Extract from the Archaeological Congress of France,
held in 1857 and dealing with the Beast of Gevaudan
Archaeological Congress of France
Archaeological Congress of France General sessions held in Mende,
Valence and Grenoble in 1857.
By the French Archaeological Society for the conservation of historical monuments.
Paris, Derache, 7 rue du Bouloy
Caen, chez A. Hardel, imprimeur Libraire, 2 rue Froide
The ferocious beast known as Gévaudan
Extract from the statistical dictionary of Cantal
Article by M. De Chazelle - Press release to the Archaeological Congress By M. de MORÉ.
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The voracious animal, which has been given the name of Beast of Gévaudan, had spread, about 80 years ago, a deep and general terror in the minds of the inhabitants of the communes bordering the Truyère. Sometimes on the affiliations of Gévaudan, its usual stay, sometimes on the Auvergne limits, its devastations were incessant, and, despite all the measures taken by the Administration, they lasted nearly two years.
Also the sinister history of this beast has often occupied writers; its caption has figured under the colors of the novel, and furnished the material for serials in several newspapers. The commune of Lorcières having been the main theater of its ravages, in the district of Saint-Flour, we are going to restore what concerns it in its historical truth. This account is taken from the official reports then addressed to the ministers and intendants. They were communicated to us by Mr. Cohendy, archivist of the prefecture of Puy-de-Dôme, and those who would like to go into more detailed details, will find them deposited in the part comprising the archives of the former intendancy.
We are going to give three main descriptions of them, drawn from the reports sent, from different points, to the higher authorities and each containing particular details.
This description was accompanied by a wash portrait. This animal is the size of a young calf; it has paws as strong as those of a bear, with six claws at each, the length of a finger, an extremely wide mouth, a very strong chest, a body as long as that of a leopard, the tail thick, the hair on the head blackish, the eyes the size of those of a calf and sparkling, the ears erect and short like those of a wolf, the hair on the belly whitish, that on the body red with a stripe black, four fingers wide, from the neck to the base of the tail.
The animal had an elongated body, longer than that of an ordinary wolf and much taller; its legs were strong, extremely wide and armed with very formidable claws. Its head was very large, the forehead was wide and tapering to the muzzle, the mouth was enormous, always open, armed with large and sharp teeth: also it separated a human head in an instant; the ears were very short and raised, the eyes sparkling, the chest broad, the hind legs higher than those in front; the color of the hair on the back was variegated brown and blackish; it had very reddish sides of the body, the underside of the white belly, the tail long, furnished and turned up; his skin was tough. The portrait that Monsieur d'Enneval had had made of this beast, and which was very similar, was sent to the court. There is a copy at the prefecture of Clermont.
The animal was killed on September 21, 1765. Measured after its death, it was found to be 32 inches high, 5 feet 9 and a half inches long, 3 feet in circumference, and 40 teeth. Ordinary wolves only have 26. On the express order of the intendant, he was embalmed and sent to Versailles.
CHARACTER AND HABITS
This beast had fortunately received from nature a certain cowardice which led it not to attack men, and generally all the people whom it supposed to have to oppose it with resistance. She therefore threw herself, by preference, on the persons of the sex, whose fleshy parts she liked, and on little girls rather than on little boys. She was very cunning, surprisingly agile and extremely fast. Seated on a high point, she explored the plain; and, when she had chosen her prey, she would approach it, belly down, crawling. Arrived near her, without having been seen ordinarily, and without noise, she rushed upon it, leaping. Ordinarily she cut off the head of her victim with great dexterity, and carried it away.
STEPS TAKEN TO GET RID OF THE BEAST
Monsieur de Saint-Florentin was then comptroller-general; he gave the order to Monsieur de Balainvillier, intendant of the province of Auvergne, to prescribe the measures leading to the destruction of the beast. Consequently, the intendant issued an order ordering hunts, beats, and marching on the requisition of gentlemen the subdelegates, with the arms that one might have; to place men armed with guns to fight the ferocious beast, in case, as a result of hunting, it should come and throw itself on the village. It also prescribed the selection of a certain number of well-armed hunters to scour the countryside and the woods. Finally, the intendant granted, in the name of the king, a gratuity of six thousand pounds to whoever destroyed it. These precautionary measures were necessitated by the damage committed from the beginning of 1764.
Indeed, at that time, a girl from the Bastide had been devoured, on January 15 of this year. It was on January 22 that the carnivorous animal made its appearance in the town of Lorcières. He reappeared again on February 2, but without committing any murders, because of the quantity of snow which covered the country. Let us move on to the story of its attacks and its ravages during 1764. This year, on the fifteenth day of February, Ollier, parish priest of Lorcières, some ecclesiastics and several notables of the commune, went to the place of Badavalle to draw up a report , on the attack suffered by the named Jeanne Delmas, Bourriol's wife.
This woman declared that having gone, about five o'clock in the evening, along the biez of her mill, to direct the stream there, she had been attacked by a ferocious beast which had bitten her in a cruel manner; she had defended herself energetically, against the monster, with a fessou (pickaxe) which she held in her hand; but, in spite of its resistance, this beast had wounded her dangerously at the bottom of the right cheek, and had made a wound to her three fingers in length by one in breadth, piercing beyond that; she had been wounded and bruised in the spine again; her bosom had been torn by the claws of the animal; she had, finally, all around her neck, the imprint of a bite, as if the animal wanted to cut off her head, according to its custom, when it attacked a person of the sex.
In July, Marguerite Oustalier, aged 68, was attacked by the beast, near the Bois de Broussolles, where she kept her cattle; she was seized from behind, thrown to the ground and dragged, had one cheek torn and two holes made in the neck, near the jugular; but, at the noise made by the shepherds, the beast fled. The following days, she reappeared towards the villages of Chadelle, Pleaux, Chabanolles, and finally La Fage. Another person, Marguerite Soulier, about 27 years old, having seen the beast from afar, ran in front of her to see her better; having been attacked, it was rescued in time by Étienne Migné who was mowing near there, and who put the animal to flight with his scythe.
Guillaume Lèbre and Étienne Crozatier, the first aged 18 and the other 16, kept their cattle on the communal lands of Marcillat. They each had a halberd, and one of them had stuck his in the ground. As it was very hot, their clothes had been taken off and placed on the halberd; the ferocious animal came to them, leaping and leaping; their cattle grew alarmed, huddled around them, as if to defend them, and the dogs howled so loudly that the beast dared not attack them; she then went to their clothes, tore them and ate the bread that was in their pockets.
A few days later, Pierre Cellier and his wife were harvesting; the woman, having gone to fetch her dinner, saw the animal; at her cries, her husband came to her rescue and the animal fled. Isabeau Paschal, an 18-year-old girl, was picking up lentils when she saw the beast coming; she fled on a chariot. Frightened by the cries that the farmers were pushing from all sides, the beast abandoned it to throw itself on a 12-year-old girl, whom it devoured; she then rushed at a man who was herding cattle; but the latter having been rescued in time, he was saved, and she disappeared.
In the month of December, it reappeared again and attacked two children who were herding cattle. They defended themselves energetically; but one of them was so badly treated that he remained ill for a long time. A few days later, she assaulted two more women who were rescued. Agnès Mourgue, a young girl of around 12, was seized shortly after by the animal. His body was totally torn to pieces and devoured; his head was cut off and carried away from the body. Another girl, aged 20, was busy spinning with three of her companions; she was sitting when the animal jumped on her, from behind, and dragged her into a small wood, near there; Despite all the searches, she could not be found.
Fame had carried far and wide the tale of the ravages of this fearsome beast. Monsieur d'Enneval, squire, Norman gentleman, and distinguished hunter, was commissioned by His Majesty for the destruction of this voracious animal. A hunt took place, but it was unsuccessful: it was barely over when the animal threw itself on a young girl who, although rescued in time, was so badly injured in the jugular that she died. Two days later, he devoured yet another 12-year-old girl. Continual hunts took place, under the direction of Monsieur d'Enneval, but without success; the beast fled before the hunters with unequaled agility.
There were drives in which up to forty communes figured. All attempts at poisoning failed; the beast had been hit several times; she had suffered several shots on several occasions; also bitten by dogs, and pursued very far, she even remained for some time without appearing. Monsieur d'Enneval, convinced that she had perished, having been struck several times by very skilful hunters, withdrew. In 1765, our ferocious beast had reappeared with fine weather, and its accompaniment of carnage with it. New measures to deliver the ravaged countries had to be taken, and this time the King's veneration began.
Let's take a look at some of its new damage first: Marie Vallet, a young girl of around 19-20, had her 17-year-old sister with her when she was attacked by the beast. The latter assailed him, spinning, and, as Marie, very frightened, had stepped back a few feet, at the moment when she wanted to spring at her, she seized this moment to drive into his chest a bayonet that she wore; whereupon the beast gave a rather loud cry, brought one of its forepaws to the wound it had received, threw itself into the river, and fled.
Shortly after this attack, Jeanne Tanavelle, about 35 years old, was cruelly devoured. She defended herself energetically, with a bad knife, for an hour; finally, having succumbed, the beast cut off his head, which it carried more than two hundred paces from his body. She devoured his breasts to the waist, and sucked his blood. Having returned in the evening to look for her prey, and finding it no longer, she let out terrible howls all night long.
Marguerite Bouy, about 18 years old, was guarding her cattle when the animal threw itself on her unexpectedly, knocked her down twice, took off her headdress and her neckerchief. But, fortunately for her, a young boy ran up to her cries; armed with a small halberd, he assaulted the beast, wounded it several times and made it let go. This new damage demanded new measures; the terror was at its height, and no one in the country believed himself safe. This time, it was the very officers of the King's venery who received the order to march.
M. Antoine, arquebus holder to the King and His Majesty's hunting lieutenant, was sent by M. le Comte de Saint-Florentin, Minister of State, and M. de Balainvilliers wrote to M. de Montluc, his sub-delegate, asking him to would have to place at his disposal a horse for himself, one for his son, and seven bidets for the shooters in his retinue. Monsieur Antoine led with him a certain number of gamekeepers from the captaincies of Saint-Germain, the parks of Versailles and Fontainebleau, with six good bloodhounds and six good hounds. Monsieur Duhamel, leader of the dragoon squadron, was added to him with a large detachment, and the horsemen of the constabulary were placed at his disposal.
Numerous hunts took place, without result. It was not until September 21, 1765 that Mr. Antoine managed to kill this beast he had been pursuing for three months. Continually tracked down, continually pursued relentlessly, it passed from the lands of Auvergne to the Celts of Gévaudan. Sometimes you lost track; but it reappeared unexpectedly and manifested its return by claiming some new victim.
For three months the pursuits had followed one another, when Monsieur Antoine was informed that, disoriented by the continual hunts, the animal had taken refuge in the woods of Pommier, dependent on the reserve of the Abbey of Les Châses, near Laugeac.
On the 17th of this month, Jeanne Valette was cradling her child in front of the door of her house when she heard a noise and saw, twenty paces away, the animal walking crouching towards her. Immediately seizing a bayonet attached to the end of a stick, when he rushed forward, she plunged it into his shoulder, uttering loud cries, which put him to flight. On the 20th, the animal was seen along the edge of the wood.
Informed of these facts, Monsieur Antoine, on the 21st, set out on the hunt, accompanied by his guards, among whom was a sieur Reinhard, a very good hunter and excellent marksman. Armed with their muskets, they entered a gorge; about twenty paces from him, the harquebus-carrier saw the beast which presented its right flank to him and turned its head to look at it; he immediately adjusts it: the shot goes off, and she is shot in the eye and several posts in the side. The animal falls; Monsieur Antoine thought him dead; but he gets up and walks against him.
A second shot was heard; hit in the body by Reinhard, the beast took a few more steps and fell dead. This beast was recognized as belonging to the wolf species. His identity was verified on the spot; all the authorities and the inhabitants of the country, called to the scene, recognized her as being the one who had committed all the ravages mentioned, and the wound made by Jeanne Valette, with her bayonet, was still fresh.
It is wrong that the public voice attributes his death to the father of Jeanne Valette: this man was then rowing, on the galleys, for a fishing offence. Her daughter's courage and energy won her grace. We must, to complete the story of the damage caused by this animal, in the district of Saint-Flour, mention what it did in two other neighboring municipalities.
On August 17, 1765, a little girl, 6 or 7 years old, had been kidnapped and devoured in this commune; she was called Maguerite Lébro at the Védrine Saint-Loup. The beast, after passing through the woods of Margeride, near the place of La Fuge, devoured a girl named Chastaug, nearly 30 years old. Instead of Gayx, even common, she devoured a girl and threw herself on a young man from whom she removed, with her claws, all the skin of the skull; he was rescued in time. Readers have understood that we have only reported the damage done in Auvergne.
The day after the death of the animal, its corpse was sent, by Monsieur Antoine, under the guidance of his son, to the intendant of Clermont. Monsieur de Balainvilliers had him embalmed and transported to Versailles to be presented to the King, the Princes of the Blood and the Ministers. Monsieur Antoine declared that he did not want to profit in any way from the gratifications promised to those who would kill this animal, and that he abandoned them to the nine guards who still remained with him, to the two servants of bloodhounds, and a small fraction to his servants. The sums were to be divided into twelve parts.
A SECOND FIERCE BEAST
Monsieur le Duc de Choiseul wrote from Versailles, on October 8, 1765, to Monsieur de Balainvilliers, that it seemed that the ferocious beast had mated, that little ones had been born from it, and that he was of the highest importance of destroying this cruel race. Monsieur de Maupont also wrote that the she-wolf and her cubs had to be exterminated. Monsieur Antoine, with his guards, immediately set to work. Since the death of the wolf, the she-wolf has been making her howls every night.
A hunt was organized; one of the cubs was hit there and died in a quarry of impassable rocks. Having been warned that instead of Besset, on October 13, the wolf and her young had devoured six sheep, Monsieur Antoine took the determination to go and look for her there. He ordered that the cubs not be shot until after the death of the mother. After an hour and a half of hunting, in deep gorges, Sieur Reinhard managed to wound her; it was then completed by peasants from Saugère.
It was recognized, at her worst, that she had fed several cubs. During the twenty-four days following the death of the wolf, no one was devoured or attacked, but only sheep, goats and pigs. Finally, on October 19, 1765, Monsieur Antoine wrote: "My career ended with the death of the last Cub; he was killed the day before yesterday, during our last hunt. I take with me the mother-wolf with one of her cubs who is stronger than her, and who might have equaled her father."
In addition to the bonuses, the costs incurred by the hunts, beatings and embalming, amounted, for the Intendance of Auvergne alone, to the sum of 6108 pounds.
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