While there is no dispute that the Beast of Gévaudan existed, researchers are still not in agreement as to what it was, or even whether the attacks were done by one creature or a pack. Most theorize that, given the number of attacks, there had to have been at least two creatures. The first documented attack took place in Langogne in 1764. The young woman in this case escaped harm because the beast was driven off by the bulls she was tending. Jeanne Boulet was not so lucky and was ripped to shreds less than a month after the first sighting.
This was the start of a series of attacks, with the creature acquiring a taste for human flesh. It was known to attack people even when easier animal targets were in the vicinity. Descriptions emerging from surviving victims and witnesses pointed to an animal that was larger than a wolf, with talons on the paws and reddish fur. The muzzle appeared to be longer than the average wolf as well, more resembling a greyhound than anything else. Local huntsmen were powerless as the creature seemed immune to regular bullets. In fact, it was shot by two hunters on October 8th but the attacks continued.
The attacks eventually caught the notice of King Louis XV, who dispatched renowned wolf hunter Jean Charles Marc Antoine Vaumesle d’Enneval and his son with orders to kill the beast. There began a war on anything even vaguely resembling a wolf and it is thought that over 100 innocent animals lost their lives. The men were replaced by Francois Antoine when they failed to bring the killings to a halt. On September 21st, 1765, he killed a grey wolf which was larger than anyone had seen before. Survivors identified it as the animal which had attacked them by recognized scars on its body. It was thought that the story was at an end, but the attacks continued in December of that year.
It wasn’t until 1767 that the Marquis d’Apcher brought together a group of several hundred men to stop the massacre. One of the hunters, Jean Chastel, was the one to deal a fatal blow to the creature, supposedly with silver bullets loaded into his rifle. Upon being gutted, human remains were found in the beast’s stomach. It is not certain what the final fate of the body was, with some claiming it was buried while others assert it was stuffed and mounted, only to disappear at a later date.
Any number of explanations has been offered as to identity of the Beast of Gévaudan, ranging from a werewolf, to a mutant wolf, to a pack of abnormally large and vicious grey wolves. It is interesting to note that Jean Chastain owned a large, reddish coloured Mastiff. Some believe that this, along with a wild wolf, might have sired the creature(s).