night it let out a ferocious growl. The resident who plugged the creature when it let out a yell later recounted the story to the parish priest.
“As they also confirmed the facts for all who know the French-speaking folk who live along Louisiana’s bayou: For while they might stretch the truth in ordinary conversation, none would have dreamed of speaking except in utter sobriety to le bon Pere who ministers to all their spiritual needs,” Olivier concluded.
Madame Long Fingers and Tai Tais
Karlos Knott of Arnaudville makes excellent beer through his company, Bayou Teche Brewing. One day after a tour of his new facility, we got to talking about ghosts and legends. He was told as a child that if he didn’t behave, Madame Grand Doigt would get him, arriving at night to eat his toes!
In English, Madame Grand Doigt means Mrs. Long Fingers but Knott envisioned the woman with incredibly long fingernails and capable of sliding said nails into door locks so she would have easy access to bad little children.
Mrs. Long Fingers has to be related to the tataille or Tai Tai, part of the larger boogie man family. Blanche M. Lewis wrote in the Acadiana Gazette that the Tai Tai were giant bugs, “usually a roach,” that came after bad children at night, which would definitely be enough to scare my roach-fearing sister after any wrongdoings. Roaches grow quite large in the South Louisiana swamps — and they fly!
The Dictionary of Louisiana French defines tataille as a “threatening beast or monster.” The reference book further states that “ta-taille is said to be a giant creature that resembles a cockroach. It comes after dark and cuts off the toes of mean children.”
“All my life, we heard that the Tai Tai (or however you spell it) was going to get us if we weren’t good,” said Lafayette resident Judy Bastien. “Also, when someone was looking really bad, like unkempt, you might say they look like un Tai-Tai.”
“Tai Tai's were only supposed to scare little ones into not digging or wandering off,” said Alice Guillotte of Lafayette. “ ‘Stop or Tai Tai will get you.’ Later, Tai Tai would be used as sort of joking about what might be out in dark like a boggie man. A little bit serious.”
About Chere Coen
Cheré Dastugue Coen is an award-winning journalist, instructor of writing, playwright, novelist and non-fiction author. Her nonfiction titles include "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History," "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" and "Exploring Cajun Country: An Historic Guide to Acadiana," all by The History Press. Her other books include "Cooking in Cajun Country" with Carl Breaux (Gibbs Smith, Aug. 2009) and "Magic's in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris and Sachets" (Llewellyn Dec. 2010) with coauthor Jude Bradley. Her novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire include historical romances "A Cajun Dream," "The Letter" novella and "The Cajuns" historical series of "Emilie," "Rose," "Gabrielle" and "Delphine." "A Cajun Dream" and "The Letter" are now ebooks. Look for the rest of the series, including several Cajun contemporary romances, coming soon as ebooks! Cheré writes a weekly book column in the Gannett newspapers of Louisiana titled "Louisiana Book News." Visit her blog at LouisianaBookNews.blogspot.com. Her other blogs include WeirdSouth.blogspot.com and HauntedDeepSouth.blogspot.com. For more information, visit her web site at http://cherecoen.wix.com/cherecoen