About William Henry Swift
William Henry Swift, was the 'Goat' of his 1819 West Point class. William's older brother, Joseph Gardner Swift, happened to be West Point Superintendent at the time.
In a 210-year-old military academy bristling with traditions, "the goat" is a curious custom that one might not expect to find at a school better known for its selectivity and high standards. Yet every year, the last-ranking cadet to make it through to graduation is anointed the goat, showered with praise, given a dollar from every other fellow graduate—amounting to roughly $1,000—and granted the biggest applause at the graduation ceremony.
On Apr. 15, 1813, when but thirteen years old, he was appointed a Cadet of the U. S. Military Academy, which he entered Aug. 13, 1813, there becoming more distinguished for his love of fun than for devotion to study. Upon the recommendation of Major Thayer, then Superintendent of the Military Academy, he was ordered by the Secretary of War, in December, 1818, to accompany Major Long's Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, a service which tamed down his juvenile playfulness and developed the germ from which sprung the rich flower and fruitage of his after useful manhood. When not assisting the officers of the expedition, he, having a great fondness for adventure, would join in the chase for buffalo, deer, and other game, which often took him so far away from his friends that, on one of his hunting expeditions, he was captured by a band of Pawnee Indians, whose chief wished to adopt him; but Swift, though declining the honor of becoming a savage, was allowed to return to the expedition after a detention for some months, during which he was kindly treated and became familiar with the Indian habits of life.