Friday, July 17, 2015

Fred the White Goat of Vevay, Indiana

Not since Charlotte the spider wrote "SOME PIG" about her friend, Wilbur, has such a fuss been made about one farm animal.

But in the town of Vevay, Indiana, Fred the white goat was a town favorite.

Vevay (pronounced VEE-vee; you will be corrected) is nestled along the Ohio River in Switzerland County, in the hills of Southern Indiana. And that's where Fred made his home.

Fred didn't originally start out as Fred. He was Sherman, a 4-H goat that belonged to a young girl. Sherman must have thought he was in Stalag 17, because he frequently escaped from his pen. They would track him down, bring him back, and stick him in the cooler to make him tell the location of the French Resistance secret HQ.

(He never cracked, not once.)


But you can't put Baby in a corner, and you can't put Sherman in a pen, because he kept escaping. Finally, after Sherman had done his little goat-and-pony show at the Switzerland County fair, he escaped for the final time. Someone had left the pen unlocked, which is a little like asking El Chapo to hold your car keys for a minute.

I don't know if they decided to just give up, or if it was an act of mercy by his girl. Or maybe he bribed a guard and hid out in a laundry truck. I just know he lit out of there like a goat who knew he was heading to the meat plant, and no one was able to capture him afterward.

He changed his identity and name, and hid in the hills north of town, there on SR 56, living on whatever he could find. He ate plants and grass, and raided people's gardens. People may have even left food. He slept in an abandoned house on the hill, taking shelter when it was cold or rainy.


Whenever the occasional goat whisperer approached him, he took off, staying well out of reach. Otherwise, everyone pretty much left him alone, especially since Indiana doesn't have an official goat hunting season.

People would report seeing him as they drove into town, standing guard on the hill.

"I saw Fred on the hill," they said.

"Fred's on his tree again," someone else would say a few days later. There was a fallen tree that cantilevered over the hill. It was his favorite spot.

"Fred's standing on his roof," they'd tell my friend, Kendal Miller, executive director of Switzerland County Tourism. His house was built on the hill, and Fred could hop onto the roof.

He'd stand on the hill, probably keeping an eye out for anyone who might want to grab him. But I like to think he was guarding the town, like a horned vigilante.

"I'm Goatman," he'd bleat, watching the skies for the Goat Signal, the sign from Sheriff Hughes that trouble was ahoof.

Fred lived up on the hill for a few years, becoming the town mascot, even getting his own Facebook page.

But in Spring 2014, something was wrong. No one had seen Fred for a while. A sheriff's deputy headed up to Fred's house to investigate, and found him in a room, curled up. Dead. Fred had gone to sleep and never woke up. He had gotten sick, or possibly froze during that last bitter winter.

The deputy gathered up the remains and took him to the county coroner for an autopsy. Unfortunately, said the coroner, there wasn't enough material left to do an autopsy. They couldn't taxidermy him either. So the deputy took him to a place near where Fred liked to stand guard, and buried him.

The grave is marked with a couple of small stones, and I'm one of the few people lucky enough to know where it is. Kendal showed me last August, when I visited Vevay to cover this story for VisitIndiana, the state's tourism office.

That's when we saw Fred back on his log, keeping watch again. Except this time, it was a concrete goat someone had painted white and placed on his favorite spot, but no one knows who.

Every few months, the mystery caretakers decorate Concrete Fred to coincide with the season. I was there right before the Swiss Wine Festival, and he was sporting the Swiss flag.

A couple Saturdays ago, Vevay held their first ever Fred the Goat Festival in honor of their fallen friend. I took my two youngest to Vevay to visit Kendal and show them where Fred loved to spend his days.

It was a small festival, but then, Fred was a small goat. But he occupied a big place in the heart of this tiny town, and he guarded it well.

He sure was some goat.



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