Beast of Gevaudan
South Central France In The Mid 1700's
A young woman who went out to tend cattle in the fields in the area near Gevaudan in south-central France was suddenly confronted with a huge and frightening creature advancing with great speed toward her. This event took place in the month of June, 1764.
This beast was, in fact, comparable to the size of the cows that the woman cared for, and this creature was best described at the time as resembling a wolf of huge proportions.
Dogs that the woman kept for purposes of protection while in the fields were reported to have immediately fled once the large creature approached. Strangely enough, the horned cattle that the woman tended actually made use of their horns and and successfully defended both themselves and the young woman against the wolf attack until the beast disengaged from the battle. The wolf beast then dashed off into the distance. The young woman survived the terrifying ordeal but this would not be the last sighting or attack from a gigantic, beastly, and vicious wolf-like creature in this area of France.
Corpses Litter The Land and Cause Terror In The Region
Around the time of this wolf beast attack, partially eaten corpses of all kinds, including some human bodies, were found with great frequency in the Gevaudin area.
What was particularly terrifying in this area and time was that a number of human corpses found were those of children.
The first child victim found deceased was a little girl whose heart had been torn from her chest. The body of this unfortunate was discovered in July 1764.
Bodies of strong, capable, full-grown men were also found, as were women's bodies, so the word went out very quickly that a Beast of Gevaudin was the destructive, malicious force responsible for all the violent deaths in the land.
Loup Garou and Other Werewolves
The Peasants Cry, "Loup-Garou!"
Loup-Garou: French, "Werewolf ."
The peasants spread word that a werewolf is on the loose. The loup-garou attacks which seemed to start in June 1764, continued on through to August. Sometime during the summer months, this creature had also gotten more brazen than what is known from the account of the lady survivor involved in the June encounter. The creature went from attacking individuals and helpless children to an attacking groups of men by the end of summer 1764.
RIght on through into September and autumn months, the attacks continued.
Peasants armed themselves and carried weapons everywhere they went. The idea of a WEREWOLF in their midst was strengthened due to attacks that happened whereby armed men in groups reportedly attacked back at the creature...
...and the creature departed, too often - seemingly unharmed.
In numerous attacks, it is said that those who armed themselves did manage to stab the monster while defending themselves. Some men even managed to shoot the creature and these actions were witnessed by others involved in the self-defense...
...but this didn't cause the killings or attacks to cease. No stabbings or gunshots effectively harmed the loup-garou or dissuaded it from returning...
Certainly, only a loup-garou - something unnatural or supernatural - could survive such retaliations of self-defense...
Continued Attacks of The Beast - And Continued Attacks of Defense by The People
October 8 1764: a close-range shooting of the Beast of Gevaudin occurs. Two hunters, definitely armed, manage to shoot the Beast at quite a close range of only 10 paces or so away. Additionally, the Beast takes several hits, as the two men reported "several rifle balls" of shot successfully went out at a range of 10 paces.
Likely, the short distance combined with both number of shots and type of ammunition the beast was hit with should have felled a large animal of its size, however, the hunters/defenders reported that the beast was not felled outright, and did manage to limp away.
Even though shocked that the beast managed to limp away, the hunters believed the creature to be mortally wounded, in the least. They assumed that the huge wolf-like animal would limp away, only to expire alone in the forest somewhere, and thus, they did not follow to finish the beast off.
When word spread about this incident, most of the area population was greatly relieved, and it was thought that the Beast of Gevaudin's attacks were forever halted.
Amateur Film - Werewolf Transformation
The Paris Gazette and The St. James Chronicle Report On The Beast
Here is an eyewitness account that The Paris Gazette printed, June 1764:
"It was much higher than a wolf, low before, and his feet are armed with talons. His hair is reddish, his head large, and the muzzle of it is shaped like that of a greyhound; his ears are small and straight; his breast is wide and grey; his back streaked with black; his large mouth is provided with sharp teeth."
According to a comment printed in the St. James Chronicle on June 6th of 1764:
"[...] it appears he is neither a wolf, tiger or hyena, but probably a mongrel, generated between the two last and forming a new species."
By 1765 fear of the Beast caused a string of hunting parties to be launched and those who weren't in the practice of carrying arms, began to do so. This caused the indiscriminate slaughter of wolves...but no werewolf was ever found.
Artist's Perception of the Gevaudan Wolf
Werewolf Disease and Beast Of Gevaudan Indie Film
Death of a Beast
During the winter of 1765, a party of 7 was attacked by a strange-looking beast. Jacques Portefaix, two female companions and 4 other male companions positioned their bodies close together, striking outward in defense when the beast attacked. All managed to survive the frightful attack on January 12. Because the party survived, King Louis XV awarded 600 livres to the collective group. Portefaix received 300 of the 600 livres, with 300 to be dispersed to the others. King Louis XV also took Portefaix under his wing to train him at the state's expense, so great was the King's relief to have knowledge of SOMEONE who had survived the Beast's attacks.
King Louis XV soon ordered that professional wolf hunters track and kill the Beast. Jean-Francios and his father, Jean-Charles-Marc-Antione Vaumesle d'Enneval were choosen by the King for hunting and eliminating the Beast. On February 17, 1765, the father-son team brought their 8 bloodhounds into Clermont-Ferrand. Their hounds had been specially trained to hunt wolves, and the father-son team proceeded to wolf-hunt for several months. While Jean-Francois and his father believed, during each kill, that they were eliminating the notorious Beast of Gevaudan, somehow the Beasts attacks continued for 6 more months, despite their efforts. The professional wolf-hunters were finally replaced by a man close to the King, named Francois Antoine.
Francois Antoine arrived in le Malzieu June 22, and was in the position as the King's harquebus bearer (a special musket-like firearm), and also Lieutenant of the Hunt. Almost 3 months to the day when Francios Antione began to hunt the beast, he managed to kill a wolf of exceptional size - on September 21, at Abbaye dez Chazes. Thus, the 31-inch high, 5.6-foot long, 130 pound beast that was felled was called Le Loup de Chazes. The people in the region where the beast was killed said:
- "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."
A handful of attack survivors in the Abbaye dez Chazes area identified the large wolf as the same which attacked them, as recognized by scars on the dead wolf's body - scars inflicted by the survivors in their efforts of defense during previous attacks.
Afterward, Francois Antoine was hailed as a hero, received several titles, awards and a large sum of money. The beast was stuffed and sent to Versailles.
The threat of the Beast of Gevaudan had run its course...
- ...a Beast emerged near la Besseyre Saint Mary and injured two children quite severely. The attack occurred on December 2, 1765.
Dozens of deaths followed...
The Beast of Gevaudan - The True Story
Major Point of Mythology: THE SILVER BULLET
It is at this point in time that folklorists and historians look back upon and end up divided in their accounts...historians say a local hunter, Jean Chastel finally killed this incessant Loup Garou, the Beast of Gevaudan. Foklorist tell the story of Chastel killing the beast with a silver bullet...however, historians aren't so quick to determine that Chastel used a silver bullet on the deadly beast that had been terrorizing the region for so long.
It is most likely that novelists found such seemingly supernatural details in historical accounts of this time, region and events concerning the deadly beast - that they came up with an equally supernatural counterpart for the beast, according to their storytelling. The counter for the wolf beast was the silver bullet - a precious metal with various symbolic meanings for a wide range of people. Some say that Chastel was the designer and maker of the bullet.
Those who would omit the silver bullet part, simply say that Chastel finally went out, encountered the beast while with a large hunting party, then shot it, but many more versions exist of this one encounter involving the death of the loup-garou.
Another supernatural-type explanation that is extremely popular goes something like this:
Beset with worries about the return of the loup-garou, Jean Chastel found reason to sit down and earnestly pray to God about the entire matter. Having travelled with a hunting party to no avail, he became rather anxious, thus, he stopped tracking and hunting and choose to sit down and read his Bible...and after reading some and praying some, while in the act of praying, the loup-garou suddenly appeared...the creature came right within weapon/ammunition range of Chastel, so he completed his prayer, took aim, then shot the beast, killing it.
This particular version was Chastel's version and survives through family tradition. Chastel believed his prayer had something significant to do with both the arrival of the beast at that moment when Chastel was praying...and also the beasts unusual manner once it appeared. Typically, the beast was very vicious, launching into violent attack immediately upon coming anywhere near people...this time, the beast appeared but remained quite still - still enough for Chastel to finish a prayer, line up his weapon, get the beast within sights and finally - SHOOT!
Two explanations exist for the uncommon behavior of the beast during this last appearance.
1) Chastel had some sort of training control over the beast or had at some time been involved with the beast before the beast became a man-eater. (how would he know to make a specially designed bullet out of silver when nobody else seemed to think of this before? what what it have been that Chastel knew about this creature that nobody 'til this point had understood or been aware of?)
2) The prayers and power of God and religion brought the beast out of hiding to some sort of fated end that was necessary as decided by God.
Naturally, this whole last account of the final hunt and of the death of the beast is questionable. It contains many 'faith' elements and makes for a wonderful story - however - historians cannot agree that the beast appeared - as fate would design - just for Chastel to be able to kill it.
You'll have to decide what you believe at this point...including the part about Chastel having used a silver bullet designed very mindfully for this one creature, this one death. Although you can decide about this part on your own, here is where I declare that:
THIS IS THE POINT AT WHICH LEGEND BLURS and I have NO PROBLEM with this because I enjoy the legends...here's where I can put my "historian" thinking away and go with the story...
But hardcore historians will remind you at this point that "folk narratives" are hard to piece together and derive "facts" from.
I love this part of the research into the France loup-garou - because in the very least, here's where we might be observing the invention of the SILVER BULLET LEGEND ...transpiring as a response to the loup-garou legend...
As far as the Beast of Gevaudan legend goes...this is the close of the accounts concerning what most people consider the worst loup-garou experiences in France during the mid-1700's. The people of the time believed that Jean Chastel put an end to the manacing deadly werewolf creature on the day (June 19, 1767) he shot it with a silver bullet...and most who followed in generations afterward told of Chastel's slaying of the loup-garou in the summer of 1767.