The Goatslayers

When a herd of wild goats became a nuisance at a posh lakeside resort, their wholesale slaughter by a couple of property owners divided the community

Head south out of Dallas, drive about an hour down I-35, and take a right once you get to Hillsboro. About 14 miles out of town on the pristine shores of Lake Whitney at the edge of the Hill Country sits the White Bluff Resort, a sanctuary of sorts for retired couples hoping to live out their autumn years in peace and work-absorbed executives hoping to escape their frenetic lives, if only for the weekend. Corporate owner Double Diamond Inc., prides itself on the resort's lavish extravagances. "Whether conducting a business meeting, vacationing or establishing a residence," proclaims the resort's Web site, "you will enjoy the remarkable setting and abundant amenities at White Bluff Resort."

A luxurious, 3,450-acre wooded hideaway, White Bluff is best known for its two championship golf courses. Adding to the allure are a pro shop, a couple of restaurants, tennis courts, a fitness center, and several swimming pools. From a marina off tranquil Lake Whitney, water enthusiasts hoist their sails for a leisurely day of boating, swimming, and fishing. Rising up from Lake Whitney's clear blue waters are the steep limestone cliffs that offer residents of White Bluff a panoramic view of the lake.

Built in the early '90s, when Mike Ward, president of Double Diamond, began the development, homes at White Bluff are priced from $85,000 to $300,000. Those overlooking the lake are the most sought-after and the most expensive. Edwina Gibson works in Carrollton, but every chance she gets, both she and her husband head for White Bluff, where they have built a second home. "I call it my de-fertilizer," she says of their retreats to the countryside, "because it helps me get rid of the shit of the city."

Deer and wild turkeys; rabbits and raccoons; and quail, doves, and other fowl inhabit the tree-studded shoreline and roam about the resort without restraint. Gibson and other homeowners consider these animals delightful additions to the area's atmosphere. In particular, they get a kick out of watching the wild goats scamper along the lake's towering bluffs and cliffs. "It's kind of like being at the zoo," says one resident, "watching the goats scurry around." Considered poor man's cattle, the goats are remnants from times past, abandoned by previous landowners to fend for themselves.

Not everyone at White Bluff was pleased with goats running wild through their property. Some goats would wander onto lush yards and dine on expensive shrubbery; others posed a threat to young children who were frightened by their unpredictability; and the stench that wafted over barbecue grills when billy goats were in rut was enough to drive some residents back to the city. Complaints brought a limited response from authorities who considered the goats part of the charm of the place.

Yet other than an occasional goat incident, all seemed idyllic at White Bluff--man in harmony with nature, animals in peaceful co-existence with man--that is, until recently.

Last January residents grew alarmed as the sound of gunshots rang out. Goats had been herded against the cliffs and slaughtered at close range, dropping over the edge and falling to their deaths. Some 20 to 25 goats had met their end in this manner, the dead carcasses landing in a huge pile near the lake. Apparently, two property owners had taken matters into their own hands, wielding shotguns and hunting down the goats to rid themselves of the perceived nuisance. One of the accused goatslayers was Jerry P. Jones, a retired trial attorney at the prestigious Dallas firm of Thompson & Knight; the other was Bryant Aiken, a dentist from Cleburne.

Like many of her neighbors, Gibson was upset when she heard that the goats had been killed. Outraged, she wondered, "If you don't like being around critters, why the hell would you move to the country? Why do you choose to change my world for what you want?"

Although goats crossed over to America on the Mayflower, by the 18th century, western goat herders were regarded as somewhat eccentric. Raising goats never became big agri-business as Americans developed a taste for T-bone steaks and filet mignon, custom-made leather goods, and cow's milk. In Texas, where cattle rule, goat-herding never stood a chance. White Bluff's goats were descendants of the Spanish variety common to this area, and were probably brought there to clear the land of the weeds and small brush they enjoyed eating.

Agile climbers of boulder-strewn mountains and precipitous cliffs, goats are invaluable to many people around the world. Nomads, in particular, consider them less cumbersome than cattle and an invaluable source of milk, cheese, and meat. In Greek mythology, Pan--the god of flocks and pastures--was half-man, half-goat, and still today, in many Eastern cultures, the number of goats a man owns is often the measure of his wealth.

The wild goats of White Bluff could have used some help from Pan when the resort's management began receiving a number of complaints about them last year. There were two herds, about 50 total, which included at least two billies, several nannies and quite a few kids. Larry Harmon of Azle has four domesticated goats and has owned as many as seven. "The little nanny," he says, "she's like a little dog. She'll come up and be right there with you and follow you around the yard. She's about the size of a German shepherd." And yet he understands the lament of some homeowners about the billies in White Bluff's herds. "Most of the time, they give off a really bad odor," he says. "They have a tendency to urinate on themselves."

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