The Hilton Head Island deer that thought it was a goat has died.
The little doe showed up two or three years ago in a fenced pasture at the corner of Gum Tree and Squire Pope roads.
There in a funky field with tabby ruins, shade trees and a large vegetable garden stood little Bambi. She might be seen lying with sheep or grazing with goats. The two horses – Mercedes and Lexus – paid the deer no mind.
“It was just family,” said Curtis Barnwell. “The horses, goats and sheep all accepted it for what it was.”
Never miss a local story.
Motorists hustling to busy restaurants nearby on Skull Creek, or darting in and out of the back gate to Hilton Head Plantation, did double-takes at the sight.
Some were known to swear off alcohol.
Curtis and his father, Thomas C. Barnwell Jr., also accepted it for what it was.
It was a natural occurrence in a tiny plot of land they have left natural in a booming resort town. It is a place for a Gullah family that has owned the land for more than five generations to touch a simpler way of life before there was a bridge.
“It’s a little way to preserve a little peace of mind,” Curtis Barnwell said.
Some of his five grandchildren named the doe Bambi. When he was their age, the field was a cow pasture. “It’s where we got our meat,” he said.
When Thomas Barnwell was a child, he had a goat named Geneva. All the island kids had goats, and goat carts. It’s how they got around.
Today, Thomas Barnwell plants long rows of broccoli, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, gourds and corn, because it is his tradition.
Nearby are an apartment complex, a mobile home park and a neighborhood of single-family homes – all neat as Marine barracks – that Thomas Barnwell has developed.
Across the street rises a blue-roofed timeshare complex on land leased by the Barnwell family. That helps the elder Barnwell, a member of the Hilton Head Island Hall of Fame, preach his old message to the Gullah community: Don’t give up your land. Capitalize on it, but keep it in the family.
The tale of the odd family of animals reads like a bedtime story.
A family of deer lived in the woods across Squire Pope Road. Late one night, they came inside the fence to see what they could find to eat. The baby could not get back over the fence, so she just stayed.
Curtis Barnwell said they didn’t feed her by hand or try to make her tame. She ate hay, soybean hulls and goat pellets. Occasionally a wary buck would come and sneak a glimpse.
Over time, “the deer thought it was a goat,” Curtis Barnwell said.
It used to lie down with the goats and sheep and lick the hair off their backs.
“I thought, this cannot be healthy,” Curtis Barnwell said.
Maybe that’s what caught up with Bambi. Who knows? She died several months ago, leaving her family to accept it for what it was.