One of the old voyageurs, Jacques L’esperance, settled near Grosse Pointe on the Detroit River and became prosperous—not because he was a fur trapper, not because he was a farmer, but because he raised horses. He became one of the most famous horse breeders on the Great Lakes, and he won nine of ten races he entered.
He won the famous winter races on which the horses would pull a sleigh for miles out onto the ice of Lake St. Clair. A wrong turn, a snowstorm, a moment’s lapse in judgment, and you might never see the shore again. But Jacques’ horses never missed a step, and he always came home safely.
Jacques L’esperance’s favorite horse was called Caribou, and he loved that horse like a mother loves her son. “Avance, Caribou,” the people on the shore heard him yell as he urged the horse across the frozen lake. “Caribou can jump a crack in the ice twenty feet wide,” he would tell the people in the old town of Grosse Pointe as he drank peach brandy late into the night. “Caribou can outrun the wind.”
“You shouldn’t talk about the horse that way,” someone said. “Le Lutin will hear you, and want the horse for himself.”
“That’s nonsense,” replied Jacques L’esperance. “Le Lutin is a story children tell. It doesn’t exist.”
So one night Jacques L’esperance went to the house of his friend Antoine, whose violin could make even the most unwilling feet chase flying time. After he danced until dawn, he went out to the stable to saddle Caribou, and found the horse covered with sweat and foam, her mane and tail hair tangled and filled with burrs. It was a breach of hospitality to let someone ride the horse of a guest, but Jacques said nothing and told himself he would bring a less valuable horse the next time.
But the next morning, he found Caribou exhausted once again, covered with sweat and foam, her mane and tail hair tangled and filled with burrs. This time Jacques resolved to lock the barn, but the next morning it was the same story over again. He tried to stay up to listen but fell asleep, and the next morning he found Caribou had been ridden once more. He put a circle of ashes all the way around the barn the next night, but at the next daybreak he found the ashes undisturbed, with no footprints, and Caribou frightened and exhausted, covered with sweat and foam, her mane and tail hair tangled and filled with burrs.
He told the people in Grosse Pointe what had happened. “C’est Le Lutin qui la soigne,” a storyteller said. “Brand the horse with a cross and hang a medal of a saint around its neck. Do not go out without a pail of holy water. It will make the Lutin afraid.”
“There is no Lutin,” said Jacques L’esperance. “Le Lutin is a story mothers tell their children to make them quiet before they sleep. This is some enemy of mine who is jealous of my success.”
So one bright moonlit night Jacques L’esperance determined to find out who this enemy was. He stationed himself at the edge of his plot of land, where he could command a good view of his barn without being seen himself. Armed with a rifle, he waited for his foe. Not a sound disturbed the night air except for the low murmur of lake against beach, the lone cry of a shorebird, or the howl of a coyote. The natural world seemed to sleep.
Suddenly he heard an alarming sound—the sound of a horse, but it was like the sound of a human scream. Keeping his eyes on the barn doors, he saw them noiselessly open and Caribou, trembling like a leaf, burst through. On her back was a creature that resembled a giant ape, with horns on its head, wild bristles of black hair, restless eyes of fire, and a twisted leer on its face. It held a whip, made from a branch of thorns. Jacques L’esperance was no coward, but he felt his courage oozing out at his knees, cold chills chasing each other down his back, and great beads of sweat on his forehead. The monster clutched with one hand at Caribou’s mane, and with the other it urged her on with its giant claws. Riding without saddle or bridle, the fiend lashed the horse, catching the hair of her mane and tail with the whip or thorns.
Jacques L’esperance knew that his rifle was powerless against such a creature. Caribou, powerless too against the demon atop her, bore down on him with murder in her panicked eyes. But in a bright inspiration Jacques remembered the holy water, and he knew it was old way that the voyageurs would exorcise a demon. Dodging the mad horse and its dark rider, he ran to the hallway of the farmhouse and seized the font of holy water, one of which was always at hand for every habitant, you know, chère. He threw the water as hard as he could.
A demonic scream tore the air. The horse snorted, reared, and despite the best efforts of the demon, plunged into the chilly waters of Lake St. Clair. Jacques L’esperance rushed into the water in pursuit, but only circles marked the spot where the frightened animal and its fiendish rider had disappeared. Firing his rifle to awaken his neighbors, who rushed to find out what was the matter, Jacques L’esperance told his tale.
His disordered appearance, the absence of the horse, the broken fragments of the holy water font, and a branch of thorns dropped by the demon all confirmed his story. After that, Jacques L’esperance branded all his horses with a cross, and hung medals of the saints around their necks. And to this day the people of Grosse Pointe keep this custom. And whenever in the early morning they go to the barn and find a favorite horse reeking with sweat and foam, and with its mane all tangled as if by the claws of a beast, they shake their heads and say that Le Lutin has come again.