Gévaudan, Beast of
Creature depicted as a gigantic wolf-like quadruped (witnesses reported it as big as a donkey or cow) that over two hundred years ago terrorized people in southeastern France by killing men, woman and children.
Many explanations — mutant, prehistoric beast, demon, very large baboon, etc. — were put forward at the time and during the two centuries since, but none has ever been generally accepted. One thing is certain: sufficient evidence remains to prove that 'La Bête' — French for 'The Beast', as the creature became known — really did exist and was not just a myth.
This monstrous animal terrorized the people of Gévaudan — a district in Lozère — for more then three years, and it is said it killed about one hundred human beings (and wounded over thirty), without mentioning a large number of cattle and other domestic animals.
It all stared in June 1764 in the Merçoire forest near Langogne in the eastern part of Gévaudan, when a young woman watching a heard of cows suddenly saw a gruesome beast charging at her. Had not the bulls kept the monster at bay with their horns, she most certainly would have been devoured. After the bulls successfully repelled a second charge, the lucky woman managed to escape with just minor scratches and torn clothes.
The animal was hysterically described by the lass as having a very wide chest, a huge head and neck, short straight ears that looked like erect horns and a nose like a greyhound, with two long fangs protruding from each side of its black foaming mouth. Its tail was long and exceptionally thin and it had a black stripe running from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. It also had enormous claws, which looked like a man's hand only three times larger, and its eyes glinted red and looked devilish. The young woman also said that it moved at a high speed, in leaps and bounds of as much as thirty feet (nine meters).
In the following months terror swept the region. The beast favored easy prey — women and children, and also lone men who took livestock out to pasture — often aiming for the head of its victims. Several were devoured and carried off. Worse of all, half-eaten bodies and torn-off limbs scattered about. A few of the victims got away with their lives, but most of these went mad from shock. There was rampant speculation that the creature was actually a loup-garou (werewolf). Others speculated that there were a pair — or even a pack — of extremely large and strangely colored man-eating creatures, instead of only one animal, because of the high number of attacks and also because it seemed to be able to either move incredibly fast or to be in two places at almost the same time. Guns seemed useless, for even when someone shot at the beast, it apparently remained unharmed. The creature came to be regarded more and more as a supernatural fiend.
In October 1764 two hunters spotted the beast and shot it from only ten paces. The creature fell, only to get up again immediately. A second round of shots, and again the beast fell. This time the animal got up on unsteady legs, but still managed to escape to a nearby wood. As it made its escape, the hunters shot at twice more, and at each time the beast fell, only to rise again.
Locals, after hearing about it and seeing the blood trail leading to the woods, were sure that this time the creature was mortally wounded, and that it would be found dead the next day. To their great horror, several more people were killed in the next days. The legend — and the fear — grew even more.
The next month enormous beats composed of every available peasant were organized by a certain Captain Duhamel, who led fifty-seven of his dragoons (forty on foot and seventeen mounted) on a massive hunt for the creature. His efforts were useless. The beast proved to be too much for them, escaping every time Duhamel's dragoons thought they had it trapped. The men went as far as dressing like women to lure the creature with the prospect of an easy kill, but the animal still managed to avoid being captured or killed.
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A large reward was then offered, and hunters from all over came to Gévaudan hoping to win the money. These hunters joined the dragoons, and the hunt went on for months. Over one hundred wolves were killed, but the beast still eluded everyone. In the end disgruntled peasants had had enough of these outsiders eating their bread, trampling their fields and invading their houses. Incredibly, as if it had sensed the animosity between the populace and the hunters, 'La Bête' unleashed a massacre more terrible then before — right under everyone's noses. By this time, stories of the invincible 'Beast of Gévaudan' had reached every corner of Europe.
After a brutal and public attack on two young children, King Louis XV sent a certain Denneval to the district. Denneval, a Norman squire and hunter reputed to have killed more than twelve hundred wolves, began tracking the beast with six of his best bloodhounds in February 1765. Not long after that a local farmer's courageous sixteen year-old son, Jacques Denis, joined up with Denneval, and they became friends. Jacques twenty year-old sister Jeanne had been attacked by 'La Bête', and although surviving the encounter with two gapping wounds behind each ear and a torn shoulder, she went mad never to recover. Jacques, a witness to the mauling, had sworn to avenge his sister.
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