The Beast of Gévaudan
A couple of decades before the French Revolution, an unidentified animal killed hundreds of people, mostly women and children, in Gévaudan, a remote part of France. Here is the story of the beast.
The Beast of Gévaudan: a True Story
As a child, the story of the Beast of Gévaudan was one of my favorites. Both captivating and terrifying!
It was the story of an animal that killed and injured hundreds of people, mainly women and children, in a desolate part of the French countryside. My imagination was running wild!
It all began in June 1764 on the high plateaus of Vivarais, south of the Massif Central (province of Gévaudan), with the death of a young 14-year-old shepherdess, Jeanne Boulet, killed by a “ferocious beast”, according to the parish priest.
In the following weeks, the beast claims several more victims.
As the attacks multiply within a radius of about 80 km, huge hunts are organized by local people, but also by professional wolf killers from other parts of the country. One search in particular is known to have brought together close to 30,000 people!
Hundreds of wolves are killed, but it’s no use. The beast keeps on killing.
The media frenzy, skillfully orchestrated by a handful of unscrupulous reporters eager to increase the circulation of their newspapers, does nothing to quell the collective hysteria.
The King gets involved
Thanks to them and the rumor mill, the story of the "beast" spreads throughout the country like a wildfire, and quickly reaches the court of King Louis XV.
The King decides to dispatch his best soldiers to Gévaudan to put an end to the carnage.
An animal, resembling a wolf, is slaughtered by the King's own bodyguard, no less. He brings the stuffed body of the beast to Paris where it is displayed in front of the court. The bodyguard is largely rewarded for his success.
As for the King, the matter is closed. Thanks to him, the beast is history (no pun intended)..
But two months later the attacks resume. At the court however, the story falls into oblivion.
The population of Gévaudan is left to fend for itself. The hunt continues…
In 1767, three years after the death of the little shepherdess, the massacre finally stopped after a beast is killed by a local hunter, Jean Chastel.
This beast, with its “hideous” head, as the locals describe it, does not quite resemble a wolf.
The body is dissected, cut into pieces, and once again brought to Paris. Too ripe however, it will never reach the court. It is buried without further process and forever forgotten!
A post autopsy report was written by a local notary. It concluded that the beast was definitely a canine, and looked like a cross between a wolf and a dog, with an odd large white spot on its chest (not very wolf-like).
After multiple reports, theses, films, documentaries, devoted to the beast of Gévaudan, the jury is still out on the identity of the beast, even today.
The most likely explanation is that of a group of cannibalistic wolves, or wolf-dog hybrids, that roamed the area in search of easy preys. That would explain why the victims were mostly women and children.
At that time in Europe, wolves were particularly abundant, estimated at more than 20,000 in the French territory itself.
Even if by nature the wolf distrusts mankind, it is not impossible that a group of deviants could have freed themselves from this fear and became an exclusive predator.
The possibility of a human origin, in particular that of a serial killer, or a sadist disguised as a wolf, was also considered, but really never held water.
Finally, more bizarre hypotheses have been put forward such as that of a werewolf or of an exotic animal: hyena, lion, tigon, monkey, and many others.
To this day, the mystery remains...
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