History Mysteries

The Mystery of the Beast of Gevaudan in 18th Century France



Maria Potar's image for:
"The Mystery of the Beast of Gevaudan in 18th Century France"
Caption: 
Location: 
Image by: 
©  

Gevaudan is a small town located in the South of France.  This barren stretch of hills is home to the legendary beast that killed over 100 people.

During 1764 to 1767, the beast of Gevaudan preyed upon villagers.  Most attacks were upon women and children.  Muddled and varied descriptions were given about the beast.  It was often described as extremely hairy, covered with bristly, dark fur, but it walked upright.  Witnesses likened the beast to a wolf, bear, hyena and even a panther.  Its snout was lined with large teeth.  Some have said the animal gave off a putrid smell.  Survivors claim that the beast’s tail was extremely thick and strong and that it was used to knock down men and animals.  The beast, by some accounts, looked like a man running with animal skins.  Other witnesses reported that it ran on all four legs, with human-like movement.

Hunters were sent into the woods to track and kill the beast by King Louis XV.  Dragoon Captain Jean-Baptiste Duhamel gathered 20,000 plus citizens to hunt the beast of Gevaudan.  Although his attempt was unsuccessful, a royal gun bearer by the name of Francois Antoine was able to kill a wolf suspected in the killings.  The animal was said to be quite large and was brought to be displayed in Versailles.  Attacks on local villagers continued and a dozen more deaths occurred.

A local hunter, Jean Chastel was also credited with killing a creature which marked the end of the attacks.  Chastel was part of a posse to hunt and kill the monster.  According to records, the animal that was killed contained the remains of a human.  Chastel testified that his preparations for the hunt involved practices of particular ancient traditions.  The bullets that were used to kill the creature were melted down from a silver chalice that was blessed by a priest.

Researchers continue to debate what kind of creature was killed.  Some state that the animal was some type of rare leopard, while others attest to it being a wild boar because of the tusks and dark bristles.  Jean Chastel testified that the beast had unusual feet, pointed ears, and dark, thick hair covering his body.  Several witnesses involved in the hunting posse claim it was a werewolf because it had half-man, half-wolf characteristics.

The furious rampage undertaken by the hunters was evident in their creative weapons.  One weapon was reported to contain 30 shotguns tied to 30 ropes which held an animal for bait.  Rewards for survivors by the king also encouraged the villagers to participate in the hunt.  Records indicate that even a group of children aged 8 to 14 were rewarded for fending off the creature with iron tipped spears.

Reports show that the carcass of a large wolf was displayed along the streets of many villages.  This was done to assure the people that the creature was dead.  Although it cannot be actually verified whether the beast was a large dog, a wolf or even a werewolf, it can be confirmed that hundreds of villagers fell victim to some sort of vicious animal attack.  Surely there was something at large.  What it was, we may never know.

 

More about this author: Maria Potar