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This is what it means to be as drunk as Cootie Brown

Missouri-grown hops provide a different taste for breweries

The expansion of craft beer industry in Kansas City has provided opportunities for patrons to enjoy a multitude of different hops producing specialty beers that have been crafted by Cinder Block Brewing and other breweries in Kansas City. The Roya
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The expansion of craft beer industry in Kansas City has provided opportunities for patrons to enjoy a multitude of different hops producing specialty beers that have been crafted by Cinder Block Brewing and other breweries in Kansas City. The Roya

Q: Was there really a person named Cootie Brown — as in the expression “as drunk as (or drunker than) Cootie Brown”? Just how drunk did he get?

Paul Fontana, of Steeleville

A: Have you ever heard Gaelic Storm sing the rousing Irish drinking song about Johnny Tarr?

Seems that Johnny walked into the Castle Bar one night, intent on drinking the place dry. But, sad to say, our boy keeled over dead after downing “only” 15 pints of Murphy’s Millennium Brew.

Here was the kicker, though, according to the coroner: “It’s not what you’re thinkin’. It wasn’t the drinkin’. This man died of thirst!”

Well, according to legend, Cooter “Cootie” Brown apparently made Tarr look like a teetotaler. As one story goes, Cooter lived during the mid-1800s on land that straddled the Mason-Dixon line, which divided North from South. As a result, he was eligible for the draft no matter which side wanted him during the Civil War.

The trouble was that he had family members living on both sides of the line, so rather than make half of them angry with him, he decided to get soused and stay that way throughout the war. Whenever the Union blue or Rebel gray came by to sign him up, they found him in a state of serious inebriation and unfit for military duty. Ever since, he has been the benchmark of drunkenness by which all others are measured, especially at Southern establishments like Cooter Brown’s Tavern & Oyster Bar in New Orleans.

That’s not the only version, however. There’s also a tale that he was a biracial man — half Cherokee and half black — who lived in south Louisiana on a small piece of ground given to him by a Cajun fur trapper. When the Civil War broke out, Brown, being half black, understandably did not want to choose sides because he didn’t know who would win.

Instead, Brown dressed as an Indian (because they were free) and began drinking all the time, even offering soldiers a nip or three when they came through and tried to enlist him. Word quickly spread of a crazy, drunken Indian named Cooter Brown who was an incurable alcoholic by the time the war ended.

The worst, however, was yet to come. One night his old shanty burned down, but there was no sign of Brown’s body the next morning. Townsfolk assumed that his innards were so pickled that he simply was incinerated along with his house. Hence, he became the standard of intoxication.

By now, you’re probably guessing ol’ Cootie is merely the stuff of fable, and you’re probably right. Although some, like the Old Farmer’s Almanac, tell the story as seeming fact, there’s no evidence (birth certificate, grave, etc.) to back it up. It’s sort of like the singer telling the Johnny Tarr story: “I heard it from a man who knows a fella who says it’s true.”

By the way, Gaelic Storm, the band that rocked the steerage section in the movie “Titanic,” is returning to St. Louis on March 23 for another rollicking show at the Sheldon Concert Hall. I’ve seen them three times at the Milwaukee Irish Fest and they are a hoot.

And if you’ve ever wondered, the words “teetotal” and “teetotaler” have nothing to do with a misspelling of the word “tea.” According to word detective Evan Morris (, Richard Turner coined the word in 1833 during a speech to the English temperance society. The fashion of the day was to put the first letter of a word in front of the word to give it extra emphasis, a linguistic device known as reduplication. Hence, by saying “teetotal,” you were accentuating the idea of total abstinence from alcohol, much as we now may say “megahit” to describe a smash record or movie.

Today’s trivia

In 1833, who published a revised version of the Bible that cleaned the Good Book of bad grammar, obsolete words and expressions that might be particularly offensive to females?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: According to the U.S. Treasury, “In God We Trust” first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin after Congress approved the minting of the coin on April 22, 1864. It came in response to appeals from citizens in the North who felt the Union should place the motto on its coins out of increased religious sentiment that they hoped would curry favor with the Deity to help the United States become one again. However, it did not become the national motto until 1956, when it replaced the unofficial “E pluribus unum (out of many, one)” that was placed on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. Ironically, the southern state of Florida adopted it as its official motto in 1868 to replace its original “In God is our Trust.”

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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