In the 18th century French province of Gevaudan once lurked a beast so fearsome that even a king tried to intercede on the people’s behalf. No, we’re not talking about some lost Grimm Brothers fairy tale. This is the sordid tale of mayhem, murder, and the Beast of Gevaudan. And you thought you’d heard of everything.
Though the reports vary widely as paranormal accounts are wont to do, at least sixty people died at the claws of the beast and as many as 200 attacks were attributed to the most uncivil wolf-dog-hyena ever to breach the French border.
Now this cryptid should not be confused with his North Carolina brethren, the Beast of Bladenboro. Both creatures had prolific reputations for wreaking havoc, but in Bladenboro, the worst it got was some bloodless dogs and livestock. Not saying that Fido and Bessie aren’t important, but at least the humans made it out of that tale alive. With the Beast of Gevaudan, the citizens of France were not so fortunate.
La bete du Gevaudan–see how that foreign language course comes in handy after all!–had a reign of cryptid terror for three years from 1764 to 1767. The first sighting was from a woman tending her cows. Seriously, I think almost every historical cryptozoological account before 1950 starts this way. However, in this case, the cows decided they’d had enough of sadistic monsters pestering their owners, so these bovine pals attacked right back. Thus, at least temporarily, the Beast was stemmed.
Again, keeping with the traditional cryptid tropes, the Beast of Gevaudan was seemingly impervious to bullets. Something no one ever mentions in these stories, however, is that old-school firearms had terrible sights. And we’re talking really terrible. You think your drunken uncle not being able to hit tin cans from five feet in the backyard is bad, but guns up until the 19th and 20th century were even worse. So perhaps no one wanted to admit shoddy workmanship and instead just attributed fleeing cryptids to bulletproof skin. Because that makes so much more sense.
Meanwhile, the beast was terrorizing every single local it could find. The attacks became so frequent that some citizens began to circulate rumors that there were multiple beasts or a mother beast training her young how to attack Europeans. In one of the weirder yarns (which is saying something in this oddball tale), a few people even claimed to see a man with the beast. The Gevaudan gossip then relayed that a sorcerer of sorts was getting the beast to do his bidding. Not impossible, especially when you have a gigantic, allegedly bulletproof wild animal (or animals) on the loose, but not super likely. After all, even today, there are reality shows dedicated to people who fail to control their dogs and cats, and those animals are domesticated. So taming an arcane cryptid is a bit far-fetched if you ask me.
But what virtually no one disputes is the existence of a very high death toll. From school-aged children and adolescents to farm-laboring adults, the Beast was seemingly indiscriminate in whom it attacked and often killed and sometimes ate. I warned you in the intro there was mayhem and murder. Right about the time a couple kids met a horrifically untimely end, King Louis XV opted to do something–anything–to stop the beast. A couple professional wolf hunters (which had to be the coolest profession back in the day of rabid lupine attacks) enlisted the aid of their pack of bloodhounds, most likely with the intention of fighting fanged fire with more fanged fire. Unfortunately, rather than pursuing a gargantuan beast, they just started killing every wolf they could. Alright, I rescind my previous statement of wolf hunters being cool. It turns out they’re total jerks.
After slaughtering a few larger-than-average but wholly innocent wolves, the hunters were declared “super awesome” by the king and went on their merry and well-rewarded way. The one problem? The attacks continued. Finally, a local hunter who apparently had no affiliation with the king (unless cursing about the monarch over grog in the area tavern counts) came to the rescue. Using–no joke–a silver bullet, Jean Chastel killed the beast on June 19th, 1767. Let’s please take a moment and celebrate what will likely be the only time I ever offer an exact, undisputed date in one of these articles.
All good and cleared up, right? Not so fast. Chastel’s son apparently kept a zoo complete with a hyena that some said he could possess. So we’re right back to somebody controlling the beast. Several sources even posit that the Chastels were actually serial killers who shot an innocent wolf as a massive cover-up of their evil deeds.
At this point, the story of the Beast of Gevaudan is getting more wonky and convoluted than a “mytharc” episode of The X-Files. So I’ll leave you with this link which alleges that the Beast of Gevaudan inspired a major foe that Sherlock Holmes once faced: none other than the Hound of the Baskervilles. Thus, the Beast might be gone, but he’s far from forgotten.