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Do you remember the encampments (visits) of the “Goat Man”?

POSTED: July 19, 2007 5:02 a.m.

A wagon caravan pulled by a herd of smelly goats frequented the countryside and camped along the roadsides many nights over the course of 40 years all over America.

The “Reverend Captain” “Goat Man” Ches McCartney was an itinerant preacher who wandered and lived just as he pleased. His iron wheeled linked carts carried scrap metal, feed for goats, some old washtubs, junk, pieces of old tires he picked up along the route and postcards that he sold to raise money for his “mission.”

The “Goat Man” camped in Springfield between the ice plant and the co-op store about where Sheppard Brothers Gas Company sits on Laurel Street many times over the years. His aroma always preceded his arrival. He would build a bonfire and burn old tire pieces creating black smoke wherever he camped.

My grandmother’s house sat where the new Effingham County Judicial Complex now sits. He camped just across Laurel Street. She would prepare meals and send them down to him as did people in most areas where he camped. “Kopy,” as my grandmother was affectionately known, dated the back of the two postcards (shown here) as November 1952.

Quite the salesman, McCartney sold the cards one for a quarter, two for 50 cents or three for a dollar. I wonder if he charged those who shared food with him for the cards. He was not a threat but rather a curiosity over the years. He seemed to repeat his routes on a cyclic basis and I recall seeing him as a young child.

Anyone who took a road trip before the days of the interstates was likely to encounter him on roadways in any state. He claimed to have visited all of them except Hawaii because his goats could not swim. He also “claimed” a boat trip (according to Gene) with his goats to Cuba and treks into Canada. Said to have reached all 48 continental states, he had tricks such as renting a U-haul to get over the Smoky Mountains with his goats and wagon.

Upon Internet research at wikopedia.org, thegoatman.com and a video entitled, “Goat Man, the Life and Times of Ches McCartney” by Southern Creations, a division of JCH Entertainment, I was able to glean his story.

Born a few miles outside of Sigourney, Iowa, Ches “Charlie” McCartney was an eccentric sort of outcast from society from childhood who was shunned as “not quite right” as townsfolk stated.

He is said to have wrestled a bear at a carnival and won. At age 14, he left for New York and married a Spanish knife thrower ten years his senior. He was the target for her show and he tired of it. They parted ways and he is said to have had a marriage later in Chicago.

He came back to his home area and married his third wife, Sadie Smithhart, the mother of his son Albert Gene who traveled and lived with his father. Sadie was a lady with her own sleazy career, a lady of the night so to speak.

A man in town became smitten with her and wanted to swap for her so Ches “sold” her for two payments of $500 each including a divorce. It is unclear if he had other children from tales that he spun and these stories have not been substantiated.

His son Gene said on the video that Ches had another son who was supposedly a soldier. Ches planned on going to Washington to talk to President “Mixon” (as McCartney called him) about his son who was involved in the war. Ches also made an unpublicized run as a politician on the Democratic Presidential ticket but backed out before the election when he became impressed with Kennedy and threw him his support.

During the depression, Ches lost the family farm “to settle a bill for groceries” according to the video. At one time he worked for the WPA and was hurt, pinned under a tree for a good while before he was found, declared dead and taken to a mortuary.

When the mortician went to put a needle in him for embalming, he woke up and gave the man quite a shock. He was hurt badly but overcame all but a serious deformity of one of his arms. It was at this time that he began his adventures with his “friends” as he called his goats and his son.

All of his goats numbering often into the teens had names. He had one with no front legs that learned to hop like a kangaroo. Ches nursed them all when sick or injured, hauling the puny ones in his wagon.

One of his favorites, said to have lived about 30 years, was “Billy Blue Horns.” The goats were buried where they died; he later visited their graves and kept their hides to remember them.

Ches went south with Gene and became a “licensed” preacher. In 1941 or 1942, he either bought cheap or was given a few acres of land in Jeffersonville, which became his and his son’s home off the road. He built a dirt floor chapel there known as “The Free Thinking Christian Mission” after some of his traveling and fundraising.

He resided on the property with his son either in the mission or some rusty old school buses on the property. He never had any electricity. It seemed he had enough money to do whatever he desired.

McCartney is credited with establishing roadside signs proclaiming: “God is not dead,” “Prepare to meet thy Maker,” “God is Love” and “Jesus Wept.”

Ches went over the countryside trying to establish missions, actually founding one on River Street in Savannah that lasted only a short time in a rough section in the Indian Street area that became a bar when abandoned. He went there to save the sinners in their environment. He collected donations and sold his postcards to support his Christian and Jeffersonville missions, preaching the Bible along his way and is said to have been Pentecostal.

An odd character who never tried to impress anyone, he was a “what you see is what you get” kind of individual according to Larry Martin.

Raw and rough, he was as likely to curse, as was taught him in his rearing, as to pray. Ches was one who always had a quick wit and often left those who belittled him humiliated.

He told some tall tales and bragged too often to be the son of a Yankee officer. His mouth got him in trouble, as it often did, in Alabama where he became unwelcome there, being run out of the area by Southerners including the Klan.

In 1984, he became infatuated with a starlet, Morgan Fairchild, and hitch-hiked to California to court her. Sadly he was mugged before he could get her to fall in love with him and was hospitalized.

The authorities helped him return to Georgia. Later upon returning to the road, Ches, now in his 80s, was severely beaten in Tennessee and some of his goats’ throats were cut. This ended the road trips and he and son Gene lived on his property in the old bus after their wooden shack burned.

From 1987 until he died, McCartney lived fairly contently in a nursing home in Macon after he found romance with a retired nurse. He became the subject of writers and authors while living out his last days.

Art work by Larry Martin, an artist from Anniston, Ala., included photos of his earlier days as well as an older Ches and his lady friend when they were crowned king and queen at the nursing home. Web sites were developed; videos and books were produced and are still sold today.

In June 1998, he received heartbreaking news that his son Gene had been found shot to death on his property in Twiggs County. The city of Jeffersonville donated a plot for his burial. The murder was unsolved.

Less than six months later, Ches died and was laid to rest beside his son in the grave plot. He was believed to be about 97 but claimed to be over 100.

Perhaps the “Goat Man” was a curiosity who left us with images of a spiritual missionary or legend in our minds, or perhaps he was a little envied doing exactly as he wanted, going where he wanted to go and getting by on his own terms unencumbered by conventional standards. I know I will never forget him and the lasting impression that he made.

No doubt Ches McCartney’s legacy is still alive and well on the internet, in books chronicling his life, in photographs or postcards and in drawings of artists like Larry Martin.

This article was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society. If you have photographs, comments or information to share with Historic Effingham Society, please contact Susan Exley at 754-6681 or email: susanexley@historiceffinghamsociety.org

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