The Beast Of Gevaudan – The Inspiration For The Modern Werewolf?
by Clive Precious (a.k.a Lee Cushing)
In a remote region of France during the 18th century, a murderous beast stalked the countryside leaving a trail of blood and corpses.
The nightmare began during the summer of 1764 with a young woman tending to her cow when a mysterious beast appeared and began charging at her. Her dogs fleeing in terror, the only thing that saved her from being eaten alive were the cows that were able to keep the creature from reaching her. Managing to escape with only a few scratches, the woman was able to give a description of the beast that had tried to attack her.
The creature was described as being the size of a cow with a very wide chest, huge head and neck, short grey ears and a nose that resembled a greyhound. A pair of fangs were visible protruding from each side of its mouth. The survivor also claimed that the creature was able to move at great speed with bounds of up to 30 feet.
The following months saw the mystery beast spreading terror throughout the countryside, leaving the half-eaten corpses and severed limbs scattered throughout the region. As the bodycount climbed, the creature began to be viewed less than a wolf-like beast but as an invulnerable demon.
With the carnage continuing and with people afraid to leave their homes or tend to their farms, the local men united in an attempt to track down the beast, despite the majority of them only having access to the most basic of weapons. Even those who did have the use of firearms found that their guns seemed to have little effect on the beast.
On the 8th October of the first year of the beast’s killing spree, two hunters encountered the beast and claimed to have shot it from only a space of ten paces.
The beast fell.
The hunters’ victory was shortlived. The beast recovered immediately. The two hunters shot at it again and once more it fell. Appearing injured, the beast did manage to escape into the woods, despite being shot two more times before it was able to evade its pursuers.
Learning about the hunters’ encounter with the beast, the local people quickly became convinced that the creature had been severly wounded and expected to soon find its carcass.
The hope that the nightmare was over ended when the beast returned over the next few days and slaughtered more victims.
It was the following month when a Captain Duhamel took charge of trying to hunt down the beast and organised all of the local people into helping nearly the soldiers under his command, 40 on foot and 17 on horseback.
The beast proved to be a formidable and intelligent foe. Every time Duhamel and his soldiers had been convinced that they had managed to kill the creature, it recovered and managed to escape.
The constant failure to kill the beast led to the offer of a large reward to anyone capable of capturing it. Hunters from all over France arrived in an attempt to claim the money, but all attempts were unsuccessful.
In the months that followed, the local people began to feel fed up with the presence of the soldiers and hunters. It was at this time that the beast mounted its most murderous attack to date, right under the noses of the soldiers.
With the news of the beast’s killing spree beginning to spread to other countries in Europe, King Louis XV sent a hunter, Denneval, with a reputation of killing over 1200 wolves. Arriving in the region, Denneval began attempting to track the beast with six of the best bloodhounds.
This was the time that the unfortunate Denis family became linked to the legend of the beast.
In March 1765 and Denneval having been in the region for a month, three of the four Denis siblings, Jacques, Julienne and Jeanne were watching their livestock near Malzieu. After lighting a fire for him and his sisters, Jacques heard Jeanne screaming when the beast attacked her. Attempting to save his sister, Jacques fought with the beast and managed to throw it into the fire.
Again managing to survive, the beast escaped.
Left with wounds behind each of her ears and a torn shoulder, the attack resulted in Jeanne becoming a quivering wreck and experiencing intense periods of terror.
Blaming herself for her sister’s condition, Julienne vowed that she would kill the beast or die trying and would often head out to provoke an encounter with the creature.
Also vowing revenge on the beast, Jacques joined forces with Denneval. Proposing a new strategy, Denneval attempted to lure the beast out into the open by using himself as bait, at which time his men would surround the beast and trap it with dogs.
The new tactics failed. The beast always managed to evade the hunters and continued leaving mutilated bodies throughout the region.
Two months after Denneval’s arrival in the region, the beast was seen stalking a shepherd by a nobleman called de la Chaumette. Alerting his two brothers, de la Chaumette plotted to try to ambush the beast. Managing to shoot the creature and wound it, de la Chaumette and his brothers failed to prevent the beast from escaping back into the woods.
The signs that the beast had been wounded were evident, splashes of blood stained the soil, and the people once again believed that the beast that could not be killed was dead.
The celebrations that followed the belief that the beast was dead faded when a horse rider galloped into the village with the news that the beast had attacked a woman named Marguerite, a friend to Jacques. Heading off to find Marguerite immediately, Jacques found her body on the road leading into the village with her throat ripped open.
The beast attacked and killed another three people during that day, but did not bother to eat them.
Jacques organised the people into using whatever they could find and put the dogs onto the still-fresh scent of the beast. This time he was determined to kill the creature once and for all.
Soon, Jacques find himself face to face with his quarry and attacked it with a bayonet. Appearing unconcerned by any threat that he posed, the beast bared its fangs and leapt forward for the kill.
Jacques was lucky and was saved by the arrival of more hunters who caused the beast to flee.
With the legend of the beast making France look ridiculous, the King dispatched his personal gun carrier, Antoine de Beauterne, to end the beast’s rampage.
Denneval gave up hunting the beast in June 1765. That month, the beast embarked on another vicious rampage, killing two children and a 45 year old woman.
Whispers that the beast was linked to witchcraft began to circulate with local priests declaring that it was a messenger of evil sent to punish the people for their sins. Suspicion fell on the mysterious Chastel family whose son, Jean, lived in the wild in the woods.
For the following three months, de Beauterne did nothing but study the beast’s hunting patterns. In September, he organised 40 hunters using 12 dogs and chose a starting point near the village of Pommier.
Setting up an ambush for the beast at the Beal ravine, de Beauterne and his hunters began to wait.
The dogs began to bark at something that was still not within sight.
The hunters released the dogs as soon as the beast came into the open. Becoming aware that it was surrounded by the hunters, the beast tried to find a way to escape the trap it had been caught in.
Taking advantage of having caught the beast in the open, de Beauterne fired.
The buckshot struck the beast on its shoulder with another shot going straight through its right eye and into its skull.
The beast fell and the horns sounded in triumph.
Shocked by the following sight, the hunters watched the beast return to its feet and launch itself directly towards de Beauterne. A shot by one of the other hunters hit the beast in the leg and it made a run for an opening in the trap.
Almost having escaped from the ambush, the beast fell and lay unmoving.
The beast was declared to be a rare wolf measuring 6 feet from nose to tail. The animal was stuffed and taken back to the King’s court as a trophy.
But there were still those who refused to believe that the beast was gone, including Julienne Denis who was convinced that Jean Chastel knew that it was still out there and believed that the beast was a werewolf.
For the next two months until the end of November 1765, the killings continued but the King forbade anyone from talking about the beast’s resurrection.
On Christmas Day, Jacques went off in search of Julienne who had not been seen since the day before. The week after her disappearance, unrecognisable remains were discovered.
The spring of 1767 saw the killings begin again with at least 14 victims of the beast during the months of March and June.
In June 1767, a local nobleman organised three hundred hunters to try to stop the beast, one of them was Jean Chastel, who had loaded his gun with silver bullets.
Setting up a position in the Beal ravine just like de Beauterne before him, Jean Chastel opened a prayer book and read it. Then he waited.
With the hunting dogs close behind it, the beast emerged into the open just a few steps from where Jean Chastel was waiting.
Finishing his prayer, he closed the book and removed his glasses.
The beast remained motionless.
Jean Chastel raised his gun and fired, killing the beast once and for all.
If you are interested in reading’s Clive’s work, you can find him on Amazon under his pen name, Lee Cushing.