There are many short biographies of the Goat Man, none of which exactly matches up with any other, in part because Charles “Ches” McCartney, the Goat man, liked to embellish those legends that he liked and change those he didn’t.
I was eight at the time, 1953, and we were coming back to Macon, Georgia after a vacation in Florida. My father was driving us, my mother and me, in some hilly terrain when I saw the Goat Man up ahead. He had pulled off the highway and on to a bare piece of ground. His wagon had a bunch of goats in front and more tied up in the back. The Goat Man and his wagon, pulled by goats, often caused long traffic jams since it was impossible to pass on the narrow, curving hills of Middle Georgia.
My father and I got out and walked over to the wagon, loaded down with cans, wire, signs and other pieces of junk thrown on wherever they would stay. My father started up a conversation with the man, whose scraggly beard had no particular shape to it, much like his wagon. He wore a cap, coveralls and boots. The Goat man had that dingy look as if he were covered with a thin film of dirt and other elements that stuck to his body and clothes. Charles said he was from Iowa but he traveled around the United States, passing through Georgia on the way to Florida. He had a nice, soft voice and even laughed at my father’s jokes. The Goat Man also had some other goats that brought up the rear, including baby goats, which he made sure got food and water. Cars passing by slowed down when they passed the collection of junk on wheels. Some honked and waved. Click on image.
My mother motioned for us to leave, so we said our goodby and left the Goat Man to greet other travelers who saw a chance to take some pictures of the legend. *Exact date unknown.
Bobbie Sue Shelton, writer for the Eagleville Times, Tennessee, wrote a look- back on the life of the Goat Man:
“Mr. Ches McCartney, better known as ‘The Goat Man,’ was born in Van Buren Township, Keokuk County, Iowa on July 6, 1901. At the age of 14 he ran away from home and went to New York where he met his first wife, a Spanish knife thrower, while he was selling papers on the street corner…Ches was 14 and his wife was 24.”
They had a son while living in What Cheer, Iowa and the family had a series of series of bad luck, including the (1929) depression and McCartney waking up in the morgue after a tree fell on him and the rescuers thought he was dead.
McCartney described the experience: :
“The undertaker was slow and by the time he got around to working on me, the life came back to my body and I regained consciousness. It was if I had been raised from the dead.”
After several more years of charity, he, his wife and son went on the road with a “handcrafted” wagon pulled by his goats. McCartney became a preacher, delivering a sermon to “anyone who would listen.” It was obvious that “Ches” McCartney would become the Goat Man. See Donna Glenn.
Robert McG Thomas Jr also wrote a short account of his life after the Goat Man’s death in 1998 for The New York Times:
According to Thomas, McCartney was married at least twice more but “the last marriage ended when he sold his goat-weary wife for $1,000 to a farmer she’d already grown sweet on.”
At the end of the 1930s McCartney began a regular route between Iowa and Georgia that lasted three decades, making his home in Jefferson, Georgia. He sold postcards of himself and his entourage for income during his travels.
“Although the postcards sold so well that rumors actually spread that he was rich, he found a new source of income early in his travels when he stopped off in a backwoods section of North Georgia and had what amounted to an economic epiphany. Observing that the bearded goat man was the spitting image of a figure depicted in religious paintings, some of the deeply religious residents became convinced that he was Jesus Christ and began showering him with gifts.”
The Goat Man didn’t want to disappoint them so he played along with the locals. This side trip ended with the Goat Man being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. For the rest of the story, read both links above. If you want another version, google the Goat man.
But the Goat Man was real, including some of the stories.