Tag Archives: Beast of Gévaudan

Wolves (the animal not the football club)

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan, I came to the conclusion that the ferocious creature was a previously unknown type of wolf:

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

For some unknown reason, it was being forced westwards from its normal habitat of the Polish or Russian primeval forests such as Białowieża. If ancient bison could live there, so could something even more prehistoric:

rejigged bison

At the time I did research the likelihood that the Beast was an ordinary wolf or wolves but I rejected that as a theory because I did not think that wolves would eat human beings.
It would be dishonest, however, not to make it patently clear that in the past, wolves certainly have eaten people but they don’t seem to now. Why should this be?
Firstly, extremes of weather centuries ago, more severe than what we have now, may have lead to a situation where wolves either ate any available prey items or just died. This would account for the Wolves of Paris which I have previously discussed:

wolf bounding

In actual fact they may also have acquired a taste for human flesh by eating corpses. Apparently, until as late as 1820, corpses in France were frequently thrown into open charnel pits. Presumably, these were paupers, drunks, stillborn babies, in short, anybody dead without the money for a funeral. And it is not outrageous to presume that this lovely way to dispose of the late dearly departed might have taken place in neighbouring countries too. An unfortunate situation that taught wolves to associate the scent of Man with a full belly.
If the hungry wolf wanted a better quality of prime human meat, young, and blood drippingly fresh, the best place was the battlefield straight after the battle. Once the local peasantry had stripped the bodies of everything valuable, they were not buried, but were gradually eaten by the ravens and other corvids, the eagles, both golden and especially white-tailed, and most of all, the local wolf pack.
This association of human flesh, its scent and taste, with a full stomach, was a recipe for disaster when wolves came across, say, lone travellers or children picking berries deep in the woods. And don’t forget. In France the peasantry were forbidden to own firearms to reduce the admittedly tiny risk of a blood spattering revolution.
Nowadays, the situation is completely different. Admittedly France had 7,600 fatal attacks by wolves between 1200–1900 but there has been nothing since. Italy has a population of wolves but without any fatal attacks on humans since 1945 and no attacks by wolves since the eradication of rabies in the 1960s.

wolf pack one

In the Baltic states, where rabies is still allowed to exist, just under a hundred people were bitten between 1992-2000 in Latvia and Lithuania, although the statistics are muddied somewhat in Estonia by the locals’ love for wolf-dog hybrids and keeping wolves captive on their properties.
And what about North America?

wolf baby

Well, in 2002, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game stated that there had been no human deaths in North America attributed to wild, healthy wolves since at least 1900. Concerns were caused though, when, on April 26th, 2000, a six year-old boy was attacked by a wolf in Icy Bay, Alaska. He was not killed, but then, on November 8th 2005 the body of Kenton Carnegie was found in northern Saskatchewan. He had died from “injuries consistent with a wolf attack.” The local wolves had apparently lost their fear of him because he fed them regularly.

Kenton_SKxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

To increase the risk, natural food was scarce in the area at the time and four wolves had been feeding on rubbish tips in the previous weeks. They were no longer scared by human activities. On November 4th, two of Kenton’s fellow campers clashed with two extremely aggressive wolves. Zoologists have now said that this was probably an “exploratory attack” just to see how difficult it was to kill a human being. Another perhaps more serious attack was imminent.
On the day of his demise, Kenton ignored warnings from his companions and went for a walk in the woods. It took the Coroners’ jury two years to rule out Black Bear, but their eventual verdict was “Death by Wolf”.

Iberian Wolf alpha male feeding on deer, its mouth tinted with f
On March 8th 2010, Candice Berner, a thirty two year old special education teacher who had only been in Alaska since the previous August was killed by two, perhaps three, wolves as she jogged along a road outside Chignik Lake. It was late afternoon.

Candice_Berner12

This was the first ever fatal wolf attack in Alaska. David Mech, a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey has studied wolves for more than fifty years. He said:

“There have been about two dozen nonfatal attacks in North America in the past century or so. Most involve wolves that have become habituated to people who have been feeding them at campgrounds, dumps and other sites near wolf habitat.”

Ms Berner was only 4 feet 10 inches tall and weighed just over eight stones (c 112 pounds). David Mech said that her slight, almost childlike build, and the fact that she was running may have attracted the wolves, who, after all, are predators by nature:

“Wolves are very much like dogs in a lot of respects. Things that are running, they have tendency to want to chase them,”

 

DogChasing

Ms Berner was thought to have been listening to music on a headset, but Dr Mech discounted this, as in his experience wolves move so silently that the wind is enough to mask their presence completely.

Whatever you think about wolves, the truth is that the inhabitants of the tiny village of Chignik Lake have lived alongside wild animals since time immemorial:

chig

This one attack has spooked all of the 73 inhabitants of the area, so remote that it can only be reached by aeroplane. The school’s stuffed wolf mascot had been there a good while, but now it has been kicked well into touch. The wolf badge of the school will also have to go if Virginia Aleck, a local woman, gets her way.
She said that everyone felt trapped in the village. None of the surrounding hills were considered safe anymore.  Nobody walked on their own and everybody carried a rifle.
Is this an over-reaction? Or are wolves just a part of living outside the big city? I’ll try to answer that question in a future article.

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Filed under Canada, Cryptozoology, France, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

Drawing the Beast of Gévaudan

When the Beast of Gévaudan first appeared in 1764, people were unable to identify it. That is why it was immediately christened, in Occitan, the local language of the area, “La Bèstia”.  They did not see it as a wolf, but as some unknown monster that devoured little children. The newspapers of the time wanted accurate drawings of it, and it is now known that these two were the first images to appear:

1764 preface

They are not mirror images of each other (but it’s close. Look at the tongue.):

1764 page 2

It is believed that no direct witness of the creature has left us a drawing. No artist ever saw the Beast. What did happen, though, it is believed, is that the artists did, on some occasions, draw the creature under the direct instructions of a witness. The problem, though, is that, if this ever did occur, we do not know which of the drawings was done in this way, or, if there was more than one, which is the most accurate.

And don’t forget. There was a language barrier between the shepherds and the shepherdesses and the artists. The latter spoke French but the locals spoke Occitan, an age old language which sounds  like a mixture of French, Italian and Spanish. I myself have heard it spoken at a  local market, but I could not understand it at all.

Every single illustration of “La Bèstia” has some accuracy in it. These first two both have some of the features of a big cat which is a detail present, on and off, through many of the descriptions given by frightened witnesses. The thrashing tail, the attacks on the head and neck, the lowering of the body, and the rapid movements from side to side before it lunged for the victim are all very feline.

Here we can see that frequently mentioned black stripe between head and tail:

666666 (2)

It may have had a long tail which could be thrashed around, and even, possibly, used to strike people:

Gevaudanwolf xxxxxx

It may have had a white chest, which means that it was, categorically, not a wolf:

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

It possibly walked short distances on two legs, again, showing its white chest:

11111xxxxxxx

It might have been extremely large. Witnesses all agree that it was as large as a year old calf, or a “cob”  horse:

5555555sssssss

Both claws and hooves have been mentioned by witnesses. Hooves, possibly because it was a creature of the Devil:

unknoiwn 3

Here is another cat-like individual:

unknoiwn 8

Perhaps it may have had a rather prehistoric look to it, but it still went straight for the head:

la-fantastique-bete-du-gevaudan_4099155-L

It may have been extremely strange looking, even if it were a new unknown species:

untitled 1

It may, again, have been a strange canid, but one which invariably went for the head, rather than the more usual canid attacks on the rear legs and lower back:

page 72

The creature is sometimes depicted alongside the children which were its normal prey items. There may have been two monsters, or possibly even a small, scattered breeding population:

unknoiwn 7

Perhaps it was a peculiar breed of dog. A super killer greyhound:

Bête_du_Gévaudan_(1764)

It may have been, as Abbé Pourcher thought, a scourge sent by God, un fléau de Dieu. As we have already seen, though, many people believed the monster had been sent by Satan himself. For this reason, they often mentioned hooves. On occasion the head had the look of a satanic goat about it:

yes 11 (2)

Perhaps the illustration was one of the very first ever to be drawn, and the artist had little or nothing to go on, except, perhaps, some peculiar connection with Scottish tartan:

yes weird (2)

Simplistic, but still with a bushy tail and a stripe along the crest of its back. Perhaps the monster appeared faintly human in its movements. This is certainly an extremely lascivious expression on its face:

yes q

The church and stone buildings of the region have not changed in 350 years:

yes statue 7 yes (2)

And the brave young girl, Marianne, the spirit of France, fights on and on, against any creatures that may come along:

yes statue 2 (2)

She will never surrender:

yes statue with spear yes (2)

Not to any kind of monster that may threaten her country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jean Grin, not a nice man


As well as the long list of “Beasts” who seem to have munched their way through the apparently very, very, tasty peasants of France from 1400-1850, or thereabouts, I have also discovered the existence of at least one “Ogre” who was, to put it mildly, not a very nice man (or ogre) at all. His story is told, in exactly the same words, on a couple of websites that I have found. The first is designed to promote tourism in the wonderfully picturesque and unspoilt region of Lozère, which is here:

lozere map xxxxxxxx
The other website shows the availability of holiday cottages in this particularly beautiful area of a particularly beautiful country.

The tale of the Ogre is told by André Arnal, an author with his own page on Amazon France.

The story is too long to translate in its entirety, but I have summarised it for any monster fans who do not read French:

Jean Grin was an Ogre and he lived in a ravine called Malbouche, in what is now a hovel of stones with a collapsed roof. It is surrounded by pine trees and dry scrubland. Inside is a dark room right up against the very rock:

GROTTE-DANS-LE-RAVIN-DE-MALBOUCHE

It contains an oven where Jean Grin used to roast children to eat. Outside are piles of stones covered with soil, reputed to be the burial places of his victims:

house
Jean Grin had retreated to this hovel because of his inability to get along with his neighbours. Soon afterwards, young shepherds and shepherdesses began to disappear in the surrounding area:

scream woman

He was regarded as being a half-man, half-beast, because he had lived for such a long time out in the wild. Everybody knew that he loved to kill and eat his victims. Terror soon spread throughout the region:

ogre

People said that he was a monster, or a man dressed in a skin. His eyes were red, very red and he could be seen approaching from a long way away. From one village to another people said that he was both a werewolf, a monster and a devil, all at the same time, with those awful, glittering, bright red eyes:

redeye

Jean Grin only attacked weak people or children. In just six months, from June to December, 1799, this monster killed three victims before running away at prodigious speed. The locals thought he was a second Beast of Gevaudan, because he always attacked children and ate them.

The important noblemen of the area though, did not blame Jean Grin the Ogre, but rather the so-called Beast of Veyreau, an unknown creature of some kind which was also running amok in the region around this time, slaughtering young shepherds and shepherdesses.  The noblemen said that this mysterious animal was either a very large wolf, a lynx or a hyena. The ordinary peasants of the countryside, though, already traumatized by a succession of similar horrors, thought that it was a werewolf:

werewolf attack

Of all these dramatic events, with ogres, very large wolves, lynxes, hyenas and werewolves (the popular choice) all loose in the area at once, the collective memory of the local people has retained only the most fantastic details, which are perforce the most terrifying ones.

For them the Beast of Veyreau could only be Jean Grin, the wild man. On his shoulders weighed all the problems of the community. He was an ambiguous creature, half way between animal and man. Jean Grin took on the attributes of a savage, brutal wild man which no social norms could restrain. The skin of the beast that covered him transformed him into a magical, demonic creature:

ogre malb

Jean Grin was, according to others, the misunderstood and innocent victim of wild rumours and stories with absolutely no basis in fact. The people of the area found this wild man, therefore, a scapegoat for their suffering during these times of misery and famine. He became a guilty person that nobody would protect.

Who was Jean Grin really? Nobody knows! Whatever the case, this mysterious character, whether man or monster, was finally trapped and surrounded in his lair by a mob of over-excited women who, armed with pitchforks and sticks, dragged him to a neighbouring hamlet where he was burned alive in a white hot oven:

bigfoot

And popular memory had it that :

” When John Grin died, his skin leapt around on the ground ; and therefore he was the Devil. ”

With the death of Jean Grin, the population of the entire region felt liberated, as if order and morality had finally been re-established.

Entering into legend, Jean Grin still haunts the country of his misdeeds, as the all-devouring monster, the ogre who seized and ate children.”

As background information, you should not forget though, that at this time, namely in 1799, this particular area of France, as was mentioned above, was already experiencing the ravages of the Beast of Veyreau. I wrote a more detailed article about this animal which was published on January 16th 2018
Basically, it was a creature which was generally considered to be either a wolf or some other unknown canid. It was a beast which filled all the local inhabitants with great fear:

warg_by_irkis-d5oehlo xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

And certainly, the Beast’s behaviour was not good. He must have spent many an unhappy hour sitting on the naughty step, thinking very carefully about what he had done, and indeed, who he had devoured.
Any child that might meet the Beast, for example, stood a very good chance indeed of being carried off and eaten, first the liver and then the limbs. In the space of just six months, three victims were killed by this beast, including a boy of six.
This is the background, which might well lead us to interpret the story of Jean Grin in a number of different ways. It may well have been a story invented to attract tourists, like the Loch Ness Monster is thought by many to be:

-loch_ness_monster

There was, therefore, no such individual as Jean Grin. The whole thing was just an invented tourist trap.
Another slightly different approach would be to say that when the limbs of a six year old victim of the Beast of Veyreau were found hidden in the earth in the Malbouche Ravine, it was only too easy to look across at the nearby “hovel of stones with a collapsed roof” and attribute these ghastly unsolved murders to the person who had lived in the ruins shortly before. Harmless old weirdo, Jean Grin, who could then become transformed into an ogre, a supernatural figure.
Perhaps the tale of Jean Grin the Ogre was used to make up for the incompetency of whoever was in power now, ten years after the French Revolution. Perhaps serious questions were beginning to be asked about the value of this unbelievably massive political upheaval. The revolutionaries were palpably no more capable of capturing the Beast of Veyreau than the noblemen had been ten years before, in the bad old pre-revolutionary days of a Royal France. But if you blame all the gory deaths on Jean Grin the Ogre, though, and you know where he lives, then you can kill him and all your problems are solved.

Your inability to kill the real Beast of Veyreau very soon becomes a matter of minor importance. And if the Beast goes on to slaughter any more victims, just deny the events any publicity. If people continue to make an issue of it, put them in prison, or worse. Here is a lovely Ogre, drawn lovingly by Gustav Doré :

gusta v dore engraving

Another solution, a slight variation on the previous scenario, is that when nobody whatsoever seemed capable of catching the Beast of Veyreau, that apparent incompetence must have caused enormous frustration to everyone in the area. Perhaps a group of local mothers looked around the Malbouche Ravine on one particular occasion and were unable to locate any fierce animal. Acting as “a mob of over-excited women”, they then decided to take out their frustrations on the nearest passing weirdo. The ghastly fate of Jean Grin then just becomes a simple case of “strange eccentric in the wrong white hot oven at the wrong time”.

The situation is a little like the recent case of Christopher Jefferies, a retired teacher and the landlord of an unfortunate murder victim. He was perceived by the press to be a “dark, macabre, sinister villain” but a more accurate description might well have been “an innocent man wrongly accused of murder by the police”. Clearly, the eight newspapers he successfully sued were playing the part of the women of Veyreau.
There is just one more solution to the legend of Jean Grin. It may be a deeply seated racial memory, but that idea will have to wait for the future.

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The Beast of Lyonnais

The Beast of Lyonnais was yet another killer monster (or monsters) in the long, long series of various creatures, beasts, feral dogs, hybrid dogs, wolves with attitude, sexual psychopath or good old fashioned serial killers who have ravaged different regions of France from around 1550 until the present day, with particular reference to the period 1750-1820.

I will freely confess that I knew nothing whatsoever of this type of event until very recently, when I started reading about the Beast of Gévaudan. Then I realised that there had been a Beast of Benais, a Beast of Auxerrois/Trucya Beast of the Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais (it did like to travel about a bit) and then a Beast of Sarlat.
There seemed to be any number of them, and I deliberately selected the ones which seemed not to be the most obvious of wolves. This is also the case with the Beast of Lyonnais, which, as we will see, hardly any of the witnesses at the time thought was good, old canis lupus lupus, even if all the noblemen at the time told them that they were mistaken (despite the fact that none of them had ever seen it):

wolf 1 xxxxx
Once again, I will begin by looking at a number of websites written in French, offering you my own translations and you can then take your own average between them.

We start with a hoary old favourite:

“The Beast of Lyon was a man eating animal behind a series of attacks on humans. The first attack was mentioned as being in the summer of 1754. Until the end of 1756, one or more ferocious beasts then ravaged the countryside, initially between Vienne in Isère, Meyzieu and then around Savigny in the Rhône area. This or these, animals claimed about thirty victims, mostly children or teenagers. Here is Meyzieu:

mey sssssssss

In early August 1754 the Royal Notary of Vienne was summoned by the most important individuals in the parish of Luzinay to proceed with the identification of the body of a young boy who had been found devoured. We know that at least two other attacks occurred in this same area, around Villette-de-Vienne and Régnié-Durette, before the Marquis of Marcieu, the Governor of the province, ordered a large hunt to trap the beast.
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The Great Hunt took place on September 10th, 1754 and lasted two days. It mobilized around 2,000 hunters from 26 different villages, but had no effect other than increasing the extent of the predator’s territory. All trace of the Beast was lost in the last three months of 1754.

The beast resurfaced in February 1755 in the parish of Sarcey, where it killed a new victim. Until at least October, at least one death on average per month could be attributed to the creature, mainly around Savigny and L’Arbresle . There was then no more news of the creature during the winter of 1755-1756. Here is Savigny:

savigny

On Easter Tuesday, April 20th, 1756, a girl was found devoured in Saint-Julien-sur-Bibost. During this attack, for the first time, witnesses reported two beasts together.

In early 1757, the parish priest at Brietton in the parish of Sourcieux-les-Mines estimated that a total of some 25 people had been attacked in the local area since the Easter of 1755. According to the priest, the (two) creatures were wounding more people than they killed and these victims might equally well have been eaten if nobody had come to their rescue.

On November 24th 1756, the last victim was devoured and left half consumed at Montrottier. The local parish priest was the first to hypothesize that the beast might be a hyena. This hypothesis, which has been challenged by present day research, was also put forward at the time to explain the Beast of Gévaudan:

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Following this apparently final attack in November 1756, the parish registers have no further mention of people being devoured by wild beasts in the vicinity of Lyon.
The accounts of burials that we still have give comparatively little information about the animal or animals ravaging the Lyon area between 1754 and 1756. The priest of Saint-Julien-sur-Bibost is the only one to have left us any evidence:

“This April 20th 1756, I buried in the cemetery of St Julien sur Bibost Marguerite Pinet, aged about eleven, the daughter of Jean-François Pinet, a resident of this parish & Jeanne Subrin. The child was employed by Monsieur Subilon in the hamlet of Bernay in the parish of Besenay to watch over his animals in the fields”

lyonnais xxxxxxxxx

“There were two ferocious animals, one as big as a small horse, reddish in colour, resembling a wolf, except that it had a short tail. The second animal was as big as a good sized mastiff, but it had white on the belly and a great long tail ; they seized Marguerite by the throat and neck causing enough damage to kill the child; she was buried in the presence of Mathieu Crois and Jean Guainon , witnesses required by the parish, who said they were illiterate and could not sign this form. These animals have devoured a good number of shepherds in the area. This has gone on for two years. Berbier, Priest.”

Here is a shepherdess, the meal of choice for the majority of monsters and beasts during this era. The sheep were usually ignored:

bergere xxxxxxx

The descriptions of the time mentioned a wolf, but with shorter legs. The fur was more coarse and the skin was mottled with several different colours. The evidence of the priest at Montrottier was that rumours of a hyena had currently gained momentum.

The theory of a werewolf was equally popular at that time and was mentioned by the Marquis of Marcieu in his instructions for Great Hunt held on September 10th, 1754:
“The Officers of both the Fusiliers and the Trackers must make every effort to destroy the ordinary people’s fanatical belief in werewolves:

Dog-Soldiers-2002-Movie-Ixxxxxxxxxxx

We must prove to them that these are just ordinary wolves which unfortunately are accustomed to eating human flesh.
Even if the woods are full of lynxes, bears and tigers, we must prove to them that these are just animals which a bullet from a rifle will kill, and which it is necessary to destroy.”

The French word “loup-cervier” appears on a number of occasions connected with these mystery monsters. I have found it impossible to trace the word in the Online dictionary which I normally use,
but Google Images for France provides any number of photographs of lynxes, mostly Canadian lynxes but also European ones. I eventually discovered that “loup-cervier” originally meant a lynx which hunts stags, and is used nowadays as a favourite metaphor for predatory financiers. “Cervier” seems to have no real existence except when attached to the word “loup” or very occasionally “chat”.

In any case, a Lynx, whether European or Canadian, is more or less out of the question as regards the Beast of Lyonnais. Lynxes are unbelievably shy and retiring creatures and it is inconceivable that they would attack human beings. In Europe their favourite prey item is Roe Deer. This is a European Lynx:

euraianLynx_lynx-2 xxxxxxxx

In North America, they hunt mainly Snowshoe Hares. This is a Canadian Lynx, the so-called “loup-curvier”:

loup cervier 1vvvvvv

To me, they are more kute than killer:

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Wikipedia carried a list of the victims of the Beast(s) of Lyonnais:

Pierre Morel (5 years old), Claudine Tardif (45), François Beloud (8), Madeleine Joubert (?),Christophe Cambria (7), Anne Tricaud (14), Pierre Guillon (10), Marie Berchoud (13), Mathieu Gervais (9), Hélène Berquet (6), Marie Berger(6), Claudine L’Hospital (8), Catherine Cusset (10), an unknown toddler(2), Jean-Marie Duboy (13), Pierre Vaché (8), Benoite Daverdi (9), Marguerite Pinet (11), Benoît Thiver (10), Pierrette Devilard (7), Étienne Manu (6), Pierre Delorme (13), Jean-Baptiste Chazaud (7), Claudine Allioud (8), Anne Tiron (10), Elisabeth Blanc (11), Benoît Mortan (12), Jean Malaval (9), Marie Lombard (10), Benoit Barroh (sic) (1), Claudine Guillot (4), Pierre Paleron (6), Jean-Baptiste Bazin (14) and Anne Sarrazin(9).

This seems to be twice the usually quoted figure of seventeen. The first victim was killed on June 5th 1754 and the last on November 24th 1756. Very roughly, the deaths occurred perhaps once or twice a month, although in some months there were no killings at all. The original list gave dates without any further details but as far as I can ascertain, there were no occasions when two victims might have been killed together. On several occasions, one victim may have been quickly followed by another at the same location, but they were always killed on different days. In some cases, the animal or animals might have returned repeatedly to kill its prey, such as at the village of Savigny (6 slayings), Saint-Pierre-de-Chandieu (3) and Saint-Romain-de-Popey (2). This is Savigny nowadays. It looks a lot quieter:

280px-Savigny_1 xxxxxx
I just do not know if ordinary wolves would return to the scene of the crime like this, although all predators, both animals and birds, tend to be very much creatures of habit, following the same paths and game trails every single day.
Another familiar website tells a fairly similar tale, but comes to a very different conclusion:

In all, seventeen young men and children were bitten, ripped to pieces or even devoured. Those who saw the animal, or believed they saw it, said that it was approaching the size of a wolf, with shorter legs, a coarser coat and skin mottled with various colours-an exact portrait of a hyena.
From these accounts, people were all agreed that it was a real, genuine hyena. But who is unaware that fear may magnify things, or change them completely. The descriptions that people have given of this carnivorous animal have probably been inspired by their heated imaginations. Fleeing at top speed, how could exact measurements be taken by eye? And running along, the creature must have seemed a lot lower than he really was. The frantic motion of his entire body made his hair stand on end and lastly we know that glare changes shades of colour.  Take away these circumstances from your sighting, and instead of a hyena, much more likely it was a question of a big wolf driven by famine in that harsh winter of 1754.
The excessive winter weather of 1754 forced the animals of this latter species to seek in the villages what the countryside could no longer supply to them. Moreover, the hyena is an animal entirely foreign to our climate:

S H 3.png vvvv (2)

How would he have got to France? Can we suppose with any degree of probability whatsoever that he has crossed the immense expanses which separate us from his native home without leaving behind any traces whatsoever of his journey?

We are forced to conclude that too often we consider something miraculous when it is nothing out of the ordinary. “

Another description was of:

“two ferocious animals, one as big as small horse, verging on red in colour, like a wolf except it had a short tail. The other was the size of a large mastiff, but it had white on its belly and a big long tail”

When I wrote about the Beast of Gévaudan and examined in some detail the solutions to the mystery, I thought that the centuries old puzzle was solved. The Chastel family was the guilty party, and in particular, long and greasy haired Antoine. But then I read about the Beast of Cévennes/Gard/Vivarais whose behaviour was nothing like that of a wolf. And then came the puzzle of the Beast of Benais who the local people actually thought at the time was the “Beast of Gévaudan on Tour”. After that, it was the Beast of Sarlat which was supposedly a rabid wolf, although none of the locals thought so, preferring a werewolf as the likely explanation:

werewolf

Next came the Beast of Auxerrois/Trucy which was not a wolf, the locals said, but a tiger, a demon or a werewolf.
Throughout my articles, I had deliberately ignored obvious wolves as culprits and deliberately selected only the creatures which seemed to me not to be obvious wolves.

The enduring problem was that there just seemed to be any number of these strange creatures and so many of the “wolf but not a wolf” category. You can’t stretch the Chastel theory to explain away all of them.

Soooooo……..
I have returned to C.R. Rookwood who, in one of his blog posts, suggested that the Beast of Gévaudan, was a prehistoric mammal, a mesonychid, which were very large ancient predators with huge heads, long tails, and hooves instead of feet.

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I do not have enough scientific knowledge to be quite so precise, but I would certainly go for some kind of relict creature, a fierce animal left over from a bygone age, its ever diminishing population dwindling on in the trackless forests and mountains of south-central Europe. Perhaps it was some kind of hyena such as the Cave Hyena. These photographs give an idea of their size:

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I said that I did not think these monsters could be wolves, but the “Dire Wolf” is not a wolf. Or at the very least, it is a wolf, Jim, but not as we know it:

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Who knows? And indeed, who ever will?

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The Beast of Ennerdale: Part three

This is the third instalment of the story of the Beast of Ennerdale, a strange creature that rampaged across the Lake District in north western England in 1810. In five months, it killed almost 300 sheep, often just eating their soft organs and then lapping up their blood. The story of its ravages is told in the first two parts of this series:

eyes wolf

Nowadays, we have almost an almost unbelievable ability to make contact with each other instantly right across the globe. Furthermore, we have immediate instant access to unbelievable amounts of knowledge and information.
Until very recently though, that was just not the case. There was no television. No radio. No access to books. Most people were illiterate, especially in the countryside. Nobody knew very much at all about natural history outside their own country. Contrast our situation with life outside London in 1198. Richard the Lionheart was the English king then, and he was the proud owner of his very own private zoo in the Tower of London. Richard had been on the Crusades and he must have known a little bit about some of the wildlife in the Middle East. Perhaps that was the reason that he had a pet crocodile in his collection of animals:

crocs

One day, the animal escaped. It somehow made its way to the marshes of north Essex. The reaction of the locals, of course, was that a dragon had come to visit them:

alli

And what would the shepherds of the Lake District made of a giraffe? The very first one ever to be seen in England had only arrived on August 11, 1827, less than 200 years ago, and well after the début of the Beast of Ennerdale:

holle
During the period of the Beast of Ennerdale, the whole country was visited by many travelling zoos. The cages were transported on wagons which were pulled around the countryside by horses. Conditions, of course, were appalling. The cages were cramped and the horses that pulled the wagons were grossly overworked.  No animal rights in those days. The Church taught that animals had no souls, so what you did to them was simply irrelevant. Work them until they drop and then leave them to die. And then you can eat them.
The most famous of these travelling zoos was Wombwell’s Travelling Menagerie, which had a total of fifteen wagons and a large number of exotic animals. Wombwell bought them directly from ships as they arrived in England. They included elephants, giraffes, a gorilla, a hyena, a kangaroo, several leopards, a number of lions, llamas, monkeys, ocelots, onagers (what?), ostriches, panthers, various snakes, tigers, wildcats and zebras:

wombwerr

Wombwell had a number of snow leopards and his rhino was publicised as “the real unicorn of scripture”. Other faulty labelling is actually known to have cost him money. What he exhibited as a chimpanzee is now thought to have been the first ever Gorilla to be seen in Western Europe.
Here is a link to the story of George Wombwell told by Wikipedia. It really is worth a look, with some really funny anecdotes on offer:

Menagerie_wombwells_1910

All of these menageries were rather careless with their animals and escapes were not infrequent. In 1835, for example, a lion and a tigress escaped together and four people were killed. And that is what takes us back to the Beast of Ennerdale.
Apparently a number of the different travelling menageries had creatures which were exhibited as “tiger wolves”. Nowadays these animals are thought to have been thylacines, the so called “Tasmanian Tiger” or “Tasmanian Wolf”.

Here is a brief film, thanks to the Thylacine Museum:

The Museum also has a video where the extremely talented animal is apparently playing a piano, harpsichord type of thing:

So that is it! Mystery solved! The Beast of Ennerdale was an escaped Thylacine.

Nowadays, the Thylacine is extinct, of course. The last known specimen, “Benjamin”, died in captivity in Hobart Zoo on September 7th 1936:

thyl four

The Thylacine had dark stripes over its back and could be up to eight or nine feet in length:

thyl one

It was a marsupial which looked vaguely like a wolf and it ate flesh. It preferred the softer flesh to tougher meat such as the muscles.
The Thylacine was an apex predator and it was mainly nocturnal. Its behaviour was just like the Beast of Ennerdale because it retreated to the hills and woodlands in the daytime, avoiding contact with humans. It spent the daylight hours in caves or hollow tree trunks, sleeping on twigs or plant stalks. At night, it hunted the open heathland:

thyl two

Supposedly, back in the wilds of Tasmania, it happily preyed upon farmers’ sheep and poultry and apparently liked to drink the blood of its prey.
And with that information, I really thought that I had found a solution for the identity of the Beast of Ennerdale. I really did. I really, really did:

Thylacine-tring

A second level of internet research, though, shows that more or less all of the answers which have been suggested by the many websites which discuss the Beast of Ennerdale are most probably entirely wrong. The explanation of an escaped Thylacine is a very neat one, but modern science just dismisses it totally and completely.
Firstly, the blood drinking story seems to have originated merely from a single account heard at second-hand by Geoffrey Smith (1881–1916) in a shepherd’s hut in Tasmania. Not exactly a proven piece of Thylacine behaviour, certainly not enough to identify this creature’s presence in Ennerdale.
And killing and/or eating sheep? Well not really, apparently. Modern studies have now shown that the creature had the jaws of a wimp, not a wolf. It couldn’t have dealt with a dead sheep. Advanced computer modelling in 2011 showed that its prey size limit would have been in the region of only five kilos, animals such as the tiny possum:

thylacine_berlin_museum_10th_september_2011-167306

And here is a link to a second study from 2012, “Tasmanian tiger was no sheep killer”. These are not just amateurs’ guesses picked out of the air, of course. These are both scientific papers, published for the judgement of the zoological world. They would not have been published in reputable journals if they were not serious research carried out by serious scientists.
Instead, the Thylacine is seen nowadays as having been just a scapegoat for the widespread mismanagement of sheep farms in Tasmania. Furthermore, the killing of sheep was far more probably carried out by the European dogs which had first reached Tasmania in 1798 with the arrival of the explorer George Bass and a number of seal hunters:

George_bass

These men’s sled dogs interbred and their offspring subsequently dispersed into the temperate rain forest of the island. Some dogs were befriended by the aborigines but the majority just went wild.

During the period when Europeans were first coming across the Thylacine, therefore, there was already a population of feral dogs in Tasmania. They are far more likely to have been the animals responsible for the killings of sheep on the island, rather than the Thylacine. It was just easier for Europeans to blame a weird new animal than “man’s best friend”.
And what about the time schedule? How could a Thylacine have reached Cumberland for May 1810? At this time, the very best ships took a minimum of three months to reach Australia and a further three months to return to England:

SS_Dunedin_by_Frederick_Tudgay
The first thylacine had been seen by the French on May 13th 1792. They would not have told the English because, surprise, surprise, the two nations were at war with one another.  More than ten years later, the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania sent the first full description of the animal for publication in the Sydney Gazette of April 21st 1805:

wild-thylacine-large

At that time, it was not a particularly familiar animal to the European people on the island. In June 1805, five convicts escaped from the only recently established penal colony. The establishment’s pastor, Robert Knopwood, wrote in his journal on June 18th 1805, shortly after the convicts had been recaptured:

“Am engaged all the morn, upon business examining the 5 prisoners that went into the bush. They informed me that on 2 May when they were in the wood they see a large tyger that the dog they had with them went nearly up to it and when the tyger see the men which were about 100 yards away from it, it went away I make no doubt but here are many wild animals which we have not yet seen”

thyl three

At this point, in 1805, no Thylacine had been captured. It had only been briefly glimpsed at a hundred yards’ range. Tasmania was the size of Ireland and more or less completely covered in forest, with only one small settlement of convicts. How on earth could a Thylacine have reached Ennerdale by 1810? Just look at the timetable:

“Captured in Tasmania, in 1806 at the earliest—shipped to Sydney—sent to England—didn’t die on the three month journey—bought by a zoo keeper in London—taken by horse drawn cart to the north (three or four weeks?)—escaped—seen in Cumberland, doing things we now know a Thylacine could not do”

Not very likely is it?
Anyway, here is a nice longer film of a Thylacine from LINCTasmania. It dates from 1964 and is a wonderful period piece, well worth watching, just for the accents and the product placement :

And finally, here are two videos about the Thylacine from my hero, MK Davis, the man who has been called “The Hippy from Mississippi”. He is a photographic analyst and is well worth your time. The first film is an analysis of a modern home movie, purporting to show an animal which may be a living, surviving Thylacine:

The second film from MK shows his thoughts on where Thylacines may survive nowadays:

And the Beast of Ennerdale? Well, the locals at the time thought it was a feral dog, and they may well have been right:

“No one knew to whom the dog had belonged, or whence he came ; but being of a mongrel breed, and excessively shy, it was conjectured he had escaped from the chain of some gipsy troop. He was a smooth-haired dog, of a tawny mouse colour, with dark streaks, in tiger fashion, over his hide ; and appeared to be a cross between mastiff and greyhound. Strongly built and of good speed, being both well fed and well exercised, his endurance was very great.”

On the other hand, unlike most dogs that I know, the Beast was never heard to bark, growl or howl. And why would you go to the considerable expense of stuffing the corpse and displaying it in Hutton’s Museum in Keswick if it were just “a cross between mastiff and greyhound”. Perhaps the Beast of Ennerdale was the Beast of Gévaudan on his holidays.

“C’était comme un chien, mais ce n’était  pas un chien”…

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The Beast of Ennerdale: Part Two

Last time I introduced you all to the Beast of Ennerdale, an unknown creature that rampaged over the Lake District in north western England in 1810. Here is Ennerdale:

1280px-Ennerdale

The original source for the tale was a book called “Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian life” by William Dickinson. It was published in 1876, more than sixty years after the events it portrayed. Here, a typical chase after the Monster is described:

“One Saturday night a great number of men was dispersed over the high fells, watching with guns and hounds, but the animal avoided  them and took his supper on a distant mountain ; and the men not meeting with him, came down about eleven o’clock on Sunday morning and separated about Swinside Lane End:

Swinside

In a few minutes after, Willy Lamb gave the “view halloo.” He had started the beast in crossing the wooded stream, and away went the dog with the hounds in full cry after him. The hunt passed Ennerdale Church during service ; and the male part of the congregation, liking the cry of the hounds better than the sermon, ran out and followed. It has been said the Reverend Mr Ponsonby could not resist, and himself went in pursuit as far as he was able. This run ended at Fitz Mill, near Cockermouth, in a storm which the wearied men and dogs had to encounter in a twelve-miles return.”

The Beast’s identity was still a matter of considerable debate for the locals:

rustic

Some thought it was a lion. Some thought it was a tiger. Some thought it was a wolf. One wealthier farmworker, who had recently been to France for his holidays, said that it was “Like a wolf but not a wolf”.

And exactly as had been the case in France, many of the local peasants thought it was a werewolf, although the one who had been to France for his holidays, said it was “un loup-garou” or even “un rougarou”. Proof of the supernatural qualities of this Beast came in the fact that it drank blood:

eyes wolf

Just as a piece of information, there were no wolves in the Lake District at this time, and had not been for, probably, the best part of 400 years. The most recent record of wolves in England came, most fittingly, from Nottinghamshire where, in the reign of Henry VI (1422-1460), Robert Plumpton, who owned land in Nottingham itself, was given the job of “chasing wolves in Sherwood Forest”. By 1500, wolves were totally exterminated in England.

Whatever the Beast of Ennerdale was, the locals came up with a cunning plan to catch it. Somebody thought of putting together all the best hunting dogs into an élite pack, a Special Forces Unit which would hunt down the Sheep Slayer once and for all:

pack dogs
There was a pursuit which lasted several days. Finally, the poor monster was flushed from cover. It fled, but the hounds caught it. The plan now went pear shaped though, as the Beast took on all of the Special Forces dogs at once in a ferocious combat. Several of these ninja sheep dogs were killed outright in a matter of minutes. All the survivors then suddenly changed their minds and headed off home, to the safety of their nice safe kennels. Obviously, whatever the Beast was, “dog” could pretty well be crossed off the list.
And just as was the case in distant Gévaudan, there were the hard luck stories. William Jackson who lived in the middle of wild and lonely mountains at Swinside, had his musket loaded and ready, as he left his wild and lonely farm. Here it is, as it looks today:

Cragg_Hall_Farm_-

The Beast was watching him, just thirty yards away. William took careful aim, pulled the trigger and the fifty years old relic of a rifle failed to fire. The Beast, of course, made his escape easily.
On another occasion, a group of men, armed to the teeth, along with their pack of hounds, had the Beast surrounded in a small wood and totally at their mercy. It charged out and the weakest link in the human chain duly lost his nerve, dived out of the way and the chance was lost.

Interestingly enough, an incident very similar to this happened with the Beast of Gévaudan and with at least one of the other French creatures. The Beast of Ennerdale, though, continued onwards and knocked over an old chap called Jack Wilson. Jack was collecting wood for his fire but was completely unaware of the Beast’s presence, because he was totally deaf.
The guilty nerve loser was probably Will Rothery who is actually named in another very similar version of the tale. Will explained that he failed to take his easy shot at the animal because he was so surprised by its huge size and unexpected appearance. I would expect Mr Rothery’s fellow hunters might have had something to say about that. Later, Will Rothery was to testify that he thought the animal was some kind of lion.

Meanwhile, in Cumberland, the slayings continued. Sheep continued to die in large numbers:

sheer

Great was the disappointment, therefore, when, one fine morning in July, an enormous army of more than 200 armed men, with their hounds, found themselves scouring Kinniside Fell after the Beast had been seen moving away towards Hopehead. The contour lines show how steep the sides of the valley were. Look for the orange arrow:

kinniside

The huge pursuit went on, along the tops of the mountains between Wasdale and Ennerdale. And then it was the wild slopes of Stockdale Moor and then, finally, a cornfield near Calder Bridge.
But the enormous, and prolonged hunt was in vain. After they had waited for hours, not a single Beast was found hiding in the corn. Somehow, it had slipped away.

And then there was another wasted, breathless chase through Drigg and out to Seascale, right on the coast of the Irish Sea itself. Overall, the Beast took its admirers on many tourist trips around the fringes of the Lake District. Kinniside. Lamplugh. Through the icy waters of the Marron. Out to Little Clifton and then to sunny Workington. Or perhaps they would have preferred Seaton or the Fitz Mill at Cockermouth. Maybe Irton or Dent Hill or Egremont or even St. Bees. Here is the wonderfully named Cockermouth. The orange arrow indicates the Fitz Mill :

cockermouth
And still nobody knew what the Beast was. Hundreds of people, noblemen, farmworkers  and professional hunters had all seen it. And it remained an enormous puzzle. Meanwhile the death toll mounted. And still they were haunted by the worry that it might one day change from drinking sheep’s blood to killing children.
The longer it went on, the more gloom and despondency the locals felt. As autumn approached, they all made the conscious decision to accept the losses of sheep temporarily, but above all to make sure that the harvest was gathered in. All the hunts were abandoned for the moment, as gathering in the harvest continued apace:

George_Cole_-_Harvest_zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
By September, the hunters were back, combing the hillsides and fields for the Beast. Now the writing was on the wall. No animal, however secretive and cunning, could continue for ever to elude so many hundreds of pursuers:

aa-bete-des-vosges-cxzcfe
A significant chance event occurred on September 12th, when the Beast was seen by Jonathan Patrickson to go into a cornfield. The tale is told by William Dickinson in his “Cumbriana; or, Fragments of Cumbrian life”. It starts with some traditional Lake District Gibberish:

Jonathan quietly said, ” Aa’l let ta lig theer a bit, me  lad, but aa’l want to see tha just noo.”

Away went the old man, and, without the usual noise, soon raised men enough to surround the field. As some in their haste came unprovided with guns, a halt was whispered round to wait until more guns were brought and the hounds collected. When a good muster of guns and men with dogs were got together, the wild dog was disturbed out of the corn ; and only the old man who had seen him go into the field was  lucky enough to get a shot at him, and to wound him  in the hind quarters:

Replica_Remington_Zouave_firing

This took a little off his speed, and enabled the hounds to keep well up to him, but none dared or did engage him. And, though partly disabled, he kept long on his legs and was often headed and turned by the numerous parties of pursuers, several of whom met him in his circuitous route from the upper side of Kinniside, by Eskat, Arlecdon, and Asby, by Rowrah and Stockhow Hall, to the river Ehen. Here is Arlecdon and Rowrah, indicated by the orange arrow:

rowrah

Each of these parties he fled from, and turned in a new direction till he got wearied. He was quietly taking a cold bath in the river, with the exhausted hounds as quietly looking on, when John Steel came up with his gun laden with small bullets, but dared not shoot, lest he should injure some of the hounds. When the dog caught sight of him it made off to Eskat Woods, with the hounds and John on its track, and after a few turnings in the wood, amid the greatest excitement of dogs and men, a fair chance was offered, and the fatal discharge was made by John Steel:

Brown_Bess_Musket_firing

The destroyer fell to rise no more, and the marksman received his well-earned reward of ten pounds, with the hearty congratulations of all assembled.

After many a kick at the dead brute, the carcase was carried in triumph to the inns at Ennerdale Bridge;  and the cheering and rejoicing there were so great that it was many days before the shepherd inhabitants of the vale settled to their usual pursuits.”

What was left of the mystery animal was taken triumphantly then to the various public houses at Ennerdale Bridge. On the map, the orange arrow indicates “PH” which means public house:

the pub

The locals, thirsty from the rejoicing and the cheering, clearly made serious attempts to drink the place dry:

Beer_Cans-1ccccccccccccccccccc

Not cans, though. They were not invented until 1935. Stick to bottled beer. Foreign, if they stock it:

Dutch_beersxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The people who were still sober enough then weighed the animal (eight stone or 51 kilos: a big wolf is 100 kilos). They put it on a cart and paraded it around. It finished up in Hutton’s Museum, at Keswick where the resident taxidermist stuffed what remained of the animal after the Special Forces hunting dogs had all had a free bite each. It was given a collar round its neck, stating that the wearer had been the destroyer of nearly three hundred sheep and lambs in the five months of his Ennerdale campaign.

When the Museum closed in 1876, the Beast, though, was lost, and that was that. Another tale says that the curator of the Museum just decided one day that it was too tatty and too moth-eaten to be kept and the strange stripey Beast was simply thrown in the dustbin:

thylacineimg_1230

Whatever the truth, the Beast was still unidentified. So what was it? Just a dog?
Well…have a think, and I’ll tell you the extremely cunning theory in my next article.
Meanwhile, let’s finish with the Official Song of the Beast of Ennerdale. Unfortunately, perhaps, it has many, many verses, but this is the catchy chorus, sung to the tune of “D’Ye Ken John Peel”:

It was big,
It was strong,
It was eight feet long.
It could leap,
It could bound,
It could outrun any hound.

It had stripes and a tail, and it gave out such a wail,
And you’d find dead sheep in the morning.

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The Beast of Ennerdale: Part One

When I was researching the Beast of Gevaudan, and his many, many friends, both in France, Italy and a number of other countries, I was amazed to find “England” in one of the lists. I couldn’t believe it! An out of control animal rampaging in our well-ordered and generally wonderful country? A piece of slander by a lying, jealous foreigner, surely!

Well, apparently, no. The whole unfortunate business has been kept very quiet, of course, but in 1810, a mystery creature certainly did rampage across the wild countryside of the Lake District in north western England. Here is that beautiful area. Look for the orange arrow:

north of englasnd

The parallels with the Beast of Gévaudan were striking, the only difference being that the English victims were not pretty young shepherdesses or even little boys, but the sheep themselves.
The animal was dubbed at the time “The Girt Dog of Ennerdale”. To me, though, this is a singularly inappropriate name, certainly from the point of view of anyone who wants to attract tourists, rather as they do with the Loch Ness Monster.

“Where is Ennerdale?” you can hear all the tourists asking. “What does ‘Girt’ mean?” and “What is so special about a dog?”
The saga of “The Beast of the Lake District” or, a more striking name perhaps, “The Beast of Ennerdale”, began in spring, or more precisely May, of 1810, when the body of a half consumed sheep was found on the bleak hillside above the lake called Ennerdale Water. On May 10th, Mr Mossop, who lived at Thornholme, to the south of Ennerdale Water on the way to Calderbridge, had a brief glimpse of an unknown animal far away, up on the mountainside. The orange arrow indicates his farm at Thornholme:

arrow = thornholme

Soon after this, an increasing number of sheep began to be attacked. Every night, at least one sheep would be killed.

Clearly, a  monster was at large in the county, known at this time as Cumberland. At first the locals walked the hills, trying to find the animal. They had no success, which was not really surprising, given the extent of the hills, and in some cases, the extent of the forests in the valleys between them. One or two of the men had fleeting glimpses of the Beast, which always seemed to emerge just as night was falling. All they could make out was the animal’s size, which was extremely large. In the local dialect, “girt”, or “gurt” meant “great”, so the Beast was christened “The Girt Dog of Ennerdale”. This is Ennerdale. It is very wild country by English standards:

1280px-Ennerdale
The ferocious Beast killed large numbers of sheep, far beyond what it would have needed for food. Furthermore, it killed its victims in a very unusual way: the corpses of the sheep had their internal organs consumed or even removed, and their blood was apparently drained from their bodies. This was no ordinary dog, feral or otherwise. It was not a fox either. No canid drinks the blood of its prey, and this planted a seed in the minds of a superstitious local population.
Indeed, if these 19th century farmworkers had had wider access to satellite television, I am sure that the spectre of cattle mutilation and UFOs would have raised their ugly heads:

ufo-585761_640

As the situation worsened, more and more men had to leave their ordinary work and their farms, take their dogs, and begin to comb the hills and woods in an effort to find and kill the monster.

Without any success whatsoever. The Beast of Ennerdale was just as elusive and cunning as the Beast of Gévaudan. It did not, on any occasion, stay in an area long enough to attack the same flock of sheep on two successive nights. Its self-secreting powers, the ways it could avoid capture and above all, its propensity for drinking blood soon had the superstitious locals believing that the animal was supernatural. It was soon christened, if that is the word, “The Vampire Dog of Ennerdale”:

snarling

Just like the Beast of Gévaudan, it seemed to have a power over ordinary dogs who normally would have been reasonably courageous. Instead, the locals’ dogs would shrink away when asked to follow the Beast’s trail and, as dogs apparently do with Bigfoot, they often just refused to track.  The dogs were clearly scared stiff of something that they could understand, but their human owners could not.

Sometimes, when the dogs were a little more positive and were actually pursuing the Beast, it would occasionally let just one catch up and then seize it and crush its forelegs in its powerful teeth.  None of the other dogs would then go near it. The Beast was so fleet of foot that it usually only had one dog to deal with at any one time, as all the pursuing dogs would be chasing it at different speeds.
The death toll of sheep continued to mount by the day. Eventually, as a minimum, the unknown killer was slaughtering half a dozen sheep every night. Occasionally the total would mount to eight or ten. This only added to the villagers’ superstitions, of course:

sheep bones zzzzzz

The Beast clearly took sadistic pleasure in ripping sheep to pieces, often to leave them uneaten. On occasion, he would even leave them alive. One of a particular farmer’s favourite rams was watched by the dawn’s first light as the Beast attacked it. The latter ripped out and ate great lumps of best quality mutton from the poor animal’s rear quarters. The crippled victim was then left in the field, unable to fight back, unable even to walk, as its hind legs were paralysed.  Another sheep suffered even worse. The shepherd drove the Beast off as it was feasting and then found that the mutton had been stripped off the ribs behind the shoulder to leave visible the poor animal’s still beating heart.

Soon a prominent local, John Russell, put up a £10 reward for what he thought was a huge dog, “Dead or alive” as they say. An even better offer was free beer for the people who kept watch for the Beast. Mr Russell, of course, owned his very own brewery in Whitehaven. He also had a direct interest in the Beast as he was the owner of 3,000 acres of sheep farming land in Ennerdale. Here is a general map of the valley:

ennerdale water

The offer for the combatants of free food and especially, alcoholic drink, was taken up by other wealthy sheep farmers who provided as much as £12 for refreshments. Others showed their willingness to provide free meals for all Beasthunters over a certain fixed period of time at a certain location, such as their farm or large house.
Nothing succeeded. And then, just as with the Beast of Gévaudan, a feeling of panic began to sweep the area. Parents would keep their children indoors all day long, too scared to let them go out and play.
The Beast seemed just so calculating and so shrewd. Cleverer than a mere animal. Cleverer than a fox. No traps ever came close to catching it. It was wary and watchful:

yello eye
People thought that it spent the day high up in its look-out place, watching the scared natives far below in the valley make huge but vain efforts to catch it. The animal’s senses of sight, hearing, and scent, were so acute that it was a rare event indeed, for anybody to come upon it unawares during daylight hours. When it was accidentally approached in daytime, surprisingly perhaps, the animal never did anything vicious towards humans, and always took to its heels. The Beast never uttered the slightest sound, not a single bark, growl or howl.

As happened with its French counterpart in Gévaudan, the dead sheep were all poisoned and left out on the hillside. The Beast was no more attracted to these carcasses than it was to the many traps which were optimistically set to catch it.
One of the more subtle sheepfarmers even tried leaving out a dog on heat to attract the Beast within musket shot, but he had no success with this cunning plan:

nature-50514_640
The male dogs, of course, as soon as they caught the distant scent of the Beast, still continued with their policy of cowering and whimpering. They refused absolutely to follow this strange, ferocious animal.
As the weeks went by and the summer drew towards its close, the Beast was beginning to have a very negative effect. While the men were all off chasing it, the poor cows often had to wait to be milked. Horses too were not looked after properly and often went hungry. Fields were neglected. Years before computer games, the poor little children were confined to their homes as their parents were too frightened to let them out of their sight. And all this neglect had its impact on the womenfolk of the area who tried (I almost wrote ‘manfully’) to make up for their absent husbands and servants.
Finally, a shepherd out on the hillside, watching his flocks not by night but in the cold grey light of the early morning, caught a clear sight of the monster. In actual fact, his description was not desperately helpful, but to anybody who had ever heard of the Beast of Gévaudan, it had some strangely familiar elements:

p_AD48_gravure_bete_14Firstly, the Beast of Ennerdale was pale brown or sandy coloured. It was well built and solid. And it was very large. Its jaws seemed unusually large and wide and it had dark stripes on its back. It was a strange mixture of the features of both a very big dog and a very big cat. It was really quick, and, as they found out later, it possessed enormous stamina.  The Beast was not like anything the scared shepherd had ever seen before.
After this, the Beast seemed to be spotted more frequently. Shepherds and the bravest of their sheepdogs would chase after it up the hillside. Occasionally a group of some fifty or so locals would assemble, seemingly at the drop of a tricorn hat, to set off following their various hunting hounds, racing across the mountainside.
That princely reward of £10 plus free beer for everybody who kept watch for the Beast attracted scores, if not hundreds of professional hunters to the land around Ennerdale Water. Beer, money and undying fame! What was there not to like?

Edinburgh

The would-be hunters, of course, had no success whatsoever. The phrase “Wild Goose Chase” might have been invented for their efforts. At one point there were more than a hundred men and several hundreds of their dogs racing back and forth across the desolate hills. Useless. The killing and the blood sucking and the soft organ eating all continued as before. By the end of the summer, more than 300 sheep had been killed.

Next time: “Chapter Two: This isn’t going to end well”.

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