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Colorful Southerners: The Goat Man

Updated on September 10, 2012

living in the South

I've been living in the South for more than half a century, and it's rarely been boring. As I’ve said before, the South is full of interesting characters. Very few, however, are as fascinating as the “Goat Man.”

I remember seeing the Goat Man when I was just a kid. Every few months or so, he’d come through town, aboard his wagon pulled by a team or goats. Sometimes he’d camp out in a local farmer’s field in order to rest his animals and to let them graze a bit. He might have had as many as fifty goats with him on one of his forays across the country. As evening fell, he’d build a huge fire in a clearing, always topping it old with an old tire to keep mosquitoes and other insects away.

Actually, the Goat Man wasn’t a native Southerner. Charles McCartney was born in Iowa, but the year of his birth is often disputed. He was supposedly strange, even as a child. At the tender age of fourteen, Ches, as he was often called, left Iowa for New York and wound up marrying a Spanish knife thrower who was ten years his senior. He became her willing target in the knife show.

By 1935, Ches had found safer employment with the WPA, or so he thought. Ironically, he was injured on this job, and while recovering, he converted to Christianity and felt a calling to preach to the masses. This, along with his sense of wanderlust and thirst for adventure, prompted him to take to the open road in his goat wagon. His wife made clothing for him from goatskins, and the couple and their young son headed south.

It didn’t take the wife long to grow weary of the gypsy life, and she returned to Iowa with their son. Ches continued his travels. From the early 1930s until 1968, McCartney traveled some 100,000 miles with his goats, surviving largely from goat milk and preaching to anyone who would listen. He claims to have visited every state except for Hawaii, explaining that his goats couldn’t swim that far. Most of his travels, however, centered around the South, and he claimed Jeffersonville, GA as his residence.

I don’t know how often McCartney made the trek through my town. I do know that U.S. 41 was one of his favorite routes, and it runs right through downtown. As a child, I remember being both fascinated and frightened by the sight of the old man. He was grizzled and shabby, with a long gray beard. My dad said he smelled just like an old goat, but I never got close enough to notice. Once his wagon and goatly entourage were spied near town, word spread like wildfire. Parents gathered their offspring and rushed out to see the legend. Mr. McCartney sold postcards of himself and his goats to earn money, and he always had a tall tale to share with his audience.

His wagon was a lackadaisical affair, with iron wheels. It was piled high with bales of hay, a pot-bellied stove, pots, pans, a mattress, baskets, trash, and old car tags. I always wondered why a man without an automobile would need so many car tags. Maybe he sold them, too. He also got donations from followers who considered him to be a modern day prophet or holy man.

The Goat Man’s travels with his animals ended in 1968, when he was attacked in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. Assailants beat the old man severely, and killed several of his goats. After that, Mr. McCartney abandoned the road and settled down in Jeffersonville. He and his son, Albert Gene, took up residence in an old school bus.

A decade or so later, McCartney became infatuated with actress Morgan Fairchild. He made up his mind to seek her hand in marriage and set out for California on foot in 1985. On the way there, he was again mugged and beaten. He returned to Georgia and gave up traveling for good. In 1998, McCartney’s son was found shot behind their school-bus home.

With no relatives, the Goat Man's last few years were spent in a Macon nursing home, where he was a celebrity. He died on November 15, 1998. Some say he was 97 at the time of his death, while others claim he was either 106 or 120. We’ll probably never know for sure.

The Goat Man had an impact on everyone he came in contact with. Georgia author Flannery O’Connor was no exception. Many literary critics believe he served as inspiration for several of her characters, most notably Mason Tarwater in her 1960 novel, The Violent Bear it Away.



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    • profile image

      excjoann 5 years ago

      Loved the history of the Goatman - as I had said earlier, somewhere in my foggy memory - I recall the story of the Goatman and I am trying to remember if in fact I did not see him once traveling through Hampton, Tn.

    • profile image

      amersonrpb 6 years ago

      What is the name of the book you mentioned that is written about him? Recently, I read another book that was about the neighborhood I grew up in and sure enough he was in it. The book is called 'Guava Dreams' which was written by a lady who also grew up in the same neighborhood as I did, although a few years earlier. Apparently, the Goatman also traveled to North Miami Beach, Florida every year. I would't doubt if my dad, grandparents & most of my relatives knew of him from South Carolina to Florida. Some of my cousins seem to remember the stories about him. Thanks for sharing this very fascinating story.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Yeah - what's happened to all our colorful characters??

    • outdoorsguy profile image

      outdoorsguy 7 years ago from Tenn

      great hub, thanks for sharing it with us. Sometimes I think that America today lacks the color of past years. when I was a kid we had a tinker that rolled thru town a few times in a wagon.

      Thanks again Habee, Keep up the good work.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Glad you enjoyed it, Granny!

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 8 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      Fantastic hub. I loved you added the picture

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      He would have fit right in, Charlie! lol

    • profile image

      ralwus 8 years ago

      Great hub Holle. He should have been in Paint Your Wagon. LOL

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      I think he went through AL, too, but you're too young to have seen him.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 8 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Awesome hub Habee!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Oh, Maya, I'm so glad you found this hub! I was scared of the Goat Man when I was a kid, too!

    • profile image

      Maya 8 years ago

      Oh, my God! Thank you for this hub. I can remember the Goat Man driving the wagon down Market Street in Wilmington, NC when I was a kid.

      I was scared to death when my mom gave the Goat Man money so I could look inside. Phewwww! The inside smelled as bad as the goats. But, it was a treat for a kid!

      Had not thought of the Goat Man in years, but your hub brought it all back. In fact, my cousins are digging through old photo albums to find pictures.

      Great hub. Great memories.


    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Janie. I didn't know that about the wagon. Did you ever see him?

    • profile image

      janie Hopwood 8 years ago

      I have an interesting story about the goat man. Actually two stories, one I know to be true the other I think is true. He was a truly a memorable man. That wagon was an old rr cart btw.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      G, write a hub about the duck lady!

    • GPAGE profile image

      GPAGE 8 years ago from California

      habee! This is one of my favorite things.......finding out about "characters" like this man. It absolutely fascinates me! There is a women here locally who collects all sorts of DUCK stuff......ducks are everywhere! duck statues, duck stuffed animals placed in front of her home EVERYWHERE!!!.......she parks her car in front loaded with duck stuff also........I always walk by there and stand there frozen at the sight........Best, G

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks so much, Greg!

    • greg austin profile image

      greg austin 8 years ago from Canada

      Excellent hub and very interesting story. You are a great writer and industrious!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, CM! I think she mentioned him by name in some of her letters. I'm lucky I got to see him!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 8 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      I remember O'Connor writing about this guy -- wow, fascinating story!!!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Dad's first store was on 41 South, and he used to see the old man whenver he came through town. I think I only saw him a few times, however. He's pretty hard to forget!

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 8 years ago from Southern Georgia

      I saw the "goat man" traveling down highway 41 many times over the years. One cold day my dad stopped to talk to him, as he usually did when he saw him passing through. "What do you do when it gets really cold" my dad asked? "I just pull up another goat" he said with a slight smile.

      Your hub brings back fond memories of the old man, Holle.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      This really upset me, too, Nemi. How can people be so cruel to the elderly and to animals???

    • Nemingha profile image

      Nemingha 8 years ago

      A truly delightful sad about the beatings though. My heart bleeds for elderly people treated this way.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      MOW, funny! I write in spurts, when I feel well. Thanks for the unfounded compliment!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Yes, Ethel he was! Thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Bpop, I think interesting is an understatement!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      HH, I'm so glad you enjoyed reading about the Goat Man!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      RN, I wish I had known he was in a home in Macon - I would have gone to visit him. I hear he had a good bit of company, though. I'm glad.

    • myownworld profile image

      myownworld 8 years ago from uk

      lovely hub, as always! I worry about you sometimes...I know it's a treat reading your hubs, but are you getting some rest too? please take care...we don't want our best hubber to burn out! :) x

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 8 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Fascinating guy

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 8 years ago

      Very interesting story and character habee.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 8 years ago from London, UK

      That is fascinating. I was spellbound reading it. Thank you so much. You deserve a medal for that.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      man you outdid yourself this time habee!!

      this is a beautiful tribute to a man whose life was more than likely wracked with pain

      his wife and child left him to return to return to iowa

      his son comes back when the son is grown to live with his ole man

      but then the oldman, the goat man, probably found his son


      behind the trailer

      and the goat man has to spend the rest of is lfe with the memories good and bad

      two muggings

      beloved goats killed

      wife left

      son dead

      and the goat man himself at the mercy of humans

      in an old folks home

      please I hope the ones who took care of the goat man

      were humans called to serve for others

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Yep, he seemed happy! I'm too much of a home lover, too, E!

    • ehern33 profile image

      ehern33 8 years ago

      What an interesting story. It takes a certain spirit to do what he did. I could never live that way but what is important was that he was happy doing it, at least it seems that way. Thanks for the story.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, D. Glad you stopped in for a visit!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      I was surprised to discover there's actually a book written about him! Some of it I knew from seeing him and hearing stuff from my parents. Thanks, Tams!

    • Delaney Boling profile image

      Delaney Boling 8 years ago

      Good stuff Habee!

    • profile image

      Tammy Lochmann 8 years ago

      Ha I beat Hello...Interesting how did you find out so much information about him? Just popped in congrats on 500 followers you are the best!.....Lockermann


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