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The Story of Goat Island, Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa

The story of Goat Island is an unsettled one. Some people believe that it was named because it was shaped like a goat. This one is easy enough to dispel because an old map of the harbor definitely shows Goat Island, and it wasn't shaped like a goat. Not in the slightest.

The most credible cause for the name was the presence of a "goat" on the island, along with the Officer's Club and so on. Navy personnel that I've spoken to from that time period confirm the presence of a goat. Great, but where did that goat come from?

Here is where the stories differ. Modern retellings place the origin of the goat as coming from Manu'a. The story I heard from an old Navy, retired enlisted sailor who is also a native of the islands and who enlisted from here way back when. I wish I could recall his name, but we only met in passing.

His story about how the goat came to be on that little island in our harbor is this.

The Navy shifted out its local commander and with the arrival of the new commander were the usual changes that result from a change in leadership. My source claimed that one of the more unusual requests by the new commander was that a goat be retrieved from Aunu'u, where he'd heard there were goats, so that when his wife settled in he'd be able to surprise her with goats milk for her pantry.

The order went out, and sailors rowed to Aunu'u and retrieved a goat and set it to roam on the island our in the harbor. For obvious reasons, this meant that the goat didn't have to be watched too closely as it was unlikely that it would decide to take a long walk off a very short pier.

Not long after, the new station commander was ready to spring his surprise on his wife. During dinner he asked that someone go and milk the goat and bring the fresh milk to the table. The order went out and someone ran down and went out to the island, and then came back... without the milk. Sheepishly, he returned to inform the commander that the sailors sent to Aunu'u had retrieved a "he" goat instead of a she-goat.

The error was corrected, and a she-goat was placed on station on the island, and the island earned the name of Goat Island as a result.

I suspect long after the commander and his wife left Tutuila's Navy Station a goat remained on the island for no reason more than tradition and the fact that it kept the grass clipped short.

Leastwise, this is the story I heard about how Goat Island received is name. Could be the old man was pulling my chain, but I doubt it.


Many people ask what in the world goats were doing so far away from their native homelands. The answer is simple. During the seafaring heyday, sailors would release goats on remote islands as emergency resupply and food. The animals would breed and subsequently sailing vessels could replenish their food stores by stopping and hunting goats on these various remote islands.

From an ecological point of view, it is easy to imagine the damage goats can do when they go feral, as they compete with a lot of different native species on many of these islands.

If you're wondering whatever happened to all of the goats in Samoa, all I can offer up as an explanation is that my recent, modern ancestors probably had a really good recipe for goat.

I lived on Pago Pago many

I lived on Pago Pago many years ago. From 1952 to 1956 my family lived there, where my father was contracted by the US Government to build and maintain a ship to shore radio communication station.

For me, as a child, it was paradise. I remember it well and I remember it fondly. As an innocent little boy I thought the whole world must be as gentle and kind as Samoa.

We lived directly across the bay from Rainmaker in a large divided house that was home to two families. The Caldwell's and the Fineque's. My parents often went to the Goat Island Club and stayed late into the night. I remained in the large spooky house, being a bit frightened, as I was just a little boy.

Not far from our large house that faced Rainmaker was a large hill and on top was the Governors mansion. I remember playing in the overgrowth and rainforest that surrounded our house and the Governors mansion. For me it was a magical place, as I was a little innocent boy exploring the mystery and wonders that surrounded my little world.

Behind our house was an enormous mango tree. I loved this tree, as one would love another. It gave me the beautiful mangos that I love even unto this day. Also, I often climbed high up into its limbs, where I would watch and listen to the birds and survey my surroundings. I felt safe and protected in the arms of my giant mango tree friend, as sometimes I was just a frightened little boy learning about the world.

I had a swing in the mango tree and would swing high in it most every day. One day I bailed out, as I often did, pitched high in the air. On landing my chin hit my knee and I nearly severed my tongue. Fortunately, I survived the ordeal and contrary to what the doctors said I can speak quite well now.

It was in this giant mango tree where I first kissed a girl. She was a local mixed race girl, who was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I gently motioned for her to follow me behind the tree, where we embraced and passionately kissed for the longest time. We were interrupted however by the loud shrieks of a local mob of kids that had watched us from afar and decided to taunt us while we embraced. I was humiliated and very embarrassed and the local kids teased me about the incident for what seemed like months.

I have much more to say about my four years on Pago Pago, but that is all for now. I really want to return there some day before I go to the big island in the sky, but hopefully I have time, as I'm now 63 years old and in good health. I don't have the money for such a trip right now, but hope to in a year or so. I do admit mixed emotions about visiting Pago Pago, as it is not how my memory knows it to be. Nevertheless, one day soon I will return.

Dan Caldwell

Elephant Butte, New Mexico

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