What do we make of the hundreds of legends and sightings of alleged half-man, half-goat creatures across America? This is the question J. Nathan Couch attempts to answer in his new book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? Published by the author in 2014, Goatman is 152 pages and is available in both print and digital formats. Its cover, a dark, haunting image of a cloven hoofed creature with thick horns and an eerily human face, was illustrated by Amber Michelle Russell.
Before reading this book, I was only peripherally aware of the goatman legend. I vaguely recalled that I had heard something about a goatman once, but never took the idea seriously. One of the many redeeming qualities of Goatman is the author’s awareness that yes, most people find the notion of a half-man, half-goat to be absurd. Yet he demonstrates that this creature has been a persistent (albeit obscure) part of American folklore since at least the 1960s. Always straddling the line between skepticism and belief, Couch examines every possibility, from the mundane to the magical.
Couch begins his exploration in his own backyard, Washington County in southeastern Wisconsin. Washington County is home to several locations believed to be visited by a creature known as “Goatman.” Fascinated by the tale, Couch soon discovered other goatman legends in Missouri, Maryland, Texas, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. The tales varied. In some, the goatman stalked lover’s lanes in search of amorous teenagers to kill. In others, the goatman was the result of a cruel genetic experiment gone wrong. In still others, he was a wild recluse or an escapee from a carnival freak show.
What is the real origin of the Goatman in our culture? Couch explores the possibility that he is an atavism of Western culture–a modern day representation of Pan and the Satyr. Or perhaps he is a manifestation of Christian fears of the goat-headed Baphomet. This explanation, though interesting, is unsatisfactory. The author then explores the possibility that the Goatman legend is based on actual human beings–recluses and eccentrics that were transformed through oral tradition into mythical creatures. He settled on a man named Ches McCartney, who wandered the country in the 1940s and ’50s on a wagon pulled by a team of goats. Nicknamed “the Goat Man,” McCartney become something of a national celebrity. Coincidentally, most Goatman legends began in the 1960s.
The author does not formally cite sources in the text, but at least he acknowledges them. He also provides a six page bibliography, media guide, and a near-comprehensive timeline of Goatman sightings throughout the United States. Couch draws material from books, articles, newspapers, websites, and movies–creating a view of the Goatman legend from every possible angle. He even includes a chapter on hoaxes and fake websites that might trip up anyone interested in a serious look at the subject. I was impressed with how thorough this author was. He even went so far as to drive to several different states to visit Goatman locations for himself.
Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? is a solid and original work in a genre where substance and originality is increasingly difficult to find. In the end, the author fails to answer his own question, but the answer must lie somewhere between myth and reality. Perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of human imagination, the primordial symbol of a human-goat hybrid is always threatening to emerge from the darkness and remind us of our more primitive past.