Tag Archives: Savigny

French Monsters : the solution

I think that I have established by now, in a long series of articles, that large numbers of innocent people in France were being attacked, and frequently eaten, by wild creatures of some sort from the late 1400s possibly right up to the end of the nineteenth century.
My eagerly awaited conclusion to all this is that we are dealing here with an unknown creature which was essentially a wolf type animal and which is now extinct. It lived in thick forests and deep ravines, and behaved in a way so different from a modern wolf that it cannot possibly have been one. It killed and killed again.

Some sources attribute 150 deaths to what they call “just one ordinary, but large wolf”. Impossible! At the same time, “The Prime Suspect” was not necessarily hyper distinctive, and may not have been totally obvious at first sight:

Gevaudanwolf xxxxxx

Let’s begin by looking at a list of creatures which could have been this wolf type animal. I have compiled it from as many French Internet sites as I could find! There may be some copying between the websites involved here, but I prefer to think that descriptions which are similar are describing the same species of unknown animal. And don’t forget, most of these monsters are separated by both time and space.

As a rough comparison, a French author, Pascal Cazottes, has found fifteen monsters of this type, carbon copies, more or less, of the Beast of Gévaudan. Here is my contribution to the list:
1500-1510, Fontainebleau. it was supposedly a wolf, a werewolf or a shape shifter. Possibly six individual animals.
1510, Fontainebleau. a lynx, or a hybrid of a wolf and a feline, it devoured young girls and little children.
1595-1598, Vendômois, south/central France, 25 people killed by “wolves”. This was not normal wolf behaviour.
1632 – 1633 and then possibly in 1672, Cinglais, Evreux, Caen, Falaise, Calvados, between 15-30 people killed. It was not a wolf but resembled a large mastiff of enormous speed and agility, capable of  leaping across the river. At first sight, it was like a wolf, but was longer, more red, and had a more pointed tail and wider haunches. It was eventually identified as a wolf, but the local peasants had serious misgivings about this middle class verdict.

perhaps cinglais
1633-1634, the Forest of Besnats, Anjou, more than 100 people were mutilated and killed, their bodies lacerated by claws. It was “an enormous beast”.
1650, Fontainebleau, apparently, a female wolf of enormous size, with supposedly more than 600 people killed.
1660, Gâtinais, near Fontainebleau, apparently a huge wolf, it would cross the river to seize children and animals
1690, Forest of Douvres Saint-Riez-en-Belin, Sarthe, there was a report of a child, Cécile Le Boet, devoured by “a fierce creature”
1693-1694, Benais, 200-250 victims. There were several beasts acting in concert which looked like wolves, but had a wider muzzle. They behaved in remarkable fashion, allowing themselves to be patted, but then leaping on the throat of the victim. They appreciated “fresh meat”, and ate the weakest people. It was supposedly a lynx, but lynxes don’t attack human beings:

loup cervier 1vvvvvv

1691-1702, Orléans, over 60 young victims in fifteen months. A huge beast was killed in the forest and was then picked out from 200 dead wolves. It cannot have been a normal wolf, therefore.
Great Winter of 1709, Orléans, in six months more than 100 people were killed and the same number were wounded. The Beast of Orleans only attacked women and children, and had the same way of moving, the same sharpness and even occasional timidity, as the Beast of Gévaudan. It was covered in scales and no weapon could harm it.  A cruel beast, it was thought to be a hyena:

beast 1709

1731-1734, Auxerre, a big wolf or a tiger, “like a wolf, but not a wolf”, with very aggressive behaviour.
1746, Corrèze, an eleven year old boy was killed “by some kind of wolf” called a “mauvaise bête”, an evil beast.
1747-1752, Primarette, seven  victims, thought to be a Lynx (see above).
1751,  Latillé, Vienne, eight children killed in three weeks.
1751, Benais, supposedly a wolf but the peasants frequently rejected wolf as an explanation. The animal had a wide muzzle, a bigger mouth than a wolf, and was covered in reddish fur, with a black mane, a black stripe between head and tail, a belly that dragged towards the ground and a full tail, which could even be used to strike people. It resembled the Beast of Gévaudan on all counts. It frequently behaved to people like a dog who wanted to be patted, but would then jump up and rip their throat out.

second-beast
1754-1756, the Beast of Lyonnais, Meyzieu, Savigny, a kind of large wolf with short legs, its skin was spotted with various colours, (“two fierce animals, one like a big pony, reddish, resembling a wolf except for a short tail , the other like a large mastiff , but white on the belly and a big long tail.”)

1763Dauphiné, the size of a very large wolf, rather light in colour, with a blackish stripe on the back, a belly of dirty white, a very large rounded head  a fluffy tuft on the head and next to the ears, a furry tail like a wolf but longer and upturned at the end. It ignored sheep to attack the shepherd boy. Many prominent people, both clergy and nobility, seem to have been totally convinced by the theory that this monster was the very same individual animal as the Beast of Gévaudan.

bete-du-gevaudanzzzzzzz

1764-1767, Gévaudan, witnesses were adamant that the animal was a canid, but not a wolf. It was an animal that they did not know. In addition, wolves cannot have a white breast and underparts. The many witnesses, all accustomed to wolves, spontaneously called it “the Beast”. It resembled a wolf but it was huge, between a calf and a horse in size. Its fur was mostly red, its back streaked with black. It had large dog-like head, a snout like a wolf and a mouth full of large formidable teeth. Its jaws could open very wide and seize a human head. It had small straight ears, smaller than a wolf, which lay close to its head, a strong neck and a wide chest. Its tail was immensely long, and somewhat like that of a panther. It possibly had claws. People struck by the tail said that it was a blow of considerable force.

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Professional hunters refused to believe that it was an ordinary wolf. It seemed relatively invulnerable, when hit by bullets, and would always stagger back to its feet. It did not ever fear man. In the face of resistance from the victim, it would retreat, sat down to think, and then renewed the attack. It was very aggressive, much more so than from mere hunger. It was very agile and could jump over high walls. It could perhaps manage some steps on its hind legs. It once attacked a man on horseback…not a wolf’s, or even a bear’s, behaviour.

66666

March-August 1766, Sarlat, 18 victims, it was supposedly a rabid wolf but “rabies is a quick killer” (3-4 days). One wolf of extraordinary size was killed.
When ready to seize its prey, it supposedly put up its hackles, and its eyes became flaming red. It raised itself up on its back legs and tried to seize the victim, often  by the head.
1791, Wales, between Denbigh and Wrexham. it was the size of a horse, eating livestock, dogs and men, and even attacked a stagecoach. It was an enormous black beast, almost as long as the coach horses, and was possibly an overgrown wolf. One farmer was found terrified, after witnessing an enormous black animal like a wolf kill his dog. The monster pounded on the door, stood up on its hind legs and looked in through the windows. Its eyes were blue, intelligent and almost human. It foamed at the mouth,

1792, Milan, northern Italy, an ugly beast as big as a dog, but with a horrible mouth. Children said: “a big head with big ears, a pointed snout and large teeth, black and coloured hair on top, whitish underneath, a thick, curly tail”. (with some variation depending on the child). A farmer said “As big as a normal calf, head like a pig, ears like a horse, white hair like a goat underneath, reddish on top, thin legs, large feet, long claws, a large, broad chest and slim flanks.”
It was not a wolf, but was perhaps an exotic animal. “Many have recognized the wolf in the beast, but some argue that it is a different animal.”

beast of milan

1796, Châteauneuf- Brimon region of France, it killed a dozen women and children.

1799, Veyreau, “tens of victims”, the locals thought the Beast of Gévaudan was visiting the region, It was slimmer and more willowy than a wolf and had such agility that it was seen first in one place, but then four or five minutes later in a different place perhaps several miles away. This was possibly evidence of a small population of these animals, or perhaps even some kind of migration or irruption.

1809-1817, Vivarais/Gard/Cévennes, 29 victims, it was the size of a donkey with brown fur, a black mane and large udders. Other witnesses described a creature like a wolf but the size of a calf, with a grey and red coat and black hair over its back. It had a huge belly with white fur, almost dragging on the ground, possibly with tiger/tabby coloured spots. The white fur underneath its body means that it was not a wolf. It had large, long ears, a long muzzle and head and a thick, heavy, luxuriant tail sticking up at the end. Six of its victims were beheaded. It was never captured or killed.

1810, the mountains of Cumberland, England, an unknown creature killed as many as eight sheep a night for six months. The victims had only a few bodily organs removed and eaten, and were drained of their blood. Recent theories have said that this monster was an escaped Thylacine, but my own researches have proved this to be untenable as a valid explanation.

December 6th, 1814, Chaingy, some women and children in the forest were attacked by a she-wolf, with two killed and eight injured. This behaviour is absolutely extraordinary. If it was rabid this was not mentioned when the animal was killed shortly afterwards. For me, definitely “a wolf but not a wolf”:

Bete_de_Chaingy_ws1028371882

1817, Trucy, a second carnivorous beast ravaged the forest around Auxerre/Trucy for a few months, at the exact same place as the animal from 1731-1734. It was like “a mastiff dog with pointed ears”

1874, County Cavan and Limerick, Ireland, a mystery animal killed sheep, as many as thirty in one night. Throats were cut, and blood sucked, but no sheep were eaten.

end of the 19th century, Fontainebleau, “a great evil beast which left the forest to attack farm labourers, shepherds and flocks. It attacked children, such as the little girl gathering nuts in the woods or a 9 year old boy devoured at Nanteuil-lès-Meaux.”

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1966/7, Vaucluse,  Monsieur Henri C., a hunter, killed an unknown animal near a small wood at the edge of the Hautes Alpes. It was the size of a large dog (25 kilos). It had a head like a fox, but a sloping forehead gave it exceptional length. It had pointed ears and formidable fangs. Its fur was short and red, its paws were round, and it had a long tail.

1977, the Vosges area,  a witness described a beast of 60 kilos, with pointed ears, a drooping tail, a coat of yellowish-grey or red. It was larger than a German shepherd. Others thought it was like a wolf. Hair analysis said a canine, but nothing more exact. Existing photos are too poor for a conclusion.

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A visit to a very interesting website called “La Taverne de l’Étrange” only served to confirm my ideas. The website author, Tyron, makes the point that in comparatively recent history, lions and
leopards, for example, could still be found in Europe, as could bears, wolves and lynxes, scattered more or less across the whole continent. France at the end of the Middle Ages, for example, was still covered with huge areas of forest wilderness, which, like the mountain regions, were practically uninhabited. Animals completely unknown to science could well have been living there.

One suggestion has been that the mystery species was a mesonychid, an animal last seen millions of years ago:

Another suggestion is that it was the Waheela, a giant predator which some, such as Alaska Monsters, still believe to be present in northern forests. Traditionally it decapitates victims, and supposedly lives in the Nahanni Valley in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Opinions differ about exactly what a Waheela is:

wahoooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Supposedly, it may be an Amphicyonid which is a prehistoric carnivore of the Miocene and Oligocene eras:

Amphicyon-ingens_reconstruction

Many people disregard the wolf interpretation of the Beast of Gévaudan completely and look at its behaviour, its long tail and its habit of swishing a long, rather heavy tail. It seems perhaps almost bizarre to suggest a felid at this point, but the fit is actually, quite a good one. This is a cave lion:

Hoehlenloewe_CaveLion_hharder

It was certainly big enough and fierce enough to fit the bill. The colours in the illustration are just guesswork, of course. The animal may well have had a coat of exactly the same colours as the Beast of Gévaudan. Furthermore, he Cave Lion is known to have occurred in southern Europe, and to have been present in the forests of Southern Germany and Central Europe until fairly recently at least. Perhaps as recently as 100 AD. And if the Cave Lion was there in 100 AD, it could equally well have persisted through to 1764 AD.

The unknown monster may equally well have been a prehistoric hyena:

cave hyena xxxxxxxx

It may have been a dire wolf, which was a large wolf but from the Pleistocene era:

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In actual fact, the Dire Wolf is not that bad a suggestion, although so far, it has only ever been found as a fossil in the Americas.

My favourite idea, though, is that this formidable killer was a species of canine completely unknown to science. It was not anything particularly strange, though, just an animal that was, with careful study, seen to be, to quote the peasants of the area, “like a wolf but not a wolf”. No doubt this fierce beast was some kind of leftover from a previous epoch. It had perhaps hung on desperately for centuries in the deep forests of Southern Germany, Central Europe or even Poland or Russia. For some reason, increasingly severe weather, lack of prey or whatever, some of them had now moved westwards to the beautiful countryside of France, perhaps establishing a small breeding population:

wolf baby

And from, say, 1500 onwards, they all gradually disappeared. Perhaps they were even wiped out during the continuing slaughter of the French wolf population, and nobody even noticed.

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The Beast of Lyonnais

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

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

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

We start with a hoary old favourite:

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

mey sssssssss

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

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

savigny

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

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

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

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

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

lyonnais xxxxxxxxx

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

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

bergere xxxxxxx

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

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

Dog-Soldiers-2002-Movie-Ixxxxxxxxxxx

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

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

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

euraianLynx_lynx-2 xxxxxxxx

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

loup cervier 1vvvvvv

To me, they are more kute than killer:

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

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

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

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

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

S H 3.png vvvv (2)

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

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

Another description was of:

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

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

werewolf

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

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

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

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

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

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Who knows? And indeed, who ever will?

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