(This photo was made in the 1950's as the Goat Man passed through my town)
Charles McCartney was born on July 6, 1901. In 1915, at age 14, he ran away from his family's Iowa farm. He eventually wound up in New York, and was soon married to a Spanish knife-thrower. When she got pregnant they tried to make it as farmers, but bad weather and the Great Depression wiped them out. About the same time, he experienced a religious awakening. A man on a mission, he hitched up his team of goats to a wagon and took to the open road with his wife and son. His wife made goatskin clothes for him and his son to wear as a gimmick during their travels, but she quickly grew tired of the road and returned to Iowa, taking their son with her.
Charles McCartney looked like a goat. He smelled like one, too because he rarely took a bath. You take a fellow who looks like a goat, travels around with goats, eats with goats, lies down among goats and smells like a goat and it won't be long before people will be calling him the Goat Man. And that is exactly how he got his name. Someone would spot the Goat Man and his goats coming down the highway, his wagon piled high. Word would get around and pretty soon parents would be driving their children out to meet him.
For decades he traveled the back roads of the Southeast. Sometimes there were as many as 30 goats. One team would pull a large wagon while baby goats and nannies rode. Great big billies walked behind to push the wagon up hills and to act as brakes. "People are goats, they just don't know it," he would often say. The old iron-wheeled wagon was piled high with garbage, lanterns, bedding, clothes, an old pot belly stove, and plenty of scrap metal that McCartney gathered and sold. McCartney would wander five or 10 miles along country roads each day, then pull over into a field in the late afternoon. He'd light a bonfire, which was never complete until he hurled an old tire on top. Curious townspeople would see the black smoke and wander to his campsite. There he would preach the Gospel, drink goats milk and sell picture postcards of himself.
Eventually settling in Jeffersonville, Georgia, he established the Free Thinking Christian Mission. From the mission he journeyed out with his goat-pulled wagon to preach his message of impending and eternal damnation for sinners. His path through the countryside was easily traceable from the distinctive wooden signs he tacked on trees by the roadside, signs bearing such harsh messages as "Prepare to Meet Thy God" with the fires of hell painted underneath.
Occasionally, McCartney was attacked and mugged during his trips around the country. During one such attack in 1969, three young men assaulted him while he slept in his cart. He suffered three broken ribs, and two of his favorite goats were killed. Following this incident McCartney retired to his Jeffersonville mission. In 1978 his home burned down, after which he purchased and lived in a bus.
In 1985, during one of his final journeys away from Georgia, McCartney set out on foot to California, hoping to meet the actress Morgan Fairchild, whom he wanted to marry. En route to California, he was again mugged and hospitalized for his injuries. Following his return to Georgia, he left the road for good in 1987. He spent his final years as a local celebrity at a nursing home in Macon, where he died at the age of ninety-seven on November 15, 1998.
The Goat Man came through this area quite regularly from 1936 through the late 1950's, and maybe until the early 60's. It is for sure he passed through at least twice between 1936 and 1939 with about 20 goats each time (Kentucky Stories/Byron Crawford).
My uncle, Archie, said that during the mid 1950s the Goat Man would come down U.S. 127 on his way back South. He said classes would halt for a while as she and the other students at Clear Fork School would go out to see the Goat Man, who would let the students pet the goats. He well remembers the goats, the wagon and the pots and pans, and the junk on it, and the old bearded man known as the Goat Man.
Do you recall seeing the Goat Man? If so, I would love to hear your story. Send an e-mail to email@example.com or write to The Notorious Meddler, 559 Hudson Road, Albany, KY 42602.
Since writing this story, I have received nearly 100 e-mails from folks in Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida who remember seeing the Goat Man pass through their town. Thank you for your great response. There are too many e-mails to post here, but I wanted to include a few of the memories that have been shared with me.
When I was young, the Goat Man used to come through very often on the road we lived on. My grandfather and father knew him by his first name and he would stop to rest and talk. The last time I saw him was around 1963 when I was 12. He was a very interesting man who loved God. The pictures of him are just as I remember him. Thanks for keeping his memory alive. G.L., Rome, GA.
When I was a kid about 7 or 8, the Goat Man would stop in a small field about a mile from where I lived. Of course, our neighborhood mothers would make sure to tell us to stay away from him, but we would jump on our bikes and ride down to the campsite. We would play with the goats and listen to all the stories he would tell. He had a way of telling stories that would keep your attention and make you yearn for more. Soon, dad would drive down to the camp and tell us all to get home. When we finally got home from our visit with the Goat Man, mother would not let us in the house with our clothes on. She made us strip down in the yard and take bath number one under the garden hose. Then, we would have to go in the house and scrub again. Thanks, K.C., GA.
My father was transferred from North Carolina to Macon, Georgia in 1954. As a child of 12 when we moved here I was amazed at the sights of the big city. But the most memorable and unique sight I saw as we approached Macon was a very strange-looking man with a beard and a herd of goats pulling a loaded down wagon. Lo and behold, we later found out that we had encountered the infamous and notorious Goat Man! From time to time, after that first arrival in Macon, we would see the Goat Man here and there along the highways and byways of the area, and each time we were as thrilled as if we had seen the most famous movie star in the world. We loved to tell our cousins back in NC about this famous ‘creature’ and his goats, and although we never conversed with him, we felt as if we knew him well, and deemed him as a friend. T.R., Macon Georgia
I met the Goatman a few times. The time I remenber best was when I was around 13 years old, and we killed 3 or 4 rabbitts for him, and he gave us a hand full of post cards. He was camped at Mt Pleaseant GA. - G.R.
Returning today from a funeral in Dublin, GA, I happened to see the old school bus that the Goat Man lived in back in the 1980's and 1990's. It was overgrown with small trees and vines and barely visible from US Hwy 80. When I got home, my brother-in-law had sent me a copy of a webpage you had written. At the end, it asked for Goat Man stories. I first remember seeing the Goat Man in 1963 or 1964 on the east side of Macon, GA. He was camped in a grove of pine trees in a triangular grassy area across from the Ocmulgee National Monument entrance. My mother drove us out to see him after coming back home from work and spotting him setting up camp. His wagon was filled with so much junk that I thought it would tip over. And, there were goats everywhere. He had them tied out, staked up, on top of the wagon, and on runs so they could get to all of the grass. Chess McCartney was so dirty you could barely see his hands, and he smelled like a thousand campfires and 200 goats. I could not believe that someone was actually hiding under that dirt and behind that beard. In later years, I remember occasionally driving past the old school bus he lived in and seeing him outside every once in a while with a few of his goats. J.R., Macon, GA
I live a few miles north of Macon, Georgia which is about 8 or 10 miles north of his bus (home sight). It was not unusual to see Chess walking around Macon at any given time of the day or night. He would hitchike up to Macon and then back down Hwy 80 to his home. Sometimes he would walk and pick up bottles and cans to sell. As a child, I remember him coming thru my home, which is about 150 miles from his home. My daddy would drive us out to his campsite in late afternoon to see him. I also remember getting behind his wagon along the highway and it would cause a back-up of traffic both ways as people slowed down to see him and his herd. H.F., Cairo, GA.
I met him back in the early 50's along the road in front of my Grand Father's Country Store. He and his goats spent the night in field owned by my grandfather. I remember him quite well.. He told some amazing stories to then a young kid from Savannah Georgia..
As a young child I remember the Goat Man coming thru our town (Sunnyside, Georgia) several times. When someone told us he was around we would all get in Daddy's car and go to see him. It was a wonderful experience for us kids and adults too. One year when he came thru my neighbor, who was always drunk, stole two of his goats and cooked them and sold them as cow meat. He and his friends went to jail for it. I believe this may be the incident that happened in 1969 where he was beatened and his goats were killed. same. S.B., Jackson, GA.
Helen writes...Oh, what memories your goat man bio brought back. I grew up in Chattanooga, TN. I can remember seeing the goat man several times during the 50's and 60's. One particular memory is quite vivid. He and his goats were traveling through East Ridge, TN on Highway 41. This would take him through the tunnel under Missionary Ridge. I wondered if he and the goats were going to enter the tunnel or go over the ridge. My parents also commented that they had seen him. He was well known, even though my family was not aware of his ministry.