The Beast was a mysterious creature which suddenly appeared in the rural mountainous region of Gevaudan, France, in 1764. Although witnesses described it as wolf-like, it also exhibited non-lupine characteristics, not the least being it was allegedly the size of a cow. Displaying a frightening appetite for human flesh (with a particular affinity for women and children), it racked up more than a hundred kills over a three-year period – causing hysteria throughout the villages in Gevaudan and much international embarrassment for King Louis XV.
Adding to the beast’s mystique was its apparent imperviousness to gunfire, and its ability to elude the thousands of soldiers the king sent searching for it. In frustration, Louis finally dispatched his master-at-arms, Antoine de Beauterne, to hunt it down. When de Beauterne managed to bag a particularly large wolf, he and the king claimed victory amidst much public celebration. However, the people of Gevaudan weren’t convinced the benign specimen slain by de Beauterne was the true monster, and shortly after, the killings commenced again. Finally, in 1767, local farmer Jean Chastel managed to gun down the real beast with two musket shots fired at point-blank range (some say with silver bullets blessed by a priest).
Is the legend true? To my knowledge, no one has ever provided evidence which proves it a hoax. At least one French newspaper of the period gave the story considerable coverage, and treated the events seriously. Records kept by the local parishes documented the names and dates of all the beast’s victims. Still, the fact the tale occurred so long ago always makes one wonder about its veracity. Plus, there are annoying inconsistencies in the story from one telling to the next, including the name of the man who actually killed the animal, and whether it was the real monster or de Beauterne’s fraud which was later exhibited in Versailles for a time.
As in all good cryptozoological stories, the body of the dead creature eventually disappeared for one reason or another, leaving only contradictory descriptions of what it looked like and no indication where it ever came from. Some described it as only a very large wolf, while others indicate it was a hyena. Still others insisted it was a cross-breed between two animals such as a hyena and a tiger. One account even claims a second such monster was shot dead in Gevaudan shortly after the first was killed – possibly its mate.