Bertram is betting on Donkey Day

By Dana Delgado

BERTRAM — The much-celebrated miniature donkey Pawnee of Frontier Legends Miniature Donkeys of Bertram takes a backseat to no one, especially some groundhog by the name Punsutawney Phil — the designated weather forecaster from up North.

Come Saturday, Feb. 2, it will be Pawnee’s day as Bertram Mayor Dickie Allen has officially declared it “Donkey Day.”

At about 12:30 p.m. Saturday in front of the Bertram City Hall at 166 W. Vaughan, Pawnee, led by owners Skip and Patsy Oertli, will make the official prediction before civic and community leaders and all interested onlookers at the historic event that has become a Bertram tradition nine years running.

Will it be more frigid weather or could spring be just around the corner? Only the former Champion miniature donkey knows for sure.

But unlike the near-sighted groundhog counted on for seeing his shadow up North, Pawnee’s instincts will drive the forecaster’s decision.  The prize-winning miniature must decide between two buckets of feed and a bucket of water.

It is stated by event organizers that if the donkey chooses sweet feed, six more weeks of winter are forecast. If the donkey eats oats, which have brought Bertram much notoriety through its Oatmeal Festival, then an early spring is expected. If the donkey drinks water — and typically they don’t drink much at all — that signals abundant rainfall is predicted.

According to Marcie Masterson of the Bertram Chamber of Commerce, the results haven’t always been crystal clear but “generally the donkey will choose one feed or another quite readily.”

“That first year (2005) Pawnee ate his oats, and we did, indeed, have an early spring,” Mrs. Masterson said.  “At the same time Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and forecast six more weeks of winter!”

In some years, Mrs. Masterson said the donkey has eaten a bit of sweet feed and oats. In that case, it was left up to the judge to interpret the results.

“One time Pawnee ate a bite of sweet feed, then went over and gobbled all the oats,” she said. “The judge interpreted that as one more week of winter and spring would come five weeks early…that was correct!”

Mrs. Masterson that another year Pawnee ate about half from each, and was interpreted to mean three more weeks of winter.

“One year, I believe in ‘07,” Mrs. Masterson said, “Pawnee drank water, and we did have a wet spring.  By the way, Pawnee’s prognostications are at about 70 percent!”

Donkey Day was conceived nearly a decade ago following a January Chamber meeting when members began chatting about injecting “a little excitement” during the dreary months of January and February. Except for the Livestock Show in January and Groundhog Day in early February,  Chamber members saw the calendar was void of activities.

The members laughed about what a “silly holiday” Groundhog Day was and a quick web search of Punxsutawney Phil’s prognosticating record showed that ground critter was right only 50 percent of the time.

“Well, one joke followed another, and we decided that there was no way a northern mammal could forecast Central Texas weather,” recalls Masterson. “So we decided we would get our own prognosticator.”

So, will the Polar Vortex continue to grip Texas with frigid temperatures, gusty winds, and sleet, ice and snow?  Will the drought finally end? Or could there be an early spring?  Only Pawnee knows and the rest of us will have to wait until Saturday to find out.