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The Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of the Gard, the Beast of Vivarais (it did get around)

From 1809-1817, the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of the Gard or the Beast of Vivarais,(a creature which obviously ranged far and wide) was just one more in the long, long series of creatures, beasts, monsters, feral or hybrid dogs, wolves with completely atypical behaviour or sexual psychopath serial killers who have ravaged different areas of France from around 1550 until the present day. Here is the  Cévennes region:

Carte-cevennes-france

Here is the Vivarais area, in red, in the centre:

vivarais

And here is the Gard area, famous for the Pont du Gard. Again, it is in red:

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Once again, I have looked at a number of French cryptozoological websites and you can take your own average between them. “Vampire Dark News” provides a solid, simple introduction to the latest killer:

“This particular creature spread panic in a vast region comprising Lozère, the Grand Gard and the Ardèche from 1809-1817. It killed, however, comparatively few victims compared to the eight long years when it was active. There were only 29 victims, almost exclusively women and children, six of whom were decapitated. On the other hand, the monster was brave enough to venture into the very houses where people lived. Their descriptions said that the beast was a wolf the size of a donkey with brown fur, a black mane and large udders. Perhaps it was an animal which had escaped from a circus. This creature was never killed.”

(My own translation)

How many wolves fit that description? A black mane? The size of a donkey? Large udders?

The French version of Wikipedia, provides a slightly more developed tale. It begins with the story of how :

«  The Journal du Gard on Octobre 21st 1809 announced the attacks by this animal in these terms :
« In just a few days, a ferocious animal has spread terror in the region of the Gard. Just like the Beast of Gévaudan of days long past (1764-1767), the Beast of the Cévennes is ravaging this part of the “country.”

2653590908_1Wikipédia then goes on to say:

“The Beast killed 29 people, including 19 children, but the list might actually be longer, because the Death Certificates do not always mention the reason for the death. A child called François Marcy, seven years old, was devoured on September 8th 1812 next to his house. Augustin Colomb, aged eight, was carried off on January 9th 1813. Only his head was ever found. In the middle of October, little Rose Henriette Dumas, aged seven, was devoured in the woods.  The attacks went on from 1809-1816, and the audacity of the creature recalls the famous affair of the Beast of Gévaudan. A woman of 34 was attacked just coming out of the church and the beast even attacked villagers inside their own houses.  The rumour was current that it had even eaten the hands of a child who was being rocked in his cradle.  Despite numerous beats and traps set by the people of the different villages the creature remained uncatchable. The attacks came to a final end in 1816 but the affair was never cleared up. It is unknown if this animal was killed during a beat, whether it changed its area of operation or if it was a question of crimes which had been carried out by human beings but were then disguised as being the work of a monster.
Several theories are offered about the origin of this aggressive animal. According to certain people it was a female wolf from Spain even though its behaviour did not resemble that of a wolf in any way whatsoever. The pins in the clothing of certain of his female victims had been removed (hardly the behaviour of a wolf) and six corpses were found decapitated, their necks seemingly having been cut by a blade. The very act of decapitation, of course, is not one which is done deliberately by any animal.

Mont Lozère seems to have been the epicentre of the whole business and had already experienced widespread attacks by wolves in the seventeenth century.

mont lozere

The descriptions which were given by witnesses at the time are extremely variable. Some people talk of an immense wolf, the size of a donkey with a mane and a coat of brown or red fur. Other witnesses describe a creature, or a wolf, the size of a calf, with a grey and red coat. In the majority of the descriptions, the witnesses agree on the presence of a huge belly covered in white fur which almost dragged on the ground. The beast had large ears, a long muzzle and a thick, heavy, tail.”

(My own translation)

What animal was this?  An immense wolf, the size of a donkey with a mane and a coat of brown or red fur? A wolf the size of a calf ? A huge belly covered in white fur almost dragging on the ground? A creature, or a wolf? This is beginning not to make any sense at all. The French peasants in this area, just like those in Gévaudan, all knew a wolf when they saw one. And white fur underneath its body means it cannot have been any species of wolf known today. And the Beast of Gévaudan explanation, based on crazed killers who used hybrid creatures to kill on their own perverted and vengeful behalf will only stretch so far. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I am beginning to have my doubts even about Jean or Antoine Chastel and the rest of the local lunatics who were supposed to have masterminded the Gévaudan outrages.

BETE VIVARAIS

Another website relates how :

“The Beast of Vivarais (or of Cévennes) killed many women and children between 1809 and 1817 within the departments of Lozère, Gard and Ardèche. The animal is described as having the form of a wolf, but with longer ears and black hair bristling over the entire length of its back.  Another report, dating from 1813, speaks of a wolf the size of a calf, with grey and red fur, with a dangling belly covered in white fur with “roudeaux” (a word I have been unable to find in any dictionary, but they are tabby or tiger striped with white).  The head and muzzle are long, the tail is long and sticks up at the end. The official number of victims is twenty-nine.  However it is likely that the list is actually longer because Death Certificates do not necessarily mention the cause of death. In an article on the Beast of the Cevennes, Guy Crouzet details all of these killings, some of which say a great deal about the horror and helplessness of the local people in trying to overcome events which had left them completely out of their depth. And so near the village of Brahic: “was interred the body of François Marcy of Vénissac, seven years old, eaten by a wild beast on September 8th 1812, just a few steps from his home. Vézian, minister of the church.”
“ January 9th, 1813, the death of Augustine Columbus, aged eight. Devoured by a wolf, only the head was found. The boy was abducted on January 8th at five o’clock in the evening in the place called Beaujeu.”
On October 23rd 1813 at Saint-André-de-Cruzières, before the authorities there appeared: “Jacques Dumas, a farmer by profession, the uncle of the deceased, who lived in Chazelles and also Monsieur Graffand the Imperial Solicitor, who lived in Pierregras. They stated that Rose Henriette Dumas, seven years old, the daughter of Louis Dumas, a builder and Marie Maurin, from Chazelles has died from having been devoured in the woods by a ferocious wild beast yesterday, October 22nd, The remaining fragments of the deceased’s body were collected up, inspected carefully and then wrapped in the blood soaked skin of the little girl. They were recognized by her father Monsieur Dumas to be those of his late daughter Rose Henriette.”
Guy Crouzet also made a good point about Mont Lozère, which seems to have been the focus point of the Beast’s activities. Mont Lozère has already played host in the past to other monsters of the same type: in the seventeenth century, attacks by wolves on human beings were reported in the region of Saint-Julien-du-Tournel. And don’t forget that that the very first attacks by the Beast of Gévaudan were reported in Langogne, on the very edge of the Vivarais region. The Beast of Vivarais finally disappeared from the region in 1817, without ever being found. Perhaps it was killed during one of the many organized beats. Nobody knows.

(My own translation)

A wolf, but with longer ears and black hair bristling over the entire length of its back??  A wolf the size of a calf, with grey and red fur?? A dangling belly covered in white fur?? A tail that is long and sticks up at the end? For a wolf?
The “Midnight Forum” possibly isn’t quite the kind of website you might have expected, but it provides many of the details we have previously noted:

“The Beast of the Vivarais was also known as the Beast of the Cévennes or the Beast of the Gard, This monster killed 19 children. This creature first appeared in the regions of Ardèche and Gard in 1809. The descriptions of the monster vary widely. Some say it was a huge wolf the size of a donkey, with a thick mane and a coat of brown or red fur.  Others said that the creature was completely black, or that it was a wolf the size of a calf with a grey and red coat.  In most descriptions, however, witnesses spoke of a big belly covered in white fur, which hung almost to the ground.  Many thought it was a she-wolf that could have come from Spain, even if the behaviour of the animal was in no way whatsoever like that of a wolf.  It had big ears, with a long snout and a luxuriant tail.”

(My own translation)

This last one may well be a rehash of other accounts, but it is equally possible that it may be the firstborn account which all the others have rehashed.
Nobody could accept without question that this animal was an everyday, common or garden wolf. These French people two hundred years ago knew wolves.

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From 1818-1829, supposedly 14,000 wolves were killed every single year in France. Even in 1889, around 500 wolves were trapped or shot nationally. The last wolf was killed as recently as 1937. It is, of course, a different question to explain exactly what the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of the Gard or the Beast of Vivarais may have been. And at this distance in time, it is not really very likely to happen. Having said that, I am working on it, even as we speak….

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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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