Years ago the Vagabond had the opportunity to meet Darryl Patton, an herb expert and author of several books, including one on the late Tommy Bass, who lived in Cherokee County. Darryl has also written a book called America’s Goat Man. He writes:
“With an iron-wheeled wagon overloaded with pots, pans, car tags, lanterns, five-gallon pails and bales of hay hanging from the sides, the strange caravan would clatter into towns all over the country. Resembling a leaky life raft rather than an elegant ship of state, the caravan, the man and his goats could be heard and smelled long before they ever managed to straggle into town followed by a long line of honking automobiles with their curious, sometimes exasperated drivers.
“Amazed at the strange sight, children would beg their parents to let them go see the slightly built man with the long hair and thick, bushy beard. Over the years, the man and his goats managed to entwine themselves in the folklore of rural America. People soon found themselves forgetting Ches McCartney was his real name and attached the title of Goat Man to this wildly bearded itinerant man.
“In a day minus the conveniences of modern society such as the VCR and color TV, the Goat Man’s visits became as important as the arrival of the yearly carnival. At the record breaking pace of one mile an hour, his arrival would be announced for days prior to his triumphant entry.
“Local newspapers would carry photos and write-ups describing the strange cavalcade. If there was a radio station, one could be sure that he was the main topic of conversation. In fact, the Goat Man would often be interviewed concerning his travels or be given the opportunity to expound upon his favorite subjects – Heaven, Hell and Brimstone.
“Arriving on the outskirts of town, the Goat Man, as he came to be known, would set up camp and start a fire out of whatever sticks, pieces of paper and other trash he could find. The final touch was always an old tire scrounged from the side of the road during his travels.
“When asked why he used tires, the Goat Man was quick to say, ‘After years of outdoor cooking along the highways, I have learned to appreciate the flavor of tire smoke. In fact, I miss it when I eat in, as no cafes cook with junk tires or lost recaps.’
“Standing in a cloud of thick, acrid black smoke, the Goat Man would wait for the crowds he knew would come just as surely as moths attracted to a flame. Being the consummate performer he was, the Goat Man knew that if he wanted to attract people to his campsite where he could preach to them and sell his pamphlets and postcards, he needed a gimmick. The oily, black smoke billowing up from his campfire was just one of many ploys he used.
“This not only worked, but worked well, as people for miles around would see the smoke, and wondering if there had been an automobile accident, would immediately go to investigate. Once they made it to his campsite, they would rarely leave without having parted with a dollar or two for his wares. It was usually much later that, to their embarrassment, they would realize they had bought one postcard for a quarter, two for fifty cents, and three for a dollar. By then, too mortified to return asking for a refund, they would content themselves with learning a lesson, gaining a memory and hearing a truly good story that, after all, had only cost a dollar.
“Wherever he went, the Goat Man was greeted by people from all walks of life. Some were curious, some critical and some were sympathetic to his cause and travels. All were welcomed and given the opportunity to help finance his ventures in life and his hobby of building churches. Most of this financing came from the sale of novelties such as needle threaders, picture postcards of the Goat Man and his goats and proprietary medicines.
“Whether you bought something or not, the Goat Man would thank you for visiting and ask you to come back. Whenever anyone bought a do-dad or postcard, the Goat Man was quick to thank them for their financial assistance as his goats ‘worked hard and they liked to live high.’
By day’s end, all but the hardiest of fans would have come and gone. For some, the noise and smell of bleating goats would prove too much, and after a few minutes of gawking on the outskirts of the crowd, they would leave. After nightfall, one or two of the hardier souls could be found sitting around the campfire, listening to the Goat Man spin yam after yam of his travels beginning in the early days of this century.
“Sitting in front of a smoky, mosquito-chasing fire, perhaps cooking his favorite meal of cabbage and chicken in an old dented can, he would tell stories of his adventures. These stories would range from the time he shot a grizzly, to when he actually fought off a band of desperados in Texas. Depending on what state he was in at the time, the stories might include the “fact” that he was the grandson of a famous Confederate or Yankee general.
“It was this propensity to spin yams that got the Goat Man into trouble on more than one occasion. Telling a crowd of drunken Southern boys outside of Montgomery, Alabama (Selma, as some stories go) that his granddaddy was a famous Yankee general caused a near riot, forcing him to beat a hasty retreat down the road to a friendlier community that would be unaware of his ancestry.
“Finally, even the hardiest of fans would call it a night and bid him farewell, leaving the old man and the goats to themselves. On occasion during the night, someone seeing the odd contraption by the side of the road would stop to investigate. Walking up to the two-wagon caravan, he would look in to see a bent old man with a deformed arm surrounded by his “babies” in what he proudly called his maternity ward. By the yellow glow of a sputtering kerosene lamp, the visitor would see him quietly reading the Bible or Robinson Crusoe, his inspiration for traveling.
“Come first light, the Goat Man would be up and moving, ready to hit the road to another town and new acquaintances. With goats bleating, demanding to be fed, he would leisurely move among them, harnessing nine powerful billies of various sizes and dubious breeding into the homemade leads he had fashioned from bits and pieces of leather and hand carved sticks picked up on the side of the road. Nannies would be placed in the back, along with a couple of larger billies that served as brakes on steep hills. All of his “babies” would be gently lifted into the ‘maternity ward.’ For the young three-legged goat, the Goat Man had a special box reserved. It would never have to pull or push the two-ton wagons, though later, as it grew older, it would earn its keep by fetching water in a bucket attached to its neck.
“With a ‘Ho, Billy,’ off would squeak the caravan on its tour of small town America. The Goat Man’s wagon, at one time having seen service as a railroad car, was not designed for speed, but as he so aptly put it, ‘If you have no definite place to go and no specific time to be there, speed ceases to be an important factor.’
“The Goat Man’s power supply also provided goat’s milk and replacements anywhere on his excursions. This feat, he claimed, had not been duplicated through any mechanical source perfected by man. His only concession was in carrying several heavy iron Pullman car wheels on the side of the wagon. These served as “spare tires, not in case of a flat, but as a replacement for those stolen by souvenir hunters.
“Living a life only dreamed of by most people, the Goat Man felt that he owned the world’s largest outdoor TV set, with all of the outdoors for a screen. Live programs ran daily with an unlimited cast of characters found in the small towns he passed through on his travels.”
“Beholden to no man for life’s necessities, the Goat Man’s needs were simple. He claimed that the Lord always took care of him, with running water when it rained and heat every summer. He had no electrical or plumbing bills. His only expenses were a little food for himself and some hay and sweet feed for the goats. ‘The Lord provides the perfect medicine, a mixture of sunshine and water, and He provides the goats plenty of vegetation.’
The goats, in turn, provided plenty of milk, a product the Goat Man was fond of drinking, fresh and hot from a dirty quart mason jar in front of his startled onlookers.”