Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Man-Eaters of France


The Beast of Gévaudan is a name given to man-eating wolf-like animals alleged to have terrorized the former province of Gévaudan, in the Margeride Mountains in south-central France from 1764 to 1767 over an area stretching 90 by 80 kilometres. The beasts were consistently described by eyewitnesses as having formidable teeth and immense tails. Their fur had a reddish tinge, and was said to have emitted an unbearable odor.

They killed their victims by tearing at their throats with their teeth. The number of victims differs according to source. De Beaufort (1987) estimated 210 attacks, resulting in 113 deaths and 49 injuries; 98 of the victims killed were partly eaten. An enormous amount of manpower and resources was used in the hunting of the animals, including the army, conscripted civilians, several nobles, and a number of royal huntsmen.

Many explanations, either mutant, prehistoric beast etc., were put forward at the time and during the two centuries since but none has ever been generally accepted. The important firm fact is that sufficient evidence remains to prove La Bête really did exist and was not just a myth. Locals believed it was a werewolf, or, more specifically, a sorcerer who shape-shifted into a monstrous predator in order to feed on human flesh. It was supposed to be bulletproof as well, until the day that someone tried a silver bullet.


Descriptions of the Beast varied so much that most researchers believe there had to be at least two of the creatures, if indeed the panic wasn't causing the populace to incorporate almost any large animal into these sightings. The color of the Beast's fur was especially variable. Sometimes it was red, red with a large gray patch, or red with faint stripes along the back. Other times, it had black and white patches spotted over its body, with no trace of red. Rarely, it had colors or patterns that didn't incorporate red, black, or white. If you add up all the differing descriptions and then create a composite description out of those characteristics that are mentioned with consistency and by the most witnesses, then the Beast would look something like this:

"The Beast is a quadruped about the size of a horse. It reminds witnesses of a bear, hyena, wolf and panther all at once. It has a long wolf-like or pig-like snout, lined with large teeth. The ears are small and round, lying close to the head. The neck is long and strong. The tail somewhat resembles the long tail of a panther, but it is so thick and strong that the Beast uses it as a weapon, knocking men and animals down with it. Anyone struck by the tail reports that it hits with considerable force. The feet of the Beast are the hardest to describe. Some say that it has cloven hooves, or that each digit is tipped with a hoof. Others say that the claws are so heavy, thick and formidable that they merely resemble hooves."


The first known attack that provided a description of one of the creatures took place on June 1 1764. A woman from Langogne saw a large, lupine animal emerge from the trees and charge directly toward her, but it was driven away by the farm's bulls.

On June 30th, the first official victim of the beast was Jeanne Boulet, 14, killed near the village of Les Hubacs, not far from Langogne. The beast seemed to target people over farm animals; many times it would attack someone while cattle were in the same field.

On January 12th 1765, Jacques Portefaix and seven friends, including two girls, were attacked by the Beast; they drove it away by staying grouped together. Their fight caught the attention of King Louis XV, who awarded 300 livres to Portefaix, and another 350 livres to be shared among the others. He also directed that Portefaix be educated at the state's expense. The King had taken a personal interest in the attacks, and sent professional wolf-hunters, Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d'Enneval and his son Jean-François, to kill the beast. They arrived in Clermont-Ferrand on February 17th 1765, bringing with them eight bloodhounds which had been trained in wolf-hunting. They spent several months hunting wolves, believing them to be the beast. However the attacks continued, and by June 1765 they were replaced by François Antoine, the king's harquebus bearer and Lieutenant of the Hunt. He arrived in Le Malzieu on June 22nd.


On September 21st 1765, Antoine killed a large grey wolf measuring 80 centimetres (31 in) high, 1.7 metres (5.6 ft) long, and weighing 60 kilograms (130 lb). The wolf was called Le Loup de Chazes, after the nearby Abbaye des Chazes. It was agreed locally that this was quite large for a wolf. Antoine officially stated: "We declare by the present report signed from our hand, we never saw a big wolf that could be compared to this one. Which is why we estimate this could be the fearsome beast that caused so much damage."

The animal was further identified as the culprit by attack survivors, who recognized the scars on the creature's body, inflicted by victims defending themselves. The wolf was stuffed and sent to Versailles where Antoine was received as a hero, receiving a large sum of money as well as titles and awards.


However, on December 2nd 1765, another beast emerged in la Besseyre Saint Mary, severely injuring two children. Dozens more deaths are reported to have followed.

The killing of the creature that eventually marked the end of the attacks is credited to a local hunter, Jean Chastel, at the Sogne d'Auvers on June 19th 1767. Later novelists introduced the idea that Chastel shot it with a blessed silver bullet of his own manufacture. Upon being opened, the animal's stomach was shown to contain human remains.

Sources:
unknown-creatures.com
Clark, Jerome and Coleman, Loren - "Cryptozoology A-Z" - Simon & Schuster - 1999
Steiger, Brad - "Out of the Dark: The Complete Guide to Beings from Beyond" - Kensington Books - 2001
io9.com
unexplained-mysteries.com


Out Of The Dark: The Complete Guide to Beings from Beyond

Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast

The Beast of Gevaudan: La Bête du Gévaudan

Werewolves, including: Lycanthropy, Werewolf, Warg, Aconitum, Wepwawet, Clinical Lycanthropy, Cynocephaly, Beast Of Gévaudan, Rougarou, Peter Stumpp, ... Boy And The Wolves, Lycaon (arcadia), Lykaia

Cryptozoology A To Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature



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