Town Pitches To Replace Amish Horse

Wednesday, July 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEEVILLE, Texas (AP) — There were double takes on Washington Street when the Borntrager family clopped by in their horse-drawn buggy. There were bemused glances when they peddled sweet corn, quilts and jellies on the courthouse square.

The Amish family turned quite a few heads when they settled in this south Texas town of 18,000, a community of ranchers between San Antonio and Corpus Christi.

``I thought it was strange, just like everybody else,'' said Danny Madrigal, a sheriff's inspector. ``It's unusual, you know?''

But Beeville has offered Texas-sized comfort to the Borntragers following a stunning and disturbing tragedy: The family's two Haflinger carriage horses were attacked in May, riddled with bullets.

Four teen-aged boys told investigators they thought they were shooting at wild hogs when they killed Leroy Borntrager's mare and injured his stallion.

Maybe guilt lingers long in a town that prides itself on neighborly ways. Perhaps it's the suffering of the animals. Whatever the reason, Beeville wants to make amends by replacing the mare.

``We all just kind of looked at each other and said, 'We've got to do something,''' Pat Finch said. ``It was just a senseless, terrible act.''

After all, Finch points out, the animals meant just about everything to the Borntragers: Family pet, transportation, financial asset. Beeville's former cowboys certainly know how the importance of horses.

As manager of a corner shop, Wicker Basket, Finch usually oversees a quiet realm of candles, knickknacks and coffee klatches. Now the phone is jangling and Finch is jotting figures. The shop has become the epicenter of the cash drive.

The bill for the horse, including shipping from Tennessee, will run about $4,100. The town has raised more than half the money.

Donations are mostly drummed up by word of mouth. Checks are mailed or dropped by the shop. A little boy chipped in $20, a month's allowance, Finch said.

``It's shameful,'' gas station attendant Michelle Clark said quietly, color rising in her cheeks. ``For those people to come make a life in our town and then have that happen — it's just awful.''

From the beginning, the town trod lightly. Before raising a penny, a liaison — Finch shied away from saying who — dropped by to clear the fund-raising plan with the Borntragers.

To see how gently the town is handling the reclusive family, just try to find them: Most everybody knows where the Borntragers make their home, but mum is the word. The media-shy family asked the sheriff's department to remove trespassing reporters.

``They are very, very private people,'' said Brenda Wooden, seated beneath Wicker Basket's revolving fans on a sweltering afternoon. ``And we respect that.''

The shootings did not stem from anti-Amish sentiment, sheriff's investigators concluded. The teen-agers, ages 15 to 17, were charged with criminal mischief for opening fire on the animals.

The teens told investigators they came across the horses while bumping along back roads in a pickup truck during a midnight hog hunting spree. Squinting into the darkness, they mistook the horses for wild pigs, the teens said. The horses, tied up to stakes at the edge of a corn field, were pelted with dozens of bullets from a rifle and a shotgun.

The stout brown mare, who was pregnant, was found dead on her side May 30. The stallion was pacing wildly, its legs dotted with bullet wounds. After days in a veterinary hospital, it is recovering.

The teens were put on probation until their 18th birthdays. They faced two years in jail and a $10,000 fine, but Borntrager declined to press criminal charges.

``They're forgiving,'' Madrigal said. ``If anything, they're a little worried about the boys.''

Getting Beeville to forget could prove tougher.

``Those kids are going to carry that cross for a long time,'' Madrigal said. ``It's not that big a town — things get around.''


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