In the 1700s, when they heard the name “Gévaudan’s Monster”, people across the French countryside panicked.
One day in June 1764, 14-year-old shepherd girl Jeanne Boulet took her cattle to graze in the middle of the wooded valley near the Allie River in the Gévaudan region of south-central France. The next day, Boulet’s injured body was found, apparently attacked by a wolf.
Boulet’s death was not uncommon at the time. At that time, French children often herd sheep or cattle alone, and wolves were always a threat to them.
However, there have been reports afterwards that deaths similar to Bright have repeatedly suffered serious injuries. No matter what this deadly creature is, it is much more ferocious than the average wolf. The rumors of the “werewolf” began to appear. Frightened people call this mysterious creature “la bete” or “monster”.
It terrorized the people of Gévaudan for three years and killed about 100 victims, although many sources believe that the total death toll was 300. Between 1764 and 1767, more than a hundred wolves were killed in the area. Gévaudan, but scholars are still trying to determine whether they are indeed the culprit.
The county of Gévaudan is located in a rugged central highland, between the Auvergne and Languedoc regions of France. This is a land of dense forests and plateaus where it rains all year round. Gévaudan was once prosperous, but the war in the 16th century destroyed the rural economy. The local people became poor, and they depended mainly on raising cattle for their livelihoods.
After Boulet and dozens of other cases occurred, the young shepherds regrouped, but the beasts did not flinch. The brutal attacks continue, claiming the lives of most women and children. In the autumn of 1764, rumors about this terrible monster spread from Gévodan to all of France.
In the hands of François Morénas, editor of the Courrier d’Avignon newspaper, the beast became a national obsession. The Anglo-French War ended in 1763, leaving Morenas in a state of “hunger”. Morenas was once successful with a sensational effect, and later published a story about the monster Gévaudan to increase newspaper revenue and spread information about the creature throughout the country.
Attacks by mysterious creatures caused terror, and the dramatic reports of reporters from the Courrier d’Avignon newspaper further triggered the crisis.
An article described a monster with amazing speed. Another article said it has demon eyes. Other works claim that it possesses the wisdom of “smart, powerful, and excellent warriors.” Until 1764, Morenas’ writings compared this beast with the Nemean lion in mythology or other terrifying mythological monsters.
In addition to the terrifying description of the monster itself, the article also quoted the survivor’s description of the encounter with it. In January 1765, a group of teenagers reportedly encountered the monster Gévaudan and fought back with sticks. In March of the same year, Jeanne Jouve fought to protect her three children from beasts. One of the three children, only 6 years old, died from his injuries. One of the most famous is Marie-Jeanne Vallet, who fought with a monster and stabbed it in the chest with a bayonet.
For some people, capturing monsters will greatly enhance their fame and career. In the autumn of 1764, the commander of the local army, Jean-Baptiste Duhamel, recruited thousands of people to help him hunt down this mysterious creature.
Based on the long black stripes on the monster’s back, Duhamel speculated that it was not a wolf but a big cat. “This creature is a monster, its father is a lion, and its mother is unknown,” Duhamel speculated. But despite his best efforts, Duhamel failed to catch it.
By early 1765, the dramatic story about the monster Gévaudan continued to attract the attention of King Louis XV. He gave generous rewards to the group of boys who beat the monsters with sticks, and let the group of leaders go to school for free. In March, the king sent a royal hunter to trap the beast. The famous Norman wolf hunter Jean-Charles Vaumesle d’Enneval was appointed to lead the mission, but he was also unsuccessful.
Fearing that the hunt would end in vain, King Louis XV sent his trusted bodyguard and senior officer François Antoine to undertake this task. On September 21, 1765, Antoine’s team killed a wolf that they believed to be the monster Gévaudan. The body of the beast was sent to Paris, and Antoine was rewarded.
However, two months later, the “werewolf” reappeared and the attack began again. Between December 1765 and June 1767, another 30 people died. Fear enveloped Gévaudan again, but this time the locals had to make a living on their own. The authorities were embarrassed by their failure, did not show interest, and even the press lost interest.
On June 19, 1767, local hunter Jean Chastel shot and killed a large beast. Since then, the attack stopped. Witnesses described the killed creature as being like a wolf, but it was strange that it had a “monster” head and a red, white and gray coat that the hunter had never seen on a wolf before.
In the centuries that followed, many explanations were offered for the terrible cause of death in the Gévaudan area. One of the reasons has a supernatural origin: the “werewolf”. Science has ruled out this, but the legend lasted for many years, perhaps because of rumors that Chastel shot and killed the beast Gévaudan with a silver bullet.
Conspiracy theorists recently speculated that a serial killer may have committed the crime in Gévaudan. This man trained the beast to kill his victims for him. However, most experts think this idea is too far-fetched.
The most supported answer comes from the animal kingdom. Many people think that this monster may be a creature of non-French descent, such as a hyena. The biologist Karl-Hans Taake recently speculated that the beast was an out-of-control male lion whose immature mane looked strange to the residents of rural France. According to Taake, the last lion died after swallowing poison bait all over the Gévaudan area.
Historian Jay M. Smith proposed a not so strange theory: These mysterious creatures appear to be large wolves. Media distortions and national panic created the “Gévaudan monster” and the hype that followed.
A century after the last attack, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the popular teenage adventure novel “Hidden Island”, passed by Gévaudan and described what he was changing the world at the time. Way to be disappointed.
“This is the unforgettable monster, the land of Napoleon Bonaparte of the wolf.” Now that the railway has arrived, “you may never have a veritable adventure again,” he wrote.
The modern world may have entered Gévaudan, but the true identity of the monster may never be solved, bringing an eternal mystery to this wilderness.
Wu Huang (follow National Geographic)