In 1764, a young woman herding cattle in Gevaudan, France, told the story of how she was attacked by a giant, fearsome beast. She reported that the beast charged towards her, but was only stopped by the bulls that defended her. The beast was described as being as big as a calf, with a large dog-like head with exposed very large fangs and dark reddish fur with black streaks. Not long after this story, a young boy living nearby was violently killed, with his throat torn out. The number of people attacked and killed by this mysterious beast grew and grew. The population of Gevaudan was terrified. No wolf or dog had been known to be as large as the beast reported by survivors, nor as vicious as this.
The story of the so-called “Beast of Gevaudan” was heard by Louis XV, who responded by dispatching professional wolf-hunters to Gevaudan to slay the beast. One of these men was called Francois Antoine – a veteran wolfhunter. Over the coming months, he hunted several large wolves, but the attacks continued.
On September 21, 1765, Antoine finally encountered the beast. It was a ferocious wolf-like animal, about 1.8m long and 70cm tall. Antoine shot it several times, in the eye, shoulder and side. The beast withstood the first couple of shots and finally fell to the ground after the third. But as Antoine and his colleagues cheered, the beast stood back up and charged Antoine. It took two more shots to finally slay the beast. Survivors of attacks were able to identify the beast as the true Beast of Gevaudan. The beast was embalmed and stuffed for display and the populace of Gevaudan celebrated the end of the terror, with Antoine being celebrated as a hero and expert wolfslayer.
However, the story did not end there. Attacks continued for years even after the Wolf of Chazes was slain. The ultimate end to the story is credited to a hunter named Jean Chastel, who shot and killed a large wolf-like beast in 1767, after which the attacks stopped. Some say that he used a blessed silver bullet – possibly originating the myth that werewolves can only be killed by silver bullets.
It is still unclear what exactly the Beast of Gevaudan was. Some believe it to be a large wolf, but most historians agree that it was likely a wolf-dog hybrid given its large size, unusual ferocity and distinct coloured fur. Other theories include the beast being a large red mastiff, an Asian hyena or a pack of wolves, which is likely given the sheer number of attacks in such a short space of time. All in all, the final kill count of the Beast of Gevaudan is estimated between 80 to 120 people, with a further 49 injuries.