The Beast of Gévaudan Part I : a horrific mystery.

Summer 1764, we are in the Gévaudan ( nowadays, it is in the Lozère department ). A young farm girl looking after a herd of cows is suddenly attacked by a beast which looks like a wolf, but much bigger. Fortunately, the cows come forward and protect the girl. The Beast flees and the  farm girl is safe…

…the 30th of June 1764, Jeanne Boulet a 14 year old girl was found dead near the village of Hubacs, she is the first official victim. According to the priest of the parish, she was killed by “ la bête féroce “ ( The fierce beast ) which suggest that Miss Boulet was not the first victim, but the first officially declared dead. Two months later, the 8th of August, an other girl, same age, was also declared victim of beast. Both victims were more or less located in the same place but at the end of August and in September, more attacks happened. The beast extends its territory.

The locals started to organize hunts. Most of them were convinced to deal with a rabid wolf and if it is not soon killed , it would shortly die. Etienne Lafont, a high-placed person living the region reported the situation to his superiors, including the Count of Montcan, in charge of the province. This Count gave the order to Captain Duhamel and his Dragons ( Dragoons on horseback ) to take charge of the hunting operations. In the middle of September Cpt.Duhamel, the Dragoons and local peasants pursued many of beats in the region, but they never found something that could resemble the Beast.

Early October , in a parish far from Duhamel and his soldiers, a little girl is killed in the village of Apcher and her head was removed by the Beast. The day after two cowmen are attacked and saved by their cattle. At that moment it is said that two hunters came out of the forest, shot and wounded the Beast but it fled, once more. The beat organized in order to find the wounded Beast or its body failed. More victims are deplored during October. Once again the Beast has moved, so Captain Duhamel who was stationed since September in the same place, repositioned his troops at Saint-Chély in the first days of November.

No beats for the following two weeks because of the weather. December the 15th , a bounty of 2,000 Pounds will be given to whoever kills the Beast but five people died in one attack during the month.

The last day of the year 1764, Monseigneur Gabriel-Florent de Choiseul-Beaupré, Count and Bishop of Gévaudan, declared that the Beast is a plague sent by God to punish men for their sins. So Monseigneur Gabriel-Florent calls for prayers and repentance, but in vain, the attacks continued.

The 12 of January, an event which remained in many memories occurred. The Beast decided to attack seven children in the parish of Chanaleilles. They were looking after their cattle when one of the boys was “captured “ by the Beast but the others defended him with sticks and he was freed. However, the young boy’s cheek was torn off. Again, the Beast continued its butchery, biting the youngest child, Joseph Panafieu, ripping off his arm. Instinctively and through fear, some children wanted to take advantage of poor Joseph ‘s situation and ran as far as possible. But one of the boys, Jacques Portefaix, picked up his courage to lead the others, together, they wounded and repealed the Beast, saving little Joseph. The noise alerted the men and they came to help the boys. The Beast flew away. The courage of Portefaix was related in all of France. The King himself decided to take care of the boy’s education. Many years after, he became a famous Lieutenant.

Anger begins to rumble. People complained of the Dragoons’ behaviour and the failing in the capture of the Beast. To prevent more unrest in these lands, King Louis XV and his counsellors decided to send Sir Martin Denneval to help Cpt. Duhamel in February 1765. Denneval was considered to be the best wolf hunter of his time.

Near the city of Saint-Alban, March the 14th, Jeanne Jouve also became sadly famous.At the front door with three of her children, the Beast captures Jeanne’s nine year old daughter who was holding her baby brother Jean-Pierre. Jeanne jumped on the Beast, then follows a long fight with the Beast for the sake of her children. Jeanne suffered terrible injuries. Two oldest brothers arrive, snatch their brother Jean-Pierre from the jaws of the Beast and kicked out of their property. Hours later, the baby died of the wounds and Jeanne was rewarded by the King for her courage.

With Denneval’s arrival, Captain Duhamel and the Dragoons left the Gévaudan in disgrace. Their hunts were expensive and totally unsuccessful. In 1765, the story of the Beast of Gévaudan spread throughout Europe. Many scientists came from other countries, proposed to make studies of the Beast and often turned it into a ridiculous situation. People started to laugh at France, saying that French were incapable of killing a animal. The situation becomes a diplomatic matter embarrassing the King.

The 1st of May 1765, the Beast was roaming around a shepherd. Two brothers, from their home, spot the Beast and ran to help the shepherd. According to them, the Beast was shot twice, fell to the ground, survives and escapes. The day after, Denneval and his men arrive in the same location, hoping to find the corpse of the Beast but a woman is killed later in the afternoon.

Noble and important people such as the Marquis Pierre-Charles de Morangiès denounced the uselessness and inability of Denneval to cope with the situation.

On the King’s command, Denneval is demoted. François Antoine, the King’s arquebus (Musket officer ) is sent to Gévaudan with eight soldiers of the Royal Guard also his son Robert François Antoine de Beauterne, arquebus for the Dauphin of France. Monsieur Antoine is persuaded that the Beast is nothing but a big wolf and he does not believe in the local superstitions. Unfortunately, his hunts were a greater failure than the biggest ever organized in the Gévaudan, the 11 of August.

However, the 11th of August is remembered with Marie-Jeanne Valet’s courage. She was a servant. Whilst walking with her friends near a river, the Beast attacked them. Marie-Jeanne stabbed the Beast in the chest with a lance and it fell into the river….

Read part 2 of the story.

(An essay based on historical documents and rumors)

By Alister

Studying at the University of Besaçon, Burgundy Franche-Comté, France