Legend of the 'Goatman' lives on

Legend of the 'Goatman' lives on

January 12th, 2009 by Ron Clayton in News

Ten years after Charles "Ches" McCartney died at age 97 in a Macon, Ga., nursing home, the legend of the "Goatman" lives on.

The Goatman was a familiar figure for decades on the back roads inside and outside the South. With a team of goats hitched to a wagon festooned with items he collected from the road, the Goatman roamed from town to town, selling postcards and trinkets and preaching his message of damnation for sinners.

Durant Tullock, director of the Etowah Chamber of Commerce, remembers seeing the Goatman when he was a youngster.

And he remembers the man's odor. "He really smelled," Mr. Tullock said.

The Goatman slept with his goats, apparently never bathed and often tossed an old tire atop his campfire. The smoke from those burning tires was a signal to city dwellers that the Goatman was in town with his wares, Mr. Tullock said.

His travels made the Goatman a famous figure, and many people have tried to separate truth from legend about his life.

Mr. McCartney was born in 1901 in Sigourney, Iowa. He was married three times, once to a Spanish knife thrower. In 1935 he was injured while working for a New Deal program and experienced a religious awakening, according to McMinn historical records.

After that, he hitched up his goats and took his wife and son on the road. She quickly tired and moved with their son back to Iowa. Mr. McCartney continued on his own, establishing the Free Thinking Christian Mission in Twiggs County, Ga., and traveling with his goat-pulled wagon to spread his message.

He was known to nail wooden signs on trees bearing the message, "Prepare to Meet Thy God," and decorated with painted flames.

The Goatman was often attacked and mugged during his trips. In one attack his ribs were broken and two of his favorite goats were killed.

In 1978 he sold his goats, and later his Georgia home burned down. For a time he lived in a bus on his property but in 1985, he decided to walk to California to meet the actress Morgan Fairchild, whom he wanted to marry. He was beaten up on the road and hospitalized. He left the road for good in 1987 and died in 1998, according to historical accounts.

Athens resident Bill Akins remembers the Goatman from the late 1940s. He said people would gather around the itinerant preacher/peddler, who would occasionally sell one of his goats to people he liked.

"He was really an attraction," Mr. Akins said.

Athens City Councilman Dick Pelley likes to keep the Goatman's memory alive by portraying him at the annual Pumpkintown Festival. He wanders the downtown streets with a pet goat and a sign telling about the Goatman.

Mr. Pelley, a professor at Tennessee Wesleyan College, said appearing as the icon is one of his favorite things to do.

"He was from a time when people were searching for excitement in small towns," Mr. Pelley said. "He provided a circuslike atmosphere. He loved his goats, but he also really loved people."

A video interview with the Goatman is kept at the McMinn County Library. There is a book about his life and a variety of Internet sites posted by people whose lives he touched. Google "Goatman McCartney" to learn more.