Wolf Attacks in France in the Early 1800s

The Eurasia wolf of today. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Wolves were considered a problem in France as early as Charlemagne’s reign, and Charlemagne was the first to institute a special corps of wolf hunters (called the louveterie) to deal with them between 800 and 813. The louveterie was abolished after the French Revolution but was then reestablished in 1814. The wolves in France during this time were mainly the Eurasian wolf (the common wolf) native to Europe, which had been widespread throughout Eurasia prior to the Middle Ages. By 1800, in most areas throughout France, there were reports of wolves causing problems and stories were regularly printed in newspapers highlighting their attacks against people. Here are seven stories reported between 1809 and 1829. 

The first story occurred in 1819 in the little commune of Combrée, located in the Maine-et-Loire department in western France. A youthful shepherd was tending his flock of sheep when a wolf suddenly pursued a sheep, seized it, and was about to devour it when the shepherd intervened and flung the wolf to the ground. Another wolf then came to the aid of the first wolf. A shepherdess was nearby and witnessed the scene. She then left her goats to help the shepherd, and according to one newspaper:

“Both of them exerting all their strength and courage, succeeded in rescuing the sheep, and held the wolves until a peasant, armed with a pitchfork, hearing their cries, came and killed the furious animals on the spot.”[1]

Predatory attack on a child, as depicted on the 1914 issue of “Le Petit Journal.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In July of 1817, in a hamlet called la Reboulerie, in the arrondissement of d’Alès, a small group of children were playing outside beside a house. A wolf saw the children and brazenly rushed them, carrying off a 5-year-old child, who then began to shriek and cry. A married woman named Pougé (or Pougié) heard the child’s cry and ran to help the child. Pougé attacked the wolf and was so vicious in her attack, the wolf dropped the child and dashed off. Although the child was covered in wounds, none were serious. Pougé then returned the child to the parents and the parents declared Pougé a hero.

A ferocious wolf was spreading terror throughout southern France in the department of Gard in 1810. The attack happened on 2 October near the village of Planzolles, when a wolf attacked a little 6-year-old boy who was tending a flock of sheep with his 80-year-old grandfather. A goat had strayed, and the grandfather ordered the boy to go and retrieve it. When the child did not return, the grandfather conducted a search but never found the child until the next morning when he discovered blood-stained clothing and some of the boy’s remains. Four days later, a 7-year-old girl was strolling near her house in Malenches when her parents discovered her missing, and again only her remains were found “with her clothes bloody and torn.”[2]

In 1826, there were claims that mad wolves were prevalent in and around the commune of Pontarlier, France. Stories about wolves included a mad wolf attacking and biting several men in the commune of Vaux-Chantegrue. The first man got away. According to newspapers the second man, named Prince, was not so lucky:

“[He] would have been completely devoured by the furious animal had he not been frightened away by the sudden appearance of light, and the cries of a person who came up unexpectedly at the time. Prince died mad, after having lingered some days.”[3]

There was also a third man named Dance attacked by the same wolf. Dance’s attack happened near a home, and Dance was able to keep the animal at bay for about ten minutes until the home’s owner appeared with a light. Unfortunately, Dance died from his injuries after suffering for twenty-five days. The same wolf or perhaps another wolf then attacked seven or eight cows and a small child in the village of Bonnevaux. The next wolf attack involved a 15-year-old boy who was with his father in the forest. The father saved his son by killing the wolf with his knife. Interestingly, it was discovered the wolf the father killed was the same wolf that had attacked Prince because an earring belonging to Prince was found in the wolf’s stomach.

Another interesting wolf attack occurred on 30 October 1824. This time a wolf attacked a farmer in north-eastern France at Hussigny. The farmer’s name was Barthelemy, and although Barthelemy was wounded in the head, he was able to battle the animal and eventually captured it in his arms. He then tried to carry the beast to Hussigny, but Barthelemy’s wounds were such, his strength failed him, and the wolf escaped after biting him two or three more times. The next day, the same wolf attacked a herd of swine in the village of Joppecourt and bit about thirty pigs. It then attacked two men, biting the nose and ear of a Jean Baptiste Mutelet and severely wounding a man named Francois Cornelis in the shoulder. The wolf then headed towards a mill, where it bit the miller and attacked his horse. In the meantime, Cornelis sounded the alarm and “people proceeded forth armed with muskets and forks, to chase the wolf.”[4] Thankfully, the armed group was successful, and the wolf was killed.

In November of 1809 there was report of an 8-year-old boy named Reboul and his older sister named Rose tending four cows in a meadow near the commune of Concoule. The children decided to light a fire and the boy went to gather wood for it. Soon after he departed, Rose heard Reboul cry. She flew to his assistance and discovered him in the jaws of a wolf. Rose began screaming for help and began pelting the wolf with stones. She finally hit the wolf in leg and the wolf was so startled, it dropped her brother. The wolf then retreated some distance, but it soon gathered its courage and sprang forward to seize the boy only to be faced again with Rose’s shrieks and rock throwing. Unfortunately, during her shrieking and rock throwing, Rose fell to the ground and the wolf spying an opportunity to attack her attempted to do so. Rose sprang to her feet, grabbed a large stone, and smacked the wolf in the jaw, which caused it to permanently flee. Rose and her brother then hurried home and discovered that Reboul’s ten wounds were not serious. However, Rose lost her voice for a time because of her shrieking.

Skull of a Eurasian wolf. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One terrible incident that involved a wolf occurred in the south of France in 1829. A 50-year-old woman who resided in the commune of Ligny was alone one evening in her house during Mass. When the other occupants of the home returned, they discovered a “frightful spectacle.” The woman was lying on the floor dead, “her entrails had been torn out, and part of the loins devoured.”[5] The rest of her body had no lacerations, but it was obvious that a ferocious beast had attacked her as there were teeth marks on her neck and nothing else in the house had been disturbed or stolen. The following day, all doubt vanished as to what beast had committed the deed because a wolf returned to finish his feast only to be denied entrance because no one would open the door. Conjecture by the inhabitants concluded that the 50-year-old woman had likely heard something and opened the door without reflection. It was at time that the wolf sprang upon her.

References:

  • [1] Accidents, Offences, &c.,” in Windsor and Eton Express, 18 April 1819, p. 3.
  • [2] The Literary Panorama, Volume 10, 1810, p. 562.
  • [3] “Mad Wolves in France,” in Drogheda Journal, or Meath & Louth Advertiser, 19 July 1826, p. 2.
  • [4] “Wolves in France,” in Morning Chronicle, 15 November 1825, p. 3.
  • [5] “Female Devoured By a Wolf,” in Morning Advertiser, 19 January 1829, p. 3.

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