While reading chapter one of Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle’s debut novel “Even As We Breathe,” I found myself back in Andrews marching down School Hill toward a vacant lot on the outskirts of town.
Excited, we wanted to run, but Big Jim wouldn’t allow. Retired from the Marine Corp, he applied military discipline to his civilian life as a schoolteacher. He led, we followed—in formation, as if off to war.
That day, we were off on a class field trip to welcome the Goat Man, who travelled the country in a rickety wagon pulled by a goat herd, after losing his Iowa farm during the Great Depression.
The Goat Man’s progress was scouted and reported on, from the time he entered North Carolina from North Georgia. “He’s in Ranger! He’s in Murphy! He’s camping in a field in Marble! He’ll be in Andrews about dinner time!”
After Andrews, he’d head through Western North Carolina and then across the mountains into East Tennessee. The Goat Man particularly liked to include our region in his four decades of wanderings because of the abundance of kudzu, a delicacy enjoyed by his 15 to 20 goats.
It was his stop in Cherokee that Annette mentions in her book. One of her characters purchases a well-worn book from the Goat Man, who financed his nomadic lifestyle by selling an assortment of odds and ends. But his chief income source was from picture postcards of him and his goats. A quarter each. Or three for 50 cents.
His nourishment consisted of goat’s milk and water, supplemented by food contributed by folks he met on his journeys. He always appeared well-fed.
Big Jim had told us to bring a quarter if we wanted a postcard. I opted to save mine for an RC cola and a Moon Pie. Besides, I had previously owned a Goat Man postcard. I say previously because karma had taken it away.
The year before, the Goat Man had set up his overnight camp a mile from our house. My Granny Trantham told me to take him some of her freshly baked apple pie. “That poor soul might be hungry,” she said.
On the way to his camp, I peeked under the tin foil and saw there were two pieces of pie. What do you think a 12-year-old boy would do? Granny had said to take the Goat Man some pie. She didn’t say how much.
After I ate my slice, I worked my way through the crowd and handed the Goat Man the paper plate. He lifted the foil and shouted, “Glory be!” I muttered something about my Granny sending him the pie, but he couldn’t hear me above the din. As I turned away, he shouted, “Hey, boy! This is for you,” and he handed me a picture postcard.
I sauntered home, thinking I’d made out like the bandit I was! Got a piece of pie plus a Goat Man postcard.
The joy didn’t last long. I flashed my prize as soon as I got home. My Baptist preacher father took one look and snatched the card from me. “Ain’t no boy of mine going round advertising beer!” Along with the Goat Man and his goats on that postcard, a Budweiser beer sign hanging over a phone booth was clearly visible.
The fact that the Goat Man’s wagon displayed a sign that read “Prepare to Meet Thy God” did nothing to temper his opinion. He ripped up that card and my bandit’s loot was gone forever, taken by karma.
The Goat Man’s real name was Charles “Ches” McCartney. You’ll find many more stories about him online, including a Facebook page dedicated to him.
Thanks to Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle for triggering these memories. Annette is the granddaughter of the late Osley Saunooke, formerly Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and World Heavyweight wrestling champion. One of my side gigs while in radio was working for Chief Saunooke as ring announcer for wrestling matches he promoted in Asheville after he retired from the ring.
I’d love to hear from News & Neighbor readers who have memories of the Goat Man.
After 57 years in the radio industry, Dave Hogan is enjoying his retirement in North Carolina. He’d love for you to say ‘Howdy’ to him via email at email@example.com.