I finished reading a book during the past week that many of you in the reading audience might find interesting, “America’s Goat Man: Mr. Ches McCartney” by Darryl Patton.
Published by Little River Press in 2003, this 160-page book details the unusual life of Charles “Ches” McCartney, who is better known by his nickname, the “Goat Man.” According to Patton’s book, McCartney became somewhat famous by traveling around rural America between 1936 and 1987 in a rickety wagon pulled by a large team of goats. During that 51-year period, McCartney claimed to have traveled over 100,000 miles and visited 49 of the 50 states as well as parts of Mexico and Canada.
It’s believed that McCartney was born in Keokuk County, Iowa on July 6, 1901, and he grew up on his family’s farm. He ran away at the age of 14 and ended up selling newspapers on the sidewalks of New York City. He eventually married a Spanish knife-thrower, who retired after becoming in the “family way” and returned to Iowa with McCartney.
The Great Depression soon followed and McCartney lost his farm and his wife, who was 10 years older than McCartney. McCartney then got a timber-cutting job with the Works Progress Administration only to have his arm horribly mangled by a falling tree. He nearly died, but during his recovery, he had a life-changing idea.
McCartney, who had always liked goats, decided to build a wagon, hitch it to his herd of goats and begin traveling the country to preach. The rest, as they say, is history. Leaving his old Iowa farm on July 4, 1936, McCartney would spend the next five decades traveling all over the country, preaching, living mostly off goat milk and selling postcards and photographs of himself to the crowds that flocked to see him. During that time, he was featured in countless newspaper articles, and he survived all sorts of unusual adventures, run-ins with the law and near-misses on America’s highways. As things go, McCartney passed away at the age of 97 on Nov. 15, 1998 in a Macon, Ga. nursing home.
While it’s not in the book, McCartney is known to have traveled through Conecuh County on multiple occasions, and many in the reading audience probably remember seeing him once or twice. It’s said that the sight of McCartney was so out of the ordinary that once you laid eyes on him, his ramshackle wagon and team of goats, it was a sight hard to forget.
Here at The Courant office, longtime employee Butch Adams remembers watching from behind the chain link fence at the old City School as the Goat Man rattled his way down Perryman Street sometime in the early 1960s. Down at the Power Pigg radio station, Evergreen City Councilman Luther Upton, who grew up in lower Monroe County, said he remembered seeing the Goat Man once traveling down the highway in front of where Monroe Academy is located now in Monroeville.
In the end, I’d be interested in hearing from those of you in the reading audience who remember seeing the Goat Man during his travels in and around Conecuh County. If you had a personal encounter with the Goat Man, shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at The Evergreen Courant, ATTN: Lee Peacock, P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401. I’d like to hear all about it.