250 years ago today: June 19, 1767 -- The Beast and Jean Chastel

The woods near Ténazeyre.
The marquis d’Apcher, with about three hundred beaters and about a dozen marksmen, including four members of the Chastel family, hastened to the site of the previous night’s death—the Ténazeyre woods—and renewed their efforts very early in the morning.

As the story goes, Jean Chastel first stopped at the Sogne (in English, swamp) d’Auvers, to pay respect to Our Lady.

As the old hunter commenced with his rosary, the sun, cloaked in misty gauze, shone down upon him through the trees.

The wind muttered among the pines.

A twig snapped.

Chastel turned. There, through the pines, was one of the marquis’s dogs coming toward him, in hot pursuit of— 

—the Beast.

“In a spirit of piety and confidence,” says Beast chronicler Pourcher, Chastel finished his prayers and slipped his devotional book and spectacles into a waistcoat pocket.

The monster turned back, to the dog’s surprise, and lunged at the canine, snapping, savagely biting its nose and face. The dog howled, blood running into its eyes. 

Chastel took up his musket.

The Beast proceeded on its course, moving fast, winding through the trees.

Then it saw Chastel. 

It slid to a stop. 

Chastel did not move.

Man and menace faced one another, yards apart. Chastel ticked off all the characteristics: the immense size, the odd coloring, the cinnabar orbs. 

Like a wolf and yet not a wolf.

He fired.


It was a good shot.

The bullet severed the animal’s trachea. The Beast shuddered as if something possessed it. It stumbled, got up, stumbled again.

Chastel waited.

The Beast fell. 

It did not get up again. 

Sides heaving, gasping for breath, it eyed Chastel through chalky gunsmoke and morning drizzle. The hunter watched as the embers of its eyes faded and finally went out. 

“Beast,” said Chastel softly, “thou will eat no more.”
The local monument -- a plaque mounted on a stelae, with a marker -- honoring Jean Chastel for his service.


June 1767

Early spring in the  land of the Beast.
Tradition holds that, in the face of these new predations, the terror-fraught peasantry came together for support at community gatherings and pilgrimages to sacred sites of the Virgin Mary: Nôtre-Dame d’Estours near Saugues, and Nôtre-Dame Beaulieu, “lovely place,” near Paulhac. Throngs of Gévaudanais came out, praying for deliverance from the latest onslaught.

Pilgrim Jean Chastel famously had his blunderbuss (from the Dutch for "thunder-box")—a short-range gun loaded with shot, slugs, nails, etc., to cover a wide area—and his ammunition—cast from “leaden medals of the Virgin of the type affixed to the brim of one’s hat”—blessed by the priest.

Many historians say such pilgrimages would have been unlikely in May and June as it would have been in the midst of the busy spring agricultural season. However, scholar  Judith Devlin says it was common for country people to embark on pilgrimages, in which they followed time-honored rituals appropriate to each sacred site, be it church or fountain. These pilgrimages were not made for spiritual salvation, but rather to bring about solutions to various real-life problems, from finding husbands to keeping livestock safe from wolves.

From June 1 through June 17, there were yet more attacks, perhaps half a dozen. Nine-year-old Catherine Chautard of Le Malzieu was killed on June 12. On June 18, Jeanne Bastide of Desges, nineteen years old, perished . . . the last victim of the Beast.

The wave of new attacks compelled the marquis d’Apcher to continued action.


Spring 1767

A country lane in the Gévaudan
From March 2 through the end of May 1767, about three months, thirteen people lost their lives, an average of about one death per week, including seven children, five teenagers, and a forty-eight-year-old woman. Many were around the parishes of Saugues, La Besseyre-Saint-Mary, Grèzes, and Auvers. Two were killed on May 5. There were possibly as many as thirty attacks altogether during this period.


An illustration from the book

Gévaudan Beast mask inspired by the film Le Pacte des loups

Here is an illustration from our book by co-author Gustavo Sánchez Romero. It depicts the mask of the Beast of the Gévaudan from the 2001 Christophe Gans film Le Pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf)

Says Sánchez, “I drew this piece in pencil with water-soluble graphite, using a small, soft paintbrush for moistening certain areas. It took approximately nine hours. I used watercolor paper, 370 g/m2. Format A3. I choose to make this drawing mainly because in Gans’s film, we never get a good look at the Beast, a huge armored African carnivore (a lion or similar) trained to kill. The drawing is based on film images and scale models. I also drew the skull of the big cat with skin and hair, so readers could have a better understanding of the animal within the armor/mask.” 

You can find this drawing at the end of Chapter 20.