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It was June 1764, in a sleepy little southeast French village. A 14-year-old farmer girl named Jeanne Boulet was out with a flock of sheep. Suddenly, she heard a noise-- a growl, more monstrous than any beast known to man.
Before Boulet could even cry for help, she was savagely attacked, torn to pieces by a 130 pound creature that reeked of death and showed no mercy. Ignoring the sheep, the beast then disappeared into the woods.
It might sound like the start of a campy horror movie, but the Beast of Gevaudan was a terrifying reality for the French villagers of the little town. Though the monster vanished as quickly as it had come, the attack on Jeanne was only the beginning of a four year reign of terror that baffles historians and zoologists to this day.
Though there’s no physical evidence of the Beast, there are plenty of pictures and chronicles written accounts of its attacks-- several of which contract each other. One account described the monster as large as a horse; another claimed it was merely an oversized dog. Some said that it was reddish brown, while others argued it was more of a grey-white. Woodcuts depict the Beast as a wolflike creature, sometimes with a bristled back like a hyena or even hooves like a goat. All, however, agreed that the creature was terrifying and deadly.
Over a hundred citizens in southeast France were killed by the Beast. It seemed to show no discrimination-- men, women and children alike were attacked, the monster usually tearing out the throat of the victim. Even large groups of people were targeted, which is unusual for wolves, since they tend to go for solitary, weak targets such as the elderly and small children.
Eventually the king of France himself, Louis XV, sent aid to the people of Gevaudan. In 1765, he sent his two professional wolf hunters to the village at the state’s expense, along with eight bloodhounds trained in wolf-tracking. However, after five months, despite the hunters killing several Eurasian wolves, the Beast’s attacks continued. The hunters were replaced, this time with François Antoine, the king’s Lieutenant of the Hunt. In September of 1765, Antoine killed a large grey wolf, weighing over 130 pounds. Antoine was showered with awards and the wolf was stuffed and presented to the king.
However, two months later, the attacks began again, the Beast killing nine women in the south-central town of La Besseyre-Saint-Mary.
The Beast continued its attacks. People rumored the monster to be immune to bullets; others said that it was a ‘loup-garou’ -- a werewolf.
Finally, in 1767, a local hunter and farmer named Jean Chastel spotted the monster during a hunting party. He lined up his shot, pulled the trigger…
And ended it for once and for all.
Legend and rumor claims that Chastel used a bullet made of silver, melted from religious artifacts, to end the Beast. Whatever is the case, there were no more attacks after Chatel ended it all. Gevaudan lived in peace, eventually being renamed as Lozere` after the French Revolution in 1790.
Zoololists, biologists and cryptozoologists (those that study ‘mythical’ creatures such as Bigfoot) still debate what exactly the Beast of Gevaudan was to this day. France had been an epicenter for wolf attacks in Europe since 1200, though this was the first documented set of closely ranged attacks in a particular region.
Some theorize that it was a pack of wolves that carried out the attacks, since they were so frequent. Others claims that it was an escaped lion or hyena from a zoo (which was an attraction that was becoming popular at the time) or a hybrid between a dog and a wolf. Still others claim that it could have been a genetic throwback to a giant canid of prehistoric times called the Dire Wolf (Canis dirus).
Wolf attacks aren’t common, as the predators tend to shy away from humans. Some can develop a taste for human flesh during times of famine, though this is rare. Rabies as well can drive an animal to attack humans, though rabid wolves don’t occur often and the virus tends to kill its host within a week or two (which doesn’t fit the timeline of the Beast’s four-year-span).
Whatever the Beast was, it’s dead now-- though the terror will be remembered.
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.