Remembering the legend of the famous Goat Man

The Murfreesboro Post, Mike West, September 6, 2009

Hoo-wee, it’s Sunday and whatcha doin’ reading Hammerhaid?

You should be helping ol’ Hammerhaid clean out his garage.  What the heck is he doing with 13
kitchen canister sets?

Well anyway, this taste of fall has him wondering whatever happened to The Goat Man?

Traveling up Shelbyville Pike … or was it Highway 41 … from some unknown point down south, The Goat Man would arrive on a makeshift wagon pulled by goats and camp at a big, vacant field at what’s now the corner of Church and Broad streets.

The spot’s the current site of United Grocery Outlet. 

Often he would build a bonfire and place an old car tire on top so it would create a column of smoke that would summon the curious for miles around.  From his wagon, he would produce a strange, tent-like structure and once camp was set up, he would preach the gospel and sell postcards of himself and his iron-wheeled wagon.

To kids, he was a horrifying figure like something out of a scary dream, but he was real enough and even had a name, Charles “Ches” McCartney.

McCartney, with his wagon loaded with hay and a makeshift tent, traveled roads of the nation preaching the gospel for some six decades before retiring to a Macon, Ga., nursing home.  He was a regular visitor here in the 1950s and 1960s.

Typical for such characters, his story turned almost legendary during the long decades of travel chiefly along U.S. 41.

Iowa born, he apparently left his home at age 14 ending up in New York state where he married a “Spanish maiden” and became the target for her knife-tossing act.  During the great Depression, he hit the road with his wife and son.  Eventually, his wife left him, but he continued his travels usually with his son, Albert Gene.

To some, the “Goat Man” was an itinerant preacher, to others (particularly youngsters) he was a fearful creature.  His pungent goat-like smell didn’t help.  Nor did his long hair and beard, not to mention his worn, scruffy clothing.

Stories surrounded him, and it was said he carried his message to 49 out of 50 states as he walked some 100,000 miles.  Stories claim he wrestled a bear, was nearly lynched by the Ku Klux Klan and got mugged in Los Angeles trying to see actress Morgan Fairchild.

In one early story, it was said he had been declared dead during a logging accident while working for the Works Progress Agency during the Depression.  It was said he revived on the mortician’s table when the embalmer stuck a needle in his arm.

McCartney loved two books, the Bible and Robinson Crusoe, and carried them along on his journeys.  It was said Robinson Crusoe was a validation of his lifestyle in which he lived off the land, contributions of strangers and his goats. 

His son, Gene, was murdered in 1998.  His body was found in the woods behind a bus he called home.  The Goat Man died a few months later.  His exact age was unknown, but he was believed to be 97, but some stories said he was as old as 120.

T-t-t-t-that’s r-r-r-r-right.

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