The Beast of Benais

The ferocious so-called “Beast of Benais”, in central France, was either one unbelievably long lived monster, or a series of, conceivably, related animals.

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According to one account…..

“At the end of the winter of 1693, on February 19th, a wolf attacked a nine-year-old child, Pierre Boireau, at Saint-Patrice. The victim was found partially devoured and five days later, a mother found the remains of her own daughter, Antoinette, aged seven, in the heathland around Continvoir. In March 1694, a wolf killed two more victims, adults on this occasion, at Benais. In April, there were three more, four in May and eight in June, including a mother and her child.

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Monsieur de Miromesnil, the Lord Lieutenant in charge of the province of Touraine, then organised a series of beats. According to his account in June 1694, “In fewer than six months, wolves have killed in the area around Benais more than 70 people and have wounded the same number”.

benais

In June two shepherdesses had their throats ripped out, a father died defending his daughter at Ingrandes and in July there were three further killings in Benais and at Les Essards. In August a sixty four year old woman was devoured in Benais, and the same fate befell a little girl and two adult women in Bourgueil. None of this  behaviour, of course, is that of a wolf such as we experience them in the 21st century. As I have noted elsewhere, only one attack by a wolf on a human being has ever been documented in North America, and even then, it was a wolf which was used to scavenging on a landfill site and  had therefore lost its fear of Man.
Until the following winter of 1693-1694, the attacks stopped but the population of the area was still completely terrified. Two wolves were killed during the beats organised by Monsieur de Miromesnil, but the death of a young man of eighteen in December 1693, with two other young people killed in Saint-Michel-sur-Loire  in the January of 1694 proved that the Beast far from finished. There was, however, a long hiatus until the very last victim came in August of that same year, 1694. Then everything came to a stop.

coloiur village

Some fifty seven years later, on June 9th 1751 a young shepherd was attacked and devoured at Nouzilly to the north of Tours. The animal was not seen but wolves were considered to be the culprits. The body of the young man was horribly mutilated accorded to the description given by the village priest, Danican, the man charged with burying the body…

“The child from La Charité who used to live near your tenant farmer at Les Fosses Rouges, looking after his six animals, was ripped to pieces and devoured at eight o’clock in the morning by carnivorous wolves.  I buried her at quarter past twelve. They brought the sad remains of her corpse to the church, wrapped up in a woman’s apron with the child’s own clothes covered in blood. The beast had ripped her tracheal artery and part of her right cheek and had eaten her thigh which had been ripped off her body as far down as the knee.  This was in such a way that the top part of the bone of this thigh was extensively gnawed away and devoid of flesh as if it had been trimmed off purposefully by a knife. The beast in order to devour her intestines had eaten all of her belly and gnawed her ribs. Of all her viscera, there remained only one foot of (illegible, perhaps fortunately) and a small part of the spleen.”

This formidable animal resembled in every point including its behaviour « La Bête du Gévaudan ». To be convinced of this, it is enough to be aware of the story which was told by the village priest at Varennes…

“These beasts were almost like a wolf, except that they had much wider muzzles. When they first saw people, they were amiable like a dog would be, but then they leapt on their throats.”

Here is a different account

“A ferocious beast of which nobody knew the name, but with an unheard of daring and ferocity, struck, for the most part, in the Forest of Benais, not far from the village of the same name. It began in 1693 and the attacks were to last for a year and a half……during this time the animal had 300 victims. The attacks suddenly stopped in the month of August 1694. The Beast of Benais was never killed.”

A different website says…

“According to the evidence of the village priest at Varennes, it was thought that there were 300 victims, whereas the parish registers of the area report only 72 deaths caused by animal attacks during the same period, a total which is both more plausible and yet still quite a considerable one……The witnesses of the era said to the priest that there was not just one beast but several acting in concert and that the latter looked like wolves, but may not have been real wolves. They were very much like wolves but had a wider muzzle. One detail of their behaviour was quite remarkable in that they allowed themselves to be patted, but then leapt on the throat of the victim. People thought that they were “loups cerviers”. The people, however, were not so sure”.

“loups cerviers” does not exist as a phrase in the online foreign language dictionary that I usually consult, but I did find it in what looked to be quite a good alternative to my initial choice. In any case, the writer of the original cryptozoology website has added in brackets after “loup cervier”, the word “lynx”.  Google agrees with this and offers the expression as the French Canadian phrase  for “Le Lynx du Canada”. Strangely enough, when the French police spend a merry weekend recently looking for a wandering tiger near Paris, the suggestion that their expert put forward was that the animal was a “loup cervier”. In none of these cases, however, does the unbelievably secretive behaviour of the lynx, Camadian or otherwise, fit the details given by the witnesses.

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In France at this time, parish registers would perhaps record the fact that somebody had died, but there was no legal stipulation that the person writing the account (usually the priest, the only one in the parish who was literate) should record the reason for death. If the priest at Varennes recorded his total of animal attack victims as three hundred, then this might well be a reasonably accurate total, based on his own local knowledge of the real facts, whereas the parish registers of an area which reports only 72 deaths caused by animal attacks might merely be providing a politically more acceptable figure. Certainly, this economy with the truth is known to have happened with the Beast of Gévaudan, whose kill rate was deliberately suppressed once the King’s official representatives, the d’Enneval father and son, had supposedly put an end to the monster.

Could the Beast or Beasts of Benais have been a number of feral dogs or the hybrids of wolves and large dogs? Certain death counts attributed to the Beast or Beasts are incredible. I do not really have the time to be meticulously exact but this list captures the flavour…

“In November 1693, there were deaths on the 18th, the 19th, the 22nd, the 23rd, the 25th, the 26th and the 27th. At Mazières, from November 29th to December 3rd, there were four victims. In Langeais in three days, November 29th-December 1st, there were three dead. More followed in Langeais on December 13th, 14th and 15th.
In early March of 1694, several children in Continvoir were devoured. Desperate, the inhabitants no longer knew what they could do to stop this scourge. The local clergy increased their prayers. God, after turning a deaf ear for so long, finally heard them. At the beginning of the month of August 1694 the carnage ceased.”

Subsequent writers then began their own attempts to count the victims. The priest at Varennes suggested 300 victims. Marie-Rose Souty proposed 95 definite kills, but added that this figure was certainly much lower than the real one, because most village priests of the time did not ever mention the cause of death for their parishioners when  recording their demise. Marie-Rose Souty suggests then, at least 200 victims in a year and a half, that is to say around ten or eleven per month. Above all, the monster seems to have appreciated “fresh meat” and always attacked the weakest people, those who were the least able to defend themselves. Its ferocity was unbelievable. Even the Beast of Gévaudan only managed a mere three victims a month.

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Yet more creatures appeared in Touraine in 1751 in the north of the province, and then more in 1808 and more again in 1814. They were all thought to be wolves,  even though the behaviour of wolves in our present era just would not encompass their attacking human beings, killing them and then devouring them. Wolves just don’t behave like that nowadays!

As an afterthought, the more I read about these many monsters in the France of yesteryear, the less satisfied I am about any of the most frequently quoted explanations. I would reject wolf more or less totally and even feral dogs or wolf-dog hybrids seems to me increasingly less likely, whether or not they were trained by serial killers, sexual psychopaths or whoever. The peasants of the time were familiar with wolves and frequently rejected that animal as an explanation for the Beast of Benais. Their descriptions often have, variously, wide muzzles, reddish fur, black manes, a black stripe between head and tail, a belly that drags low towards the ground and a full tail, that could even be used to strike people. The more books I read the less I understand this. Perhaps in France there was  a very small and thinly scattered population of a ferocious animal, nowadays extinct, but which still hung on in the wilder regions. Perhaps we should be looking at the idea of a mesonychid ?

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10 Comments

Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Wildlife and Nature

10 responses to “The Beast of Benais

  1. They look powerful and grand, don’t they, John!?

  2. Absolutely. At the very least, a problem pet, who would certainly have issues with the postman! Thanks a lot for your interest….I am still working on this case.

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  7. Just a person

    They did thorough exams of the Beast of Gevaudan, and declared it to be a wolf.They sketched the footprints, which were footprints from a male wolf and a female wolf. Mesonychids have hooved feet.
    There’s no doubt these animals were wolves, or wolf hybrids. It’s hard for us to imagine now, because wolves do not develop a taste for human blood like that anymore.
    What changed? We invented the gun. We’re not such easy prey anymore.

  8. Just a person

    The Beast of Gevaudan
    Judging the wolves of 18th century France by comparing them to today’s American wolves is erroneous for several reasons. Here are the reasons why we know that the Beast of Gevaudan was a wolf and not a hyena, a werewolf, a serial killer dressed up in a suit, a trained dog, a dinosaur, or any other ridiculous theory that has been suggested:
    1. There was not just one Beast, but a pack of them. This is confirmed by reports of attacks from different locations coming in at once and the footprints that Francois Antoine examined and drew in his hunts. He recognized them as being the footprints of a large male wolf and a large female wolf. There are still sketches of these tracks in you look them up. This, by the way, excludes the possibility of a mesonychid, which had hooves. It was well known at the time that there was a male and a female wolf and that they had a litter of puppies, all of which had developed a taste for human blood. Francois Antoine killed the entire family of wolves, except for one, which he wounded. After this, the attacks slowed down considerably, and ceased for 3 months. The wolf Antoine killed was positively identified by the victims by the distinctive scars on its face; the wolf WAS involved in the attacks.
    2. Hyenas were not an unknown creature at the time. Wanted posters for the creature described it as looking like a “wolf/hyena”, which, really would have been an obscure reference if nobody knew what a hyena was. In fact some at the time had suggested a hyena, but it had been ascertained to be “neither tiger nor hyena nor wolf”.
    3. The beast shot by Chastel was thoroughly examined, and the autopsy results were recorded and the measurements can still be read online. The animal had too many teeth to be a hyena. The bone structure was not consistent with a hyena. The description points to a wolf hybrid. The great naturalist Buffon examined it and declared that it was an enormous wolf with reddish fur. Everybody who examined it said it was a wolf.
    4. There were no human or otherwise footprints anywhere near the corpses, many eyewitnesses confirmed that it was a wolf, and the only footprints near the victims were wolf footprints.
    4. The Beast of Gevaudan was not the only killer wolf, and wolf attacks were far from unheard of. There were several different famous man eating wolves. The Beast of Benais, for example, killed 300, even more than the one in Gevaudan. Some of these animals are still in existence, for instances, the Wolves of Perigord, and it is most certain that they were wolves, or wolf hybrids.
    5. Wolves can and do attack humans. There have been instances of wolves attacking humans. See Wikipedia’s “list of wolf attacks”. There was one fatal attack in North America in 2009 that was proven to a wolf by DNA testing.
    7. In areas where there are still large agricultural communities, and conditions are right, wolves still attack and kill people on a regular basis. India and Asia have a particular problem with wolves.
    There are reasons why wolves today don’t attack as commonly as wolves back then. Here are some reasons why conditions were prime for wolf attacks then:
    1. Wolves encountered humans more often. Farming was a way of life, and the livestock would have attracted wolves, which found the shepherds just too easy to pass over. Humans spent much more time in rural, wooded areas where they would have run into wolves.
    2. Guns had just recently been invented, were not common, were not as effective as they are today, and wolves were still in the habit of preying on people, who had no way to defend themselves. Most of the survivors’ accounts describe driving the wolves off with pitchforks or bayonets; none speak of shooting at them. Wolves are more wary of people today, knowing the dangers of firearms.
    3. There was no wildlife management in place like there is today, and deer, also competing with humans and farms, may have hunted to very small numbers. The wolves, faced with a shortage of food, may have turned to humans as easy prey.
    4. Wolf hybrids were likely a very common occurrence, because it was a routine practice to have large trained dogs guarding the livestock. These dogs would roam a large area of land, and most likely reproduced with the wolves on a regular basis.
    5. There were no cars or modern technology separating the forest from the town. Wolves would have found it easy to wander into the countryside and pick off any lone shepherds.
    6. The wolves that got away with killing one person-and this was often enough-would develop a habit of this, learning that humans were a source of food, and would teach the next generation to do this as well.
    6. Wolves were hunted extensively in America in the 1800’s, to the point of extinction in many areas. The wolves that remain today occur in much smaller numbers, have more food, do not come into contact with humans on a regular basis, and have learned to fear man and guns.
    ALSO:
    The History Channel documentary was a load of crap. A lot of the stuff on TV is. They have released completely fake documentaries in the past just to see if people would fall for it. Really. Completely fabricated documentaries about fake shark attacks were aired on the channel just a few years ago, and yes, people really were gullible enough to accept it as fact. Most of the stuff you will see on TV is just sensationalism. And they know it’s not true. Don’t believe what you hear; these people want to get ratings.
    Most of their arguments and “proof” were very far stretched.
    1.First of all, we have already established the people knew what a hyena was. I am a hunter, so I’m a little more acquainted with how hunting is done. And trust me; if Jean Chastel had a mounted hyena, it only makes sense, since he was a hunter. All this means is that Chastel shot and mounted a hyena. That doesn’t mean that it and the Beast of Gevaudan were one and the same. He probably had hundreds of mounts of different animals. We have also established that the Beast of Gevaudan Chastel killed was NOT a hyena.
    2. Secondly, the idea that that shot Chastel took was just too good to be true-it would be impossible to shoot the animal at that distance with a silver bullet! And the wolf stood still? It must have been trained!
    Well, that’s a load of hogwash. Like I said, I have hunted many an animal, and it’s totally normal for an animal to stand still after it spots you. They pause and sniff the air to find out what you are, whether you are a predator, prey, or something else. The wolf would not have attacked, because Chastel was sitting with an army of men, and it knew it couldn’t handle that many large people. It wouldn’t have ran, because it wasn’t familiar with guns, which, remember, were pretty short range at this time, wolves didn’t know that guns could hurt them that far away, and felt that it was at a safe distance. They probably were more comfortable approaching humans at a closer range than they do today. Plus, the whole story that Chastel stopped to pray before shooting has been dismissed as a later addition, and only fiction anyway.
    3. Anybody can hit anything with a little luck, no matter how hard a shot it is. And Chastel, being a skilled hunter, probably had very good aim. He was used to shooting things with those guns and those bullets.
    4. The hunters that failed before him, were simply missing. The animal was not wearing “armor” of any kind. Hunters always exaggerate or make excuses like that to cover up their bad shots. They’ll say that the animal had bulletproof hides before they admit to being a bad aim. It’s for sure that the hunters simply missed, and embellished their stories.
    What the Beast of Gevaudan really was:
    1. The people who described the beast of Gevaudan would have naturaly been panicked, and given a distorted account, exaggerating it to express its fearsomeness. This is not the first time something or somebody has reached a mythic status in culture and been embellished to the point of being a legend. I myself have gotten excited about something, thought I saw something I didn’t, and exaggerated a description of something I only got a glimpse of. The varied descriptions of the beast should explain how easy it is to get carried away.
    2. The drawings of the beast are stylized as the art of that period was, not realistic. It may look like a hyena in those drawings, but look up the other drawings of other wolves and they looked the same.
    3. The animal was most likely a wolf hybrid. There were other wolf hybrids around Europe killing at the time. It seemed like a common problem. The descriptions fit a wolf hybrid.
    4. There are lots of animals that fit the description of the Beast of Gevaudan that also had a reputation for aggression:
    Cortraud the wolf
    Shunka warakin
    Ringdocus
    The Creature of Mccone County
    The unusual reddish fur and unusual features point to hybridization or mutation.

  9. Thank you for your time and contribution.Having read a great deal of the original accounts in French, I still stand by what the direct witnesses said, namely, that the creature was “a wolf but not a wolf” . This was endorsed by the professional hunters sent by King Louis, one a personal friend he himself went hunting with, the other, the man who held the official post of national wolf catcher. The creature may have been a hybrid, or, as I suspect, a relict wolf-type from a previous age. Looking back 250 years though, we will never know for certain.

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