THE MAY POLE.
A Legend of "Faith and Homage."
SIX years had passed since the founding of Detroit. The frontier settlement began to assume a civilized aspect, and everywhere the touch of a woman's hand had left its impress of, comfort and refinement in the rude pioneer homes, which already extended along the Cote du Nord Est to La Riviere Parent (Bloody Run).
The undaunted energy of Cadillac was rewarded by a yearly increase of settlers, and the records of Ste. Anne's Church, the most accurate and authentic census of those early days, show from 1704 to 1707 an annual birth rate of fourteen.
La Mathe Cadillac made his first grant of land to his interpreter, Fafard, on the 10th of March, 1707. It was of a tract adjoining his domains, stipulating as usual for all his feudal rights, including the acknowledgment of faith, homage, and the planting of a May pole each year.
There was great commotion in the little colony on that bright May morning in 1707. The very atmosphere seemed pregnant with excitement, for so does a gala day drape itself around everything, dothe all in its vague fancies, and unconsciously communicate to us more or less of its color. We wear its cockade and favor in our dress and humor.
In front of the Seigneur de Cadillac's manor a great crowd had assembled, and from the eager expectancy written on every face, it was evident that some unusual event of interest was to take place. Slowly the form of Monsieur Fafard, the interpreter, was seen approaching with a stately, dignified step, each movement measured by the importance of the act of which he was to play the part of chief actor. The French understand perfectly that delicate art of investing even a trifling circumstance with an entourage of interest and display which gratifies their national vanity and love of glory.
Monsieur Fafard knocked at the Seigneur Cadillac's door, which was opened by the major domo. He inquired for Monsieur la Mothe Cadillac, who immediately stepped forth arrayed in his blue uniform and cavalier hat with white plumes. Monsieur Fafard uncovered his head and falling on his knees rendered fealty in the following manner: "Monsieur du Detroit, Monsieur du Detroit, Monsieur du Detroit, I bring you faith and homage which I am bound to pay you on account of my fief of De Lorme, which I hold as a man of faith, of your Seigniory of Detroit, declaring that I offer to pay my seignorial and feudal: dues in their season, and demanding of you to accept me in faith and homage as aforesaid." As he saluted la Mothe and turned away, Francois Bosseron and others who had been granted fiefs. offered their homage in turn.
Cadillac's house stood on the line of the present Jefferson Avenue before it had been sloped down to the Chemin du Rond.* A spacious "gallerie'' adorned the front of the manor overlooking the smooth cut lawn and majestic river. A hole had been dug in the centre of the lawn, and a tall, stately pole lay ready for raising. The branches had been trimmed off, except a little clump at the top called "the bouquet." And to this had been nailed a parti-colored pole, from which the royal flag with the fair Fleur de Lis of France floated. Smooth and white was the pole and to its sides blocks were nailed to allow a person to ascend. The firing of a gun was the signal to begin the ceremony. The Seigneur Cadillac had seated himself on the "gallerie," surrounded by his wife, children and officers. A delegation from the habitants approached and bowing low asked him permission to plant the May pole in front of his house. The request was graciously acceded to and Father Deniau knelt and offered up a prayer that the festivities might pass without accident. The pole impelled by strong, sinewy arms slowly rose, while the voyageurs broke out in their wild and inspired song, "Vive la Canadienne et res jolts yeux doux." *
The Seigneur de la Mothe Cadillac then advanced hat in hand and smilingly accepted the pole, and asked all to join him in watering it that it might flourish. A cask of ea71, de vie was tapped; cups and flasks of every design and shape were passed around, and Cadillac raised his silver goblet and pledged the King and the health of all present. An agile youth ascended the pole and shouted, "Vive le Roi, Vive le Seigneur Cadillac du Detroit !" Then all caught the refrain :
''Grand Dieu sauve le Roi, Grand Dien venge le Roi,
Vive le Roi I Que toujonrs glorieux, Louis Victorieux, Voye ses ennemis,
Toujours soumis, Vive le Roi!"*
The air was filled with cheers, the drums rolled, the trumpets sounded, and the guns completed the crescendo of acclamations. The pole was then ready to be blackened. This was done by Cadillac taking a gun loaded with powder only, and firing at the pole. Then Madame and Antoine, Jr., a cadet of fifteen, took their turn, followed by the members of the family and officers, and finally each of the habitants until the clean pole was blackened its whole length. It was usually left standing several months, to remove it being considered unlucky. Tables were spread under the shade of the trees, and refreshments in abundance served to all.
Then followed "La dance ronde " on the green sward. Cadillac gazed musingly on the pretty scene before him. The picturesque dress of the habitants and voyageurs, clad in their blue tunics and elk skin trousers, (whose seams were adorned with yellow fringe,) their buckskin moccasins ornamented with beads, their scarlet sashes, in which were kept the hunting knife in its silver case, blended with the soldiers' dress of blue, with its white facing. The officers wore gay uniforms and cavalier hats, with the showy 'ostrich feather, their hair hanging in long powdered queues tied with ribbon. The ladies, in their coquettish costumes, dashed with bright ribbons, resembled birds of paradise as they swayed to the graceful movements of the dance. Each lady's head was surmounted with a gay "fontange" or top-knot. It was a gay, light-hearted community, with few taxes to pay, simple tastes to gratify, friendly with the neighboring Indians. Peace, contentment and quiet happiness seemed to reign over this little Arcadia.
So thought Cadillac as at twilight, after the people had dispersed, he strolled with his wife in the King's Garden. Human nature grows more communicative at this hour, thoughts which find no utterance in the broad light of day now glide forth from the heart. He told her that his dreams of ambition were about to be realized, notwith standing the obstacles of his enemies. His colony was prosperous and his children would inherit a princely portion; that his name would become historic and illustrious. Thus were they talking. when two weary revellers homeward bound passed so near them that fragments of their conversation fell on their ears. " Yes," said Jean Baptiste, "our Seigneur and the Dos Blanc -x- carry themselves very high, with their silver plate and fine clothing, whilst we poor habitants must pay double for everything, even our petit coup 'd eau de vie ;" expressing a little of the communistic, sentiments of the present time.
"Things cannot run very long thus," answered his companion. "My wife saw a few days ago 'le petit, home Rouge' and-" The rest was lost as the speakers disappeared. Cadillac's wife grasped her husband's hand convulsively and said: " Did you not hear 'Le petit homme Rouge' is the dreaded 'Nain Rouge.'"
" What of that?" said Cadillac.
'' Beware of the Nain Rouge was what that prophetess told you; when he should come misfortune was nigh."
"Bah!" laughed Cadillac, "have you not forgotten that nonsense of a silly old fortune-teller? Let us return home."
Annoyed himself at the remembrance, and doubly so at his wife for unconsciously giving utterance to his vague uneasiness, they proceeded in silence.
Suddenly across their path, trotting along the beach, advanced the uncouth figure of a dwarf, very red in the face, with a bright, glistening eye; instead of burning it froze, instead of possessing depth emitted a cold gleam like the reflection from a polished surface, bewildering and dazzling all who came within its focus. A grinning mouth displaying sharp, pointed teeth, completed this strange face.
"It is the Nain Rouge," whispered Cadillac's wife.
Before she had time to say more, Cadillac's ill nature had vented itself in striking the object with a cane he held in his hand, saying: "Get out of my way, you red imp !"
A fiendish, mocking laugh pierced the still night air as the monster vanished.
''You have offended him,'' said Madame. ''Your impetuosity will bring you and yours to ruin. You were told to coax him, to beware of annoying this demon, and in your ungovernable temper you do just otherwise. Misfortune will soon be our portion."
Cadillac shortly afterward visited Montreal was arrested through the intrigues of his enemies, and was compelled to sell his seigniory in Detroit to pay for his trial. He was removed to Louisiana as Governor, but died at Castle Sarasin, in France. His children never inherited an acre of his vast estates. His colony for the next hundred years. was the scene of strife, war and massacre. Its flag changed five times; under that of the Republic it reached that glorious prosperity which the fortune-teller had predicted.
The Nain Rouge in the mystic past was considered the banshee or "Demon of the City of the Straits," and whenever he appeared it was a sure sign of impending evil. The night before Dalzell' s ill fated attack at Bloody Run, he was seen running along the shore. And in 1805, when the city was destroyed by fire, many an old habitant thought that they caught a glimpse of his malicious face as he darted through the burning buildings. On a foggy morning before Hull's cowardly surrender of Detroit, he was seen; but since then he has never reappeared, having, it is to be hoped, accomplished his mission. But the tradition still linger; among the old habitants that should misfortune ever threaten the bonnie City of the Straits, the Nain Rouge will again appear to give the signal of warning.
*Near the old Campau homestead.
*The favorite boat songs of the voyageurs were "La Jolie Canadienne," and "A Ia Claire Fontaine." Mr. Marinier in his work, "The Songs of the North " ("Chants du Nord "), publishes nearly line for line these songs as belonging to his country, Franche Comte.
*Vive le Roi. Handel appropriated this song for the House of Hanover. It was sung by the girls of Saint Cyr before Louis 1652.
*The King's Garden was between Jefferson Avenue and Woodbridge Street near the site of the present Chamber of Commerce.
* Dos Blane. Literally '' White backs.'' The officers powdered their wigs, and the powder falling on their coats whitened the backs. Many of the habitants encased their qµeues in eelskin to prevent the powder from ruining their dress.
Excerpted by John E. L. Tenny
Legends of Le Detroit
Marie Caroline Watson Hamlin, 1883