Lake's Billy the Goat mourned by community after recent death

Mar. 16—As far as Lake Cumberland mascots, he might have been the GOAT — the Greatest of All Time. But he was nevertheless unquestionably a goat.

Billy the Goat, a wild creature who had made his home along the busy shores of Lake Cumberland, is being mourned and remembered by the legions of lake users who had taken a shine to him, after recently being found dead, apparently by gunshot.

And like Billy's exploits in life, the news of his death has become something of a local viral sensation.

The Commonwealth Journal spoke with Matthew Blum, a moderator for the Lake Cumberland Facebook page, which has around 70,000 members, and one of the numerous fans of Billy the Goat, about the late animal's popularity.

"Billy the Goat was originally purchased from one of our members on Lake Cumberland Boaters on Facebook approximately 14-15 years ago, for a grandson of one of our members," said Blum, an Ohio resident who regularly visits Lake Cumberland. "The goat stayed with the owner and the grandson for a couple of years."

Then somehow, whether through an open gate or something of that nature, Billy — whose name at the time was Charlie — got loose.

"At that point, he had worked his way down to ... kind of the main lake area between the entrance to Harmon Creek and the entrance to Difficulty Creek," said Blum. "That's approximately about 13 years ago. He lived off the land."

Billy grew well in those conditions, close to five or six feet long and about three to four feet tall. That's likely because he had plenty of help in finding food.

"About five years ago, on our Facebook page, person after person, boater after boater, were submitting pictures of this goat interacting with human beings, being fed potato chips, apples, raisins — anything you can think of," said Blume. "He was a very docile goat. People would pull their boats up there along the entrance to Harmon, and this goat had started interacting with quite a few people. People would bring their pets, their little kids. ... That's how he started to become famous.

"I'm one of those people; I took my family last summer," he added. "We were out, and I asked the kids, 'You guys wanna go see Billy?' We went over there and he was lying on the ledge, I guess someone had just fed him. We held up a bag of Cheetos and he just just kind of looked like he smiled at us and had no interest. But many, many multitudes of people over the years, little kids, adults, all types of people, have given him food and taken some great pictures and videos."

Some enterprising figures even created Billy the Goat merchandise. Lake Decals started creating items with Billy's name, image and likeness, noted Blum, and there was even a Billy the Goat Clothing Company. Billy has been on t-shirts, mugs, and all kinds of fun things to celebrate the horned lakeside curiosity.

"It's quite a phenomenon," said Blum. "(It's) the power of social media."

Blum himself received a few years ago a video with a picture of Billy using an app that allows pets to look like they're talking, and was inspired.

"I thought, 'Boy, this is really funny!'" he said. "So what I started to do over the last two-and-a-half years, I've done probably anywhere from 50 to 60 Billy the Goat videos, of him singing, him thanking people, doing happy birthdays — just something to entertain folks, make them laugh.

"In a way, Billy really went viral, through our Facebook page, through a couple of national outlets," he added. Indeed, Billy even got his own Facebook presence — the "Billy the Lake Cumberland Goat" group.

Sadly, Billy the Goat's rich life came to an end recently. Almost three weeks ago, Blum said he started seeing online rumors that Billy had been shot and passed away.

"One of the members that had replied to a comment on this, I reached out to him personally and said, 'Hey, what's going on? Is this true or is this just online speculation?' And they said, 'No man, unfortunately it's true,'" said Blum. "The individual's brother was out on the lake fishing, and sent us a photograph of Billy on the shore dead with a bullet wound."

Blum has no idea who did it, though he noted there's a been "a lot of speculation online." He said talk about Billy has "exploded" as a result of the unfortunate news, with "a lot of outraged people" expressing their feelings about Billy and wanting to know what happened.

"I know a lot of people are very, very upset," said Blum. "I'm one of 20 moderators on that Facebook page, and our posts in the last four or five days have gone up probably a hundred-fold."

Blum has encouraged anyone who knows anything to reach out to authorities. He said that in speaking with a former Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife officer, he's learned that there could be charges in play including animal cruelty and discharging a firearm from a watercraft on the lake up onto the shore.

A call to the Kentucky Department Fish and Wildlife resulted in being told that as goats are considered livestock in this state, they aren't actually under the purview of Fish and Wildlife. Spokesperson Kevin Kelly said that department had not yet verified that Billy was shot.

"There have been some cases over the past years, it's very rare, if a livestock has been killed and it's suspected that a wild animal was involved, then we have become involved in the situation, but as far as something like this, it may be (a matter of) contacting those local county officials, the Department of (Agriculture) or the landowner, whoever owns the animal, their insurance agency" said Kelley.

In fact, local law enforcement is investigating Billy's death. Wayne County Sheriff Tim Catron confirmed that his office is looking into it.

"We just got a tip (Wednesday as to) who may have killed it," said Catron. The quality of the tip is still being evaluated, but Wayne County law enforcement is following up on it, and "hopefully something will materialize."

Catron confirmed that animal cruelty charges would potentially be a legal ramification, as well as potential federal charges if the shooting was done on property around the lake owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Catron said he hadn't spoken to the Corps about it as of Thursday.

Blum knew there would be some backlash to what happened with Billy, but even he was surprised at the online outpouring of outrage from members of the Lake Cumberland community.

"This has been surprising to not only myself but the other moderators on the page as well," he said. "We've had folks write condolences from states as far away as New Jersey."

People have even talked about honoring Billy with a small bronze statue in the area where he used to hang out. The U.S. Corps of Engineers did not give approval for that type of project, said Blum, but there are other ideas, such as Blum's hope to do charitable t-shirts honoring Billy through Lake Decals, or perhaps a statue in another location.

"There have been other goats from time to time, but none nearly as famous as this particular goat," said Blum.