Bill the Goat: The Early Days

Jack Higgs

Long before midshipmen began kicking a football around the side of old Fort Severn, goats were pets of sailors. The fact that goats can make meal of almost anything led to their selection to wear the Navy Blue and Gold. Parrots and monkeys have been listed among the favorite pets of tars, but these and other creatures are apt to be too choosy about their diets to make shipboard life an easy one.

There is a legend that the Naval Cadets (as they were then known) , on a march from the ferry station at Highland Falls up the steep hill to West Point to play the first Army-Navy football game in 1890, saw a goat outside the noncom’s houses, and promptly commandeered “Billy” for their mascot. However, official files do not record this, but list 1893 as the year the goat made his debut at the time of the fourth Army-Navy game.

The first goat, whose name was El Cid (the Chief), was supplied by young Naval officers, who brought him ashore from the cruiser New York. He had not been on terra firma for many weeks and his sea legs, together with shouting of the football crowd, made him a much bewildered goat. However, the West Pointers were defeated 6-4 and Annapolis feted El Cid along with the football team.

A breach in athletic relations between the service schools in ’93 left the Middies with no occasion to have a mascot for their big game, and it was not until 1900, that the goat returned as mascot for the Navy grid team. The 1900 Army-Navy game brought out for t he first time, both of the traditional rival mascots. The midshipmen again borrowed the goat from USS New York. On the opposite side of the field, the mule was attired in Army colors. Navy won that day in Philadelphia and, on the return trip, Bill I was led through the special train and did not leave the Middies until they reached Baltimore.

The following year, Mike, the pet goat of USS Kearsarge, received a tremendous ovation from the midshipmen when he appeared two minutes before the Army-Navy kickoff, but, after a defeat by Army, the tars forsook the goat for two years. Bill II was in service in the 1904 season and, in 1905, the fifth goat to be Navy’s mascot was a large angora animal, who was present for the 6-6 tie played at Princeton, NJ. The following year, another goat wore the blanket and it was this mascot which was destined to become the most famous in the history of the Academy. “Three-to-Nothing Jack Dalton was his name. His fame came through the ability of the midshipmen to kick a single field goal in Army games for two successive years (1910 and 1911), and the defeat the Cadets by 3-0 scores.”

Notes of other goats in the long line of succession included comments such as the one that appeared in the Annapolis paper after a 1915 Navy loss, “Wanted: The meanest and fiercest goat possible! Address communications to Naval Academy. Would like to see same before purchasing.” Other goat names included Satan, Old Bill, and Stockyard Bill., but all had a Roman numeral identifier. Descriptors included; brown goat, wooly white with crooked horns, brown and white with impressive beard, large white goat with a wicked eye. It seems that most of the later goats were donated by folk from Texas!

The goat for the tenure of the class of 1955 was Bill XIV, who reigned for a remarkable 13 years.

John Raster (l.) and Jack Higgs, our goat keepers, with Bill XIV in 1954