A little over a week ago, Evelyn Gisselbeck woke to the terrified bleating of a goat. When she went outside, she found a yearling dead in its pen. Two days later she and Eugene, her husband, would find four kids dead.
One was left with its shoulder eaten, evidence of a lion attack.
The Department of Agriculture sent out a trapper, Ted North, who set a lion trap after the second attacks, but the Gisselbecks are worried that the lion might come back.
Eugene Gisselbeck, 91, and his 88-year-old wife Evelyn have lived up Butler Creek Road for 43 years. In those four decades, mountain lions have attacked their goats three times.
Eighteen years ago, North killed a mountain lion and cubs in the same area after they took a Gisselbeck goat. This week, North left two chickens as bait for the lion, if it comes back.
Jamie Jonkel, wildlife management specialist at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Missoula and its outlying areas have about 25 mountain lions at any given time.
"There's very little tolerance when lions are too comfortable," Jonkel said, "and the animal is removed."
When captured, the lion is killed, not relocated.
For the Gisselbecks, the goats are more than just livestock. They’ve been raising them since 1968, when they had “five children and got tired of feeding them powdered milk,” Eugene said.
Goats were cheaper than cows, and more and more came in until the Gisselbecks had some 300 at the peak of their ranching, their herd consisting of Toggenburgs, Lamanchas and Alpine goats.
Now they’re down to 36, “give or take,” according to Eugene after the lion attacks. A year and a half ago, a lion took a goat but the trappers “got the lion before we knew the goat was gone,” Eugene said, chuckling.
Evelyn was milking a big white Lamancha goat named Sunshine and listening to Montana Public Radio when interviewed Friday morning. Classical music “calms the goats,” she said. “They get wild when they hear the other stuff.”
When they moved to their 13.76-acre homestead from Missoula, they only had two nanny goats and three kids. “There wasn’t a thing up here,” Evelyn said.
A friend had a CAT D4 tractor and leveled a road, a space for their trailer, and dug a root cellar, and the Gisselbecks have been there ever since.
Eugene, who sometimes uses a motorized wheelchair, recognizes that living where they do can make life difficult. The site is five miles from town as the crow flies but 12.5 by road. It doesn’t make things easy. “It’s hard to get things done up here sometimes,” he said.