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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Beast of Gevaudan

One of the first books I purchased from the paranormal field was Brad Steiger’s The Werewolf Book. (Technically I purchased an earlier version, the amazon link there is to the latest edition). Within this fascinating book, is a story which I was reminded of while working on yesterday’s post.  Our tale begins in the mountainous region of France, called Gevaudan. Clark, in Unexplained!, tells us the following:

One day in June 1764, in a forest in the Gevaudan, a mountainous region of south-central France, a young woman tending cows looked up to see a hideous beast bearing down on her. The size of a cow or donkey, the creature resembled an enormous wolf. Her dogs fled, but the cattle drove the beast off with their horns.

This is the start of the beast’s reign of terror. Steiger offers readers a description:

The creature was described as a hairy beast that walked upright on two legs. Its face was sworn to be like that of Satan, and its entire body was said to be covered with dark, bristly hair. Those who were fortunate enough to escape the beast’s clutches always mentioned an “evil smell” that emanated from its foul hide.

Unlike many other paranormal creatures, the Beast of Gevaudan seemed to have a taste for human flesh. It slaughtered men, women, and children throughout Gevaudan. Though it did seem to have a predilection for women and children. The people, as Steiger writes, were convinced that they were dealing with a ‘Loup-Garou’ or Werewolf. A somewhat typical encounter with this “Werewolf” is told below by Steiger:

On the Night of January 15, 1765, a blizzard raged in the mountains. When his 15-year-old son did not return from tending sheep, Pierre Chateauneuf lit a torch and went in search of the boy. The horrified father discovered the mutilated body of his son near the bawling flock.

The grieving Chateauneuf carried the body down the slopes to their small farm home in the valley….

It was then, Chateauneuf later told the authorities, that he saw the beast staring at him through a window. The werewolf’s eyes were glassy, like those of a wild animal, and its dark face was covered with hair.

The angry farmer dashed to a wall, pulled down a musket, and fired point-blank at the creature. The black, hairy monster had apparently anticipated the man’s attack, for it dropped down before the musket was discharged. Chateauneuf testified later that as he reloaded the musket and ran outside, he saw the beast running across the snow toward his orchard. It looked like a man running in an animal’s skin.

That the people were dealing with something which seemed not to be a typical wolf seems evident from the accounts. Although even at the time some doubted the stories of “Loup-Garous” and believed that there must be a rational explanation for what was occurring. Eventually village petitions would reach Louis IX at Versailles. The King ordered that soldiers be dispatched to search the mountains of Le Gevaudan. The soldiers came up empty-handed, apparently failing to locate any kind of beast, whether normal or paranormal, which could be responsible for the deaths.
The attacks by the creature increased until it all ended in a rather dramatic, and perhaps difficult to envision, scenario. Steiger reports that a posse of several hundred men had succeeded in finally cornering the beast in some trees near the village of Le Surge d’Auvert. He writes:

Jean Chastel was given credit for the kill. According to Chastel's testimony, he had retired a short distance from his companions to read his prayer book. He happened to glance up from his devotions and saw the beast coming directly toward him, walking erect. Chastel said that he had prepared himself according to certain ancient traditions. His double-barreled musket was loaded with bullets made from a silver chalice that had been blessed by a priest.

The bullet from the first barrel of Chastel's musket struck the monster in the chest. It let out a fierce howl and charged its attacker. Chastel aimed the next shot directly for the monster’s heart. The werewolf dropped dead at his feet, the silver bullet in its heart.

With that final shot the end of the three year long wave of horror caused by the Beast of Gevaudan came to an end. A part of me can’t quite move past the almost “mythic” way in which the creature was killed. The ‘holy’ or ‘devout’ man kills the evil creature with a blessed object. I don’t know, perhaps I’m reading too much into the tale. Regardless if we assume Chastel’s account is correct, he successfully stopped a creature which had been terrorizing Gevaudan for nearly three years. What was this creature? By all reports it certainly sounds like it really was a werewolf. The people of the town were convinced, though there were skeptics of this story. Whether it was supernatural creature or some natural predator, it makes for a very interesting, if tragic, tale.


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