The Ravenous Beast Of Gévaudan That Terrified The French Countryside
For three years in the middle of the 18th century, a ferocious, wolf-like beast reportedly roamed the French countryside, mauling nearly 300 villagers. Most of them were women and children. Local newspapers seized on the story and published terrifying accounts, dubbing the creature The Beast of Gévaudan.
The first victim was a 14-year-old shepherdess named Jeanne Boulet, who in 1764 was discovered with her throat ripped out. A 15-year-old was found dead a month later. She managed to describe her attacker as “a horrible beast” before succumbing to her wounds.
More than 100 people had their chests or throats ripped out, as news of the beast made international headlines.
The corpses showed clear signs that something with sharp claws and teeth was responsible, while the press described a wolf-like animal with russet and black fur, a wide chest, large mouth, and very sharp teeth.
It didn’t take long for infantry leader Jean Baptiste Duhamel to organize a 30,000-volunteer hunting party to find and kill the beast. According to Smithsonian, they offered a reward equivalent to a year’s salary for ending the ghoulish creature’s life.
When that didn’t work, King Louis XV sent his own bodyguard, François Antoine, down south to get the job done.
In September 1765, Antoine and his team finally killed a large wolf. They returned to Versailles and received their reward from Louis XV, and the attacks on Gévaudan ceased entirely — but only for a couple months.
With every subsequent attack, the animal’s description became more fantastical. Some accounts described it as a supernatural being that walked on its hind legs. Others said it was more like a werewolf — part-wolf, part-man.
Fed up with losing his loved ones amid a near-constant state of terror, one local farmer took matters into his own hands.
As the story goes, Jean Chastel wandered into the mountains, armed with a gun and a few silver bullets. He sat down and read the Bible, hoping that making himself an easy target would lure the beast from its lair.
It worked. Soon enough, the beast appeared, Chastel shot it, and he brought it to the king. Some accounts claimed the wolf’s stomach was opened up and had human remains tumbling out.
Historians have long debated what actually occurred at Gévaudan. Some argue it was merely mass hysteria and a pack of wild wolves that did the killing, while others claimed it was a lone, rabid wolf or an escaped lion.
Nonetheless, the legend inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes and modern productions like Christophe Gans’ 2002 horror film Brotherhood of the Wolf.