Lonesome No More: A Happy Ending for the Cloudland Canyon Billy Goat

Lonesome (foreground) has plenty of company now, hundreds of wooded acres to gnaw down, and occasional treats from Sam Cason. (All photos by Jerry Wallace unless specified otherwise.)

Happy endings are The Dade Planet’s absolute favorite kind. Thus it is with pleasure that The Planet delivers this postscript to a story originally published in this space in November 2016--a goat story that for one scary period threatened to become a ghost story.

That Nov. 17 article introduced Lonesome, the billy goat of Cloudland Canyon. Lonesome was a farm goat, not a mountain goat, who had somehow made his way to the West Rim Trail, where hikers sometimes spotted him at a scenic overlook near the trailhead.

“Lonesome doesn't always show. There are times he's so rare, you get to thinking of him as legendary,” reported The Planet in November.

That changed, and therein lay the problem that threatened Lonesome’s continued existence at the canyon. But before we go there, let’s back up a minute and review matters as they stood last fall.

Concerned that Lonesome was, well, lonesome, The Planet consulted its goat-to gal, Mary Hart Rigdon, who had consulted on previous goat articles. Mary Hart runs Decimal Place, possibly the only dairy goat farm-slash-artisan cheesery within the Atlanta downtown area. Her Saanans--the same kind of goats as in Heidi, she likes to point out--graze peacefully underneath jets taking off and landing at nearby Hartsfield International Airport, inured to the ceaseless noise from kidhood.

Mary Hart opined that Lonesome was probably not really lonesome. He not only had the hikers, she pointed out, but the lady deer of the canyon who in his grizzled bachelorhood would look pretty good by now. "He's probably sidling up to the does," she said. "They may give him some funny looks but he will find himself some friends."

The Planet also asked Scott Einberger, then manager of the park, about Lonesome, and was reassured about the goat’s place in the park. “We treat it like wildlife," Einberger told The Planet. "It's ironic, because it's not a native species, but it's in the park and protected by law."

“Treating it like wildlife,” though, has more sinister connotations when taken in the context of wildlife that threatens park visitors--and that’s what began happening with Lonesome.

When Mary Hart, interested enough in the Lonesome story to drive up from Atlanta, arrived to hike the West Rim Trail with her children around Thanksgiving, Lonesome was still thin on the ground. He did show up when bleated for repeatedly, but kept his distance and refused to grant photo opps.

(Photo: Mary Hart Rigdon (second from right), pictured with her children Hannah (left) and David (right), and a regular West Rim hiker.

But by March, it was a different story. Whether or not because of the publicity afforded him by The Planet’s story, Lonesome became less reclusive and more inclined to seek the limelight. And as had many forms of wildlife in many parks before him, Lonesome quickly discovered that humans were rich sources of that coveted commodity, the pic-a-nic basket. Guests began feeding the goat--a Facebook post this spring reported Lonesome to be especially partial to peanut butter crackers--a trend of which Lonesome so much approved that he no longer waited by his scenic overlook but came to the trailhead to meet them.

Lonesome in fact became a common sight in the West Rim parking lot, casting come-hither glances at incoming motorists. The Planet observed him to nose at a visitor’s hand, then butt at the visitor coquettishly when the fingers opened to reveal an empty hand.

Encounters of this kind abounded, and frequent West Rim hiker Greg Foster became concerned not so much that Lonesome would become a peril to park guests as that park authorities would perceive him as such. Anyone familiar with goats knows they enjoy nothing so much as a playful bound onto a car hood, and Lonesome’s new habitat was a parking lot. Foster even reported to The Planet he had picked up a rumor that park management planned to shoot Lonesome.

The Planet contacted the park. But the aforementioned Scott Einberger had moved on by then, a new managing ranger had not yet been hired, and acting manager Woody Hughes did not return multiple phone calls. Alarmed, The Planet began calling and emailing Georgia Park Service management personnel until, at length, Assistant Regional Director Matt Owens returned a phone call.

Owens’ message, paraphrased broadly, was: Cool your jets, Planet: Ain’t nobody fixin’ to shoot no goat!

Owens did acknowledge that the park had become concerned about Lonesome’s forward ways: “As the goat became more habituated to the area and the number of encounters has increased,” he wrote in a subsequent email, “so have our public safety and resource management concerns..”

(Photo by Greg Foster: Anne Lautzenheiser and Lonesome in West Rim parking lot.)

But he also stressed that the park had no intention of shooting the hiking community’s mascot. “Please note that we are not interested in harming the goat,” he said.

The park service was reviewing its options, said Owens. He indicated the park woud be receptive to relocating Lonesome to a more suitable home.

Thus began a series of emails and phone calls among Lonesome’s friends. Greg Foster contacted his neighbor, Scott Anderson. The Planet went back to its goat-to source, Mary Hart Rigdon. Scott Anderson contacted his neighbor, Lawton Haygood, the restaurateur who started the Canyon Grill and currently owns Sugar’s Ribs and other restaurants in Chattanooga. Haygood keeps a small herd of goats who gnaw the underbrush of Sugar’s Ribs’ Missionary Ridge location and, incidentally, amuse diners.

Mary Hart reported she could not take in a spare billy. Her Decimal Place Farm had been participating in a disease-free certification program for 16 years, which was important to her cred with the ever-vigilant state health department (AKA Johnny Cheese). But there was better news on the Haygood front:

“Lawton will take Lonesome, if that is an option,” wrote Scott Anderson. “He will have several hundred fenced acres to roam and will no longer be ‘lonesome.’ What is our next step?”

The next step--after getting the park service to agree to Haygood’s offer, which, hello, took about 32 seconds--was to get Lonesome into a vehicle and down the road to Haygood’s sprawling acreage off Sunset Drive. Everybody had an idea on that:

“Does anyone know a Cowboy who can do that lasso thing, then hog tie his legs so we can load Lonesome on a truck and get him to his new home?” emailed Greg Foster.

Scott Anderson consulted a veterinary technician. "Given the location,

she believes any attempt to tranquilize Lonesome may actually do more harm

than good,” he emailed to the Lonesome Task Force. “She thinks that prior to him/her being sedated enough to handle, that he may end up falling off the cliff.”

The Planet sniffed at all this male bluster of force and narcotics. The Planet issued its own emailed statement to the effect that The Planet’s friend Mary Hart could wrangle ary old goat without a lasso, drugs or breaking a sweat, eating a hot dog at the time.

After this there was a terrible cyber silence during which The Planet feared it might be necessary to make good on this boast offered on behalf of someone else, who might be too busy milking and cheesemaking to make another trip north, regardless how many hot dogs promised.

But The Planet need not have feared; Lawton Haygood and the park were conferring quietly behind the scenes, and in late April Lonesome was lured into a flatbed trailer without incident. “He ‘volunteered’ in exchange for bread,” emailed Haygood. “He also was interested in the ‘perfume’ left in the trailer by our females.”

So the West Rim bachelor need no longer chase the wild hind; he now has females of his own species to cozy up to. Which would be a happy enough ending for any goat but The Planet determined to pay Lonesome a home visit-slash-photo opp, and accordingly arrived one day in June at Haygood’s gated Lookout retreat, cameraman in tow. There The Planet found Lonesome peacefully decimating foliage in the company of 19 or 20 other goats, tended by a dog named Boo and a man named Sam Cason, Haygood’s caretaker-slash-goatman.

“We got him--we didn’t need him--but he’s got a good home,” said Cason (right), 82, of the newcomer.

Cason described how he and a park ranger captured Lonesome at night during a pouring rain. “I had bread I get from the restaurants and I put some on the tailgate,” said Cason. He told the ranger to grab one end of the goat while he got the other, if Lonesome took the bait. “He did, and we throwed him right up in the back of the truck” he said.

Cason said Haygood and his wife, Karen, had started their herd with Nubian goats they intended to milk. But what with their busy life--they’re opening yet another Chattanooga restaurant, said Cason--that didn’t happen, and now the goats are more or less pets. “Sometimes they’re gone for two or three weeks and they come in and like to pet them and stuff,” said Cason. “They’re pretty but they’re aggravating.”

Goats can be aggressive. “Don’t bite me, little-un,” said Cason to a baby goat. He pointed out one of the three billies. “That’s a mean sucker right there,” he said. “He drug me off the truck.”

Despite their aggravating ways, though, Cason says the goats live together in peace. “They don’t fight,” said Cason. “They get along good.”

He said Lonesome did try to show another billy who was boss when he arrived. “He rared up just like he was going to attack him,” said Cason. “He caught that goat right there and knocked him about as far from here to that tree. Well, the dog attacked him.”

Boo plays tough cop to Cason’s good cop. Boo takes no crap off anybody.

Cason said the goats do serve a valuable function on the Haygood estate besides stress relief. “If you want to clear land, that’s what you get,” he said. “They’ll push a pretty good-sized bush down and eat the leaves. When I started with them it was completely woods, and me and goats have cleared all that off.”

Cason says he’s trying to teach neighbor Scott Anderson the tricks of goat-tending. With one leg still stiff from some shrapnel it took during the Korean War, he doesn’t get around as well as he used to. “But I’m going to keep going as long as I can,” said Cason.

Cason said Lonesome is no spring chicken, either. But he added that he’s as popular with the nannies as the next goat.

Let's leave this goat story there, with Lonesome getting plenty to eat, making friends and basking in as much girl-goat attention as a billy could wish. We'll end with a pronouncement by Lawton Haygood, the goat’s benefactor and new host:

“Lonesome is no longer lonesome,” wrote Haygood in an email. “He now has the girls following him.”

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