During the summers as a teenager, I would visit family living in Savannah. Most of the time my parents would drive me there but one summer I rode down on the Greyhound bus. I had never been on a commercial bus before. I was used to riding the school bus with my friends so I was a little frightened about riding the two and half hour trip with total strangers.
My parents made sure that my seat was close to the bus driver. Sensing my fear, the driver made short conversation with me to help ease my anxiety. It was a long and boring ride down the Macon-Savannah highway. But just like all adventurous tales, adventure for me was about to happen and it was standing on the side of the road.
Looking out of the front window of the bus, I saw a man waving a walking stick for the bus to stop. The driver asked me, "Do you know who this is?" I answered, "A hijacker?" He chuckled and said, "No, the Goat Man." I thought, "A what?!"
I watched with curiosity as the Goat Man climbed onto the bus quietly. He was wearing dirty, bib overalls with roadside trash pinned to the bib. There were pull tabs from soda cans, safety pins, and other small trinkets from the ground. His hair was white and his beard was long and scraggly. His eyes looked hardened and his face looked weathered.
He walked to where I was sitting and paused for a moment to look at me. We gave each other the once over and then he sat down in the adjacent seat to me. He sat there quietly and every once in a while he'd look over at me catching me looking back at him. I was sorry for staring at him but there was something so mythical (and maybe a little terrifying) about him that I just couldn't help but look at him curiously. "Was he called the Goat Man because he was half-man and half-goat?" I wondered.
Then the bus slowed to a stop and he got off the bus and walked away. I figured that he must be a Greyhound regular for the bus to just pick him up and drop him off without ever asking for a ticket or his destination.
When I came home from my trip to Savannah I learned that I had been sitting next to a real live American Legend. A wanderer who earned his name, not because he was half-man and half-goat, but because he toured the country on a wagon pulled by a team of goats.
I think my grandma's words used to describe him was, "He's filthy and he smells like his goats. He drove a wagon that was filled with a bunch of pots and pans that clanked. You could always hear him coming before you saw him."
His real name was Ches McCartney and he lived an adventurous life and I'm going to tell you all about it. But for now, I have to go. Come back next week and I'll tell you about him being raised from the dead.
According to the article, "A Step Back in Time" by Bobbie Sue Shelton, Ches McCartney (best known as the Goat Man) ran away from his Iowa home at the age of 14 and travelled to New York. There he met his wife, a 24 year old Spanish knife thrower, and they soon married.
They moved back to Iowa, bought a farm and had a son, Albert Gene. There they did pretty well for themselves until the depression came and they lost just about everything. Their horses died and the only thing left were the goats to plow the fields. When the goats weren't suitable for plowing the fields, Ches got a job working with the Works Project Administration (WPA). While working one day, a tree fell across his body and there he lay, trapped for hours before being found. He was taken to the morgue and pronounced dead. In an interview afterwards, he said, "the undertaker was slow and by the time he got around to working on me, the life came back into my body and I regained consciousness. It was as if I had been raised from the dead." Although very much alive, he was left with a permanent arm injury. He and his family lived on charity for a couple of years but he decided he needed to make his own living.
The family hitched up some goats to a hand built wagon, packed a good bit of food and hit the road. He claimed that he had a ministerial license issued by the state of Georgia and Ches would preach to anyone on the road that would listen. To support his family, he sold booklets and pictures of his family with the goats while travelling and accepting donations from visitors.
Mrs. McCartney eventually got tired of life on the road and deserted Ches and their son. When school was in session, Ches would take Albert Gene to live with his grandparents so that he could attend school. But during the summers, Ches, Albert Gene and the goats travelled the country together on their wagon and then returned to Jeffersonville, GA where their home base was. Ches eventually married two more times and had children with each of those wives.
It's no wonder Ches smelled like goats. It was said that he washed his clothes in the goats watering tubs and hung them on the wagon to dry. He'd milk the goats and would drink the milk straight from the jar. Usually travelling with about 30 goats, he'd hitch up half of them to pull his wagon and the others would be tied up to the wagon walking behind it. Often times, he'd let the baby goats ride in the wagon with him. He said, "On cold winter nights my goats are the finest electric blanket I can find. The colder it gets, the more goats I cover up with. Thirty degrees is a one-goat night and below zero is a five-goat night."
He estimated he rode over 100,000 miles during his 50 years of travels from 1937 to 1987. In 1985, he disappeared from his Jeffersonville home. Two months later, he was found in a Los Angeles hospital. He said he'd went out west to romance actress Morgan Fairchild but got mugged instead.
In 1987 outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee late one night he was mugged and awoke to find that eight of his goats had been killed. When he got out of the hospital, he went back home and never went on the road again. He moved into a nursing home and donated his remaining goats to Walt Disney World. He said, "they'd given me a good living, and I wanted to give them a good home".
In 1998, Ches's son Albert Gene was found shot to death on their Twiggs County property. His murder remains unsolved today. Less than six months later, Ches McCartney, the Goat Man, an American Legend died in November 1998. He was believed to be in his late nineties, but he claimed to be 106.
If you have memories of the Goat Man that you would like to share, please email them to me at email@example.com.
Donna Hunter Glenn is a weekly columnist for the Houston Home Journal and Warner Robins Times Newspapers and is the principal decorator and owner of Addressing Rooms Interior Decorating and Home Staging in Warner Robins, GA.