The Reverend Goat
The cause continues.
Frank Methe Photographs
Rev. Goat pushes his frame against a hard wind as he turns into his front yard and up the steps to his home on Oak Street.
As he climbs the steps, Goat says doctors at Touro found a tumor on his adrenal gland, and it’s causing him “a helluva lot of pain and sickness. Doctors say it may be nothing or I may have six months or so to live. I’ll find out shortly. But what the hell, I’m comfortable with whatever way it turns out.”
The wiry little “renegade Cherokee Indian” (as he describes himself) is an unmistakable sight and one to behold around the neighborhood of Oak Street and South Carrollton Avenue, dressed in black pants and shirt, purple vest, emblazoned black chukka boots and topped off with a white cowboy hat adorned with a large medallion and feathers sticking out pointing every which way.
This eclectic whirlwind of color, clothing, musings and background is perfectly suited for his abode, the innards of which could easily be described as “Early American Explosion”: animal pelts, a Texas longhorn hide as a bed covering, candles on the floor, geegaws of every stripe, cobwebs here, cobwebs there and all blanketed under a sweet pall of an aroma from a nether world. And, alas, a lamp that blows out a light bulb as Goat turns it on: “Goddammit,” he says, “It says right there on the package, ‘good for a year and a half.’ I haven’t had that f___ing bulb in there for 10 minutes. But what the hell do you expect for a dollar!” For some reason, the zebra-striped bed covering set the Goat just bought on Oak Street seems a perfect fit for all of the above.
But if you think Goat is angry over the light bulb, you soon realize it’s only the raison d’être, an entre of mood, to his higher passion for the very reason of his being, his life’s work, the reason he feels he must go on past six months … despite what he says about “being comfortable with any outcome” about the growth inside his body.
The 68-year-old Rev. Goat, born David Lee Carson, has a bone to pick with the government of the United States of America. It is yet another pain that gnaws inside him more than any tumor. All of the other things in his life – the Grammy acknowledgement for a song he wrote for Dr. John (“City That Care Forgot”); an album on which he wrote and sang such “classics” as “Captain Kirk & Custer” and “Wham Bam Medicine Man”; Native American Music awards; speaking engagements; and paling around with the likes of Michael J. Pollard, the actor who played C.W. Moss in the movie Bonnie and Clyde – are mere failing images compared to his beef with Uncle Sam.
That beef, he says, is the reason he ran for president in 1992 as the “Blues Party” candidate and picked up 100,000 votes. “My slogan was, ‘We want our money back,’” Rev. Goat says.
Failing in his bid for the White House, the then-David Lee Carson trekked to New Orleans “on a vision” in Dallas.
“When I arrived in New Orleans in 1994 is when things really started happening,” says Goat. He was ordained a “reverend” and given the name “Goat” from his mantra, “Go On And Try.”
“The government broke every treaty they ever had with the Indians,” Goat says, his eyes glowering in anger and then tears. “We need land, take it from the Indians. I’m talking every f___ing treaty the government ever signed was broken. Then they come up with this crap about ‘tribal cards,’ they tell us they have the right to say who is Cherokee and who is not, and whether we can even be called Cherokee. Know who came up with those kind of cards? Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan.” He continues, “Well, I’m not going to stand for it. I’ve devoted my life to abolishing those damned tribal cards. In the past when the government issued them, we burned them. Now I want to see them gone. We have a lot of people behind us, interested in this.”
Goat points to a poster of the late “Tootie” Montana, the iconic Mardi Gras Indian chief for five decades who was known as “Chief of Chiefs” and who started making his own costumes when he was 10 years old. The poster is hanging lopsidedly high up in a corner where two walls meet. Goat is taking a pill for the pain in his belly and lifts his glass of water up as a toast to Chief Montana.
“I was the first man to offer to share a pipe, an ancient American Indian, with a black man,” Goat says. “There was a lot of backlash. I even got death threats. I didn’t care about those threats. In 1994 Chief Montana had a vision of bringing together many tribes to celebrate their shared vision. I led the organizational effort to make this vision a reality at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park.” He continues, “The gathering was called ‘Sacred Medicine Circle at High Noon.’ It was held on Aug. 20, 1994. History shows that the black Indian tribes and the red Indian tribes have an incredible lengthy shared history. Many prophecies have shown the coming together of the African polyrhythms and the Native American powwow like bringing together people across tribal lines to celebrate unity and healing. However, the event was considered controversial for bringing up a history that isn’t much talked about in the Deep South. The event was attended by many tribes, including Lakota, Choctaw, Cherokee and many others …”
Goat stops to take a telephone call from his 50-year-old daughter who lives in northern California and is on her way to Afghanistan as a missionary. She is a teacher there. As he hangs up the telephone, his eyes again fill with tears. He tells of how much he misses each of his four children. But shortly his attention returns to the vision of unity among all Indians.
“Every Aug. 27 we bring everyone together and I bring up the issues of unity. This is how it has been since the beginning, when we asked for a sign from the Buffalo Nation to show that this was good medicine. The sign was that the next day a white buffalo was born. That was our sign.” He continues, “It will happen again this coming Aug. 27, just like all the others, we’ll meet at the Backstreet Museum then parade to the original church known as the ‘Church of the Unknown Slave’ (St. Augustine Church). Just at the slaves came out of that church so long ago, already drumming … that was the original second-line. From there the black Indians will dance over to Congo Square to jam with the Indians. It’s the same every year. It’s a beautiful and meaningful ceremony. It’s what moves me from day to day.”
Goat takes another phone call, something about picking up Dr. John at the airport. Nothing is settled on that score; it’s one of those “I’ll call you back” type of non-conversations. He reaches into a pile of pelts in a box against the wall and pulls a stringed jawbone musical instrument from the once-live wrappings. He coaxes some soft lyrics from the strings, then quickly wraps it and returns it to the box. He says he’s waiting for a call from somebody else, though he never says who it is.
Then without another word, Rev. Goat, the man who has taken on the federal government, closes his eyes and quickly winces. The nausea and the pain are still there.