THE INVULNERABLE BEAST
Jean Pierre Pourcher can barely hold his gun. He is so afraid, yet he waits at the window in the stable, ready. Out there in the snow it is stirring, coming, so close now. Finally, the Beast is seen. A Beast the like Jean Pierre and the inhabitants of Gevaudan had ever seen. His hands still trembling, he makes the sign of the cross, and he shoots. The Beast falls, but gets back up, shakes itself off and looks around, undaunted. So, Jean Pierre shoots again, and the beasts falls for a second time, yells and gets back up yet again, seemingly unharmed. What kind of creature can this be, thinks Jean Pierre? What kind of creature is so large, so cruel and so invulnerable?
Those were the questions asked by the people of Gevaudan between 1764 and 1767. Officially, and these figures vary slightly from source to source, there were about 230 attacks,121 of them resulting in death (Louis, 1992). Gevaudan lies in central France in the late 1700’s scarcely populated with deep dense mountains. The winters are cold, life is hard, and the majority of the population is scattered in small villages surrounded by nature, by wolves and a Beast that they have always maintained was not a wolf.
The attacks began in June of 1764, mostly directed at women and children that were out tending the sheep. The attacks were brutal and the beast showed tremendous strength ripping off arms, legs and more puzzling heads. The bodies often half devoured. As panic set in, hunts were organized, but as the summer went on, helplessness and despair became all too common. Gevaudan needed help.
In September the soldiers came to town, called the Dragons and led by captain Duhamel. With little success in locating the Beast, in february of 1765 Duhamel organized a hunt made up of over 30,000 people, volunteers. The hunt fails, in even seeing the Beast, and talk of werewolves and the Devil begin.
Enter Martin Denneval of Normandy, a man said to have killed 1200 wolves. Some are hopeful that this man can bring deliverance, but many are not. The Beast is not a wolf, they keep repeating. By April, Denneval isn’t so sure either, as the body of Gabrielle Pelissier is found mutilated with hre head severed. Strange thing though, her clothes have been put back on her body and her head back on her neck as if on display.
By June, Denneval is frustrated and King Louis XV is not amused. The royal courts of Europe are filled with talks about the Beast, and the wolf that Louis XV cannot kill. The King acts and sends his best hunter, his very own ” Lieutenant of the Hunt” Antoine De Beauterne. On Saturday June 22, Beauterne meets up with Denneval because the Beast had been busy of late. The last two days resulted in six attacks and four deaths. After this, curiously perhaps, the Beast remain quiet until the 4th of july where it kills yet again.
THE TURNING POINT
On August 11, the Beast attacks Marie Jeanne Valet who manages to stab it in the chest with a homemade spear. The Beast is wounded, and some think the Beast dead. Beauterne is skeptical, and the Beast kills again in September. On September 20, murmurs echo across Gevaudan that the Beast is dead at the hands of Beauterne. Indeed, Beauterne had killed a very large wolf in a forest 22 kilometers away, in a forest where the Beast had never been reported in.
The autopsy revealed no human remain in the wolf, and the Beast had been busy of late. Marie Jeanne Valet, and otehr witnesses are brought in in order to identify the Beast. This Beast, this wolf has a scar on its shoulder and everyone agreed that this is where Marie Jeanne Valet, the Maid of Gevaudan had stabbed it. “I stabbed it in the chest” she continued to say, but regardless the wolf was quickly shipped to Versailles. Beauterne remained in the region hunting wolves until November where he returnes to Versailles, a hero I suppose.
All is quiet in Gevaudan, until December where the Beast began to kill, and kill with even more ferocity. The King is disinterested. For him the Beast is dead, but in Gevaudan, long live the Beast.