If you look out your window tonight you will see the full moon shining brightly. It is only on a night like tonight that cursed men transform themselves into a savage half-wolf, half-man called a werewolf. Over 200 years ago, the local residents from a small French providence fell victim to one such creature. Here is their story…
In 1764, in the mountainous area of Gevaudan, France, a young girl was tending to her flock of cattle when out of the bushes sprung a large wolf-like creature with a long tufted tail and sharp fangs. The girl’s dogs fled the scene, but her cattle attacked the beast with their horns saving the girl’s life. (All the cows that I know wouldn’t care less if a human was getting mauled, but it is a known fact that French cows are a bit more rambunctious than your average American cow.)
A few days later, another girl was not so lucky and her father found her mutilated body with her throat slashed and claw marks covering her body. Over 100 mysterious murders soon followed all resembling an animal attack with some victims even showing signs of a sexual assault. At the time, wolves were believed to be possessed by the devil so a horny wolf prowling through the quiet hills of France was nothing to take lightly. The wolf hysteria soon reached its height when a young boy survived an attack from the beast with a very different tale to tell. In his account, the wolf in question stood upright like a man and had wolf-like traits. It wasn’t long before talk of a werewolf spread across France and became known as ‘The Beast of Gevaudan.’
Rumors of the man-eating wolf soon reached the king’s ears and although Louis XV wasn't always so compassionate toward the local peasants, he wasn’t about to suffer international ridicule for tales of werewolves in an age of reason. Thus, the king began to throw a tremendous amount of resources into catching the beast hiring professional wolf trackers and a cavalry led by Captain Duhamel. But despite the numerous wolves killed….the attacks continued. Louis soon hired the Van Hesling of wolf hunters, - Francois Antoine, Lieutenant of the Hunt. Antoine managed to kill a very large wolf reportedly over 130 pounds and was declared a hero. He had the beast stuffed and rotting away, but weeks later…the attacks began again. Finally, a local farmer named Jean Castel offed the beast with a silver bullet through the heart and was declared the true hero. (It’s from this story that Hollywood borrowed the concept that only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf.)
Who was the beast of Gevaudan? Was it some sort of hybrid rabid dog or a man disguised as a wolf? Some believe it was a hyena brought over to France in a royal menagerie. Others believed it be a wild baboon. And others believed it to be a werewolf sent by god to punish the providence’s sinners. In a recent History Channel documentary, criminal profiler, George Deuchar and cryptozoologist Ken Gerhard battle it out with competing theories. George believes only a man could be so savage while Ken taps away at his computer pulling up youtube videos of prehistoric wolf-like beasts that could have roamed the countryside. In the end, they “solve” the mystery by agreeing that they were both right. Their concluding theory is that the beast was most likely a hyena trained by Jean Castel to attack humans and was shot by his master when becoming the town savior became more rewarding than terrorizing the residents. They prove this theory by shooting silver bullets into wads of blubber and showing how inaccurate silver is if you want to kill an angry hyena. Their tests conclude that the beast must have been in close range to be killed with a silver bullet and therefore must have either trusted a man with a rifle pointed at him or was one very stupid hyena.
I found all two hours utterly fascinating despite the distracting reenactments of snarling wolves and mutilated bodies. Still, I must warn readers that my skeptical husband watched ten minutes and accused me of suffering from new mother sleep deprivation and suggested that I really should get out of the house. But who wants to leave the house when werewolves might be lurking around the corner?
Sources and Further Reading:
History Channel, The Real Wolfman
Thompson, Richard H. Wolf-hunting in France in the reign of Louis XV: the beast of the Gévaudan, Lewiston: New York, Edwin Mellen Press, 1992