Les chasseurs luttent contre la Bête du Gévaudan

Notes on the book "The Beast of Gévaudan"

by Pascal Cazottes

By Robert Dumont

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When I learned of the publication of Pascal Cazottes' monograph, I confess that my first reaction was: one more book on the Beast of Gévaudan; what's the point ? I already have half a dozen.

I was wrong, and I make amends. During the summer of 2004, one of my friends, passing through Aveyron, was received by Pascal Cazottes who dedicated a copy of his book to him.

On his return, my friend insisted on lending me this copy; and he was very well inspired. When I opened it, the book seemed to me immediately placed under the best auspices, since prefaced by François de Sarre, with whom I have had a fruitful epistolary relationship for several years.

I read it in one go and, the next day, my first care was to get a copy "to me", which took place in my library alongside the monographs on the same subject signed Jacques Delperrie de Bayac, Xavier Pic, Gérard Ménatory, Félix Buffière and Michel Louis. The case of the Beast of Gevaudan turns out to be particularly complex, and it can be dealt with in various ways.

Without neglecting any of the multiple aspects of the problem, Pascal Cazottes has chosen to favor an attempt to identify the Beast; and he has, with this in mind, researched and analyzed other analogous cases to which he devotes a chapter entitled "The Sisters of the Beast".

In doing so, he worked as much as a cryptozoologist as a chronicler; which is not unique to any of its predecessors. He cites about fifteen cases of Mysterious Beasts, spanning France over a little over two centuries (from 1606 to 1817); while Jean-Jacques Barloy cites only four and Gérard Ménatory, Félix Buffière and Jean-Paul Ronecker only three. One can imagine what a long and tedious labor must represent this "Trail of the Ignored Beasts" pursued through the meanders of archives; and how frustrating it must be to see that over the centuries so many documents have been destroyed.

But at the same time we remain dreamy, thinking that these Mysterious Beasts, which sporadically sowed terror in our countryside, surely did not appear only in France, and that they must also have left traces in the archives. other countries in Europe; even if, here again, part of the documentation is irretrievably lost.

Pascal Cazottes La Bête du Gévaudan enfin démasquée ?

It is appropriate here to open a parenthesis to say a few words about the Book of Michel Louis, who cites nine periods ranging in France from 1421 to 1879, during which solitary or gregarious predators would have, according to the chronicles, delivered to the 'cannibalism. Only three of these periods appear on the list compiled by Pascal Cazottes. However paradoxical it may seem at first glance, this divergence is easily explained, because the two authors did not set themselves the same objective.

Certainly both tell the story of the Beast of Gevaudan, but Pascal Cazottes aims to demonstrate the existence of a large unknown predator; he therefore retained only the cases whose reports show physiological or behavioral similarities with the Beast of Gevaudan. While one of the goals pursued by Michel Louis is the rehabilitation of wolves; as he bluntly announces in his preface and as the subtitle of his book indicates: "The Innocence of Wolves". It was therefore logical that the two authors were not challenged by the same events.

The case of the Beast of Gevaudan presents itself less as an enigma than as a mosaic of enigmas, each of which leads to a theme of reflection. It is obvious that, of the number of victims (more than 100 even considering only the most restrictive estimates), some are not attributable to the Beast itself. Men being what they are, it is inevitable that, when there is a "serial killer" (whether human or animal), some take advantage of the circumstance to settle a personal score, with the virtual certainty that said killer will easily take on a few more murders. It also seems that during these bloody events, a character more or less "disguised" as an animal appeared.

On August 11, 1765 the Beast attacked Marie-Jeanne Vallet, servant of the parish priest of Paulhac. Note in passing that to do this, the Beast stands on its hind limbs. Without losing her composure, Marie-Jeanne Vallet gives him a bayonet thrust in the chest. The Beast lets out a heart-rending cry and brings one of its forelegs to its wound. Has anyone ever seen a quadruped perform such a gesture?

And what about the shepherds Antoine Pichot and Pierre Blanc who claimed to engage with the Beast in games of pankration? On January 6, 1765 two women, going from Escures to Fournels, were approached by a man whose filthy clothes and extreme hairiness caused them great concern. On April 25, 1767, four women near Servilange had a similar encounter and also noticed the state of dirt and the extreme hairiness of the man who approached them.

During one night, which Pourcher does not date but which would take place in May 1767, a naked man covered with hair turns into an animal under the eyes of a certain Pailleyre, who experienced in the circumstances a terror which he had great difficulty in recover. In his live "The Beast that ate the world", Xavier Pic refutes these three episodes which he considers fables. What if they had some truth to them? Pailleyre describes as having the body covered with hair this man who caused him such a fright and in whom he thought he recognized Antoine Chastel.

Let us disregard the metamorphosis into an animal, and ask ourselves if Pailleyre did not really see Antoine Chastel bathing in a stream by moonlight; and if, as some have argued, this hairy man who twice caused extreme concern to women, was none other than Antoine Chastel. And let's not lose sight either that on January 6, 1765 as well as on April 25, 1767, the Beast had been reported in the vicinity of the encounter. Antoine Chastel was said to belong to a family of wizards, to be a lycanthrope and leader of wolves; he was also credited with many picaresque adventures experienced in his youth, including a stay in North Africa where, it was said, he was castrated. So, by virtue of the proverb that "We only lend to the rich", let's ask ourselves if Antoine Chastel was not also suffering from hypertrichosis, hirsutism as we used to say.

Hypertrichosis may not be total. We know of cases where it invades the face, neck and shoulders but not the rest of the body. Conversely, it may affect only part of the body; even invade the whole body but not the face where it will only manifest itself by an overabundance of beard and hair. Suffering from bodily hypertrichosis, Antoine Chastel would have only had to deck himself out in a bestial mask (of the type worn during the pagan Solstice festivities) to give himself the appearance of an animal. My argument is somewhat far-fetched (or by the hair) but in a case where so many elements add up, intersect and interpenetrate I think that nothing should be overlooked.

The hypothesis proposed by Pascal Cazottes leads to another topic of reflection: if all the testimonies agree in designating an attacker belonging to one and the same animal species, it is quite plausible that all the attacks were not the act of the same individual. During certain periods, probably quite brief, two Beasts could act at the same time; which would explain the gift of ubiquity lent to the Beast, likely to manifest itself almost at the same time, miles away.

Take, for example, the assault of April 22, 1765. The Beast attacks two young shepherds, but is repelled by a sturdy fellow armed with an axe. She flees and we see her join another smaller Beast who, on her arrival, sniffs her mouth and licks her lips. Unlike the wolf and the fox, the Beast of Gévaudan must have belonged to an uncommon species. It must also have been a solitary species, like bears and most felines.

But, however rare a top predator is, it does not grow like a mushroom. He must have had parents; which implies the existence of even micro-populations. Furthermore, all solitary predatory mammals live in pairs for a few days during the rut. And the Beast of Gevaudan had to meet a partner two or three times during the three years during which it perpetrated its ravages. I say "a" partner because we know the Beast was a male.

Should we conclude that one should not say "the" Beast of Gevaudan, but "the" Beasts of Gevaudan? I don't think so, for three reasons. First of all because the concomitant presence of two Beasts probably only occurred during very short periods, and at most two or three times during the three years concerned.

Then because we would come up against the inescapable historical fact; namely that the killings ceased from June 19, 1767, the date on which Jean Chastel shot down "the" Beast, that is to say "one only" animal. Finally, because over time the Beast of Gevaudan has become a myth; and myths have the particularity of being unshakable.

But this mythical dimension, the Beast holds it for a good part of its uniqueness. By a phenomenon of mythification inherent in our nature and so deeply rooted in our psyche that it takes precedence over the rational, we dream it unique this Beast endowed of demonic powers, capable on her own of spreading terror over a territory covering the area of three departments; to arise everywhere at the same time; to avoid all traps; to escape all the hunts; to thwart armies of hunters and touts (20,000 men for the single hunt of February 7, 1765 and nearly 40,000 for that of February 11); to hold in check all the king's envoys; only to end up being shot down by a single man, blasted with a single bullet; a ball molded in lead from a Marian medal and blessed by Father Prolhac, archpriest of Mende.

There is in the story told in this way a hieratic dimension that it would be sacrilegious to deflower. The Beast must remain unique, as were unique, in a way drawn from a single copy, the monsters of the Fable defeated by the heroes and by the knights. So let's respect the myth and keep talking about "the" Beast of Gevaudan. But one can be passionate about both mythology and zoology and, from the perspective of the latter discipline, argue that sporadically and, as noted above, for very brief periods, two Beasts worked at the same time. If we adhere to the hypothesis put forward by Pascal Cazottes, the possibility of the simultaneous, but sporadic, presence of two Beasts makes sense.

It is refuted by Michel Louis. But Michel Louis is so motivated by his plea in favor of wolves, that he attaches himself to it as much as to the attempt to identify the Beast. However, if one admits the existence of two (or even several) Beasts, the wolf will immediately take in the mind of the public the first place among the suspects. Which, by the way, is totally absurd; because, in view of the aberrant behavior of the Beast, if the formula "Beast of Gevaudan" actually covered several predators, there is a much greater chance that it was a group of feral dogs than a herd of wolves.

Michel Louis traced the routes of the Beast for five of the deadliest days, during which it manifested itself in several localities. And it demonstrates that such runs can be done in the time required by any large canine in good physical condition. He is right; It's entirely possible. But it is even more so if, during some of these days (not necessarily all) two predators raged at the same time.

Another topic of reflection: it seems that the Beast (or one of the Beasts if there were several) was trained to attack man. Attacks on domestic animals can be counted on the fingers of one hand, while those on human beings far exceed a hundred. In general, the large predatory mammals show themselves to be in favor of the least effort; what our candid ecologists seem to ignore, who had not considered the consequences on livestock of the reintroduction of the wolf.

Why indeed embark on the exhausting pursuit of a deer or a deer, or face the combativeness of a wild boar, when it is so easy to seize a sheep. But we are dealing here with a predator that the cattle seem to leave indifferent, and which gives the impression of considering the man as a prey of predilection. Note in particular the attack of April 8, 1765, during which the Beast, to reach a shepherdess, makes his way through a flock of sheep, without doing them the slightest harm, and contenting himself with pushing them out of his way by the sheer force of his muzzle; while any "known" predator would simply grab the nearest sheep.

This type of behavior irresistibly evokes that of a shark, which, emerging in the middle of a crowd of swimmers, will set its sights on one of them, and on him alone. And if the chosen victim manages to escape him, he will pursue it without paying attention to the other people, who all however constitute potential prey, and who paradoxically at this precise moment are in no danger.

Such behavior was enacted by Steven Spielberg in Jaws, where we see the great white shark, somehow obsessed with its chosen prey, passing within a yard of Brody's son, petrified with horror, exactly as if he didn't even notice her presence. But the Beast of Gévaudan was not a shark; it was a terrestrial predatory mammal.

It is therefore quite naturally to that of a terrestrial predatory mammal that we tend to compare its behavior. There is a similar case which hit the headlines a little less than thirty years ago; that of the Beast of the Vosges on which I will come back. The case lasted less than ten months and the toll rose to 300 domestic animals attacked (not to mention wild animals; deer and deer); but no human being was attacked.

Certainly the hypothesis of a domestic animal, or a wild animal "impregnated", trained to attack man, seems the most convincing. And it would be, if the Beast of Gevaudan were a unique case. But there was in 1632/33 the Beast of Calvados (30 people killed); in 1655 the Beasts of Gâtinais (300 people killed); in 1669 the Beast of the Forest of Fontainebleau (150 people killed); in 1693/94 the Beast of Benais (72 people killed); in 1731/34 the Beast of Auxerrois (28 people killed) … etc …

Can we reasonably maintain, as Pascal Cazottes points out, that in all these cases of Mysterious Beasts, it was about domestic animals or impregnated wild animals, trained to attack man? Of course, it is quite possible that the reports only mention human victims and neglect to mention the depredations committed on livestock.

However, it is clear that in all these cases of mysterious beasts, the attacks on human beings were incomparably more numerous than in the (most often collective) depredations perpetrated by identifiable and "habitual" predators, such as wolves. Should we think that they were animals belonging to a species for which man was, if not a staple food, at least a favorite prey? And that consequently the Beast of Gévaudan would not have been exactly trained to attack man, but that whoever was guiding it would only have exacerbated a natural tendency?

These three years of terror, carnage and desolation, which ravaged Gévaudan, irresistibly evoke the sinister shadow of the "man-eater", an inescapable sidekick in the tales of exploration of our childhood, and the myth of the tiger which, having once tasted human flesh, will then turn away from all other flesh.

Somewhat arbitrarily we can divide the man-eaters (lions, tigers and leopards) into two categories. First of all, there are old animals, having partly lost their strength, vivacity and endurance; sometimes also disabled as a result of injury. And for these it is incomparably easier to attack a human being (especially if it is a woman or a child) than to force a deer or a gazelle to run.

Furthermore, for carnivores with loose teeth (sometimes even partially toothless), human skin is infinitely easier to tear than the leather of buffaloes, zebras and antelopes. But there are also many reports of lions, tigers and leopards, not weakened by age or diminished by injury, which had somehow specialized in attacking human beings.

To cite just one example, the famous man-eating lions of Tsavo which in 1898 caused havoc among railway construction workers before being shot by Colonel Patterson, were vigorous animals in strength. of age. Although more numerous than is generally thought, lions, tigers and leopards converted to cannibalism nevertheless constitute a minority. It is the work of a few individuals; while it seems that cannibalism was the rule in the species to which belonged the Beast of Gevaudan and the Mysterious Beasts which were at the origin of fifteen similar cases.

This obviously leads us to an attempt to identify the Beast. And, if one admits that it was trained to attack man and remotely controlled, the problem is twofold: to identify the animal, which is the responsibility of the zoologist; identify the one or those who distorted it (and who are the real culprits of a hundred murders), which is the responsibility of the historian.

Although only the zoological aspect of the problem is the subject of this text, it seems appropriate to say a few words about the two authors who have provided an explanation where zoology (at least "classical" zoology) takes no place. These two authors are Abbé Pourcher and Doctor Puech. For Father Pourcher, the Beast was not an animal belonging to a specific species, but a unique monster, sent by Heaven to punish the inhabitants of the region for their sins.

It must be believed that in Gévaudan and Auvergne there was much more fishing than in the rest of France; moreover, when one considers that half of the victims were children, one can wonder if the divine punishment was not somewhat misguided. Let's not be too severe with Father Pourcher; after all his book, "Histoire de la Bête du Gévaudan, veritable scourge of God", published in 1889, and which is a cobblestone of more than a thousand pages, constitutes in a way the Bible on the question and has saved many researchers who followed by getting lost in forests of archives. For Doctor Puech, "What was the Beast of Gevaudan?"  (1910), it's quite simple: the Beast never existed. The murders were the work of a sadistic madman, assisted by accomplices who, to deceive them, decked themselves out in animal skins.

That one can state such enormities without laughing is beyond the understanding. Because the Beast not only killed more than a hundred people, it injured about forty others, who only escaped because they were rescued in extremis, and who escaped at the cost of terrible injuries, sometimes mutilation. And, during these three years, among those who were attacked as among those who rescued them by putting the Beast to flight, none would have noticed that the aggressor was not an animal, but a human being.

A human being who moreover must have been endowed with singular jaws, if one takes into consideration the seriousness of the bites which in certain cases proved fatal in several victims torn from the Beast. When we know that Doctor Puech was associate professor at the University of Medicine of Montpellier, we can imagine what a prodigious emulator of the Diafoirus father and son he could have inspired Molière.

Certainly I advanced higher than during these three bloody years had probably appeared a human being dressed as an animal. The fact remains that in the overwhelming majority of attacks, as hundreds of testimonies attest, the aggressor was an animal. Attempting to identify the Beast has given rise to a dozen hypotheses. When we have eliminated those that are inadmissible (big cat, glutton, big baboon, when it is not an anthropoid ape), remain in contention among the known animals four candidates: the wolf, the bear, the great spotted hyena and a "wolf-dog" in the first sense of the term, that is a Canidae resulting from a cross between representatives of the two species.

The wolf hypothesis (supported by François Fabre, Xavier Pic, Jacques Delperrie de Bayac, Guy Grouzet and Félix Buffière) is not credible. And this for only one reason: hundreds of testimonies affirm that it was not a wolf. However, these testimonies come from local inhabitants, accustomed to seeing wolves all year round, as well as to defending their livestock against them. Moreover, Martin Denneval, great wolf keeper of France, who was said to have 1,200 wolves on his hunting list, had acquired the conviction that the Beast was not a wolf, and never departed from it thereafter.

Even less credible than the wolf hypothesis is the bear hypothesis. For if the Beast differed from the wolf, it differed from the bear even more. Furthermore, as Pascal Cazottes and several authors before him have pointed out, bears hibernate. But the Beast raged throughout the year, regardless of the changing seasons. There are two versions of the great spotted hyena hypothesis. The first invokes a hyena that would have escaped from one of the traveling menageries stationed in Beaucaire at the time of the fair. If the Beast had been a hyena, it could only have been a great spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and not a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) or a brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea).

A large wild predatory mammal (spotted hyena or other), born in captivity, therefore accustomed to man and not fearing him, brutally transferred to nature in adulthood, could it have the behavior of not attacking what about man? I think it's not unimaginable. But in any case the candidacy of the hyena is not admissible, since the animal killed by Jean Chastel had 42 teeth and hyenas have only 34, sometimes even only 32.

The second version of the hyena deserves our full attention, because it is supported by Gérard Ménatory, a seasoned mammalogist and field naturalist. A great connoisseur of wolves (he had raised a hundred of them in semi-freedom in the park he had created in Lozère), he devoted two excellent books to them: "La vie des loups" (1969) and "Le Loup, du Mythe à la réalité" (1987). Between the two, in 1984, he published his book on the Beast of Gévaudan.

And this book is, unless I am mistaken, the first on the subject written by an author with solid zoological knowledge. Just as much as Michel Louis (even more perhaps) Gérard Ménatory has set himself the goal of rehabilitating the wolf. But, while Michel Louis' book is a model of clarity, that of Gérard Ménatory suffers from a somewhat confused construction.

The author endeavors to demonstrate that the Beast was a large spotted hyena, brought back from North Africa by Antoine Chastel and trained by the latter to attack man; a hypothesis that he borrows from one of his predecessors, Abel Chevalley, whose book, in its first edition, had been published nearly half a century earlier (1936). Gérard Ménatory is well aware that the animal shot by Jean Chastel in the wood of Tenazeyre could not have been a hyena; which leads him to support his hypothesis by developing a scenario whose extrapolations sometimes border on bad faith. This scenario is as follows:

Let's take a look at the three storyline highlights:

1 - The animal shot by Jean Chastel in the wood of Tenazeyre is not the Beast, but a simple wolf. It cannot be the Beast (if we admit that it was a hyena), since its teeth are not those of a Hyaenid. But, when Gérard Ménatory affirms that it was a wolf, he places himself in contradiction with the report established, in the presence of the animal's corpse, by Maître Marin, royal notary and bailiff of the Abbey of Chazes (report to which we will return later), as well as vis-à-vis the multiple testimonies of all those who had the opportunity to see the Beast, alive or dead. And if he persists in referring to the animal killed in the wood of Tenazeyre as a "wolf", it is to respect the scenario he has constructed and which wants the "real" Beast to have been killed. elsewhere, the same day, the day before or the next day. From this point of view, the animal of the wood of Tenazeyre had to be only the most banal of the predators likely to be encountered in France in the 18th century; i.e. the wolf.

2 - The "real" Beast, the hyena brought back from North Africa by Antoine Chastel, would therefore have been shot elsewhere around the same date. This assertion is completely gratuitous, and Gérard Ménatory does not have the shadow of a proof to support it.

3 - In the aftermath Jean Chastel also kills his son Antoine. But eleven years later, Antoine was still doing like a charm since, as the parish registers show, on January 28, 1778 he married a certain Catherine Charitat. For the record, he even gave birth to six children; which, on the part of a man who was said to have been castrated during his youth, constitutes an even more breathtaking feat than the dose of perversity which one must have to transform an animal which asked nothing of anyone, into a precursor to Remrick Williams, Jacques Vacher and Jack the Ripper.

One can also wonder by what aberration an author such as Gérard Ménatory, possessing solid knowledge in mammalogy and on carnivores in particular, was able to endorse the hypothesis of the hyena. For nothing in the great spotted hyena comes into conformity with the peculiarities underlined by the various descriptions of the Beast.

Look in profile at a great spotted hyena. His neck is long. Among the large fissipeds, it is one of the species in which the neck is proportionally the longest. While the Beast is described as having "a large and extremely short neck". In the spotted hyena (even more so than in the other two hyenas) the withers are raised; which implies a sloping dorsal line and makes the forelimbs appear longer than the hindquarters.

While the Beast is described as having "rather low front legs", or "...it is low in the front feet", as well as "It has the front feet much shorter than the hind ones". The legs of the spotted hyena (like those of the striped hyena) are plain runner's legs, like those of wolves and evoke speed more than power. Now the Beast is described as having "very strong paws with claws the length of a finger", or "extremely broad paws armed with fearsome claws", or paws "as strong as those of a bear. ". The tail of the spotted hyena is short, shorter and less bushy than that of the other two hyenas.
Now all the descriptions agree in attributing to the Beast a long and very thick tail: "the tail extremely wide, bushy and long", or "the tail as long as that of a horse, very bushy", or even "the tail as big as your arm".

We know that, among the victims of the Beast, about fifteen were decapitated. The formidable power of the spotted hyena's jaws is certainly quite capable of crushing human cervical vertebrae. However, are these jaws long enough to "fit a head" (to use Pascal Cazottes's formula) and perform a detachment?

We can doubt it. But Gérard Ménatory argues that the beheadings themselves were carried out by Antoine Chastel, when he was on the scene when the Beast killed. This is also the point of view of Michel Louis; which leads us to this author whose work, one of the most complete and most talented devoted to the Beast, was published in 1992 and reissued in 2001, when the film by Christophe Gans "The Pact of the Wolves". Like Gérard Ménatory, Michel Louis, founder of the Amneville animal park, is an experienced zoologist and field naturalist.

For him the Beast would result from the crossing of a wolf and a female dog; she would have been trained to attack the man by Antoine Chastel, himself paid by Viscount Jean-François-Charles de Morangiés, corrupt bogged down to the neck in depravity. Which makes us two sadists instead of one. "Sadists" before the letter moreover, since at the time of the Beast of Gevaudan the "divine marquis" had not yet raged in the field of literature.

Michel Louis endeavors among other things to elucidate the invulnerability of the Beast; particularity so embarrassing that some authors pass over it in silence and that Gérard Ménatory lets it be understood that he takes it for nonsense. According to Michel Louis the Beast wore a cuirass of boar skin; hypothesis that had been put forward by Raymond-François Dubois in his book "Life and Death of the Beast of Gévaudan" (1988).

Explanation which has nothing implausible; and when Gérard Ménatory writes "This strange Beast seemed to be wearing a bulletproof vest", he loses sight of the fact that, from Antiquity until the 16th century, war dogs were used which actually wore a cuirass. This type of breastplate protects the back and sides, but not the head or chest. When the Beast was struck in the side with a bayonet thrust, the blade did not penetrate. Unlike the Beast of the Vosges which was always systematically missed, even by snipers, the Beast of Gévaudan suffered around fifteen shots.

Each time she felt the impact by tumbling or rolling, then got up and continued on her way. And we can notice that, when she was repelled with a bladed weapon, it was only when the blows struck the face or the chest. And it was indeed on the chest that on August 11, 1765 she received the famous bayonet thrust, which for a time was thought to have been fatal. But was it really the Beast that the heroic Marie-Jeanne Vallet wounded that day?

As for Jean Chastel's shotgun, it was fired from the front and, according to the observation of surgeon Antoine Boulanger, "the bullet pierced the neck, cut the trachea artery and broke the left shoulder". But anyway during this day of June 19, 1767, the Beast, for a mysterious reason which will perhaps still cause a lot of ink to flow, was not wearing his cuirass.

Michel Louis's book is, I repeat, one of the best among those devoted to the enigma of Gévaudan. And he would carry the conviction, were it not that he omits to treat the other cases of mysterious beasts; or more exactly that he only takes them into consideration in the context of his intention to exonerate the wolves. Let's temporarily leave aside the question of the cuirass, which very probably only the Beast of Gévaudan wore.

If we retain the hypothesis of Michel Louis, according to which the Beast was the product of a cross between a wolf and a female dog, we find ourselves faced with a problem analogous to that posed by the animal trained to attack man. . Can we reasonably admit that in all cases of Mysterious and Cannibalistic Beasts, they were crosses between dogs and wolves? This is where the shoe pinches and it is on this point that Pascal Cazottes' book is fundamentally different from all those that have preceded it.

And I would readily incline to think that the key to the enigma (I mean the zoological enigma; that is to say, the identification of the Beast) is found partly in Pascal Cazottes' book and partly part in that of Michel Louis. Pascal Cazottes advances the hypothesis of an animal species not listed by Science (at least in the living state); a large predator who would naturally be inclined to see in man a prey of predilection. This species would be at the origin of the various cases of the Mysterious Beasts, which for centuries have sporadically hit the headlines and have been reported by multiple cases of human aggression and cannibalism.

The Beast of Gevaudan would have belonged to this species, its natural propensity to attack man would have been exacerbated by the one who impregnated it and then released it into Nature. Alone among all these Beasts, the Beast of Gévaudan would have been remote-controlled and only she would have worn a cuirass (hypothesis proposed by Raymond-François Dubois and taken up by Michel Louis). You can impregnate a wolf, so why not any other carnivorous mammal. You can armor a dog of war, so why not any other carnivorous mammal.

Why did none of the authors of monographs on the Beast of Gévaudan who preceded Pascal Cazottes think of the hypothesis of a specifically unknown animal? Because everyone treated this zoological enigma as a unique case.

Those who cited analogous cases did so, either purely anecdotally (Félix Buffière); or through the use of an approach carried out in parallel with the attempt to identify the Beast: the rehabilitation of the wolf (Gérard Ménatory, Michel Louis). A little on the margins are Jean-Jacques Barloy and Jean-Paul Ronecker, in the sense that neither of these two authors has (at least until now) written a monograph on the Beast of Gévaudan. Each of the two has published several books designed in the form of panoramas of animal enigmas, ranging from the yeti to the sea serpent, passing by the survival of the dinosaurs and the megalodon.

In this perspective they quite naturally encountered the Beast of Gevaudan, and both cite as analogous cases the beasts of Auxerrois, Vivarais, Calvados, etc., but without considering a synthesis tending to make all these animals representatives of the same species; a species unknown in the living state to official zoology

In a book designed from the same perspective as those of Jean-Jacques Barloy and Jean-Paul Ronecker, Richard Nolane speaks of the Beast of Gévaudan as a unique case, and advances an explanation modeled on that proposed by Michel Louis. In their book "Mythical and Monstrous Animals", Eric de Goutel and Yves Verbeek also consider the Beast of Gevaudan as a unique case. And they conclude the chapter they devote to him in the following way: “No one ever quite knew what the Beast was; possibly a descendant of the wolf-hyenas of prehistoric times."

Nothing is more irritating than these hollow formulas which consist in having the air of saying a lot, by stating in a tone of contentment a platitude which is intended to be rich in innuendo. What exactly do Eric de Goutel and Yves Verbeek mean by "Wolves-hyenas"? And if the Beast was a "descendant" of some kind from "prehistoric times" (another most vague formula), it surely did not come down there by the operation of the Holy Spirit. The existence of a single individual necessarily implies that of an unbroken line of progenitors from those famous "prehistoric times" until the second half of the 18th century; and consequently the existence of micro-populations. In a word, the existence of an unreferenced species. So why not go to the end of the reasoning?

The question is also distorted by the fact that the Beast of Gevaudan affair is the only one on which we have significant documentation and detailed reports. Whereas what we know of other analogous cases is far too succinct to provide material for a book.

It is therefore naturally tempting, as well as quite legitimate, to write "only" about the Beast of Gevaudan. But it should be known that by acting thus one occults the true zoological dimension of the problem; and that one runs the risk of falling into the same type of error as those who speak as a unique case of the enigma of the Loch Ness Monster; while similar animals have been reported not only from other Scottish lochs, but also from lakes in Ireland, Scandinavia and North America, as well as lake systems in the southern hemisphere, and of course in the oceans. The authors, who treated the zoological enigma posed by the Beast of Gevaudan as an isolated case, attempted to identify "an individual"; it being understood that the individual in question could only belong to a known species.

While placing the enigma of Gévaudan in the context of fifteen similar cases, Pascal Cazottes tried to identify "a species". This is the reason why his book is, as indicated above, fundamentally different from those of other authors. This is also the reason why his approach comes under cryptozoology; which is not the case with any of its predecessors.

"It may be a wolf, but in living memory you've never seen a wolf made like that." Such could be summarized, marked in the corner of popular common sense, the opinion of the inhabitants of Auvergne and Gévaudan, having had the opportunity to contemplate the animal slaughtered by Jean Chastel. Opinion corroborated by Master Marin who, with the same common sense, noted in a tasty formula that the animal really resembled a wolf "only from the tail and from behind".

Let us first note with some surprise (not to say some disappointment) that the Beast, which the succession of its bloody exploits made us imagine under the aspect of a real monster, is far from reaching a phenomenal size. . Its length from nose to tip of tail was 3 feet, 8 inches (1 meter 19cm). His height at the withers of 2 feet, 5 inches (78 centimeters) and weight of 109 pounds. But there is no lack of wolves exceeding this weight and these dimensions.

From the observations recorded by Master Marin (who specifies in passing that the Beast was of the male sex), to which are added those of other witnesses, we can first of all note five particularities "... the cinnabar-colored eyes present a singular membrane starting from the lower part of the orbit and coming at the whim of the animal to cover the globe of the eye" The color of the coat is predominantly reddish. “…the ribs are arranged in such a way that they allowed the Beast to turn easily, whereas the ribs of the wolves, obliquely placed, did not allow them this facility. “…the head is monstrous. The mouth opening is 7 inches (19 centimeters), the jaw is 6 inches (16 centimeters) … the paws are armed with large nails, much longer than those of ordinary wolves. The legs are very large, especially those in front. »

1 - The first of these observations concerns an ocular membrane that Master Marin describes as "singular". It can only be the nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, of which our species retains a remnant, in the form of a small wattle at the internal angle of the eye. Present in several classes of vertebrates, as different as chondrichthyans and birds, the nictitating membrane is also found in several orders of mammals, carnivores in particular.
It is therefore not surprising that the Beast was provided with it. The post-mortem muscle relaxation had probably partially deployed it.

2 - The second observation (the reddish coat) is more surprising; and this color would be unusual if the Beast had been a wolf. Unusual, but not implausible. A wolf could be affected by erythrism, or rufinism (predominantly red coat) which, less common than melanism (predominantly black coat) and leukemism (predominantly white coat), is nevertheless found in fissipeds. Erythrism is relatively common in baribal bears and has been found in tigers. But like anyway, the Beast was not a wolf...

3 - The third observation, relating to the coasts, is far too vague to allow analysis. It could only be considered if the Beast had been dissected and compared to a wolf skeleton. In spite of its vagueness, however, it corroborates the other remarks of Master Sailor and all those who have been able to observe the Beast, alive or dead; namely, that she was not "made" as a wolf. It is the same with the last two observations: the monstrous appearance of the head and the power of the forelimbs. Taken in isolation, these characteristics are not very decisive; but taken together, they sketch the portrait of an animal which differs from all that we know of the mammalian fauna of Western Europe.

What the Beast of Gévaudan was, the witnesses of the time did not know (as we still do not know). Unable to say what it was, they therefore, on the contrary, said what it was not. Our mind works in such a way that we are unable to describe an animal that is unknown to us, other than by referring to animals that are known to us. And, as among all the animals known to the inhabitants of Auvergne and Gévaudan in the 18th century, it was the wolf that the Beast was closest to, it is quite naturally by emphasizing what differentiated it that they tried to paint a portrait of it.

All things considered, to attempt to identify the Beast more than two centuries after the events, we only have from the point of view of systematics two significant pieces of information. One was found on the corpse of the animal killed by Jean Chastel; it is the teeth. The other results from behavioral observations of the Beast in the living state; the ability to straighten up on the hind limbs to fight or to enter a body of water.

Which leads to think that she was semi-plantigrade. Of these two pieces of information, authors prior to Pascal Cazottes generally retained only the first; in particular the proponents of the wolf hypothesis, who have made teeth their hobbyhorse. But the second information is just as revealing, and it is on the addition of the two that Pascal Cazottes built his analysis. Let's see these two pieces of information; and first of all the teeth. Not only do we know that the animal killed by Jean Chastel had 42 teeth, but we also know the details of the dental formula.

The minutes drawn up by Maître Marin indicate; “The upper jaw is lined with 6 incisors, 2 large strips and 6 molars on each side, or 20 teeth. The lower jaw is furnished with 22 teeth, namely 6 incisors, 2 strips similar to the upper ones and 7 molars on each side. »

Knowing that the term "thongs" refers to the canines and that in the 18th century we did not distinguish the premolars from the molars, from the dental formula described by Master Marin we can automatically exclude the Beast from any other family of fissipedes. than ursids and canids. Felidae have 30 teeth, sometimes only 28; hyaenids 34, sometimes only 32; mustelids 34, 36 or 38; procyonids 36 or 38; the viverrids 40. The 42-tooth set is the prerogative of ursids and most canids, with the exception of a few very specific species such as the dhole, the bush dog and the otocyon.

Now let's look at semi-plantigrady. Terrestrial carnivorous mammals can be:

     • digitigrade

     • semi-digitigrade

     • semi-plantigrade

     • plantigrades.

When we try to distribute in this diagram the seven families of fissipedes currently represented, it appears that Felidae, Canidae and Hyaenidae are all digitigrade, and that Ursidae are all plantigrade.

With regard to the other three families, the ranking is far from being so clear. Mustelids and procyonids include semi-plantigrades and plantigrades in their ranks; as for the viverrids, within their diversity they bring together the four options. About these four options, mammalogists use the term "pace"; and rightly so, because the four formulas stated above designate both the gait and the conformation of the legs.

Gait and conformation which themselves are linked to a certain number of factors, such as the partial or total retraction of the claws, or their non-retraction, or even exceptionally the presence of webbing (Lutrinés). In the mustelids, the procyonids and especially the viverrids, the gait is more a specific characteristic than a family one, especially since these three groups include a number of arboreal species which do not adopt the same type of progression when they move. on a horizontal branch and when walking on the ground.
This is particularly the case of the largest and most unusual of the viverrids, the East Asian binturong which, because of its prehensible tail, was first classified among the procyonids. In addition, in some species the distinction between semi-digitigrady and semi-plantigrady turns out to be so dubious that several authors have come to consider the two terms as interchangeable.

To show itself capable of standing up on its hind limbs and, in this attitude, fighting or entering a body of water, the Beast could only be semi-plantigrade.

However, there are two ways for fissipedes to be semi-plantigrade: The semi-plantigrady practiced by mustelids and procyonids, which consists in not resting the posterior end of the palm and sole on the ground. Semi-plantigrady, practiced by some contemporary viverrids (palm civets, nandinia) and by some terminal forms of saber-toothed fawns (Homotherium), which only involves the hind legs; the anterior being digitigrade or semi-digitigrade. Whatever the semi-plantigrady specific to the species to which the Beast of Gévaudan belonged, it could not concern either the known contemporary canids (all digitigrade); nor the known contemporary ursids (all totally plantigrade). We are therefore in the presence of an incompatibility between the conformation of the limbs and the teeth.

Since zoology offered no solution to the problem, Pascal Cazottes turned to paleontology, surmising that the "culprit" might be a member of a family (or subfamily) considered officially extinct. In the bibliography of his book he quotes the Traite de Paléontologie published under the direction of Piveteau (Tome VI, volume 1), and it is indeed in this work, whose chapter dealing with carnivores was written by Pr. -even, that we meet the track.

It is located within a nursery of forms, whose multiplicity and aptitude for ramification the author underlines, and is revealed in the group of "dog-bears" (Amphicyonines and hemicyonines), among which Pascal Cazottes proposes the genus hemicyon, offering the characteristics that come closest to what we know of the Beast of Gévaudan. The reconstruction he presents in his book is distinguished from a painting by wildlife artist Graham Allen.

A reproduction of this painting appears in the collective work "Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals", published in London in 1988; a French version of which was published by Bordas in 1990, under the title "Les animaux préhistoriques". We can take it for almost exact, since the genus hemicyon is known by almost complete fossils.

Let's look at the animal reconstructed by Graham Allen. Note his figure as a long-distance runner; its massive head and powerful, elongated jaws, large enough to "fit a human head" and probably to perform a detachment without the assistance of anyone to fine-tune the operation; its muscular neck, its compact chest and its robust legs whose front ones are shorter than the hind ones. So many features that are found in the descriptions of the Beast, through the multiple testimonies. Only one point bothers me: the conformation of the hind legs, digitigrade or at most semi-digitigrade.

An animal of this size, capable of standing up in a bipedal position, should have hind limbs of a conformation that is at least semi-plantigrade, and consequently a calcaneum located much lower. If, as Pascal Cazottes suggests, the Beast of Gévaudan did belong to the genus Hemicyon, it must have belonged to a species more committed to plantigrady than the one reconstituted by Graham Allen; a species that Paleontology has perhaps not yet discovered. After all, an animal species unknown to science in the living state is not necessarily known in the fossil state.

Can we consider within the same genus, digitigrade species and semi-plantigrade species? Without a doubt; hasn't the genus Homotherium produced both fully digitigrade species and others in which only the forelimbs are digitigrade, while the hindlimbs are plantigrade. It is obviously regrettable that Master Marin in his report does not mention any peculiarity about the articulation of the hind legs.

Ichnology remains. At first glance, what it teaches us would rather invalidate the preceding proposition. The footprints left by the Beast turn out to be barely different from those of wolves, and therefore suggest a digitigrade animal. There is, however, a clue which, although very tenuous, asks me not to be overlooked. Among the personalities, who lived through the drama of Gévaudan and left testimony to it, we meet Canon Ollier, parish priest of Lorcières.

In a letter addressed to the Intendant of Auvergne, Ballainvilliers, Canon Ollier had attached a 6-inch (16 centimeter) long strip of paper on which he had written "Length of the footprint of the monster. Quod vidi testor. (I attest to what I have seen). A length of 16 centimeters is certainly a respectable size footprint. And Father François Fabre, supporter of the wolf hypothesis, suggests in his book "The Beast of Gévaudan in Auvergne", that Ollier took his measurements "on a past where the animal would have slipped".

One could no doubt agree with Abbé Fabre's opinion if, moreover, in his description of the Beast, Canon Ollier had not mentioned the following passage "... the hind feet higher than the front ones, without claws, give almost no imprint, except like a kind of heel...".

That the hind legs are devoid of claws is of course unlikely; the fact remains that these few lines emphasize the particularity of their conformation by alluding to a heel that leaves an imprint. What if the 6-inch-long footprint matched that of the hind leg, from the end of the finger pads to that of the sole of the foot? With a seat of 16 centimeters, a Fissipede of the size and weight of the animal killed by Jean Chastel, would be quite capable of straightening up vertically.

In this attitude a Fissipede, measuring 97 centimeters from the nose to the birth of the tail and 78 centimeters high at the withers (report of the Master Marine) and whose foot length would be 16 centimeters (testimony of Canon Ollier), would reach a height of about 1 meter 50. Does this evaluation corroborate the report of another witness, Father Trocellier, parish priest of Aumont who mentions: "... the Beast stands up on its two hind legs, and, in this position she jokes about with her two front paws, for then she seems the height of a man of mediocre height. The formula "of medium height" is obviously quite vague, and to appreciate it one would need to know the average height of the inhabitants of the region in the 18th century.

That a species, belonging to the subfamily Hemicyonines (considered extinct in the Pleistocene), survived in Western Europe until the 18th century, would not be very surprising for those who are somewhat familiar with the history of zoology.

It may very well still survive today in the form of micro-populations under the nose and beard of official science; who can say to which species belonged the animal encountered twice in the Var in 1966? And the Canadian "Waheela" that Pascal Cazottes mentions (which I had never heard of and found out about in his book) may be a hemicyonine. Paleontologists have determined several species of hemicyon, one of which, hemicyon ursinus, lived in North America.

Pascal Cazottes' book should be a milestone in the history of literature devoted to the Beast of Gévaudan. For he does not content himself with adding one more attempt at an explanation to all those which have already been put forward. By considering the survival of an animal species thought to be extinct, a species to which not only the Beast of Gévaudan would belong but also the various unidentified Beasts which sporadically over the centuries have sown terror in our countryside, he breathes into the enigma a cryptozoological dimension. This book should create a certain emulation, by opening a field of investigation which until now had not been exploited, nor even envisaged.

And the authors of the future, who in turn will face the problem, will have to take it into account; that they agree with Pascal Cazottes' point of view, or that conversely they see themselves forced to establish an argument capable of refuting it. There is one point, however, on which I do not share the opinion of Pascal Cazottes, when he proposes in his conclusion to plunge the Beast back into the oblivion of the past and let it sleep. It is certainly not appropriate to let the Beast sleep; which is only fair, since she herself prevents us from sleeping.

On the contrary, we should continue to search, and to search again, taking as our motto the precept bequeathed to us by this marvelous writer of prodigious culture, Marcel Brion: "It's not what we are that counts, but what we are looking for. »



The year 1977 was a prosperous year in France for lovers of animal puzzles. In the spring, a translation of the monograph devoted to the Loch Ness Monster by Nicholas Witchell was published almost in quick succession; and a translation of the book on lake monsters by Peter Costello, presented and prefaced by Bernard Heuvelmans. Then in the fall appeared "The Monsters of Loch Ness and Elsewhere" by Jean Berton.

But the "Unusual Bestiary" did not only manifest itself through book production and the flowering of aquatic monsters; he also made the headlines of the sensational press, by creating in a sheep-breeding region, which moreover would have done without it, an impudent quadruped running through woods and fields and which, between March 28 and the December 15, slaughtered nearly 300 head of cattle, and defeated all attempts to kill or capture it, before disappearing as mysteriously as it had appeared. Because the year 1977 was also the year of the Beast of the Vosges.

The essential, capital difference between the Beast of Gévaudan and the Beast of the Vosges is that the latter never attacked a human being. For the rest, two centuries apart, the situation is almost identical. The same biotope where the difficulties of the terrain and the rigor of the winters oppose insurmountable obstacles to the beaten paths: on the one hand the chaotic relief of Gévaudan which disconcerted men such as Duhamel and Denneval, accustomed to maneuvering in the plains; on the other hand the compact, almost impenetrable vastness of the Vosges mountains. The same diabolical propensity of the animal to thwart all the traps, to escape all the hunts, to cover considerable distances in record time to emerge and strike where it is least expected.

Same aberrant behavior resulting in massacres out of proportion to the food needs of a predator reaching at most the size of a large dog. And perhaps in addition, another common point; it is not unlikely that the Beast of the Vosges was also trained and manipulated. In his book "Les survivants de l'Ombre", Jean-Jacques Barloy writes: "It is possible that the Beast obeyed an ultrasonic whistle, or was guided by means of an apparatus placed in the ears. Gaston Picard, if he does not go that far, nevertheless clearly suggests that he does not rule out the hypothesis of a manipulated animal.

Having worked for more than thirty years in the Vosges as a teacher of agricultural techniques and a specialist in animal genetics, Gaston Picard published in 1989 a monograph on the Beast of the Vosges, in which he recounts, with the precision of goldsmith, the whole business from day to day, and sometimes hour by hour. To do this, he went through all the archives and questioned more than 400 witnesses.

Unfortunately his book (released by Editions "La Nuée Bleue") was published 12 years after the events, which in the meantime had sunk into oblivion, and went practically unnoticed.

If in the 18th century it was not possible as it is today to receive almost any significant event live, the news did not circulate less.

They even circulated a little too much for the taste of Louis XV, who would have done without the mockery of our neighbors across the Channel. An English newspaper had indeed published an article according to which the French countryside was haunted by such monsters that one of them, in the country of Gévaudan, had single-handedly routed an army of 120,000 men, of which he had devoured one-fifth of the effectives and, for good measure, also swallowed up the artillery pieces.

We too often forget that with the Beast of Gevaudan, Louis XV was not at his first "Devouring Beast", as they said at the time. In 1731, when he was only a young 21-year-old monarch, he had been confronted with the affair of the Beast of Auxerre, and had notified the mayor of Auxerre to pay a bonus of 200 pounds who would kill the animal.

As with the Beast of Gévaudan, hunts had been organized (although on a much smaller scale), which ended in failure. As with the Beast of Gévaudan, the affair had lasted three years; but she did not meet her abbé Pourcher, to trace the chronicle. And as with the Beast of the Vosges, the animal disappeared one fine day and we heard no more of it.

La beast of Auxerrois left few traces in the archives; so little that most authors cite it only as a reminder and some do not even mention it. It was not so for the Beast of Gevaudan; and if no French newspaper sank into the questionable humor of the English press, the Gazette de France and the Courrier d'Avignon none the less reported the attacks and the murders in all their atrocity. At that time the splendours of Versailles and the maintenance of the king's mistresses were incomparably less well accepted by the people than during the preceding reign.
And that a monarch, whose way of life wasted so much money, was not big enough to put an end to the scourge that was ravaging one of the regions of the kingdom, was quite badly felt. Simplism and Manichaeism are the indestructible recipes for maneuvering crowds of all eras, whatever their nationality, religion or ethnicity. And from the beginning of the year 1765 the affair took on the image of a duel between the Beast and the King of France.

It was at this time that Louis XV set the amount of the bounty promised to the man who would kill the Beast at 10,000 pounds (50 times more than that which had been promised for the Beast of Auxerre). Note in passing that Jean Chastel who was this man, never saw the color of the premium. On September 15, 1764, Captain Duhamel at the head of a detachment of dragoons entered the campaign on the orders of the Comte de Moncan, Governor of Languedoc.

The Comte de Moncan is the king's representative in this province; but he is only its representative. But from the beginning of 1765 those who will be responsible for measuring themselves against the Beast will no longer hold their mission from a local representative of the sovereign, but from the sovereign in person: Denneval, first wolf keeper of France, from February; and Beauterne, the king's arquebus holder, from June. After the successive failures of Duhamel and Denneval, de Beauterne no longer had the right to fail: the king's honor was at stake.

And, for the king's honor to be safe, the great wolf slaughtered on September 21 will have to be the Beast at all costs. Now, as everyone knows, Antoine de Beauterne's great wolf was not the Beast; and the abuses continued for more than a year and a half, until June 19, 1767. But officially the king had won and the Beast was dead.

And from then on the Gazette de France and the Courrier d'Avignon (which had moreover announced the triumph of Antoine de Beauterne) spoke of it no more, having received orders not to allude to it any more. In the days of Voltaire and Beaumarchais, absolute monarchy shone with its last flames; but these fires were still strong enough to suppress the press.

The journalistic attitude in 1977, for different from that adopted in 1766-67, was not more honourable. We were at a time when news travels quickly, where one news item drives out another and where readers quickly get tired of repetitive information. But what could be more tedious than, for ten months in a row, encountering every morning at the opening of your newspaper, while dipping your croissant in your café crème, this interminable litany of slaughtered sheep. Rural people, even indirectly, felt more or less concerned; but the townspeople...

Continuing to talk about the case without tiring the reader, such was the challenge to "the abominable venality of the press", to use Léon Daudet's word. The sensational titles of the articles having become hackneyed, the tabloids undertook to change their tone by republishing the pamphleteering style adopted by their counterparts across the Channel two centuries earlier. Under the pen of the service scribes, the Beast gradually took on the tinsel of mythological monsters, with great allusion to horror films, Polanski's « Dance of The Vampires » in particular.

And the Vosges forest gradually metamorphosed into the lugubrious sylve of Transylvania over which hangs the shadow of Dracula. From then on, to complete the imposture, all that remained was to lower the inhabitants of the region to the low water level of this "Peasant of the Danube" to whom La Fontaine devoted one of his fables. This was done in an article published in L'Express on November 21, 1977, from which the following passage is taken: have lived apart for a long time, marginalized in short, who have reactions identical to those of two hundred years ago.

Besides their intrinsic stupidity, these few lines testify to the incorrigible propensity to systematically take problems upside down. For it was not a question of a rural population which, faced with a de facto situation, showed "reactions identical to those of two hundred years ago"; but of a de facto situation which, two hundred years apart, was renewed in the same way. Situation that can be defined as follows: intrusion into a semi-forest, semi-pastoral region of an elusive predator with aberrant behavior, sowing devastation in its path.

This predator finds refuge in the forest environment, which opposes almost insurmountable natural obstacles to the hunts, and which at the same time offers it a biotope in which it is as much in its element as a fish in water. It should be added to this that the Beast of the Vosges was endowed with exceptional speed, endurance, skill and cunning, even for a wolf, if indeed it was a wolf.

The obvious fact that no one wanted to see, precisely because it was obvious (or because it was too mortifying for our vanity), is that to fight such an animal "on its ground", we were also helpless. in the 20th century (and perhaps even more so) than the men of past centuries. This, on the other hand, could have been the subject of an article.

Twenty-six beats were organized against the Beast of the Vosges, totaling more than 1,800 men (game wardens, local hunters and others, gendarmerie, army, snipers).

Obviously this may seem derisory, compared to the hunts organized against the Beast of Gevaudan, of which, as we have seen, that of February 11, 1765 alone mobilized nearly 40,000 participants, and was, as Michel Louis recalls, the only time throughout history when the hunt for a single animal put so many people on a war footing.

But the principle remains the same; and the result too: failure all along the line in both cases. When one reads in quick succession the story of the hunt for the Beast of Gévaudan in the work of Michel Louis and that of the Beast of the Vosges in that of Gaston Picard, one can only be struck by a degree of similarity such that certain passages seem almost interchangeable.

These various adequations underline all the more a surprising paradox. The corps of the army and the gendarmerie, which participated in the hunt for the Beast of the Vosges, had in their ranks snipers, armed with advanced automatic weapons, equipped with a telescope.

However, whereas a dozen times the Beast of Gévaudan tumbled and rolled under the impact of a gunshot, the Beast of the Vosges was never touched. This is all the more surprising since the firearms used during the 1760s were rifles and flintlock pistols, almost always single-shot, rarely double-barrelled, requiring the use of a horn powder.

(The first percussion weapons were to appear only during the very last years of the 18th century).

Weapons therefore, the loading of which was laborious and the handling uncertain; the battery flap does not certainly prevent the powder poured into the pan from being blown away by a gust of wind or from losing its flammability under the action of rain or snow.

Weapons moreover very beautiful aesthetically speaking, to the point of being considered as works of art and to have become collector's items, but which, compared to contemporary weapons, lacked precision. In the 18th century there were certainly skillful shooters, but we cannot speak of sharpshooters… except of course in the novels of Fenimore Cooper.

Robert Dumont

Text presented here with the author's agreement, please respect it.

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