“The goats have taught me a lot in the past thirty years. They don’t, for example, care how I smell or how I look. They trust me and have faith in me, and this is more than I can say for a lot of people.”
“I’d sleep with my goats if it got cold. If it was a fairly cool night, I might get between two or three. But if it got nasty cold, it might take four.”
– Ches (Charles) McCartney
During the first half of twentieth century a number of intrepid wanderers traveled the United States in wagons drawn by goats.
Consider John Rose, a man who lost both legs in a train accident. Rose, better known as Overland Jack, was born in 1888 in Big Sandy, Texas, and died in 1962. He trained a four-up team of Spanish goats, and with his goats
hitched to a specially-made wagon, he traveled more than 30,000 miles, averaging 10 to 16 miles a day, visiting 19 states in all. He financed his adventures by selling postcards at 10 cents each or three for 25 cents. “No trouble to answer questions” says the blurb on these cards.
Or Captain V. Edwards, Texas goat entrepreneur who, in 1910, drove a carriage pulled by four Angora goats from San Diego to New York City to “express his conviction that the raising of Angora goats is to be one of the most profitable forms of future farming in this country.”
The most celebrated of all, however, was an itinerant preacher named Charles “Ches” McCartney. Born on July 6, 1901, near Sigourney, Iowa, Ches described himself as a strange child whose only friends were the family goats. At age 14, He ran away from home and traveled to New York City where he married his first wife, a 24-year-old Spanish knife thrower. When his wife became pregnant, the couple returned to Iowa and Ches bought a small farm where their son, Albert Gene McCartney was born. The McCartneys farmed until the Great Depression of 1929 forced Ches to seek work cutting logs for the government’s Works Progress Administration program, where a tree nearly crushed him, leaving him with a crippled arm and shoulder.
Ches loved the story of Robinson Crusoe (he carried a copy of Robinson Crusoe alongside his Bible throughout his travels). Unable to do heavy labor after his accident, he set his wife to work sewing Crusoe-like goatskin clothing for himself and little Albert, and then the family took to the road in a rickety, goat-drawn wagon from which Ches hawked junk he found along the roadside. He also preached the gospel and sold picture postcards of himself and his goats. Before long his wife left him, but Albert sometimes traveled with his father until age 15. It’s believed Ches remarried several times. He claimed to have a son who was a Wall Street broker and another who was killed in Vietnam.
Ches traveled with 12 to 30 goats throughout his long career as an itinerant preacher. Bucks and wethers pulled the wagon, kids and does rode inside. He kept and tenderly cared for his sick and injured goats, among them a favorite who had no front legs.
Ches lived off the land, sold scrap metal he found along the roadside, drank a lot of goat milk, and accepted food from people he met along the way. With time out for breaking camp in the morning, setting it up at night, and feeding and milking the goats, seven to 10 miles comprised an average day’s journey.
Between 1930 and 1968, Ches claimed he and his goats traveled more than 100,000 miles and visited all of the continental United States.
In 1969, near Signal Mountain, Tennessee, thugs invaded Ches’ camp, injuring the old man and slaughtering eight of his goats. After a short stay in the hospital, Ches turned his party southward. Near Conyers, Georgia, parties unknown stole two more goats, one of which was brutally killed. Sick at heart, Ches retired from the road to a plot of land near Jefferson, Georgia, where he preached in the Free Thinking Christian Mission, a church he built on the property. Ches and Albert lived in a ramshackle cabin until it burned down in 1978, then they moved into an old school bus parked on the property. In 1987, Ches entered a nursing home in Macon, Georgia, where he died in 1998, claiming to be 106 years old (it’s believed that he was actually 97).
Ches McCartney’s story is immortalized in several books and videos, some of them viewable at YouTube. During his years on the road, Ches posed for innumerable pictures and sold an array of picture postcards–one for 25¢, two for 50¢ and three for $1–that remain popular collectables today.
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