There’s something quietly audacious about sending one of the world’s finest photographers — in the midst of a world war — to document the lives of goats. But that’s just what LIFE magazine did in the summer of 1942, when Alfred Eisenstaedt shipped out to south central Texas to visit “Goat King” Adolph Stieler and his 600 Angoras.
As LIFE told its readers in an August 1942 issue, Angora goats “look like aristocrats, and they should, for Angoras are the blue-blooded elite of the goat world.”
Their long, curly, silky fleece, known commercially as mohair, is used in making fine upholstery, yarn and fabrics. Angora goats are dainty, shy and not at all smelly. Their fleece is so rich in healthy oil (lanolin) that goatmen who handle them a lot have pink, soft hands like a baby’s.
Goats are among the oldest and best friends that man has. There are 137 mentions of goats in the Bible. Goats were among the first animals brought to America by Captain John Smith and Lord Delaware. A frisky Arabian oat, according to legend, discovered the stimulating effects of the coffee bean. Great thinkers of history like Zoroaster, Buddha and Confucius all said kind words about goats. Modern men who get to know them, including author Carl Sandberg, conductor Arthur Rodzinski and Mahatma Gandhi, usually think they are wonderful. . . .
So. Take a gander at Eisenstaedt’s photographs, and decide for yourself if goats really are all they’re cracked up to be. Also, please do take the time to read the captions that accompany the pictures; it’s not every day, after all, that one comes across an observation as insightful and weirdly moving as, “Shorn goats crowd together for warmth and mutual sympathy. They are not pretty now and they know it.”
Even blue-blooded elites, it seems, have feelings. Who knew?
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.