Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Une Grosse Bétaille

“If you hear a dog howling, someone you know is dying.” — Kaplan superstition

Excerpted from “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” by Cheré Dastugue Coen, published by The History Press

            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.

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