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Charles "Goat Man" McCartney on a visit to the Chattanooga area in 1964. McCartney was known throughout the South for his goat-drawn wagon and campfire preaching. / Photo from Free Press archives at ChattanoogaHistory.com.

For a good chunk of the 20th century, Charles "Goat Man" McCartney was a fixture in the South, a vagabond who wandered from state to state leading up to 30 goats.

McCartney is shown here in a 1964 Chattanooga Free Press photo dressed in his trademark overalls and railroad cap while on a swing through southeastern Tennessee.

The subject of a book and two documentary films, McCartney was a folk legend who traveled America's rural backroads as a self-styled minister and prophet from the 1930s to the 1980s.

According to news reports, he died in 1998 in a Macon, Georgia, nursing home at age 97. For much of his life his home base was Jefferson, Georgia, about 18 miles northeast of Athens, where at one point he lived in an abandoned bus.

His habit during his journeys, according to various newspaper articles, was to hike 5 to 10 miles a day alongside his herd of goats before setting up a camp in a field, where he would set a fire with old tires to draw attention to his preaching.

He even had a team of goats that pulled a trailer filled with scrap metal, among other things, that he sold for money. McCartney also told journalists that he sold books and pictures to buy essentials.

An article in the 1944 Chattanooga Daily Times marked one of McCartney's visits to the area, noting that he also had his 9-year-old son, 15 goats and a dog and cat in his caravan.

His backstory seemed to change from one telling to the next. By one account he left his family's Iowa farm at age 14 and married a New York knife thrower, before setting out with his son. By another, it was the Great Depression that caused him to leave Iowa, presumably by then in his 30s.

At different points he estimated that he traveled from 100,000 to 300,000 miles by foot over his lifetime. He is said to have taken the goats to 49 states. Presumably they didn't hoof it to Hawaii.

In 1968, at age 67, McCartney told a reporter that the world would come to an end in 36 months. Instead, the Goat Man lived another 30 years.

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"During my years on the road I've been cursed, beaten, shot and and denied access to public accommodations," he said in the 1968 article published in the Atlanta Constitution newspaper.

He also told the reporter, "A lady asked me when I last had a bath, I told her probably when my parents bathed me 65 years ago. ... I know I'm dirty but I ain't got no banker's job."

In a 2005 retrospective of his life published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, writer Jeff Elder, of Knight Ridder newspapers, noted that McCartney once owned a trick goat with no front legs that hopped like a kangaroo.

Another one of his goats, named Billy Blue Horn, lived for 30 years and was one of the Goat Man's favorites, Elder wrote.

"People are goats, they just don't know it," was said to be one of McCartney's favorite sayings.

In his profile, Elder notes that McCartney developed an interest in actress Morgan Fairchild when he was in his 80s, and even went to California to try to meet her. But they never connected.

The photograph with this story is part of the Chattanooga Free Press collection of images at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website curated by history buff Sam Hall.

Follow the Remember When, Chattanooga public group on Facebook.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timefreepress.com.

 

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