What is the Beast of Gevaudan?

Known to terrorize the former province of Gevaudan, located in the south-central part of France, the Beast of Gevaudan was the name given to wolf-like creatures that had a habit of attacking and eating humans. In this article, you will learn more about this French terror, as well as information behind a couple of documented incidents.

The Beasts of Gevaudan were often described by witnesses as possessing frightening teeth and noticeable tails , running about the region at sending terror from1764 to 1767. Reddish fur covered their bodies and an unmistaken odor was associated with its presence. The beasts caused a great panic, as they were known to take the lives of their victims by tearing at their throats with their teeth.

It is still unknown just how many people the beasts were responsible for killing, although one source claims that the estimated total including 210 attacks, 113 deaths, and 49 injuries. Out of all the attacks, it was said that nearly 100 victims were partially eaten. Children were the greatest victims of the beasts, following by women, and then men.

In order to calm the reign of terror that the beasts inflicted upon residents, a great deal of manpower and resources were used. Hunting the creatures became a prime objective. When parties went out to search and destroy the beasts, they consisted of members of the army, civilians, nobles, and royal huntsmen.

The First Attack

The first known attack of the Beast of Gevaudan took place on June 1st, 1764, but allowed people to receive information about the description of the creature. A woman from Langogne caught sight of a “large, lupine animal emerge from the trees and charge directly toward her.” Lucky for her, the creature was driven away by the bulls that lived on the farm.

On June 30th, the first official victim was accounted. The Beast of Gevaudan claimed the life of Jeanne Boulet, who was killed close to the village of Les Hubacs, which wasn’t that far from Langogne. At this point, it became clear that the beast was interested in humans over farm animals. It also seemed to take no interest in cattle and would choose a human to attack even if it was in the midst of many cattle in the same vicinity.

The Hunt is On

Attention was drawn to the issue of the beast when Jacques Portefaix and six friends (including two girls) were attacked by the beast on January 12th, 1765. They were able to drive away the creature by sticking together and staying as a group. Their story made it to the ears of King Louis XV, who gave 300 livres (the currency of the time) to Portefaix and another 300 livres to split with the rest of the group. Portefaix was also given an education at the expense of the state.

The next action by the King was to enlist the help of wolf-hunters who made it their profession to solve their beastly problem. Enter Jean-Charles-Marc-Antoine Vaumesle d’Enneval and his son Jean-François, who were commissioned to kill the beast. Already with a personal interest in the attacks, Enneval was eager to accept the task at hand. On February 17th, 1765, the two men arrived in Clermont-Ferrand, toting eight bloodhounds that had been trained in detecting wolves.