What’s the Gevaudan Beast?

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The Beast of Gévaudan was a wolf-like creature that killed 88 people in France from 1764 to 1767. It targeted the heads of its victims and preyed on women and children. Despite numerous hunting parties, it was never caught until a local hunter used a silver bullet pistol. The legend surrounding the creature convinced people it had supernatural status. The truth about the creature’s nature is still unknown.

The Beast of Gévaudan (French: La bête du Gévaudan) was an alleged cow-sized and wolf-like creature that terrorized the population of the former province of Gévaudan in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France from about 1764 to 1767. The creature is associated with 198 attacks, of which 36 were injured and 88 died. It preferentially attacked humans, even singling them out from cows in a field. The beast was said to be all black and travel at very high speeds, killing its victims before they had a chance to react. It had a lion-like tuft of fur.

Today the story of the Beast of the Gévaudan is a cryptozoological curiosity, a bit of historical intrigue and an essential component of local French folklore.
In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the following of the beast:

“Because this was the land of the ever-memorable BEAST, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career his has been! He lived for ten months in vacant lodgings in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and “shepherd famous for their beauty”; he pursued armed horsemen; he was seen in full noon pursuing a post-cart and outrider along the king’s high road, and a cart and outrider fleeing before him at a gallop. He was labeled a political offender and was offered ten thousand francs for his head.’

Never at any other time in recorded history has there been a beast that has killed so many humans and avoided capture for so long. What is interesting is that the incident occurred in relatively recent history, the 18th century, and was recorded by numerous reliable sources. While there is uncertainty as to what exactly the Beast of the Gévaudan was, historians are certain that it actually existed, there being numerous sightings in broad daylight.

Unlike known predators, which tend to focus on the legs or jugular, the Beast of the Gévaudan targeted the heads of its victims and preyed on the weak: women and children. The heads were often found crushed or removed, and the beast ignored areas of the body often eaten away by predators, such as the thighs or abdomen. It seems that his main goal was simply to kill.

Numerous hunting parties were assembled to capture the creature, but they were never successful. Hunters set traps, even dressing as women and standing alone in the field while their companions waited for an ambush, but these attempts failed. More than a hundred wolves were killed, but the beast was nowhere to be found. Eventually, the King of France sent François Antoine, his personal hunter, to kill the creature. With the help of eight trained hounds and forty local hunters, Antoine captured an unusually large wolf, had it stuffed and sent to Versailles. But the wolf did not match the description of the Beast of the Gévaudan and the attacks continued. Dozens more died over the next year.

Supposedly, the beast was not killed until a year and a half later, by the local hunter, Jean Chastel, using a silver bullet pistol. By this time the legend surrounding the creature had convinced people that it had supernatural status. A very large wolf was killed, and when it was disemboweled, the body of a little girl was presumed to have been found inside. The beast was put on display, but as the embalming techniques of the time were poor, it began to rot after a couple of weeks and was buried.
Numerous theories have been put forward to explain the nature of the Beast of the Gévaudan. These include a dog-wolf hybrid, a hyena, a large dog trained to kill, a lioness-tiger hybrid, even a god-sent monster. Without any existing physical evidence, the truth will likely never be known.

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