The Beast of Gévaudan
southeastern France October 1764, in the mountainous countryside where farmhouses lie miles apart and ravines swallow the unwary a killer lurks those who have seen it, claim it is a great beast like a wolf, but much larger others say it can run on water and jump foot walls and attack survivors claim, it has shining eyes, it can speak like a man, and it walks on hind legs that end in hooves though survivors might disagree on exactly what it looks like everyone knows how the beast kills. it ambushes shepherds and drovers as they take the animals out to pasture preying selectively on women and teenagers.
in September, it killed one 36year old woman mere steps from her front door, and this month a woman was found decapitated it took a week to find her head, and this is only the beginning.
For the beast of Gévaudan will keep killing no matter what hunters, the army, and even the king himself do to try and stop it.
in the summer of 1647, the rural province of Gévaudan began battling a monster, in an escalating series of incidents an unknown animal or animals, attacked over local peasants killing over a hundred of them and spurring mass panic. Yet at first, no one noticed the pattern wolf attacks were not uncommon in rural France, in fact some historians estimate there were hundreds of deaths a year due to the animals including occasional outbreaks of attacks that might kill or people before dying away again, so when the bodies of two teenaged shepherdesses and one shepherd were found mutilated in the fields that summer the locals simply dismissed it as part of the harsh landscape of peasant life. But then, it kept happening and not just to the child and teenaged livestock handlers but also to adult women and the ferocity of these injuries was stunning the animal attacked the head and throat on occasion so viciously that it decapitated its victims, at times it even carried off small children in its jaws, snatching them as their mothers worked in the garden, and because firearms were rare most peasants could only defend themselves with farming tools.
Even so, farmers organized wolf hunts armed with shovels, and pickaxes. However, the more contact the locals had with wolves the more the stories grew. They said it was impervious to bullets that it had a head like a greyhound, and six claws on each foot, that it was a werewolf or witch a local priest even claimed it was god s punishment for losing the seven years war to protestant England, but one thought permeated all of these theories the culprit of these attacks was not many wolves the populace increasingly agreed it was one great beast.
A local official Etienne elephant recommended that women and children only go to their fields in the company of armed men, but his advice was impractical.
Gévaudan was still a feudal agrarian economy and at the best of times, farmers barely made enough to pay their landlords and sustain themselves. Meaning that the older men had to handle the crops, while the women and children had to take the stock to pasture themselves. So the killing accelerated eight attacks in eight days with four fatalities two of the victims were decapitated, and some completely shredded, so Lafont called in the army.
Captain Jean Baptist Duhamel was a veteran of the seven years war, and like the nation of France itself was struggling to dispel the feeling of dishonor brought on by defeat.
In November 1746, he descended on the province with a company of dragoons, patrolling, and organizing hunts. He collected descriptions and used maps to determine the best way to patrol for the beast. Worry not was his message the army is here.
Yet for three months, Duhamel’s troops simply couldn’t catch the creature, once he even had the beast in his sights but his soldiers spooked it before he could fire.
February 1765, of he organized a hunt with a new tactic, twenty thousand peasants some too malnourished to stand after leaving their crops unharnessed came to assist to beat the brush and drive the beast towards his men, but the beast slipped across a river, escaping through a gap in the screen that one village had neglected to guard. The villagers claimed dubiously that they had been at their posts but the beast just shrugged off their bullets.
As the month stretched, and Duhamel’s embarrassment grew, he himself began promoting stories of the beast s enormous size and seemingly supernatural powers it was a handy excuse for failure, and that s when the press started to take notice.
Barred from reporting on politics, the French press often fixated on stories of violence in the provinces. The gorier the better, this story was perfect.
French heroes hunting a monster women and children being torn apart, newspapers in Paris published exhaustive articles, and gory illustrations said to be of the beast also naturalists in Paris exercising a new interest in taxonomy, and classification tried to unwind the mystery based on descriptions.
Many claimed the beast was a hyena escaped from a noble s menagerie, others said it was a bizarre hybrid between a lion, and leopard or a dog wolf hybrid.
even king Louis xv took notice particularly after a young boy Jacques Puerto fey attacked the beast with a bayonet when it tried to carry off his friend, the king gave Port Dufay a reward and sent him to school at the crown s expense. Then later, another present hero a pregnant mother named jean vale, one fame for battling the beast bare handed then stabbing it with a lance as it tried to drag away her six year old son.
Duhamel meanwhile, was becoming more desperate he left out poisoned meat began using bodies of victims as bait, and even planned to dress up his dragoons as women to invite an attack he craved the glory of killing the beast.
Meanwhile, the news went international. Newspapers in London, and Boston kept base with stories and one satirical article in Britain claimed that the beast had swallowed the whole French army, and mocked France s failure to kill it.
At this point, the king decided to get directly involved, and dispatched a pair of famous wolf hunters from Normandy, whose tactics of poisoning victims’ bodies and laying them out as bait got them run out of town.
Next, came king Louise personal gun bearer and master of the hunt François Antoine, along with a party of huntsman and king Louie s own wolf hunting dogs, in contrast to the wolf hunters he and his team treated the villagers with respect, and partnered with them and also unlike the previous hunters he found the beast.
September 20th 1756, there had been a wolf sighted, big with the female and pops,
François Antoine waits for the hunting party to beat the animal out of the woods his musket quadruple loaded with powder a single ball, and shot after what feels like an eternity he sees the wolf emerge it s so big he briefly mistakes it for a donkey.
He shoulders his musket aims the beast notices the movement and turns his head, he fires staggering at the blast but felling the creature with a hit to the eye. Collecting himself he steps forward to inspect his kill to see this monster up close and after 2 shots, the beast of Gévaudan is dead.
François Alton had the creature s skin mounted, and brought it to court returning in triumph, but the reception was lukewarm, because it was just a wolf but everyone did expect a hyena or a lion or some sort of monster.
Still, King Louie was happy to bring this increasingly embarrassing story to a close he gave Antoine a purse of money, along with a title and declared the whole thing over. Except it wasn’t two months later the killings, resumed was Antoine s wolf simply not the right one?
The crown offered no more support, because according to the official line the beast was dead. But, the terror stretched on for another year and a half, only stopping when a local woodsman Gene Chester, shot a wolf as it emerged from a thicket during a hunt. Attack survivors claimed, that this not the earlier beast was the true culprit local doctors made extreme claims about its anatomy and developed folklore claiming Chester had shot it with the silver bullet.
Stories also say, Chester tried to bring the corpse to Louis, but by the time they arrived it had rotted and stank, so the king callously ordered it buried. But, this kind of made sense it was a subversion of the official narrative promoting a local hero over the outsider Antoine, who represented a government that had abandoned them even as more people died in the fields. But, regardless the killings were finally over.
So what exactly was the beast?
The most likely explanation, is there was no single beast, Gévaudan was just overpopulated with wolves in fact rashes of wolf attacks with deaths at a time happened almost every decade in France. They d even caused smaller panics in the past, but ones that went unnoticed by the press in Paris which in an odd roundabout way proves that the beast was more than just wolves. It was the creation of rural folklore, and the urban press religious panic and enlightenment thought and peasant fear and misery taken up as a hobby by the elite. In other words, the wolves did the killing but we made the monster.