When I first started working as a journalist, one of my assignments was to write ghost stories of New Orleans for the weekly newspaper Gambit. I thoroughly enjoy it and ended up writing additional ghost stories every fall. Then I was on to The Advocate daily newspaper of Baton Rouge and the ghost tales became ones of Louisiana, including odd myths, superstitions and Cajun folk tales.
You're probably guessing where this is heading —yes, I incorporated much of that into my Viola Valentine paranormal mysteries, plus I wrote "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" under my real name. And every October I get asked to speak or write about local ghost stories, including penning a "5 Scariest Places in Acadiana" for the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission. Naturally, we want our visitors to enjoy a good haunt or two. You can read that story here.
Want a taste of a Cajun Country ghost story? Here are a couple of excerpts unique to Cajun Country from my "Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana" book published by The History Press. (You can read more about that book — and other books published under my real name — here.)
Une Grosse Betaille
“If you hear a dog howling, someone you know is dying.” — Kaplan, Louisiana, 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.”
And if you want more...