Tag Archives: Beast of Gévaudan

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”.

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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.

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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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Hallowe’en Nights (2) The Beast of Auxerre

After researching “The Beast of Gévaudan”, I was amazed to find that over the centuries, a large number of different areas of France have been ravaged by man-eating creatures, such as the monsters in the countryside around Auxerre, Lyon,  Orléans or the Vosges Mountains. On a number of occasions what was probably one single animal might even be called by several different names as it wandered widely around various places. «La Bête des Cévennes », « La Bête du Vivarais » or « La Bête du Gard », for example, were all one and the same monster.
The majority have always been considered wolves, although of course, in our time the wolf no longer seems to behave in this aggressive way. Strangely enough, for a substantial number of these less widely known beasts, the witnesses were often keen to say that it was a wolf but not an ordinary wolf like the ones which they saw virtually every single day. It may have had a wider muzzle, or a belly that dragged on the ground. It may have had pale or even white underparts. Ironically, this latter identification feature on its own actually excludes the wolf as a possibility.
All three of these details, of course, the muzzle, the belly and the underparts were  features of the “Beast of all Beasts” in Gévaudan.  The peasants, shepherds and shepherdesses were armed only with a stick, or a pole with a knife attached to it, because the lower classes were forbidden to carry firearms, which was the exclusive right of the nobility.  Agricultural workers, though, were all highly experienced  at identifying wolves. And lightly armed as they were, the population of the average administrative area in rural France in the eighteenth century might still kill a hundred wolves a year between them.
Nowadays, the wolf seems a much calmer animal. They have become extremely rare in Western Europe, and even in Eastern Europe they seem to be less dangerous than old oral traditions would have us believe. Furthermore, it is certainly a fact that only one person has ever been killed by wolves in North America, and even then the wolves involved had become over-habituated to Man through frequent feeding on a landfill site.
The process by which wolves are believed to have become man killers in France is described in a French Wikipedia article, entitled “Le Loup dans la culture européenne”…“The Wolf in European Culture”

….Thanks to the improvements made in the field of agriculture, Man ceaselessly extended his cultivated land and increased the area for his livestock at the expense of woods and forests. The Feudal System and hunting as a leisure pursuit constantly reduced the number of animals to hunt, and attacks by wolves became therefore increasingly frequent. Flocks of sheep were an easy prey item during a period when food was short.
In normal times the wolf does not attack Man and indeed, even when he is hungry he fears human beings, above all when he is forced to confront an upright enemy. Faced by a man, the wolf always backs down or just runs away. Nevertheless wolves in the Middle Ages used to follow men around when they were out at night walking between villages. The wolves always remained a certain distance away from them. Without doubt they were doing this to get food, thinking that the man must be hunting and that they could grab any unwanted food that was left behind. These stories of wolves which followed men at a distance, sometimes over dozens of kilometres, accentuated the phenomenon of fear of the wolf.
However, attacks by wolves on men were reported for the first time towards the end of the Middle Ages, from the time of the Hundred Years War onwards. These attacks also correlate with epidemics of rabies which can change a wolf’s behaviour completely.
At this time of famine the wolf might have started devouring the corpses left behind by the warring armies. Not rabid wolves, but wolves used to the taste of human flesh would have committed acts of predation towards weak human targets. These cases of predation disappeared around 1820 because of the disappearance of open air mass graves from this period onwards. There will always remain nevertheless a small number of isolated attacks linked to epidemics of rabies, but in this case the cause of the illness is easily identifiable.”

(My own translation)

Further ideas come from « Mikerynos » writing on his own excellent website. He sees the entire French population as having within them a deep seated fear of the wolf, much as other nations might have traditional fears of people of a different race or cultural background from themselves.

“Nowadays beasts still appear in the French countryside but they only kill sheep or other animals. The most famous of all was the Bête des Vosges in 1977.
Feral dogs, escaped zoo animals, animals trained by malicious pranksters and sometimes wolves are used to explain these episodes.
But the Old Demons are not yet ready to fade away. The arrival of Italian wolves in the Parc National du Mercantour has brought about the raising of a protective shield wall on the part of livestock farmers and hunters, who have not been at all afraid of introducing the question of the danger to human life, for in the collective subconscious of the whole French nation, some monstrous beast can still be seen lurking dimly behind these innocent wolves, which have absolutely no connection whatsoever with it.
Over the course of the centuries in France there have been many other episodes similar to the Beast of Gévaudan, even if they were less blood soaked. And the explanations are always exactly the same. Wolves are the guilty ones.

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Nowadays all zoologists are in complete agreement with each other that the wolf practically never attacks Man. Indeed on the contrary, the Wolf always flees from Man. The idea that a Wolf is a man eater is essentially a French one which has led some people to deduce that the wolves in France must be the only ones to exhibit such behaviour! In the same way the theme of the werewolf, a man who can change into a wolf, is above all a French one.  And The Beast who brings together both of these two themes is, in exactly the same way, as we already said, a very French concept.
In a word, though, it is the fear of untamed nature which shines through these themes, a fear which has become particularly focussed on certain species such as the wolf. Every animal attack which seems beyond rational explanation very quickly leads to gossip and rumours. The Beast of Gévaudan is not the only animal to have spread terror across France. There was “la Bête d’Evreux”  (1632-1633), “la Bête de Brives” (1783) and “la Bête du Cézailler” (1946-1951).
The most ferocious seem to have been “la Bête de l’Auxerrois” and “la Bête du Vivarais”.
The former appeared in 1731 and killed 28 victims. It was described as a tiger or a wolf. The “Bête féroce de Sarlat” was famous in Périgord from 1766 onwards. Its peculiarity was not to attack women but to kill exclusively men. In 1814 it was the turn of the « Bête féroce d’Orléans » to achieve a certain success. It ripped to pieces and devoured the poor inhabitants of the countryside, massacred entire families, destroyed and devastated everything which appeared in its path and carried out the most appalling carnage, if one is to believe the caption explaining an etching of the period. A lament was even written about it; the style is not too clever but we can imagine the fear of the audience who were listening to such verses. The official disappearance of the wolf from France came in 1937 when the very last one was killed in Limousin. Or more precisely, the Wolf was presumed extinct insofar as the breeding population was diminishing between 1930 and 1939.
From 1818 to 1829, more than 14,000 wolves were killed in France every year. That was the era of the appearance of the single shot rifle (1830) then there were repeating rifles and the double barrel shotgun. Firearms became henceforth extremely accessible and extremely effective. Wolves could be killed at a range of more than 100 metres. The number of hunting permits awarded just grew and grew. In parallel, the use of poison spread among wolf hunters: monkshood the wolf killer, added to ground glass, meadow saffron, a concoction with tamarack, water hemlock and nux vomica.”

(My own translation)

I have found it a fascinating idea that only two hundred or so years ago a highly developed European country like France could have been repeatedly ravaged by man-eating animals, whether they were wolves or, just plain, simple monsters of the type the Hillbilly Hunters chase after on a weekly basis in the TV show “Mountain Monsters”.
I intend therefore to bring these unknown creatures back into the public eye. Had they been active in an English speaking country, I am sure that they would be a lot more famous than they are now, although, of course, they do appear in a good many French websites on “la cryptologie”. The first one to feature, on a purely alphabetical basis, is the “Bête de l’Auxerrois ou la Bête de Trucy”….

Called by two alternative names, the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” was either one or several man-eating animals which were behind an extensive series of attacks on humans. Nowadays, the tiny village is called “Trucy-L’Orgueilleux”.

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The first incident came in November 1731 when a young boy of 12 years old was working close to the wood of Trucy-sur-Yonne to the south of Auxerre with his mother. She managed to snatch him back from the carnivorous animal which was trying to devour him, but he died in her arms as they made their way back home.

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Attacks then succeeded each other in such quick succession that King Louis XV offered a reward of £200 to whoever could kill the beast. Beats were organised and numerous wolves were killed. The poisoned carcasses of sheep were left out in the fields but the attacks continued, with young children the principal victims. The beast even ventured into the village of Mailly-la-ville and carried off a young child who was playing in front of his house. Trying to snatch him back from the beast’s fangs, his nurse was only able to recover one of his feet (or just one of his arms according to other witnesses).

Illustrations of the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” seem pretty well non-existent on the Internet. The engraving below appears on one website, but it is also featured elsewhere as being the  “Beast of Orléans”…

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In five months the local priest of Val-de-Mercy recorded 14 deaths due to the attacks of this carnivorous animal. By the end of the year 1734 a grand total of 28 victims had been listed. The animal supposedly killed a total of nine children, nine women and ten men according to the death certificates which have so far been located. In 1734 two wolves were killed in the course of a hunt and the attacks stopped shortly afterwards. There was however, no irrefutable concrete indication that either of these two animals was behind the attacks which had lasted for three desperate years. Contrary to the Beast of Gévaudan, these killings seem to have concerned as many men as women
In 1817 a second carnivorous beast ravaged the forest around Trucy for a few months, strangely, at the very same place as the animal from eighty years previously. One child was devoured close to Charentenay, another at Fouronnes and numerous people were injured. Poisoned sheep were placed close to the woods and the beast duly disappeared without leaving any trace whatsoever. No carcass was ever found but mercifully the attacks stopped.

This picture allegedly shows the “Beast of Auxerre” or the “Beast of Trucy” but it had previously been used in pamphlets about the Beast of Gévaudan.

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For the attacks of 1731–1734, contemporary rumours talked of a werewolf, of several wolves and even of demons. The witnesses spoke of either a huge wolf or a tiger. Following the usual pattern, the witnesses’ descriptions indicated an animal that was “like a wolf” but which nobody thought was just an ordinary wolf. According to the experts nowadays the monster was probably some exotic wild animal which had escaped from its owner, but given the descriptions, it was most probably not a common-or-garden wolf.

Unlike the countryside though, in the towns, certainly, the majority of the people had little idea at all of what a wolf was like. Here is a contemporary picture of a wolf….

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For the second series of attacks in 1817, local talk was of a hyena although one statement described a mastiff dog with pointed ears.
It is always worth looking at a second account of what are clearly the same events

“In 1731 there appeared in the woods around Trucy, to the south of Auxerre, a beast which terrorised the region. The first attack was on a boy of twelve in November 1731, very close to the tiny village of Trucy-l’Orgueilleux. The number of victims quickly increased, with 17 in three years, of whom the majority were children. The king offered a reward of £200 to whoever could kill the beast but without result. The creature then continued its carnage until 1734 when it quite simply disappeared without anyone having been able to kill it despite numerous beats being organised. Overall it killed approximately 30 people, the majority of them children.
In 1817 it was a different beast which ravaged again the very same area of Mailly-la-ville and the Forest of Trucy. Described as a tiger or an enormous wolf, people finally concluded that it was a wolf of enormous size and particular ferocity. It killed 28 people (nine children, nine women and ten men) and was never killed despite numerous beats being organised and the poisoned carcasses of sheep being placed randomly in the surrounding area. Like its predecessor this animal just disappeared “back into Nature” so to speak.”

Clearly there has been some confusion between the two websites over victim totals, but it is always best to see at least two variations of the same story. If you want to see more than just these two then go to the French Google and search for either “La Bête de Trucy” or “la Bête de l’Auxerrois”.

Another website…..

 “…a mother grabbed her twelve year old son from the jaws of an enormous beast without managing, alas, to save him… After this they killed a number of wolves, but the beast continued to attack young children, women and men…… 28 victims were eventually listed. Then they killed a couple of wolves, and the attacks ceased. People talked of werewolves, of wolves gone mad, and even of Demons. Witnesses spoke of the “Beast like a Wolf” but actually “Not a Wolf”. The experts nowadays tend to speak of a wild animal, but seldom of a mere wolf.”

At least one other website which lists “The Monsters That Ravaged France” clearly places “La Bête de Trucy ou la Bête de l’Auxerrois” not in the category of the wolf but in that of the “bête mystérieuse”.
These same details are given by that great expert, « Mikerynos » in the very first article on the page….

“(Elle) est apparue en 1731 et a fait 28 victimes. Elle est décrite comme un tigre ou comme un loup.”

What is most striking about “La Bête de Trucy ou la Bête de l’Auxerrois”, though, is the sheer number of victims consumed. In English we say “as hungry as a wolf”. I don’t know if the French have an equivalent but if they do, it should probably relate to Trucy or Auxerre!

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Just what WAS the Beast of Gévaudan?

There is no shortage of theories as to the identity of the murderous beast I described recently,  la Bèstia de Gévaudan,which terrorised a whole province of France from 1764-1767, and claimed upwards of a hundred victims, mostly women and young girls. From what I have read, but above all, from what I have watched on “Youtube”,  basically, you will have to make your own  choice.

The creature was, therefore, perhaps a single enormous wolf, or maybe a number of wolves in a single pack, or even a large number of wolves in a number of separate packs.

Less fancifully, it could have been some type of enormous domestic dog, or perhaps even a wolf dog hybrid, perhaps with a red coloured mastiff involved. Its supposed invulnerability to bullets was because it wore the armoured hide of young boar.

It may have been a hyena although this species is thought to have been long extinct in Europe at this time. It has even been suggested that it was not a real animal, but a sex-crazed serial killer who dressed in a fur costume, pretending to be a wolf. In the same vein, it was perhaps a werewolf with a penchant for hunting women and young girls.

An initial, perhaps simplistic approach, is quite simply to look at pictures of the beast, and to compare it with photographs of the most likely candidates, and then to make up your own mind.

Firstly, here are some pictures of the beast itself. You need to bear in mind that they are unlikely to have been drawn directly from a witness descriptions, and that many of them may have been mere copies of the work of other artists. Furthermore, at this time, it was accepted practice to draw animals in a very stylised fashion, rather than in the more accurate zoological one. Because of this, therefore, the head and limbs are often out of proportion, and the body is frequently too large for a small head and legs. In many pictures, the artist sought to portray an unknown animal by reaching into his knowledge of Heraldry…

 

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Here are some photographs of wolves. I have deliberately picked what I consider to be the largest individuals, and to provide illustrations of animals in poses which are hopefully similar to those in the engravings of the beast.

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Here are some photographs of what are usually called wolf dog hybrids. Having looked at a much larger number of them on the Internet, I do feel that most can be dismissed immediately because an ordinary person would think that they were pure bred wolves. They are only noticeably different when crossed with a very distinctive breed of dog.

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Many cryptozoologists favour the hyena. Certainly, a number of the original drawings from the eighteenth century are titled as being “la Bèstia de Gévaudan, the hyena”.  Many of them, even the most wolf-like, have their flanks covered with either stripes or spots.
This picture was allegedly drawn by the killer of the second beast, Jean Chastel.

drawn chastel

Here are some pictures of the striped hyena.

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And here are some pictures of the spotted hyena.

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Basically, you pay your euros, and you take your choice.
As blogposts cannot be of infinite length, let me summarise the fors and againsts of all the possibilities as I see them.

A wolf or wolves?

This is the mot acceptable of a very large number of  explanations. Certainly, the prints found were deemed to be those of a wolf. Monsieur Antoine de Beauterne who was to kill the first animal, the Wolf of Chazes, said that there was « aucune différence avec le pied d’un grand loup » “no difference with the pawprint of a large wolf”

BUT…

Wolves do not normally attack Man. The locals used to kill around 700 wolves every year, so they all knew what a wolf looked like and could defend themselves against them. All the witnesses were adamant that the animal was not a wolf, but an animal that they did not know. That is why it was immediately christened “la bèstia”. Neither can wolves have a white breast and underparts, as a large number of witnesses said in their descriptions and, indeed, as is portrayed in many of the contemporary illustrations. Only a hybrid animal could exhibit this pattern of coloration.

Wolves do not strip the clothes off their victims, neither do they decapitate their prey.

After the Wolf of Chazes was killed, the deaths did not stop.

A rabid wolf?

An animal  diseased in this way would not have been afraid of Man, but it would certainly have died well before the three year period was  up. A number of rabid wolves? Isn’t that possibly stretching the argument a little?

A hyena?

The animal would certainly have been unknown to the inhabitants of the area. Members of the French nobility, however, frequently indulged themselves by importing exotic animals such as lions and tigers into the country, and we know that hyenas were brought into France at this time. So too, hyenas are supposedly relatively easy to train, or at least, easier than you might expect! Whether this would extend to converting them into fearless and ferocious attack animals is a different matter, however.
Hyenas are certainly capable of decapitating their prey. I have been unable to ascertain if they take the clothes off their victims, although I would have thought that they might have needed opposable thumbs for any particularly intricate garments.

BUT…

the second beast to be killed, the Bête de Chastel, did not have enough teeth to be a hyena. This creature was, without doubt, a canid of some description, according to the King’s Notary, Roch Étienne Marin, the man who carried out what appears to be an extraordinarily thorough autopsy. On the other hand, the creature was also examined by the famous Comte de Buffon, an extremely famous scientist and naturalist of the day, whose ideas were to have a great influence on Charles Darwin. Buffon pronounced it to be a very large wolf.

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The Striped Hyena, which resembles most closely perhaps, la Bèstia, does not hunt but scavenges. The Spotted Hyena does  hunt for itself, but nobody has ever really mentioned spots as a feature of la Bèstia.
In one of his blogposts, C.R. Rookwood suggests another exotic solution. He suggests that la Bèstia was a  mesonychid, a prehistoric mammal related to present day whales. They were very large predators with huge heads, long tails, and hooves instead of feet. The largest was Andrewsarchus mongoliensis, known only from its skull, minus the jawbone: for this reason, illustrations of its colour are, for the most part, just well informed guesswork. The structure of the animal is based on the other members of the family, whose skeletal structure is better known.

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This animal does fit quite closely the description given by many of the peasants who saw la Bèstia. A few of the reports did mention hooves instead of feet, although the creature may well have been described as having hooves to emphasise its connection with the Devil.

BUT…

How could a gigantic, fierce, flesh eating mammal have survived from a prehistoric era until the eighteenth century, without anybody noticing it?

A human serial killer?

Humans can remove dead people’s clothes. Humans can decapitate their victims. Some bizarre serial killers would enjoy the chance to mask their activities behind the depredations of a very large trained carnivore.

BUT…

All the reports by eye witnesses say that only an animal was involved. This idea of a human serial killer can only be maintained  if mutilated bodies were found and there were no eye witnesses who saw an animal attacking them. Only in the Cantal area, apparently, were these circumstances fulfilled.
Of late, many people have  become increasingly concerned by the involvement of Jean Chastel in this marvellous enigma. Jean, a farmer and inn-keeper in the province of Gévaudan, and his son Jean-Antoine, have come under suspicion because when both of them were imprisoned for a period  because of their aggressive attitude to two of Francois Antoine’s gamekeepers, the number of attacks by the monster diminished noticeably.

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It has therefore been put forward that la Bèstia was the result of Jean’s crossing either his own or his son’s red-coloured mastiff with a wolf, and then subsequently training it to kill. Almost all the evidence is perforce circumstantial, but much of it is quite compelling.
The creature may have been, therefore, a particularly  aggressive hybrid, which Jean-Antoine Chastel trained to have no fear of human beings, but instead to attack and to kill them. Witnesses have said that if its attacks were met with strong resistance, la Bèstia would retreat fifty yards or so, then sit and wait, as if sizing up the situation, before finally returning to the fray. This has been  taken to be the behaviour of a trained animal, unafraid of its opponent, rather than a wild one, whose natural instinct in an equal contest would have been to save itself by fleeing. Furthermore, witnesses thought that la Bèstia was driven not by hunger but by its own fury and an innate aggressiveness. It could also be more agile and jump much higher than a normal dog.
According to hunters in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, crosses between dogs and wolves were invariably very varied in appearance with dark or light tinges, sometimes marked with yellow or white or striped a little like a zebra. This, of course, agrees with many of the eye witness descriptions of la Bèstia.
Here are some pictures of mastiffs, although it is very difficult to know exactly what they looked like two and a half centuries ago. Nowadays, they simply don’t look particularly fierce….

 

Here is an English Mastiff around 1700.
mastiff 1700 ccccccc

If we are going down the road of wolf-dog hybrids, then I was quite attracted to a long extinct breed of German bulldog, or Bullenbeisser…

Bullenbeisser extinct ccccccccc

On the other hand, others have said that no successful interbreeding of a Mastiff, or Mastiff type dog, has ever been successfully carried out with a wolf, even though such a hybrid might explain the colours noted by many witnesses.
From the summer 1764 to its death in 1767, la Bèstia wandered over vast distances in almost no time whatsoever. Perhaps the two Chastel were conveying their creature around the province by some artificial means…an explanation of the high frequency of attacks spread over a not inconsiderable area.
On many occasions, people reported the apparent invulnerability of the creature when either stabbed or shot at. It has been suggested that it was wearing some kind of body armour made from the skin of a wild boar. Many witnesses told of the creature being shot several times by experienced hunters, and not being affected by it. Other witnesses spoke of its entrails hanging down after it was stabbed. Could this have been the strapping for some kind of home made armour?
When it was killed, la Bèstia died in the parish of La Besseyre Saint Mary, where Jean Chastel and his son lived. Perhaps they felt that they were about to be discovered, so they shot the creature and then manufactured a tale of heroism and religious devotion to snatch a glorious propaganda victory from the jaws of ignominious discovery and defeat.
As to why the two Chastel would want to kill so many of the people in the area where they lived, that remains a matter of pure guesswork. Certainly, Jean Chastel was supposed to have been an unpopular loner, and given his previous record of various episodes of fairly serious criminal behaviour, he may well have been a man who the locals disliked and feared in equal measure.
Perhaps les Chastel, père et fils were rejected and hated by local women and children, and then took their massive revenge on them, like those American teenagers who return to their High School and kill everybody they can. Perhaps they were sexual psychopaths who enjoyed killing and eating women and little girls.

One further detail which may be of significance is that the loud, belligerent and generally anti-social behaviour of the father, Jean Chastel, seems to have changed profoundly from May 16th 1767 onwards. On this date, in the village of Septols, Marie Denty was attacked in a little lane near her house, right under the eyes of her parents, and killed, just before her twelfth birthday. Supposedly, she and Jean Chastel were very close friends and he doted on her like the grand-daughter he never had. Now he was “fou de douleur”, “mad with grief”, and seemed about to lose his sanity. Perhaps, les Chastel and their appalling pet had killed by mistake. Certainly, his ne’er-do-well son, Antoine, seemed suddenly to be released from an evil spell, and he turned straightway to God. Jean spent his time in pure pursuits such as prayer, confession and penitence. For his redemption to be complete, he and he alone had to be the man who finally killed la Bèstia. According to which sources you believe, in best werewolf killer tradition, he made some silver bullets. Or perhaps, he made them from molten lead which had had a statue of the Virgin Mary dipped into it. Or perhaps he made them from the medals of the Virgin Mary which he wore on his hat. Whatever the case, he certainly had them blessed at a religious ceremony.

The manner in which he killed the creature is extremely suspicious, and could very easily be interpreted as a tale told merely to satisfy contemporary religious feelings, and to exonerate a man who is not bravely hunting down a ferocious killer beast, but who is, instead, shooting it through the head in its kennel before the locals find out it is actually his beloved pet, and then string him up from the nearest tree. The following account I have translated from the French Wikipédia

“On June 19th, the Marquis d’Apcher decides to organise a beat around Mont Mouchet in the wood of la Ténazeire. He is accompanied by a few neighbours as volunteers including Jean Chastel reputed to be an excellent hunter. The latter finds himself at a place called la Sogne d’Auvers,  a crossroads where he sees the animal go past. Chastel fires at it, and manages to wound on the shoulder. Quickly the marquis’ dogs arrive to finish off the beast.”
“As regards this rifle shot, Legend has preserved the romanticised words of the priest Pierre Pourcher which he used to say came from tale told by his family, “When the beast came along, Chastel was saying prayers to the Holy Virgin. He recognised it straightaway, but through a feeling of piety and confidence in the Mother of God, he wanted to finish his prayers. Afterwards, he closes his prayerbook, folds his glasses up, puts them in his pocket and takes his rifle. In an instant he kills the beast which had been waiting for him.”

“A week after the destruction of the beast by Jean Chastel,on June 25th, a female wolf which according to several witness accounts used to accompany the beast itself was killed by Sir Jean Terrisse, one of the hunters His Grace de la Tour d’Auvergne.  He received £78 as a reward.”

Perhaps they were acting on behalf of somebody else. The usual favourite is Jean-François-Charles de La Molette, the Count of Morangiès. He may have wanted to destabilise the area, so that he could take over when the revolution inevitably came.  There were others. The Church wanted to teach the King and the members of the  intelligentsia of the time that free thinking is frowned uon by God….

“Return to the Ways of the Lord or face the Hound of Hell”

As I said before, basically, you pay your euros, and you take your choice.

I had just finished my investigations about la Bèstia de Gévaudan, and had made up my own mind that all the devastation could be attributed, without necessarily knowing the real motivation behind it, to Jean Chastel and his son Antoine.
And then I bought “Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America” by Linda S. Godfrey. I was enjoying reading this interesting and innovative book, when I stumbled upon page 93 which was about the Wampus Cat of Ariton in Alabama.

“The man who wrote me was disturbed by unidentifiable animal sounds while camping on his ten acres on the Pea River near Ariton, which lies about half an hour’s drive south of the picturesquely named town of Smut Eye. His normally rambunctious standard poodle refused to leave the safety of his trailer that afternoon, and the man was having a cup of tea at about 5.00 p.m. when he heard loud rustling sounds coming from outside the camper.”
“As he peered out the camper window he noticed a large black furred animal with a doglike face surveying his campsite on all fours. It was bigger than his standard poodle and, he said, “Looks like a cross between an ugly collie and an even uglier lab.” Weirdly, it sported a white chest.”
“The creature ambled nonchalantly through the camp and when it jumped over a fallen tree, the man saw that it had a long, sinuous tail like that of a cougar. He reported the creature to the area game warden who said that while she didn’t know what it was, others have reported seeing it, too!”

You can pursue this interesting hunt for truth a lot further if you have any knowledge of French. There are three exceptionally good videos about la Bèstia which can be found on a tourist website for the Auvergne region. They are well worth your time, and seem to portray this most baffling of stories in a fairly reasonable and sensible way. Un, deux et trois.
If you want to see even more videos about la Bèstia, then go to this website which is the French equivalent of “Youtube”. If you search for “la Bête du Gévaudan”, you will find a huge number of films, varying from 15 or 20 seconds long to an hour or more. On the first page, there are eighteen different videos, a further eighteen on the second page, and any number of pages after that.

Bonne chance! And don’t be put off by having to practice your French!

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Filed under Criminology, Cryptozoology, France, History, Science, Wildlife and Nature

The Beast of Gévaudan: a real monster

Last week I watched my heroes, the six Hillbilly Hunters, chase vainly after the Hell Hound of Pike County, Kentucky. As a European, though, I could not possibly be unaware of this fearsome creatures’s striking similarity to the so-called “Beast of Gévaudan”, or, in Occitan, the language spoken by the ordinary people in this area of France at the time, “La Bèstia de Gavaudan”.
Whichever language is used, this is the historical name given to the creature which ravaged an area of up to 300 square miles in the province of Gévaudan, in the Margeride Mountains in south central France.
250px-Lozère-Position_svgIn those distant days, between May 1764 and June 1767, this entire area was completely agricultural, and it was common practice once winter ended, to send the herds of cattle or flocks of sheep up into the spring and summer pastures in the high mountains. In an era long before mass communication, news was slow to emerge from the region of an epidemic of killings by an unknown but huge creature. This animal preyed for the most part, usually in broad daylight, on the young boys and girls who were sent up into the mountains for months on end to look after their father’s animals. Sometimes its prey was the women who lived in lonely cottages and tiny villages, often as they tended their animals or gathered crops in open fields. These three categories constituted, of course, the easiest of targets. They were made even easier by years of failed harvests and famine during the period preceding the first appearance of La Bèstia. Indeed, during the many huge beats which were to be organised during the following months, a whole succession of high ranking officials from Paris were all astonished to see the peasants who were taking part, fainting and  falling over, passing out from malnutrition and the physical effort involved in walking for any distance across fields or through woods.

The creature, for the most part, ignored men, and likewise cattle, sheep and goats. After the kill it would disappear into the dense patches of forest scattered across the granite plateaux and grass covered hills.
The number of victims differs according to sources. One study estimated there were 210 attacks, with 113 deaths and 49 injuries. Nearly a hundred of the victims killed were partly eaten. However, other sources put the number of fatalities at between sixty and a hundred, mostly defenceless children, or perhaps adult women, with more than thirty victims injured. Attempts have been made to compile full lists of his victims’ names. Click on “Attacks” on the left hand side of the webpage.

Here are some contemporary illustrations of the creature, nearly all of which depict girls or young women as the victims.

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According to those who saw the attacks, the monster had formidable teeth and an immense tail. In general, La Bèstia resembled a wolf but it was huge, between a calf and a horse in size. Overall, its fur was said to be unusual in colouration, mostly red, but its back was streaked with black. It had a large doglike head, a snout like a wolf and a mouthful of large teeth. Its small straight ears lay close to its head, and it had a strong neck and a wide chest. The tail was immensely long, and somewhat like that of a panther. People who were struck by the tail said that it was a blow of considerable force. One or two witnesses said La Bèstia had cloven hooves, or that the end of its four limbs was tipped with a hoof. Others said the claws were so heavy that they merely resembled hooves.
Here is one early depiction of the creature. The text at the top of the illustration below means…

“This is the figure of the Monster which is ravaging Gévaudan. This animal is of the size of a young bull. It attacks by preference women and children. It drinks their blood, cuts off their head, and takes it away. £2,700 is promised to whoever kills this animal.”

(My own translation)

-Figure_du_monstre_qui_désole_le_Gevaudan

This is an entry in an unknown parish record…

another burial
« L’an 1764 et le 1er juillet, a été enterrée, Jeane Boulet, sans sacremens, ayant été tuée par la bette féroce, présans Joseph Vigier et Jean Reboul. »
“In the Year 1764, on the first of July, was buried, Jeane Boulet, without the Last Sacraments, having been killed by the ferocious beast, present Joseph Vigier et Jean Reboul.”

(My own translation)

My knowledge of Old French is limited, and I do not know whether the spellings are correct for 1764, or whether the priest was writing the words as he would have said them. They would certainly not be correct by modern standards of orthography.
Here is a legal document taken from the parish records in the village of Rocles, with the graphic description of the death of a little girl called Magdeleine Mauras, a victim of the Beast of Gévaudan…

page

“On the 30th day of the month of September in the Year 1764, Magdeleine Mauras was buried, the daughter of the late Jean and Pagès from Pierrefiche. She was about 12 years old and staying with her uncle John Baptiste Mauras from a place called Thorts in this parish. Her body was found on the 29th day of the month, gnawed on the neck and the breast by the ferocious beast which has been ravaging through this diocese for five months. It ripped her throat out when she was coming back to herd her uncle’s cattle homeward at 4.30 in the evening.”

naked ladies

“The rest of her body, which was lacking an arm, ripped off and consumed by the said beast, was laid in the cemetery of this parish of Rocles in the tomb of the ancestors of her father. Present at this were Jean TF, Jean, Jean-Pierre Bouet and Pierre Martin, the son of the late Antoine, from the place called Thorts, all of them illiterate.
I made these enquiries, the Priest at Aubignac.”

  (My own translation)

At least one grave of a victim remains…

grave
The French means

“Here was devoured by the Beast Carobal Gayon, June 13th 1765”

He must have been one of the very few adult male victims.
The horrific method of killing victims by ripping their throats out was frequently used by the Beast. Not surprisingly, the government eventually undertook to rid the area of this ferocious creature.

One of the first to try his luck, in October 1764, was Captain Duhamel and his dragoons from Clermont. They did not have an enormous amount of success, and the dragoons themselves were extremely unpopular with the people of the region, as they frequently damaged their crops, and refused to pay for their lodging when billeted with local families. Duhamel was supposedly responsible for this picture of La Bèstia…

Gevaudanwolf xxxxxxDuhamel’s written description said that the monster had the chest of a leopard, the legs and feet of a bear and the ears of a wolf. He thought the animal was some kind of hybrid, but considered that its father was a lion. He did not know what the mother had been. He, like d’Enneval and his son, who were to succeed him in March 1765, refused to believe that it was just an ordinary wolf.

It was January 12, 1765, when twelve year old Jacques Portefaix and his little group of seven friends were attacked by La Bèstia. After several assaults, they drove off the monster by staying grouped together. The encounter came to the attention of King Louis XV who gave rewards to all of these gallant young men. including Jacques Portefaix who was given enough for his education. The King then decreed that the French state would help find and kill the monster.

At this time, of course, the population of France believed that Louis was king by Divine Right. In other words, he was directly appointed by God. Clearly, if Louis could not protect his people from the ravages of an animal that was initially supposed to be merely a large wolf, then questions would certainly be asked about his suitability to rule the country in the face of what might easily be called a punishment sent from God.

Three weeks later, therefore, a concerned King sent two professional wolf-hunters, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d’Enneval and his son Jean-François, to Gévaudan. They arrived on February 17, 1765, bringing eight bloodhounds trained to hunt wolves. Over the next four months father and son hunted wolves believing that eventually they would surely kill the beast. The attacks, however, continued and they were eventually to lose their jobs. D’Enneval père had previously been considered “l’un des meilleurs chasseurs de loups qui ait jamais existé“, “one of the finest wolf hunters who had ever existed”. He had killed some 1,200 wolves in his lifetime, the majority of which, amazingly by today’s standards, were in the  Normandy region. His final departing judgement, though, was that, whatever La Bèstia was, it was no wolf.

On June 22 1765, therefore, Monsieur Antoine de Beauterne, the king’s arquebus bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt arrived. They began immediately to organise beats by the local people, and set about the same policy of killing as many wolves as they possibly could,  in the hope that one of them would turn out to be La Bèstia.


On September 20, 1765, Monsieur Antoine, as he was universally now known, killed his third and largest wolf measuring 31 inches high at the shoulder, 5 feet 7 inches long, and weighing 130 pounds. The wolf was named Wolf of Chazes after the nearby Abbey of Chazes. Strangely, though, this shooting did not take place where the Beast had ever killed anybody, and indeed, it had never been seen there previously.
Antoine_de_Beauterne

Monsieur Antoine  stated officially:

“We never saw a big wolf that could be compared to this one. This could be the fearsome beast that has caused so much damage.”

The animal was identified as the culprit by attack survivors who recognised the scars on its body inflicted by victims defending themselves. The wolf was stuffed and sent to Paris where Monsieur Antoine was received as a hero, receiving a large sum of money as well as titles and awards.
wolf of hunter 1
And then, OH NO!! Very soon, and certainly from the month of November onwards, there were rumours of fresh attacks. They continued throughout the whole of 1766, and then twelve year old Marie Denty was attacked and devoured  on May 16th 1767.
On June 19th, 1767, a hunt was organized by a well intentioned local nobleman, the Marquis d’Apcher,
JeanJosephd'Apchier
The supposed second beast was duly killed by a local hunter named Jean Chastel. The death of this creature seems finally to have marked the end of these appalling attacks in this benighted region of France.

jean 999

Writers later introduced the idea that Chastel had shot the creature with blessed silver bullets of his own manufacture. This was probably so that it would fit in more exactly with the largely twentieth century tales told about werewolves, particularly in the cinema.

Upon being opened, the animal’s stomach was shown to contain human remains. Like the first creature, this second wolf was sent to Paris, but, because it had decomposed so badly and was extremely smelly, nobody was particularly interested. Even so, what seems a very thorough autopsy was carried out by the King’s Notary, Roch Étienne Marin.

One television programme, Australia’s “Animal X”, stated that this picture shows, according to Chastel himself, the animal that he shot.

drawn chastel

Jean Chastel is nowadays commemorated as the saviour of the region. His signature is preserved, and so is his rifle…


His house is prominently labelled…

chastel_002
The French means

“In the country of the Beast of Gévaudan  Here lived Jean Chastel who killed the beast on June 19th 1767. ”

He has a statue…

chastel 2
There are, as you might expect, any number of explanations of the identity of the Beast of Gévaudan. I will look at as many of these as I can in another blogpost.
One thing, however, remains indisputably true: La Bête du Gévaudan  was only too real, and terrified thousands of people for a good three years.
Nowadays, La Bèstia is much more in favour. He has numerous statues dedicated to him…

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He has his very own website
He also can be googled, and any number of sites put forward their own interpretation of events.
Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix, onze

If you can read French, the best website is the French version of Wikipedia, “numéro sept”

The Beast is on Youtube.

 

 

He is also on Twitter  and on Facebook where, hopefully, he no longer eats his friends.

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

Mountain Monsters: “I am a Marine and I will get the job done”

This week, the Hillbilly Hunters set off to Pike County, in Kentucky, in search of the legendary Hell Hound.

gang with trap
This infernal creature was first reported as far back as 1939, and reports continued throughout the 1940s. They came mostly from the moonshiners who were working their magic, way back in the woods, in log cabins. There were so many reports of the beast that a bounty of $20 was posted, and incredibly, this generous reward was duly collected when a hunter managed to kill one of the creatures. Unfortunately nobody could identify the corpse, and sadly, no trace, either physical or photographic, seems to have survived.

The first four members of the Hillbilly Hunters arrive in this cattle raising area, and they soon ascertain the facts. Firstly, the Hell Hound is actually blue because of its nocturnal habits, and it seems to have some kind of mane. It is about four feet tall at the shoulder and between seven and nine feet long. It is a creature which seems to have lost all fear of Man, and is using the tractor trails through the cornfields to get closer to the farmers’ barns and outbuildings. A Hell Hound  then be quite capable of dragging off an adult cow.

drawing
The team are shown a Black Angus calf by the worried farmer who owns it. The poor animal has enormous wounds on its back, which seem to me like no  predator that I recognise. They appear to be symmetrical, and I think careful thought should be given to the idea that they may have been carried out with a knife by the member of some crazy cult.

A second farmer, Drew, shows us his video, which he took looking through a stand of trees towards a small barn, from which HH duly emerges. I do feel that experienced photo analysis from a person who has talents in this field might well be able to establish what creature this may be. I am clearly no expert in the wildlife of Kentucky but as an English outsider, I might even put suggest that what Drew saw was a very large wild boar.


The last two to arrive are the enfants terribles of the programme, Willy and Wild Bill, who now has some fluffy dice dangling charmingly from the mirror of his vehicle, put there by his mother-in-law.

diceThe two of them quickly make what looks to be an extremely strong trap from long lengths of local bamboo.

Wild Bill immediately steals the show as he mimes shaving himself with a macheté. “ I spent time or two trying to bust out of the old jailhouse, never figured I’d be building one.”

Quite extraordinarily, Wild Bill, having climbed the tree for the trap, then sees HH on the far side of the field. He sets off on the chase, brandishing his macheté. He gets a glimpse of him… “He’s a dandy big’un.” Is he fast? “ He can put her down the old canyon”. Bill measures his height and puts his hand out, “He stands about yay tall.”

marine

In the night hunt, the team hears growls and roars and they find where HH takes his cows to dismantle. It is awash with blood and fat and goo.

Standing next to a greenhouse which is brightly illuminated from the inside, they see the blurred shadow of an animal, presumably HH, come hurtling past them at huge speed. They chase after him, and three of the group manage to physically touch him, probably the first time he’s ever been literally in contact with Man. They may not manage to capture HH, but their determination remains as strong as ever.

“I am on his ass and I wanna get him.”
“I wanna put the old heat on his hide.”
“I’ll see if I can’t get his old hide on the wall. ”
But as Willy says philosophically though, “He lives to be hunted another day.”

The usual discussion then follows…

I gain fantastic enjoyment from the Big Six. Their program remains enormously entertaining, and is certainly the highlight of my viewing week. I try always to watch it twice, as on first viewing, you can miss many informative details.

I know from various sources on the Internet, that there are many people out there who seem to be ferociously upset by this program. As I’ve repeatedly said, I think the programme is marvellous. I do not think it makes anybody look like an idiot, either a local inhabitant, a Hillbilly Hunter or, hopefully, a reviewer.

And whether or not you believe in the Hell Hound of Pike County, Kentucky, there will always be doubt in your mind, because so many similar creatures have been seen across the world.

In one of my future blog posts, I will be talking about the Beast of Gévaudan, which ravaged the bleak highlands of central France some 250 years ago. It is an established fact that this animal killed many people, perhaps in excess of a hundred. Eyewitnesses, of course, varied in their descriptions, but none of them seems really  to be describing a known animal.


Here in England we have our very own Hell Hound, an enormous black dog, with red eyes, who is called “Old Shuck”. He is never a very nice doggy to meet with, as he usually foretells the imminent demise of the person who sees him.

beast_main

This charming little chap may well figure in another blog post in the future.

Above all, though, until next time, never forget the company motto, “I am a Marine and I will get the job done.”

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