To celebrate the feast of Halloween, I present to you the true tale of a beast that terrorized France in the eighteenth century. A beast so ferocious even the king got involved in taking it down. This is the tale of the Beast of Gévaudan.
Gévaudan was a province in the south of France. The mountainous region was once the home of a Gallic tribe called the Gabali who had famously rallied behind Vercingetorix in the Gallic revolt against Julius Ceasar. In the late eighteenth century, long after the fall of the Roman Empire, the people of Gévaudan faced an altogether different kind of threat. A threat known around Europe as simply "The Beast of Gévaudan".
In the late days of the spring of 1764 a young woman had taken her cattle out to the Mercoire forest. This was not an uncommon sight. Cattle were mostly tended to by women and children when they went out to graze. From between the trees the young woman saw a large wolf-like creature move towards her. In a stroke of luck the bulls in her herd made their own charge towards the beast and drove it away. Saving the woman from what would have surely been a brutal and lethal attack.
At the end of June there was another attack. The fourteen year old Janne Boulet was found dead near the village of Les Hubacs. She was the first of the over one hundred victims the beast would end up making.
The death of Janne Boulet marked the start of a horrifying period during which many people were attacked and killed. The people of Gévaudan where in the clutch of a vicious killer. Descriptions of the beast varied, some people said it was a large wolf or a bear, the size of a calf or even a horse. Red fur streaked with black on its back, enormous claws and of course razor-sharp teeth. It didn't take long before people started attributing supernatural aspects to the creature. Some even claiming the beast must be a werewolf.
The attacks continued into 1765. The young Jacques Portefaix and his friends were attacked by the beast, but by grouping together they managed to fight off the attack and come out unharmed. For their bravery they were given a reward by none other than the king of France, Louis XV. He also ordered two of his huntsmen, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and his son Jean-François, to travel down to Gévaudan and kill the beast. Having killed almost twelve-hundred wolves and traveling with a pack of eight bloodhounds trained to hunt wolves, the father and son team was certain they would find and kill the beast.
The duo started hunting wolves in the Gévaudan area immediately. Meanwhile the attacks continued. A woman named Jean Jouve was attacked by the beast in front of her house. It was trying to get at her children. She kept the beast away from her children, fighting with her bare hands. Eventually two of her older sons tried to attack the beast with pikes and it fled. One of Jean's children was killed in the attack and Jean was left seriously injured.
Louis XV felt the whole affair embarrassed his kingdom. The story had spread across Europe and British newspapers were ridiculing France for not being able to capture the beast. Louis XV replaced the d'Ennevals by François Antoine, the king's personal gun-bearer. On the twenty-first of September he captured an exceptionally large gray wolf. The beast had finally been captured and the people of Gévaudan could breathe easy. Antoine, showered by the king with money and titles, was considered a hero by all.
December 1765 two kids were attacked and injured. Not long after that the reports of killings started piling up again. Was this a new beast, or had the real beast never been killed? Once again the people of Gévaudan were living in fear.
It was on the nineteenth of June 1767 that the real beast was killed. Not by any of the king's men this time, but by a local pub-owner named Jean Chastel. In 1765 Chastel had been imprisoned because he had misled the royal guards of François Antoine, causing them to get stuck in a muddy bog. Chastel had been part of a large hunting party, searching for the beast. During this hunt Chastel had shot a large wolf. After this the killings finally stopped. Later Chastel would be surrounded by as much supernatural storytelling as the beast itself. Some claiming he shot the beast with a silver bullet, while others claimed he was the beast's trainer.
Historians today believe the beast was indeed a large wolf, or even a pack of wolves. While wolves will readily attack livestock, they will generally avoid contact with humans. Between 1764 and 1767, however, the wolves in Gévaudan killed about 113 people and injured 49 more.