Gillespie County goat becomes Navy mascot

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Because Gillespie County gave the world Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Navy’s top fighting man in World War II, it was only fitting that the admiral’s home in the Texas Hill Country furnish a billy goat to replace Bill IX, the U.S. Naval Academy mascot who died in August 1945.

First, if you’ve ever wondered how a goat came to be the Navy mascot, you’re not alone. Here’s the story.

For centuries ships sailed with livestock on board. Ships in the early British and American navies often carried goats as pets and when necessary for dinner.

There is a legend that in the late 19th century, an American Navy ship sailed with a pet goat. The goat died during the voyage, but the sailors preserved the skin.

Back in port, two young ensigns, on the way to the taxidermist with the goat skin, stopped at the Naval Academy to watch a football game. At halftime one of the ensigns dressed up in the goat skin to entertain the crowd. Navy came from behind to win the game. That’s how Navy got its goat.

After that performance, a series of Naval Academy mascots, all goats named Bill, came from different parts of the country. Bill IX came from a herd in San Angelo.

When Bill IX died of old age in 1945, Navy officials, thinking a goat from Admiral Nimitz’s neck of the woods would be appropriate, contacted Texas Governor Coke Stevenson for a replacement. With that end in mind, the governor met with a group of goat raisers in Fredericksburg on Sept. 1, 1945 to begin separating the sheep from the goats.

The lucky goat would become Bill X — the official Navy mascot.

Several days later, an elite group of goat men, including Governor Stevenson (a real life goat raiser from Kimble County), Adolph Stieler the goat king and a young Hondo Crouch, gathered at a corral on Stieler Hill between Fredericksburg and Comfort.

Governor Stephenson personally made the selection — a majestic 75-pound Angora. The press immediately dubbed the chosen one Chester.

Until that moment Ol’ Chester had spent his life roaming the hills without a care in the world — nibbling grass, climbing on things, head-butting with his compadres and courting the ladies.

Suddenly, this simple country goat was thrust into the national spotlight. It was like winning the lottery.

But then Chester’s luck ran out. On the trip to Annapolis he was unceremoniously bumped from the airline by officials in Dallas.

Days went by. The Marsalis Zoo in Dallas gave Chester a temporary home.

Finally, a frustrated Governor Stevenson had no choice but to send in the Texas Rangers — actually Ranger Joe Luther. Ranger Luther took the goat by the horns, and the next day Chester and his escort boarded the train for the east coast.

A large crowd of reporters met Chester at Union Station in Washington, D.C. The next day Ranger Luther and a group of businessmen, politicians and naval officials escorted Chester to his final destination in Maryland.

Chester, now Bill X, seemed

to enjoy being a celebrity. Then reality hit.

Navy had done well on the gridiron in recent years. The football team had a winning record every season since 1940, and more importantly, had beaten Army every year but one.

Then hard times hit the Navy football program. The Midshipmen won only one game in 1946. In 1947, the team won a single game, lost seven and tied one. What was worse, Navy had not beaten Army since Bill X arrived.

Because the slide in Navy’s football fortunes began with the arrival of Bill X, he became the scapegoat for the Midshipmen’s gridiron troubles.

As the 1947 Army game approached, there was even a movement to replace Bill X in the futile hope that a new mascot would propel Navy to victory over Army.

Carrying that kind of responsibility is a heavy load. Bill X died on Nov. 21, 1947 — eight days before the Army game.

I guess the possibility of another loss to Army was too much for an old goat.

Michael Barr is a retired teacher and principal, living in Fredericksburg where he spends time writing books, columns and magazine articles. Contact him at mikbarr@aol.com.