December 2018 marks 30 year anniversary of the death of the Albino deer that endures as a symbol of St. Ansgar

by Alexander Schmidt

The doe was born in the spring of 1980 somewhere near the Deer Creek River. One of the first to report that an albino deer was spotted in the area was David Falk, and the animal quickly became the talk of the town.

According to Enterprise Journal archives from December 22, 1988, “Scarcely a day went by that she was not the topic of conversation and if spotted running west of town, it was not unusual for many to drive out to try and catch a glimpse of her.”

Her entire life was spent in an approximate four square mile area. Life expectancy for most animals affected with the albinism trait is short, but the deer lived for eight years and gave birth to fifteen fawns before succumbing to an acute kidney infection, pneumonia and advanced age on December 13, 1988.

In 1989, in response to uproar over a hunter shooting another white deer elsewhere in the state, the Iowa Legislature was prompted to pass a resolution banning the hunting of albino deer. The last reported sighting of an albino deer in Iowa was in 2014 in rural Buchanan County. Iowa DNR officials estimate that they receive reports about once every eight to ten years that an albino deer is sighted.

St. Ansgar resident Lori (Koster) Mayer says she feels very privileged to have been a part of the history of the White Deer and was with her when she died.  She tells the EJ, “The trapper who found her was my brother, Jamie Koster, out at Josephine Ruechel’s farm place west of town (Justin & Elisa Braun live there currently). While checking his traps that day, he spotted the deer lying by the fence, under a tree in the barnyard.”

Koster drove back to town and contacted Al Roemig, game warden for Mitchell County DNR, and Edson Dockstader, St. Ansgar’s local veterinarian at the time. Lori happened to be visiting the Worth Living Centers at the time; she, along with her parents Darwin and Lanita Koster then drove back with Jamie to the Ruechel farm to attend to the deer. 

“She was panting heavily and had a runny nose, but seemed pretty calm and didn’t spook at all,” Mayer says. “When [Roemig and Dockstader] arrived, they picked her up and carried her to a shed, where they administered IV antibiotics for pneumonia, but sadly, she died some hours later.”

Oddly enough, proof of the community’s interest in albino deer can be traced back before this deer’s life, and even before living memory: a search through archived editions found an article in the St. Ansgar Enterprise issue dated March 9, 1904. The column, from a wire news service, informed the Enterprise’s readers of an albino deer found dead in the Canyon mountains in Oregon; with “a coat as white as the drifting snows, eyes and ears a delicate pink, and with a tread as soft and discreet as an elk fawn.”

The admiration that the deer inspired in the 1980’s among the St. Ansgar community quickly prompted a campaign to memorialize the animal, and she was mounted for permanent display, preserved year-round in a climate controlled case inside a gazebo located just off 4th Street.

The case, constructed by Nels Goldberg, gives visitors the chance to learn of the town’s much admired mascot, and the area surrounding the display was later christened White Deer Park, where visitors can see for themselves the unique beauty of St. Ansgar’s beloved deer, which still mesmerizes three decades after her death, and will surely endure for many decades more.

Do you have a story about the albino deer? Share it with the EJ as we mark the 30th anniversary of this very special St. Ansgar story.

1 COMMENT

  1. There is a white deer in Byron, MN in Oxbow Park. When I saw it a couple of months ago, my thoughts returned to the beautiful deer on display in St. Ansgar.

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