The January 1766 attacks were on little girls.  The monster had removed their hearts, ripped off their breasts and cut off their heads.

Other victims had been completely emptied of their blood, as if a vampire had sucked it out.  Some had had all of their facial skin removed.

Another “Beast” was killed on 19 June 1767 by Jean Chastel with two blessed bullets.

It was known that the Beast was in the Tenazeyre woods.  A hunt was organized by the Marquis d’Apcher.

Driven by the hunters, the Beast arrived at the place where Jean Chastel was waiting for it, at Sagne d’Auvert, near Saugues.  Chastel, who was reading the Holy Virgin litanies, calmly finished his prayers, then closed his book, put it in his pocket, removed his glasses and folded them away inside their case.

The Beast didn’t move.  It seemed to be waiting.  The hunter, who had recognised it, aimed at its shoulder and fired.  The Beast remained motionless.

The hounds of the Marquis d’Apcher, upon hearing the noise of the gun, arrived, attacked the animal, pulled it down and tore into it.  It was dead.

Here is how this particular Beast appeared to the villagers once it was dead:

“It was an animal the size of a calf or a donkey.  It had reddish fur, with, on its back, a black bar from its shoulders to its tail;  the head enormous and similar to that of a pig;  the mouth always open;  the eyes sparkling;  the ears short and straight, like horns;  the breast white and very big;  the hind legs very big and very long;  the front legs shorter and covered with long fur;  six claws on each paw.  Some said that the back legs had hooves, like those of a horse.  Pierre Blanc, who saw it up close, noticed that the underbelly appeared to be all buttoned.”

Its habits, its comportment, its physiology are as surprising as its anatomy.

On the same day, almost at the same time, its presence was noticed in places seven or eight leagues distant from each other.  The Beast attacked almost exclusively women and children.  As for its victims, it treated them in diverse ways.

Some were torn and devoured as if by a ferocious animal, like a hungry tiger or wolf, but they were the exception.  Mostly, the Beast abandoned its victims’ bodies, satisfied to mutilate them, to suck their blood and, after opening them up, to tear out the heart, the liver and the intestines.

It was like this that were found the dreadfully torn and hardly recognizable bodies of three boys under fifteen, belonging to the village of Chayla-l’Eveque, of a woman from Arzenc, of a little girl from Torts, of a shepherd from Chaudeyrac, of a twenty year old girl, found in grassland near Saint-Alban, and of many others.  An old woman from the village of Broussotes, Marguerite Oustalier, had all the skin removed from her face by the Beast, after it had killed her.

Sometimes, it did things differently.  When the body of Gabrielle Pelissier, who had just made her First Holy Communion, was found, the monster had so carefully arranged the decapitated head, the clothes and the hat, that, at first, it was believed that the child was just sleeping. 

The Beast also sometimes had a strangely human comportment.  It liked to come into the villages in the evening, place its front paws on the window-sills and look inside the kitchens.

Something else to be noted is the declaration of a peasant who affirms that he heard the animal “laugh and talk”.  He says that it sometimes sat on its backside and “made little gestures and grimaces”, with bursts of joy, “like a person”.

When the Beast was being pursued, it crossed the river in two or three bounds, but when it had the time, it could be seen walking on the water, without getting wet.

Several times, it played with lambs so as to attract the children who guarded them.  If that wasn’t enough, it made them suffer so that their cries of pain obliged the children to leave their hiding-places.

So, this extraordinary animal, both by its physiology and its anatomy, suddenly made its appearance in the middle of the French countryside, in the heart of the Massif Central.  An absolutely unique being, with nothing to identify it with any other living creatures around it, or having lived before it.

The human appearance of the strange animal led Professor Puech to emit an hypothesis which lacks neither logic nor ingeniosity.  He wrote in his very interesting work, which he communicated to the Academy of Sciences and Letters of Montpellier:

“That this legendary animal was seen, one hundred and fifty years ago, by the inhabitants of Haut-Lozere, does not surprise the psychologist and the doctor.  They know what overexcited imaginations can do, they know the role of suggestion and are familiar with this sort of delirium which can take hold of the collective mind, which we describe under the name of crowd madness.”

History furnishes us with numerous examples, it is true.  There is none more significative than the phenomenon designated as the Great Fear, and which, in 1789, panicked crowds in many places.  According to Dr Puech, it is the same folly which invested the inhabitants of Auvergne and Gevaudan in 1764.

The origin of this fear of the Beast is easy to find.  A shepherd girl returns home one day panicked, saying that she has been attacked by an unknown beast.  First of all, no great importance is attached to this.  But shortly after, in the woods, in the fields, in the sheds of isolated farms, the bodies of women and children are found, atrociously mutilated.

Too often, during the long, cold winters, the population has been victim to wolves made ferocious by hunger.  But never, in the memory of the elders, has a similar massacre been seen.

From there, imaginations start working.  In front of the church door, on Sunday, after Mass.  At the fairground, where people come to buy and sell animals.  In the evenings, in front of the fire while the snow falls outside.  People talk about these deaths which are multiplying every day.  They comment on the strange circumstances.  They search for explanations.

Then, into someone’s memory pops the story of the shepherd girl from Langogne.  No, it wasn’t fear which had troubled her head, as everyone had first thought.  She had really seen what she said she had, the poor girl, when she said that she had been attacked by an unknown beast.

Only an unique being, a monster, could commit such numerous and horrible misdeeds.  And the idea penetrates the simple, credulous mind of the inhabitant of Gevaudan, and no amount of reasoning will be able to dislodge it.  Fear will do the rest.

Gradually, the monster takes form, and the ghostly beast ends up being transformed into a real animal.  Each person adds a detail noticed during these rapid and terrifying visions.  Gradually, the monster takes form.  Finally, from bits and pieces, it becomes whole, as we have seen above, with an enormous head which looks like a pig, with short, straight ears, with sparkling eyes…

But, it can be objected, there are real facts.  There are mutilated children, like the little girl from Fontan, bitten on her cheeks and her arm.  Like the young man from Pouget who had the skin of his head and chest lacerated.  Like the young girl from the parish of Saint-Just with her ear and the end of her nose taken off.

Then there are all of these bodies strewn along the roadsides, and the mentions in the parish registers:  “I buried in the village cemetary, the body of… devoured by the beast who roams the countryside”.  Or this other one:  “Act of burial of the body of… partly eaten by the ferocious beast”.

It is necessary, before trying to identify the Beast, to make a distinction among all of these deaths.  They didn’t all have the same origin or the same author.

Fifth part tomorow.