Hey Texas Monthly, what’s going on toda—
[whispers] What’s going on?
You’ll scare away the goat!
[whispers] The—the goat . . . ?
Willy, the rodeo goat who escaped from the Willacy County Livestock Show down in South Texas. He got out a few days ago, and basically every business in the area has offered to contribute some sort of reward to whoever finds him and returns him safely. (No one seems to know Willy’s gender, but isn’t it just like a male to run away?)
[whispers] Oh, shoot! I’m sorry—
Never mind, that wasn’t him.
Yeah, but we’re not alone in looking. Willy has become quite the cause célèbre down in the Rio Grande Valley.
What makes this goat so special?
There are a couple of answers to that question. The first is that all of the creatures that inhabit this world of ours are inherently special, each one a unique individual deserving our respect and an acknowledgement of its intrinsic dignity, whether it be a doctor, a lawyer, or a lowly goat. The second is, well, nothing. Willy’s just a goat. He’s not a prize goat, or a pet goat, or a goat lovingly raised by a 4-H kid who’s spent every night pining for his missing companion. He’s an ordinary pasture goat—one of five, in fact, who were out at the Willacy County Livestock Show as part of a youth rodeo. At the end of the night, Willy’s handlers realized he had escaped from the holding pen, but he ran off when they tried to get him. According to Alison Savage, president of the event, when folks went back the next morning to bring Willy in, he had escaped the entire showground and gone on the lam. Some folks caught sight of him, but he escaped into the fields and has been on the loose ever since.
How did Willy go from being a lone goat on the loose to a cultural phenomenon?
It all started with Los Gordos BBQ, a local barbecue competition team, which heard about Willy’s plight and decided to incentivize a search and rescue response by promising a brisket and a slab of ribs to whoever found the li’l guy. Other businesses, moved or amused by the situation, decided to get involved. Pretty soon, the prize pool swelled to include cash, a bunch of gift cards, and a slew of random prizes.
Well, Glittery Bowtique, a Raymondville business that makes custom bows and T-shirts, will give you a T-shirt with the words “I caught the goat 2023” emblazoned on it. A couple different farms will kick in five hay bales apiece. A local photo studio will donate a portrait session (with or without the goat!). One ranch is putting up a piglet, while another will give you twenty baby chicks. Back Broke Horseshoeing will—in the event that whoever finds Willy has a horse—pony up a free trim for the animal. There’s a free tattoo in it from a Mission tattoo parlor; a Yeti cooler, cup, and tumbler from local businesses; and a set of four Fiesta Texas tickets from the local country radio station. Oh, and Haleigh Duke, the Willacy County Livestock Show’s junior bake-show champion, will toss in one of her blue-ribbon coconut pies.
Yep! So keep your voice down; we don’t want to scare him away.
Um. Not to be morbid, but are you sure Willy’s still alive?
It’s a fair question. Willacy County is a rural part of the state, and there are certainly a number of bobcats and coyotes that see a tasty snack where you and I see a cute little scofflaw. I asked Savage if she was worried that Willy might have become a meal for one of the region’s predators, and she was chipper—Willy had just been seen the day before, albeit by a mom who was coming back from her son’s football practice; she wasn’t able to lure him into the car. And the li’l guy certainly isn’t hurting for things to eat—he’s mostly been spotted around the sugarcane fields and cornfields of the area, which are also irrigated with fresh water. Honestly, it sounds like Willy’s living deliciously.
That really is an impressive prize pool . . . Okay, hear me out—what if we grab a regular ol’ goat and then bring him in, and just tell them that it’s Willy?
Honesty is its own reward. But even if it weren’t, it wouldn’t work—Savage told me she’s got a list of identifying characteristics that’ll tell her whether a goat presented before her is the real Willy or just the offering of someone trying to trade an unwanted buck for a bunch of free stuff.
Darn. What are those specific identifying characteristics?
Are they still accepting donations to the reward tally? How much bigger can this thing get?
They’re not, actually. Savage told me that there are a lot of folks who have made incredibly generous offers but that the show had decided to cap the reward where it stood. She said she was concerned that if the pool kept growing, someone might find Willy and then keep him for a while longer, in the hope that there’d be even more added to the final tally by the time they actually turned him in, and she would like the li’l guy returned safely to the show as soon as possible.
So how many people are out looking for Willy? How far can a goat really get?
It’s not a matter of how far, necessarily, but rather how well he can hide. Cornfields provide a lot of cover, as do sugarcane fields, and Willy’s not a big guy. Savage said that folks on the lookout have a pretty good idea of the rough area Willy’s hiding in, but actually bringing him in while he’s out there snacking on sweets and drinking fresh water is nonetheless a challenge. It’s proven to be a tougher one than most have anticipated—there are local cowboys riding the fields ready to lasso the goat and bring him back, kids walking the fields trying to coax him out and into their parents’ trucks, folks on ATVs and dirt bikes covering big swaths of ground, even a trio of ex-military dudes with infrared drones patrolling the fields to get a glimpse of him. But there’s a difference between knowing where he is and bringing him home.
What’s going to happen to Willy when he does finally return?
If Willy thinks he’s tasted the good life out in the fields, Savage told me he has no idea how deliciously he can live when he makes it back. The local chamber of commerce has requested his presence in October for its Wild in Willacy event—it’s offered him the role of grand marshal in its parade, and it wants to give visitors the chance to take photos with the famed goat. Then, at the Willacy County Livestock Show’s next event, in January, Willy will be able to settle into his new role as the show’s mascot. Savage said she’s had folks ask her if she can let a goat loose every year for a live-animal scavenger hunt—that’s not the plan, but Willy’s experience will certainly help shape the event from which he escaped in the future.
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