Remember the Goat Man?

I was searching for some information on the Remember Cliffside website several days ago when I stumbled upon a story about the Goat Man. Reno Bailey, the creator of Remember Cliffside, recalls from childhood a man who used to pass through town with a wagon pulled by goats and made money by taking photographs of children posed in his wagon. Bailey described how his young imagination had added a few details to the Goat Man’s biography. In his mind, the itinerant goatherd was a Nazi spy taking photographs of the town’s power plant and other installations. Of course, as an adult, Bailey learned that the Goat Man was not a spy. Instead he was a man who traveled the South’s backroads with his goats and, occasionally, some two-legged companions, preaching and living off the land and the kindness of strangers.

I probably wouldn’t have given the story much more thought if I hadn’t come across these two images of the Goat Man in the North Carolina Postcards online collection yesterday.

Postcard of the Goat Man with his wagon

The Goat Man preaching

I figured if there were postcards of the Goat Man and if he drew such large crowds when he preached, then someone must have written about him. Heck, I thought, maybe there’s even a Wikipedia page about him. Indeed, there is. There’s also a book and a song about the Goat Man, whose real name was Charles “Ches” McCartney.

According to several biographies on the web, including one in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, McCartney was born on an Iowa farm in 1901. At 14 he left home and headed for New York City. There he met and, eventually, married a Spanish woman who had a knife throwing act. McCartney, who was allegedly 10 years his wife’s junior, served as her knife throwing target. When the couple had a son, they left the city and began a life of farming. The Depression hit the couple hard and McCartney searched for other work. In 1935 McCartney was injured while cutting timber as part of a Works Progress Administration project. Some accounts suggest that a tree fell on him and several hours elapsed before he was found. According to those stories, McCartney was pronounced dead and taken to a mortuary. As the undertaker inserted a needle with embalming fluid into his arm, McCartney stirred.

Whether because of this supposed near death experience or for other reasons, McCartney underwent a religious reawakening. He hitched up a wagon to a team of goats and, accompanied by his wife and son, he took to the road preaching. Wearing goatskin clothes fashioned by his wife, McCartney called for sinners to repent or face eternal damnation. He marked his path with signs bearing such messages as “Prepare to Meet Thy God,” with the fires of hell painted at the bottom. Eventually McCartney’s wife tired of the itinerant life and she left, taking their son with her. McCartney continued his travels, inspired, he said, by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and the Bible, two books he carried with him. Along the way, McCartney married two more times and may have fathered several more children. At some point his son, Albert Gene, joined him on the road.

Portrait of Charles McCartney, the Goat Man, from the 1950s. Image from Davie County Public Library
Portrait of Charles McCartney, the Goat Man, from the 1950s. Image from Davie County Public Library

McCartney established a base in Twiggs County, Georgia, calling his home the Free Thinking Christian Mission. From there, he continued his travels, claiming to visited all of the lower 48 states as well as Alaska and Canada during almost 50 years on the road. Although he eventually forsook goatskin clothing for denim overalls, his fiery sermons and eccentric appearance left strong impressions on those whom he encountered. Flannery O’Connor mentioned the Goat Man in letters and may have incorporated some of his ways into her characters. It is believed that Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree includes a character based on McCartney.

McCartney retired from the road in the late 60s or early 70s, shortly after a mugging during which three of his ribs were broken and two goats killed. When his mission building burned in 1978, McCartney and his son moved into a broken down school bus. He made one last road journey in 1985 when he set out on foot toward Los Angeles in hopes of meeting and marrying the actress Morgan Fairchild. After a mugging on that trip, he returned to Georgia and lived in a nursing home until his death at the age of 97 in 1998.

If you met the Goat Man along the way, please share your memories with us.

44 thoughts on “Remember the Goat Man?”

  1. I remember the goatman on two separate occassions I saw him pulled over on the side of the road in Menlo, GA and on the way to Rome, GA. I don’t remember stopping! The smell of the goats was just too much!

  2. In about 1947, I saw the Goat Man in Boswell, Indiana. I was about 5 years old. He was traveling US 41, a major highway in those days. Years later I asked Dean Johnson, a Boswell boy, if he remembered the Goat Man. He replied that he and his brother, Gordon, played with the goats and explored the wagon. When their mother heard what they had been doing, she promptly threw them in the bath tub. I have a postcard Grandpa bought that day

  3. I remember seeing “The Goat Man” in Hamilton County, Tennessee on numerous occasions in the early to middle 960’s. I was a Tennessee State Trooper and would stop and talk to him. I would ask him to move his rig and his goats, for safety reasons, both his and the traveling public, and he would always comply without complaint.
    Someone mentioned smell/odor and I don’t recall which smelled worse, him or his goats.
    He was truly one of a kind and I honestly believe my life is somewhat richer because of my knowing him.

  4. I saw and remember the Goat Man from sometime in the 1950’s. My parents took me to Selma, NC to a location the Goat Man was traveling through. I remember the goats and all the people that had come out to see him.

  5. When I was six, I saw the Goat Man coming through McMinnville. TN. The whole town showed-up and the highway was lined like a Christmas parade. I have to this day never witnessed a more eccentric character and can only wish that America will continue to allow individuals to seek their life’s destiny. In my mind later reading Russian history, the Goat Man was my vision for Rasputin.

  6. My husband has told me many times about the Goat Man coming through Greenville, SC. It was around 1954 and my husband was about 9 or 10 years old. He would stop and preach in a field off of White Horse Rd. near the Donaldson Air Force Base. He often wondered about him and thanks to the Internet we were able to learn more about him.

  7. When I was a little girl, my parents and grand parents lived in Blue Mountain Alabama. The goat man would come with his wagon driven by little goats. I would sit for hours on the back porch and watch the goat man tend to his goats. I found him so interesting to watch and wonder where all he had been. I had forgotten about the Goat Man until I was grown and had children of my own. A artist from Anniston drew the Goat Man with his wagon and goats. My husband purchased the drawing for me on our anniversary. That is one of my precious treasures.

  8. I definitely remember seeing him pass through Kernersville, NC, twice in the 1950’s. My uncle came to the house and drove me to where he was parked just on the edge of town. He did not preach in Kernersville because that required a permit, but one could pose with him for a photo and even taste some fresh goat’s milk from a tin cup. My uncle told us at dinner one night that he heard at town hall that the goat-man had died, but he must have been referring to the mugging in the late 1960’s.

  9. I have a beautiful postcard of the Goat Man, particularly exciting because my grandfather in rural Tennessee used to tell me stories about him when I was young. Is there a library or other collectiion who might be interested in the postard?

  10. I was 15 years old and lived in the country of Greenville, North Carolina.One day I heard all this noise going past the house and my mom told me to hurry it was the goat man.I ran to the porch and there he goes past the house with his goats and bells ringing.He looked like a dirty old man.It was cool to see it from a distance.

  11. I recall the Goat Man coming through Macon and Warner Robins Georgia a few times in the mid 1950’s thru early ’60’s. We would all go out to visit him on the Macon Hwy US247.
    We were leery of him at first but quickly learned not to be as he was friendly to all.

    Oh, the places he has been…….

  12. I was in grammer school in my south Georgia, hometown of Ludowici, when I first caught sight of the “Goat Man”. My mother pulled the car over and parked, so my brother and I could talk with the Goat Man, and see his goats. We were amazed with the goats and his life style. He seemed very friendly and easy to talk with. You could tell how much he cared for his goats too. I had not heard anything about the goatman until reading this article, but had wondered what had become of him and his goats.

  13. In the 60s, we stopped around Macon GA to see him. He told us about the tree accident. He gave me a shoe box of old postcards he had collected over the years. He made such a strong impression!

  14. I remember riding in the car with my dad and passing by a field outside Winterville, N.C. and seeing the goatman and all his goats. His wagon had pots and pans hanging on it. It was probably the late 50’s or early 60’s. People would pull off the side of the road to see.

  15. I remember seeing the goat man several times going up in North Georgia even getting to pet and feed the goats. He was a kind,friendly gentlemen. I lived on a farm. So the smell wasn’t that bad. I have never known anyone that lived that free.

  16. I remember the Goat Man because he used to come thru Boston Georgia every year….I thot he was AWSOME and friendly….miss those years

  17. My parents owned a small motel on Highway 90 in Crestview, FLorida in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and when the Goat Man passed through they allowed him to camp on the lawn. Traffic backed up and people came from surrounding area to see the Goat Man. I was scared of the goats, though my sister touched one on a dare. The Goat Man was kind to us. I remember the era, and the Goat Man, with great fondness.

  18. I remember the Goatmam being in Hartselle Al. in the early 1950s. I could not remember what it was all about just that he was there and people went to see him and the goats.

  19. As a boy with my dad in the 1950’s, my dad and I went to the see the Goatman, who was parked on the side of the road one night in Columbia, South Carolina…..Tom

  20. When I was 5 we moved into a new home my father had built, we were about a mile outside the Greenville city limits then. It is now the corner of 14th and the Blvd. Lyn Hardee owned the farming land all around where we lived. We heard about the traveling preacher who moved his belongings around with goats.
    He actually stayed on the corner property in the South East cornet of that intersection, and I think he stayed for about 4 days before he moved on. As a child I was completely mesmerized by him because I loved animals. It was over 60 years ago now but I remember it so plainly.

  21. I remember the goat man. He passed through Enfield, NC (NE NC). He took my picture in his wagon with a goat hooked to the front. He had the year 1940 on the front of the wagon. I was 4 years old at the time. I still have a copy of my picture some 75 years later. Great memories.

  22. My father told me the legend of the Goat Man who passed through the Calhoun, GA area in the early 1960s to his recollection. He sounds like a one-of-a-kind traveler, I really wish I could have seen him myself!

  23. When I was a little boy, the Goat Man came through McBee, SC twice. I don’t remember the exact locations, but he was camped out in a field near town. We visited him, along with a lot of others from the community. I do remember him selling post cards and the wagon having pots and pans hanging all over it. I remember someone saying that when he started up a hill the goats in the rear would get behind the wagon and push. Must have been in the late 40’s or early 50’s.

  24. As a young boy in the early 1950s, I recall the Goat Man stopping to camp in Kernersville, Forsyth County, NC, on East Mountain Street. I thought he and his goats were an amazing sight, one I will never forget.

  25. My father, grew up in Elizabethton,TN in the 40’s and 50’s…….he remembers the Goat Man visiting their small town and selling postcards.

  26. I remember well two times when I was about 9 or 10 when my Daddy heard that the “Goat Man” was coming up 301 (at that time it took the p.lace of 95 from the north to the south). He would take me and my brother down to watch him pass through Rocky Mount, NC. One time he even spent the night in a field near Sharpsburg, NC. We were amazed. It was a real show. People would line up along the highway.

  27. We attended Salem school in Bleckley county, GA and it must have been mid fifties when we saw the goatman on highway 26 headed toward Cochran, I still remember the sight and sounds of him passing with his goats. Twiggs county where he lived joined Bleckley county on the north side.

  28. The Goat Man came through Cliffside NC in the nineteen fifties. And I was thinking he came through every year. But that might not be accurate.
    But I definitely remember him camping near the “Reidus Marsh’s” garage in a field across the road.
    He was a ragged looking fellow with a beard and didn’t appear to have a lot of personal hygiene.
    And the goats stunk also!
    His small goat pulled wagon had pots and pans hanging all around it.
    Terry Houser

  29. yes I have painted a couple of paintings of mill hill kids and goat wagons, I don’t know if this is the same person, but my dad and some of his siblings got their picture made on a goat wagon, don’t know if this is the same man or not? It also was in Greenville, SC in Brandon Mill Village……..I am hoping in the future to paint more of these goat wagon photos………I love all the stories behind the photos. I have saw some in the 30’s my dads photo was from the 40’s on Ross Street Greenville, SC

  30. The Goat man came to our little town in Rose Hill Va.a few times as I was growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s. he was a sight to see. he parked for a few days with all his goats and pots and pans hanging all over the wagon.we were so excited to see him.he was like a story book person to us children. I hadn’t thought much about him over the years until I read this article by Rick Braggs in the southern living mag..I love his short stories from the south each month.wish I could find some of the postcards that have been mentioned.in my mind I can still see him nd hear him ringing the bells announcing his coming to our little town.

  31. Growing up I saw the goat man on several occasions parked on the side of the road “called seven bridges… Hwy 247 between Macon GA and Warner Robins GA… He had pots and pans hanging all around his rig… on the back of his wagon house was a sign that said “Jesus Saves”.. At one time in his younger years he was married to a Spainish knife thrower that he has a son by… His real name was Chet McCartney…There was a book wrote about him and his travels…

  32. As a young child, I remember him lodging in a wooded area off Rowan St in Fayetteville NC. Does anyone remember him being in this area?

  33. Dr. Ronald H. Lockerman (retired) spent over 60 hours observing and interviewing Charles McCartney, America’s Goat Man, during several of his trips from the early 1950 era forward. I am a collector of American folk lore, especially documents, photos, post cards, prints and paintings. Retired; I am adding to my collection that will be donated to a southern museum along with my Civil War collection.

    I have acquired documents written in East TN and Georgia, items and information from other States West of Alabama and up the Eastern Seaboard where the Goat Man traveled. I have several cast iron and tin items purchased from the Goat Man as he traveled from his home base in Twiggs County, GA through Montezuma, Georgia and East Tennessee into the Carolinas.

    Ronald is interested in communicating via e-mail and exchanging information and copies of pictures and documents in my collection with sources that identify the exchanges and their sources, locronlun@windstream.net.
    I maintain a private e-mail and do not share other’s e-mail addresses in any venue due to privacy of parties.

    I am in the process of gathering more information and items from others and sharing my information before donating my collection to a museum. Any gifts or purchases will be properly identified with the source of origin.

    Sincerely,
    Ron

  34. I remember him on Hwy 25 in Greenwood, S.C. sometime between 1956-59. I clearly remember the jangling of the pots and pans. He stopped and I remember him preaching holding the Bible. One vivid memory was his drinking goat milk from a cup and the milk getting all over his beard. I remember the smells. As I think of this experience, memories that were deeply buried in my mind come back to the surface. It was a mesmerizing sight to see.

  35. I was a child about 10 years old so would have been about 1963. We resided on our farm on 68-80 in Warren County, KY. My family visited him at Bon Ayr Store in adjoining Barren County. My recollection is that I was amazed at the pots & pans dangling all around the wagon. It was rather smelley even for a farm girl. Lots of ppl stopped to see the multitude of goats. I never knew he was a preacher until I read this article. I never knew until now what a legend that I witnessed. An era that not everyone owned a camera. How I wished that we had! So sad to hear of his demise of being mugged just minding his own business.

  36. I was about 5 in the 1950s and my dad took us to see him in Smiths Grove , Ky. It was very exciting to see him and his goats traveling so far and imagining his life on the road . The goat smell didn’t bother this little farm girl because I’d had smelled worse things . Farm life makes you tough and makes good kids do I think . You never mentioned being bored because you’d get handed a hoe to chop thistles or pick up rocks .

  37. I remember man at Stone mountain and Kennesaw mountain back in the 1960s with my grandparents. He had a big wagon and lots of smealey goats

  38. I remember seeing the goat man when our family traveled from North Carolina to Alabama and back. We usually encountered him along the highways in South Carolina. We would round a curve in the road and there he would be with all of his goats and wagon. Dad would say there’s the goat man and we would hang out the window to see. This was during the period from 1954 to 1957.

  39. I remember several times during the early through middle 1960’s, when the goat man passed through and camped in a chert pit near the intersection of US Hwy 11 and US Hwy 231, at the edge of the city limits of Ashville, Alabama. I was between the ages of 9 and 12 years old when I first and last saw the goat man. I don’t remember talking to him much, but I heard conversations of others while I petted the smaller goats.

    I remember someone asking him about his life on the road and where he bathed. He explained that when he was younger, he would bathe in creeks along the way, but he had given up bathing years ago. He said that the goats didn’t mind.

    We knew nothing of the circumstances that led to his lifestyle, and we didn’t know the extent of his travels. We only knew that we saw him occasionally. My mother was sympathetic with his situation and fixed a plate of food for him before we set down for dinner. My mother drove to the goat man’s campsite and parked the car. As I was the oldest child and the only boy, she sent me to take the plate of food to him. He seemed genuinely grateful and picked through some of the trinkets he had for sale, insisting that I take a sewing needle threader for my mother.

    My mother told me that I shouldn’t have taken anything and wanted me to return it. I told her that I tried to refuse it, but he was insistent. She judged that the item was inexpensive, and perhaps, it was his way of not accepting charity.
    I made a reference to “chert” in the first paragraph, and I know that everyone is not familiar with it. It is a rocky soil containing a lot of flint-like quartz. It makes an excellent surface for dirt roads and driveways, as it packs down hard and doesn’t become muddy when it rains. Higher quality chert is white in color, and chert that is red usually contains clay.

    I’ve read a lot of comments about the strong, foul smell of goats… and the goat man. Only billy goats (male goats) smell, and it is because billy goats urinate on themselves. Nanny goats (female goats) will pick up the odor from rubbing against a billy. I’ve observed a billy goat stretch his neck to position his head as far as possible under his belly and urinate all over his head. Then he would raise his head and stick his nose straight up and allow the urine to run down onto his neck. Also, I’ve observed a heard of goats in a pasture when it started raining. The old billys would break into a run, heading for shelter—perhaps to keep the rain from washing off any of his “scent.”

  40. My dad took me to Goldsboro,NC to see him around 1959/60. He was camped beside the Wayne County Fairgrounds. The stench was overpowering. I refused to get any closer than 50 yards from him.

  41. I grew up in Halifax, North Carolina (in the 50’s-60’s). Highway 301 passed directly behind our house (pre I95). That was the major route for travelers from Maine to Florida. On several occasions the Goat Man passed our house headed north. I remember you could hear the pots and pans on the wagon rattling long before you could see him. When I heard that rattling, I would rush out into the back yard to see him pass. He would stop outside the gates of the local/county fairs and sell postcards and other stuff.

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