A strange beast terrorizes Gevaudan, France
From 1764 to 1767, a strange beast terrorized the province of Gevaudan. Located in the modern day district of Lozere, deep within the Margeride Mountains in south-central France, the creature was a wolf-like animal that devoured the local citizens. During the period there were 210 attacks resulting in 113 deaths. Almost all of the victims were partially eaten. What the beast was has never been determined.
Witness accounts and descriptions of the beast
Described by witnesses as a wolf-like animal, the attacks occurred during France’s 16th century werewolf scare. In later centuries, similar attacks were documented between 1809 and 1813 where 21 persons will killed. Another rash of killings followed between 1875 through 1879 when dozens were brutally massacred. Substantial documentation and eyewitness accounts prove that something truly phenomenal did occur.
The Beast of Gevaudan was as large as a cow, reddish in color with a large tail, short spike like ears, very broad chest and shoulders, and an unbearable odor. It had enormous claws, shaped like a man’s hand, and large canine teeth protruding from its jaws. It moved swiftly on four legs with leaps as long as 30 feet in distance. In other instances, the creature walked on two legs. Eyewitness accounts note that the beast sometimes appeared to be bipedal, a facet that lead many to believe the creature was indeed a werewolf. In one instance, the beast was seen to wade across a river on his back legs. In another instance, a Sheppard noted that the beast rose on two legs and picked up a sheep with his arms.
The first attack
The first attack occurred on June 1, 1764 when a woman was charged by the beast bearing down on her from a nearby forest. The woman’s bulls drove the creature away with their horns. The creature recovered and returned for another attack but again, the woman’s bulls repelled the attack. Had they not, the woman would have surely been the first victim of the infamous beast. Twenty-nine days later the next attack occurred but in this case, being alone with no other people or animals to protect her, Jeanne Boulet was indeed fatally wounded.
More attacks continued throughout the year. Dozens of townspeople were attacked. Children went missing. Partially eaten bodies and body parts were scattered throughout the countryside. Townsmen tried unsuccessfully to hunt down the creature. The viciousness of the attacks drew the keen interest of the King who sent professional hunters into the area. Although hundreds of wolves were purged from the countryside by the hunters, the killings continued.
The King steps in and takes charge
A furious King charged his personal gun carrier, Antoine de Beauterne, with the demise of the problematic beast. A reward was offered and professional wolf hunters were sent to the province to hunt down the vicious creature.
Beauterne did little at first. He surveyed the area, drew some maps of the animal’s routes, and inspected the surrounding environment. Finally, on September 21st, he organized a hunting party composed of forty local hunters and a dozen dogs.
Guided by his intuition, de Beauterne had the men encircle a ravine in the woods near the village of Pommier. As soon as the dogs were unleashed, they started to bark furiously. As the beast came crashing of the brush, it suddenly became aware that it was surrounded. Desperately, it tried to find an escape route. De Beauterne fired, hitting the beast in the right shoulder. The hunters also opened fire with one shot going right through the animal’s right eye and skull. The creature fell and the men sounded their horn in triumph.
Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise and bewilderment, the beast rose and charged at de Beauterne. The men fired, and again the creature was hit. The beast turned around and tried to escape in the opposite direction, but it finally collapsed — dead.
The beast is dead?
Upon careful examination, the animal proved to be an enormous wolf measuring a little over 6 feet, weighing 143 pounds, with a huge head and fangs about 1½ inches long. A report was sent back to the King stating “We declare by the present report signed from our hand, we never saw a big wolf that could be compared to this one. Which is why we estimate this could be the fearsome beast that caused so much damage.”
There was great rejoicing in the region’s villages. “The beast is dead! The beast is dead!” Rewards were passed out and townspeople breathed a sigh of relief. But much to their dismay, on December 2 of that same year, the attacks resumed in earnest with dozens more citizens killed or injured. The hunt for the creature was resumed.
Witnesses note a fur covered man
Several months after the supposed “killing” of the beast, three women were traveling to church near a wooded area when a “dark” man approached them and offered to escort them through the woods near an area called Favart. The women kindly refused. As the man left into the woods, he gently touched one of the women with his hand and to her surprise, the hand was covered with fur. Moments later soldiers came running out of the woods and warned the women not to enter, the Beast of Gevaudan has just been spotted only in the forest. In a similar incident around the same time, two women from Escures were on their way to mass when accosted them. They noted that as the wind blew his shirt up, his body was covered with fur.
It was not long before the beast progressed from attacking women and children to attacking men and in some cases, even attacking groups of men. Witnesses noted that when stabbed or poked at close range the creature was impervious to the pain. Hunters noted that firing their weapons into the beast at close range produced little or no effect on the creature. Townspeople were baffled as to what sort of creature they were dealing with. In the June 6th 1765 edition of the English periodical, the St. James Chronicles it remarked ” it appears he is neither a wolf, tiger or hyena, but probably a mongrel, generated between the two last and forming, as it were, a new species.” During the summer of 1765, the slaughter of children was particularly gruesome. By this time, stories of the invincible beast had reached every corner of Europe.
The beast is killed
On June 19, 1767, after four years of brutal attacks, a local hunter named Jean Chastel was hunting with a large hunting party when he sat down to read his bible and pray. During his prayer, the creature came into sight and stood staring at Chastel. Chastel calmly finished him prayer and stood to shoot down the beast. Believing the beast was a werewolf; Chastel had loaded a custom made silver bullet into his gun with which he fired on the creature and killed the beast with a single shot.
Noting that the beast fit the description provided by witnesses, the corpse of the beast was gutted and remains from a small girl were found inside the belly of the beast. The body was sent to the King who proudly displayed the beast to the public.