Collected by Pat Mire and Maida Owens on September 20, 1993.
My father was an oyster fisherman because that was his means of a livelihood. And people from his time didn't have anything to do at night. They'd gather--well, it's a gathering of working men instead of old men--and they'd tell each other stories, and they probably told each other stories so often that they'd believe them. They'd actually come to believe them. And this particular story is really amazing.
I don't want to go into the mechanics of the oyster business, but it was a little complicated -- not to them but to anyone you want to explain it to.
They used to tong oysters. There were no such things as dredges. Tong. And they had these oyster skiffs--were about twenty, twenty-four, twenty-six feet long and maybe ten feet wide. They'd tong oysters, oh, practically all day long and load them up. And that was shells and regular oysters in the rough. And at night, they'd congregate in some bayou. They usually had some little camps or little cabins with the particular fishermen. They didn't sleep on the boats because it was so darn hot--or either so darn cold when it was winter time. And they would gather in one cabin and tell each other stories.
And this particular story stuck in my memory because I actually believed it when they--when my father--related it to me. Anyway, they'd bring these skiffs and tie them up along a big pile of oyster shells. We call this culling oysters, not shucking. It's an entirely different system. Culling oysters means sitting down in that skiff on a little old bench with a mitten in your hand, with a little hatchet, and get all those oysters as singles--single oysters. Every one you had to pass in your hand: if it was too small, throw it away. And then the shells would pile up at your feet and you'd have to shovel those shells onto the big shell pile, so it wouldn't clog up the little stream you were in.
And my father used to say--they call them loup garou. They were a famous topic. The loup garou. They'd pull all kinds of capers. Loups garoux would, not the people.
And so it came about that one of these old oystermen would say, "I keep hearing something at night in our oysters." He said, "I keep hearing noises." And they'd listen. Naturally, they wouldn't hear anything. But after a while, another one said, "I hear a noise in our skiffs. Maybe it's a raccoon." And more and more, one and after the other kept hearing [it] and finally they decided the only noise it could be was someone culling the oysters and hitting those clusters with a hatchet.
All night long, this would go. All night long. Next morning, they'd go check out the oysters to get ready to work. And one fisherman would find his skiff: the oysters had all been culled. And none of the others. And, well, they believed in loups garoux. They took them for -- their existence as a fact. They weren't afraid of them. And this lasted forever. Throughout the winter, and then the following winter, lo and behold, the thing was back again. You see, they just work oysters in the winter time then, when it cool. And so one guy says, "I'm going to stay. I'm going to hide behind a pile of shells and see what's doing that in the moonlight."
So, he was brave enough. He stayed up. And he could see the pile of shells diminishing in the skiff. But he could not see what was doing it. And he could hear the hatchet hitting the clusters. So he kind of went, sneaked over there, and he saw like a shadow, some kind of apparition there. So he took a pole -- they used these long poles -- that they used to . . . push the skiffs around. They didn't have any engines in them. And he sneaked up on this thing and whapped it across the back of this -- more of a shadow than anything physical -- and it disappeared. There was nothing. And that night on they never heard another noise, and nobody ever got another oyster culled. And that thing disappeared. And that was the story. . . . And they believed it. They actually got each other to believe it.
Unlike the fearsome loup garou described by John Verret, another Cajun storyteller, the creature who visits the oyster cullers in this tale is helpful and friendly, if a bit greedy; the workmen are not afraid of this beast. Perhaps the oldest surviving French werewolf tale, the twelfth-century poem Bisclavret, features a similarly friendly werewolf. Much like the werewolf described by John Verret, the oyster-culling loup garou is disenchanted by a blow from a pole; but while Verret's werewolves bleed, this being seems to be more shadow than substance.
For more information about this and related tales, refer to the book Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.