Rumors begin to surface in Gevaudan and they center around Antoine Chastel. This is something unnatural about this beast think the people. Bodies found naked with the head cleanly cut off and sometimes neatly put back on the body fuels speculation. What kind of wolf, what kind of beast goes through the trouble to undress its victim before savagely tearing them apart, and then set them up for display?
There is talk of a man in the forest, dirty and hirsute that is often seen in the woods, sometimes near the Beast. That man is Antoine Chastel, a mean man. it is said, that everyone fears. Some think him a sorcerer. He isn’t, but he did train dogs, large reddish dogs that had a reputation as been very aggressive. Both supernatural and regular suspicions zero in on Antoine Chastel.
THE DEATH OF THE BEAST
On May 16, 1767, a twelve year old girl named Marie Denty was killed by the Beast, and unbeknownst to anyone in Gevaudan, Denty would prove to be a catalyst for the denouement of this story. Jean Chastel was the father of Antoine Chastel and he had befriended the girl, and her death had upset him deeply. On Friday the 19th of June Jean Chastel loads his gun with silver bullets and sets out into the Gevaudan woods.
Jean Chastel decides to sit down at some point an read a religious text. After all, Gevaudan was at the center of religious controversy, sometimes violent. The people of Gevaudan were predominantly Catholic and at odds with Huguenots, a fact that may have led to the Beast of Gevaudan as a directed weapon, perhaps even a spark towards a revolution. I’ll get back to that later.
Back to that clearing in 1767 where Jean Chastel was calmly reading he sees the Beast approaching. Uncharacteristically, the Beast sits down some meters from Chastel, calm, looking up at him. Calmer still, Chastel takes off his glasses, puts them and his book away, raises his gun and fires. He kills the Beast in one shot.
Yet, he is not hailed as a hero in Gevaudan. That title would come much later in history when the story of the Beast is simplified for the history books. Yes, the people are relieved, overjoyed even that this Beast is dead, but they suspect the Chastel still. Why is it that for years the best hunters in the France were unable to kill the Beast and Jean Chastel in one day, one shot accomplished what thousands could not? Why did the Beast wait patiently for it? Why was Jean Chastel’s son, Antoine seen so often in the area where the Beast had killed?
When the killing began Antoine Chastel was around twenty years of age. He lived alone in the forest, with his dogs. He had run away from home at an early age and found himself living among Huguenots. The turning point in his life was the time he spent as a prisoner in North Africa (Pourrat, 1998). The story goes that he was in charge of a menagerie for wild animals and trained them. That is until a mysterious man of means brought Antoine Chastel back to Gevaudan (Pourrat, 1998). I do have to caution, that not everyone, writer, historian, are in a agreement here on Antoine Chastel’s story.
Whatever the case may be, puzzling past event around the Beast continued to point to either the Chastel’s or an outside influence on the Beast. For example, on January 28, 1765, a man on horseback encounters the Beast near a small village. The Beast is calm and looks up at the man with seemingly no aggression. The man decides to conduct the Beast to the village and hopefully obtain help in capturing it. The Beast now docile, let’s itself be guided all the way to the village. As soon as they enter the village however, everything changes. it is as if a switch gets turned on, and the Beast attacks a child and eventually runs back into the forest.
In 1766, another odd story emerges. The Beast attack two young men, which is something the Beast rarely does as the majority of attacks were on children and women. These two who were out tending cattle, manage to fight the Beast of. The story doesn’t end there however as in the next few days the Beast returns, but instead of attacking the boys, it play fights with them without ever biting them. One of the boys, Pierre Blanc mentions that the Beast had artificial buttons on its underbelly. I’ll return to this in Part III of this article because it’s highly significant.
In May of 1767, towards the last days of the Beast, a man by the name of Pailleyres wakes up in the middle of the night. He notices a rather tall, hairy man bathing in the stream across from his house. Pailleyre is now outside walking a little closer towards the stream when the man sees him. He jumps out of the stream and the next thing Pailleyre sees, according to his testimony, is the Beast running towards him. He was able to make it back inside before he became a midnight snack however. He later stated that the man must have been a werewolf and that the man in the stream was none other than Antoine Chastel.
Fact, fiction, religion, assumptions, superstition, all played a factor in the story of the Beast, but at its base, the Beast had an identity and a story of why and how, and we’ll get to that in Part III.