The Tataille of Richard’s Gully
October 2015, for English II at St. Edmund Catholic School
An Exercise in Writing Folk Tales
In the Cajun prairie town of Eunice, Louisiana, a narrow bridge on the southwest edge of town traverses the jagged course of Richard’s Gully. On the west bank of the Gully at that crossing, for as many years as the oldest old-timer can recall, a commercial slaughterhouse has conducted its business. Before modern environmental laws were passed to stop the practice, the slaughterhouse employees cast the unwanted tripe, guts, and gore left over from the butchers’ bloody work into the Gully. Tradition maintains that those discards became the dietary fare of a legendary Tataille who inhabited those parts in the early years of Eunice.
The Tataille was too lazy to hunt or to work to buy his food, so he began keeping quarters under the bridge so that all he had to do to gather his groceries was to wait for the slaughterhouse employees to come out the side door with their wheelbarrow laden with butcher scraps. The employee wheeled his load up to the edge of the Gully and pitched the contents down the embankment into the murky stream. The Tataille, who was never seen in the light of day, waited for night fall to ease out from his hiding place under the bridge to retrieve the scraps for his next day’s meal.
Although the Tataille was never seen in the light of day, old Nonc Eraste Guidry claims to have seen the beastly creature one October night in 1917. Nonc Eraste was night-hunting for frogs, working his way up the Gully when he came to the bridge. He had a coal oil lantern, so the light wasn’t too good, but Nonc Eraste swore to the police chief, Duralde Fontenot, that he had spotted the Tataille clambering from the slaughterhouse dumpsite to go back under the bridge with an armload of pig and goat carcasses. The Tataille, according to Nonc Eraste, looked partly like a grotesque old man with enormous warts covering his face and bare arms, partly like a prehistoric bear with vicious fangs protruding from his upper jaws, and partly like a demon, since his skin had a sick, yellowish hue and his eyes glowed red, like glowing embers in a fire place.
Nonc Eraste didn’t hang around long enough to study the Tataille for any better descriptive information, because Nonc Eraste had just about foir-aid in his pants with fear. He scrambled back the Gully in the opposite direction as fast as he could, even dropping his gunny sack of frogs along the way, so terrified and anxious he was to get away.
Theories have been advanced that the Tataille is involved in a 1929 EPD cold case involving the disappearance of a hobo whose remains were never found. The hobo showed up in Eunice near the train depot in the middle of town and was seen off and on for a couple of weeks looking for odd jobs to make a few coins before hopping another freight train to journey on to his next destination. The hobo didn’t have any place to stay, and a local merchant, Mr. Alcide Comeaux, testified that the hobo had indicated that he was going to sleep under the bridge at Maple Avenue that night because rain was expected. The hobo was doing some handy-work at Comeaux’s dry goods store, and the hobo was expected back to work the next day. But he never showed up for work, so Mr. Comeaux reported him as missing. The police didn’t want to investigate too closely, though, because for one, the hobo was an out-of-towner, so nobody cared much about him personally, but most of all, investigating the disappearance meant somebody would have to go under the Richard’s Gully Bridge. The bravest law man had better judgment than to go poking around beneath the Maple Avenue bridge timbers!
Eraste Guidry is still the only credible eye-witness to having seen the Tataille, but circumstantial evidence showed up off and on for a few years until the early 1930’s. In 1925, three high school students from St. Edmund School were night-fishing from the bridge around 10:30 p.m. when they heard noisy, sloshing sounds like someone (or something) trudging through shallow water about 30 feet up the gully from the bridge. They heard the noise ever so briefly, just four or five seconds, and suddenly it stopped. They couldn’t see through the dark, but when they came back the next day to try to figure out who or what they had heard, they noticed the slaughterhouse employee dumping his wheelbarrow load of tripe into the gully. The boys estimated that the sound they heard came from right about the spot where the carrion hit the water. Could the noise they heard have been the Tataille, gathering up his nightly ration, but then stopping once he realized the boys were watching from the bridge? Who knows! But many locals swear that’s what happened.
The last account of the Tataille comes from 1932. The State had taken over maintenance of Maple Avenue as a State Highway, and a couple of DOT inspectors had come to inspect the bridge. They didn’t know anything about the Tataille, so in their innocent ignorance, they clambered down the embankment beneath the bridge to inspect the structure. They didn’t see the Tataille, but they found the stench of charogne beneath the bridge so unbearable that they couldn’t finish their work. They said the banks of the stream under the bridge were strewn with scraps and bits off decomposed animal flesh, which accounted for the smell. They also noted muddy tracks running up and down the stream—the tracks were shaped weird—kind of the shape of human feet but leaving imprints that more likely came from talon-like claws rather than normal toes. Did those rotten scraps and claw marks in the mud account also for the existence of the Tataille, who transported and consumed his meals of slaughterhouse scraps right there under the bridge? Who knows!!
No believable reports of the Tataille were ever noted after the bridge inspectors. Other bridge inspectors came along off and on over the years. They all went beneath the bridge and did their work, never once noting anything unusual or peculiar. Around that same time, also, the State passed those environmental laws, so the slaughterhouse had to start incinerating their waste rather than dumping into the Gully. So it made sense that the Tataille, his food supply cut off, either died of starvation or moved on to find another source of nutrition. Old timers from Frey Cove swear the same Tataille moved under the twin bridges across Bayou des Cannes just past Ritchie on Ruppert Lake Road, because many locals continued to dump household refuse, including food scraps, into a dump site along the bayou bottom, but those accounts seem far too sensational and lack credibility entirely. They’re not really accounts, but rather the unsubstantiated claims and assertions of locals who wished they could share in the fame and acclaim of the legend of the Tataille from Richard’s Gully.