Tag Archives: Jean Chastel

The Beast of the Vosges

The Beast of the Vosges is a fairly recent monster to rampage through the French countryside and it has a very different flavour from the Beast of Gévaudan, the Beast of the Cevennes, the Beast of Trucy or the Beast of Sarlat. Its victims, for example, were not human beings but rather livestock, much like the modern monsters of the USA such as the Grassman of Perry County, Ohio or the Devil Dog of Logan County, West  Virginia.

And there were more than just one Beasts of the Vosges. The first struck between 1975-1977 and the second reared his enraged, ugly head from 1994-1995.  And then a third Beast appeared as recently as 2011.

But first, some geography. The Vosges are in the east of France:

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They are mountains which are much lower than the Alps and they do not have the same snow capped peaks. They are more rounded, with conifers and moorland:

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While not a top tourist destination, the Vosges are famous for their savoury cuisine and their beers, both of which look towards Germany and the east for inspiration.

For the Beast, once again, I will look at a number of French cryptozoological websites and you can take your own average between them. “Vampire Dark News” says:

“The “Beast of the Vosges” is one of the favourite topics of discussion for residents of the local cafés. Everyone remembers the ravages of this strange creature from 1977 to 1988.(these dates differ from other sources).  It killed more than 300 animals, between Epinal and Bresse (an area of over 150 square kilometres).  Poultry houses were attacked, horses were injured, at least 200 sheep were slaughtered … but there were no attacks against human beings.

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The animal would disappear only to reappear later and begin its misdeeds all over again. Was it a wolf?  A rabid dog?  Several stray dogs?  An animal trained to kill?  The mystery was never solved because nobody ever managed to get a really good look at the beast, neither hunters nor the police nor the military despite 26 hunts being  organized to kill it.  The Beast was able to avoid all the ambushes and all the traps.  Shot at several times from fairly closely range, the animal was never wounded or identified. The only conclusion was that it was some sort of canid.  And because of this, stray dogs were killed everywhere.

And then in 1994, a she-wolf that attacked flocks of sheep was saddled with the nickname of the “Beast of the Vosges”.

1994

It was filmed by an amateur and was active for several months before being found dead in 1995. Protected by a Decree of the Ministry of the Environment, the protected animal could not be hunted, at least officially.  But who buried the remains which were found in early 1995?

The name of the Beast of the Vosges was later given to a type of lager produced in the Vosges area.”

(My own translation)

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Wikipedia adds a few more details:

In December 1975, at Rambervillers, forest workers noticed footprints of a carnivore that they could not identify. In March 1976 , in Domèvre-sur-Durbion, seven cattle and a number of sheep were found slaughtered.  A few days later, cattle were the victims at Moriville and sheep at Hadigny-les-Verrières.  They accused the Beast of attacks on poultry sheds, of  injuring horses and of slaughtering at least two hundred sheep. No attack though was made against human beings  After a final attack on sheep on June 2, 1976 , nothing more was heard of the animal.
A few years later, in 1994 , a female wolf was given the nickname of the “Beast of the Vosges”.  For several months it maintained its attacks on  flocks of sheep, before its remains were found on May 19th 1995 .
In 2011, after an absence of some 17 years, the Beast again attacked flocks of sheep in the Vosges in the village of Ventron; forty sheep were found dead in less than a month.”

(My own translation)

Another well known cryptozoological website adds some extra, more scandalous suggestions :

“It all begins with a report on February 6th 1977 when Lucien Baret, a Federal Guard, is the witness as the beast stalks a roe deer in the woods at Rambervillier. It is some kind of enormous wolf-dog which hunts in the open without making the least noise. And then in less than ten months, not far short of 62 sheep, two lambs and a bullock weighing 300 kg have their throats cut out, and more than a dozen cattle are attacked.

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What seemed at first sight to be a mere footnote in a newspaper, just mentioning  feral dogs, now becomes transformed into an affair with a monster where everybody has their very own something to contribute. First of all the talk is of a wolf or a dog or a lynx. And then suspicion turns to human beings. Fingers are pointed at certain people, but the favourite is Herr Reinartz, the owner of a vast estate which partially covers sections of a more ancient hunting ground, the most frequently hunted area in the region. Furthermore this German industrialist is not particularly lucky because he has a name very like that of a Nazi colonel, Colonel Reinardt, who committed atrocities in the region during the Second World War, only thirty years previously. This is a similarity which fans the flames of old hatreds. Present day Monsieur Reinartz fears for his life. Has he imported a couple of wolves to guard his estate, but then they have escaped, as certain people claim? Certainly not. A wolf only attacks in certain conditions and these were not fulfilled here. The estate of Monsieur Reinartz being a hunting ground, the wolves would have had more than enough to eat without having to go beyond their enclosures in search of what they already had in their cage. A large cage covering several hectares but a cage nevertheless.
And against all expectations, the press goes wild. The German industrialist is attacked. Abuse is heaped upon him. He is insulted on the front page of certain newspapers. The affair goes to court. Had he been of another nationality, things would probably not have degenerated in this way. None of this, though, stopped flocks of sheep being ripped to pieces by the teeth of the beast:

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And then one day, roughly one year later,  everything just stops. No more massacres, no more animals to put out of their misery in the first light of morning. As mysteriously as it appeared, the Beast of the Vosges disappears. It flies away. All of this, of course, without anybody really understanding at all why. But after its disappearance, the Beast leaves lots of unanswered questions, and even 32 years later, tongues will not be loosened. There are a few clues perhaps, and doubtless some details are completely true, but the people who know, or who think they know, just add to the legend. One can well imagine what will have been written about this Beast in 210 years’ time when other people look at this business, in exactly the same way that we nowadays look back at the Beast of Gévaudan. How many arguments there will be in future generations between all the different viewpoints !
It is impossible not to see in this business numerous similarities with the Beast of Gévaudan. The same black magic seems to protect the animal which escapes through the fingers of the hunters on every single occasion . Beats are organised, but with only the same effectiveness of those of Duhamel in 1765, despite the fact they are now carried out with methods which the eighteenth century could not possibly have imagined. One day the Beast of the Vosges manages to escape its pursuers because one of the hunters is not at his post. A strange reminder of the indignation felt by the noblemen at Malzieu in 1765 when the Beast of Gévaudan was similarly allowed  to escape its pursuers because a guard was not in the correct place. And as one thing leads to another, people realise that this affair is not, in actual fact, very different from that of the Beast of Gévaudan. There are no human victims to pity, of course, but the chain of events is a mechanism which remains essentially the same for both affairs: first of all, people want to put things into perspective: it’s just a wolf. Everything will soon be taken care of. Then, as the Beast evades beats, traps and poisons, it becomes a tool of vengeance. In the Gévaudan of the eighteenth century the Bishop of Choiseul Beaupré sees the Beast as the avenging arm of God. In 1977, in the Vosges, it soon turns into a dog, radio controlled from some distance. But nobody will say a word about it. Nobody?”

 (My own translation)

This same website, and many others, contain the only three known photographs of the Beast of the Vosges. They prove it, apparently, to have been a canid of some sort, but not definitely a wolf. The account concludes with:

“always this question comes to everyone’s lips: the Beast, what was it? I asked Daniel Jumentier, who was present when the photos were taken, and he himself saw the Beast from afar

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The animal was probably a wolf dog cross, first or second generation, weighing at least sixty pounds.

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It was released to attack herds and flocks to hurt their owners.  Vengance between men, but through the intermediary of animals.  We can see two periods in the attacks: at first the Beast is confined to attacks on the plain, but then goes beyond La Bresse (a mountainous area) where it then goes wild. According to Daniel, one reason for this fit of madness: the loss of its master.”

And of course, unless somebody suddenly decides to speak up and reveal some hitherto hidden secret about this creature, we have reached the end of our investigation. Here some films to keep you going. The ancient ones date back as far as 1977, when Mankind’s existence was only occasionally slipping into colour:

And here is the second:

And this one shows that even a third comeback is not necessarily excessive:

There will be no more Beasts of the Vosges though. The Grey Wolf has now officially returned to the Vosges Mountains, thanks to the conservation efforts of a number of countries in the European Union, including Spain, Italy and Germany. Indeed, the Beast in 2011 was most probably one of the first two wolves who arrived in the Vosges that very year.  “Smile, you’re on Trailcam!”:

ATTAQUE DE LOUP

 

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by | June 10, 2015 · 2:15 pm

The Beast of Sarlat

The « Bête féroce de Sarlat » was famous in Périgord in central France from 1766 onwards. Its peculiarity was not to attack women but exclusively to kill men.

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According to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia….

“The « Bête de Sarlat » was a man-eating animal behind a series of attacks against human beings in the Périgord province of France. During the spring of 1766, a dozen or so fatal attacks were been recorded in the villages around Sarlat. The inhabitants of the region were filled with genuine panic, beginning to talk of a gigantic beast thirsting for human blood or even a werewolf. The creature managed around fifteen victims more, before in August 1766 the peasants and noblemen organised a beat together with more than a hundred rifles. During the course of this, the animal was flushed and killed. It was a wolf infected with rabies but the people did not readily accept this explanation and continued to talk of a werewolf.”

One website devoted primarily to the « Bête du Gévaudan » has a little to say about the « Bête de Sarlat » :
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After all, the two areas are not a million miles apart in distance, although the two time periods clash, with the more famous Gévaudan monster killing its victims between the early summer of 1764 and June 19th, 1767 when a local man named Jean Chastel supposedly killed it during a hunt organized by a local nobleman.

“The Bête de Sarlat terrorised the Périgord province of France in the XVIIIth century. Its first appearance came in March 1766, when it carried out around ten killings in the surrounding area. The fear that the Beast caused can be imagined. It was from this time onwards that the myth of an enormous monster thirsting for human blood arose.
But in the month of August 1766, it was finally identified as a wolf suffering from rabies. The people did not really believe this explanation and it must be said that in the intervening time at least another eighteen more people were killed. The monster was seen absolutely everywhere, even in the dark backstreets of Sarlat. When the people’s fear and exasperation was at its height, the legend of the beast grew to such a point that the good people of the area no longer dared go out as soon as it got dark.

From this time onwards, both peasants and nobility came together with more than a hundred rifles and began a beat. The creature was found, pursued and shot. This death was confirmed by an assembly of a large number of happy eye-witnesses and seems to have taken away once and for all the justified fears of the local people. We know very well that the wolf with rabies and the man with rabies seem equally overcome with madness: frothing at the mouth, slavering and biting. They are terrifying to see and dangerous to approach. But this killing only stopped the spread of the rumour. Nothing really changed either in Sarlat or in the surrounding region, where they still spoke of the beast as a werewolf.”

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A further account tells broadly the same tale….

“The first time that this creature came to people’s attention was in the spring of 1766 when it had already committed a dozen murders in the villages around Sarlat. From then on, absolute terror reigned in the province of Périgord. They spoke of a gigantic beast, thirsting for human blood, and soon the legend grew to such a point that the people no longer dared to go out as night was falling, because it was claimed that the monster had even been seen in the very streets of Sarlat itself. The creature killed another good fifteen or so people before both the peasants and the aristocrats, driven to it by fear, organised a beat with more than a hundred rifles. The animal was flushed and killed, and it was stated to be a rabid wolf. Even if this particular animal was killed, its legend remained alive and well throughout the whole region, where they spoke for a good many more years of a bloodthirsty werewolf.”

On his own website, Mikerynos writes

“The Beast of Sarlat terrorised Périgord in the XVIIIth century. Its first appearance dates back to March 1766 when it had already committed around a dozen murders in the neighbouring areas. It is easy to imagine the terror that it provoked. It was from this time that there began the myth of an enormous monster thirsting for human blood. In the month of August 1766, however, the animal was finally identified as a wolf carrying rabies. The ordinary people found it difficult to accept this explanation, and it must be said that in the meantime it had killed at least eighteen more people.
People would see the creature absolutely everywhere, even in the dark alleyways of Sarlat. With fear and anger both reaching their peak, the tales told about  the beast grew to such a level that the good people of the region no longer dared to go out as night fell. From that moment both peasants and aristocrats came together with more than a hundred rifles and organised a beat. The animal was found, tracked and shot. This death was witnessed by so many ecstatic eyes and seemed to have rid the local people for ever of the object of their well justified fears.
We know very well that a wolf or a man with rabies both seem equally overcome with madness, slavering at the mouth, frothing and biting. They are terrifying to see and dangerous to approach. But this only stopped the rumours from spreading, nothing had changed and both in Sarlat and the surrounding area, they still talk of the beast even now as a werewolf.”

At the time in 1766, a broadsheet about the beast was published locally in the province.

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Here is the bottom half with the text. Hopefully, the words are a little clearer….broadsheet   bottom  cccccc Here is a translation of the words you can see, but unfortunately, this is, literally, only half the story. And it seems supremely ironic that on the scan of the front page, you can see some of the print from the back page in reverse, but I cannot find it anywhere on the Internet…

“The curious, remarkable and true tale of the deaths and disorder caused by the ferocious beast, in the area around Sarlat in the Périgord region (of France).
Recently there has been seen in the area around Sarlat in the Périgord region, a ferocious beast, that was considered to be a rabid wolf, but one of an extraordinary size. This ferocious beast roamed, at an incredible speed, over the parishes of Saint-Julien and Grossejac. In vain did a number of the inhabitants of one or the other parish try to put a stop to the depredations of this cruel animal. Between eighteen and twenty people were the sad victims of its fury.
This animal was in complete contrast to the Beast of Gévaudan of which so much has been said; for it seems that the former hated only men whereas the Beast of Gévaudan preferred to attack women. When ready to seize its prey, it put up its hackles, and its eyes became flaming red. It raised itself up on its back legs and tried to seize the victim, sometimes by the face, sometimes by other parts of the head. To stop the ravages of this formidable enemy, whose terrible deeds were already beginning to weigh only too heavily on people, the nobleman Descamps and the gentleman Saint Julien……

Raising itself up on its hind legs, of course, is not normal behaviour for a wolf, animals which nowadays seem to stick firmly to a four legged approach. Flaming red eyes, of course, are not a feature of any known wild animal.

The on-line edition of the newspaper « Sud-Ouest » reports…

“In the XVIIIth century a monster terrorised the south eastern part of the province of Périgord for several weeks. The creature appeared in March 1766 and around a dozen people were killed in the villages around Sarlat. Then was born the myth of an enormous beast thirsting for human blood, like some kind of werewolf.
In the month of August in the same year certain people identified it as a very large wolf infected with rabies. But the population were not reassured by this, especially as in the meantime eighteen other people had been killed. People glimpsed the beast everywhere, even in the dark little lanes of Sarlat. The “population of the village shut themselves away in their houses. Around a hundred people armed with rifles, both peasants and nobles then organised a beat. A rabid wolf was killed. The attacks stopped but the legend lived on, that of a werewolf.”

Its report continues with a device that is known, probably, to newspapers the whole world over. Indeed « Sud-Ouest » could not consider itself a real newspaper if it did not  have that desire to thrill, to terrify and then to sell more newspapers…

« Un loup a-t-il été aperçu en Dordogne ? »
“Has a Wolf been seen in the Dordogne?

 

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«This animal was photographed at Saint-Amand-de-Coly. Other people in the immediate area have been seeing it for the last two weeks. According to government sources, the theory of a wolf, however, is not particularly credible and some doubt may be expressed. Quentin Sarlat, aged 20, was coming back from Montignac last Friday and came across this animal in a field at Saint-Amand-de-Coly.

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He took a photograph of it, unlike one of his friends who had already seen it two weeks previously. «At first, the animal was much more distant and then it began to run across the field in my direction only to stop about ten metres away from me. He looked at me for at least thirty seconds, and I did not dare get out of my car. Then the animal went off round the back of the car, without ever taking his eyes off me »

As for Aurélien Viau, the regional head of the Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (The Ministry of Hunting and Wildlife) said that there was little chance that this was a wolf.

«Looking at this photograph, I would say that it’s a dog because the animal is too fat, it’s wearing an orange collar and it does not fear man. But nevertheless we will be going over there to have a look round. »

The collar that the animal is wearing could well be an identification collar, as some method of tagging wolves. On the other hand, it is certainly a wolf which seems to have eaten all the pies.

After this, of course, widescale panic seems to break out and the questions below are suddenly all asked in the newspaper. Nobody seems to notice it is that old strategy….”thrill, terrify, sell”……

Et si le loup revenait dans les forêts de Dordogne ?
“What if wolves came back to the forests of Dordogne?”
Le loup peut très bien recoloniser entièrement le territoire
“The wolf might very well recolonise the entire area”
Environnement : les sentinelles guettent toujours le loup
“Environmental news: a network of guards await the wolf”

And then, AH NON !!!!….

Dordogne : le loup était un husky

“Report from the Dordogne: the wolf was just a husky.”

Most significant of all perhaps is the verdict of the historian Jean-Marc Moriceau who in a newspaper article entirely worthy of our Daily Mail will:

“retrace the blood soaked career of the wolf in France. 8000 dead people in 250 years, and perhaps it isn’t all over yet….”

Perhaps the writer who argued in one of my previous blogposts that the entire French nation was too often guilty of collective hysteria in the face of these much maligned and gentle animals was correct. This website makes « Sud-Ouest » appear almost conservative in its ideas….

LE DIABLE A-T-IL CRÉÉ LE LOUP ?

DID THE DEVIL CREATE THE WOLF  ????

Bonne nuit et dormez bien!

 

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

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.

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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.
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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…

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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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