The Duncan Banner

Opinion

June 15, 2014

However dubious, Cooter is a famous American

DUNCAN — His name is indelibly etched in the American experience. For generations, his reputation has crossed political, social, ethnic and regional lines.

You can find references to him that go back to the days when the “West” still referred to an America that was east of the Mississippi River. Although Cooter’s history is somewhat hazy (hazy being a key word to describe his impact) it is part of the fabric of our glorious — and dubious — past and present.

Still, who was Cooter Brown? How did he become one of the most famous figures in American history, legend and lore?

There may be a few of you who aren’t aware of the famed Mr. Brown, but I suspect some of you learned about Cooter in the same way I did.

I was six, maybe seven, living in the corn and soybean fields of east-central Illinois that are my stompin’ grounds. I was walking with my father down the midway at the county fair, when a fellow came toward us with a big grin on his face and a pronounced weave in his walk.

He staggered up to Dad and he threw his arms around my father’s shoulders, proclaiming in a loud, somewhat sloshy voice, “Howdy, Vaughn! Where you been keepin’ yourself?”

The two talked for a couple minutes, although Dad’s role seemed to mainly be to listen, and when we move along Dad looked over, shook his head and said, “Ol’ Tom is as drunk as Cooter Brown.”

This caused me to burst into laughter. After all, I was a kid, and the combination of an adult actually being drunk in my presence and the name Cooter Brown was hysterical.

From that day forward, the phrase “drunker than Cooter Brown” became part of my lexicon. I’ve used the phrase many times since — and there’s a, uh, rumor I’ve done impressions of Cooter Brown a time or two. But it wasn’t until recently that curiosity finally caused me to go on a search for the origin of Mr. Brown.

As we do here in the Techno Age, that meant heading to the Internet, where I launched a cyberspace search for the famous but elusive Cooter. I discovered that out in Webland there are tens of thousands of references to Cooter Brown; phrases like “Drunk as Cooter Brown” or “Drunker than Cooter Brown” or “Are you getting Cootered tonight?”

However, there’s no unanimity about the origin of Cooter or his condition.

Some researchers say references to Cooter first circulated among white farmers and laborers in the deep South as early as the 1820s. Some say Cooter stumbled into the lexicon of African-Americans living in the Carolinas before the Civil War, and others say he splashed into popularity during that great American conflict.

The story I like best is this one: When the Civil War broke out, Cooter Brown lived on the Mason-Dixon line, which made him eligible to be drafted into the military by the South and the North.

Cooter had family on both sides of the line, and he didn’t want to fight. So, Cooter Brown chose to get drunk and stay drunk for the duration of the war, which turned out to be an effective way to avoid the draft.

True? Nobody seems sure, but it’s one of the most original excuses I’ve heard for getting likkered up and for draft dodging.

Whatever his origin, there’s no doubt Cooter Brown’s had a lasting impact on American history. He’s been an omnipresent figure in our society, no matter how dubious.

Although prohibitionists and teetotalers may blush and condemn him, Cooter Brown has become the colloquial and proverbial standard of drunkenness, and being “Cootered” has become a benchmark of inebriation.

In fact, I’ve sometimes wondered: What do you have to “blow” to be as “drunk as Cooter Brown”? Is there a demarcation on a breathalyzer that’s called “Cooter”?

Now, don’t think I wrote this piece to promote booze or intoxication. As always, I’m just serving the role of social observer and amateur historian.

That said, please remember: Don’t drink alcohol to excess, and above all, never drive if you’re “Cootered.”

1
Text Only
Opinion
  • Modern version of ‘Telephone’ hangs up on the truth

    Couple weeks ago, I stopped at a popular morning spot to get a caffeine infusion and encountered a meeting of a chapter of the Coffee Club Geniuses of America.

    July 20, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Zamperini, the Olympian and POW, was a hero because of his faith

    Louis Zamperini collected many accolades as an Olympic distance runner and brave bombardier who spent a month adrift at sea and two years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. But faith and forgiveness are what truly distinguished him.

    July 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sheriff's helicopter could be put to good use in water crisis

    A story the other day in which Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney explained the advantages of having a helicopter gave me a chuckle.

    July 15, 2014

  • Technoman offers help on combating viruses

    Good day, Earthlings and others inhabiting the third rock from the Sun. Once again, 21st Century Technoman has dropped in to see what condition your condition is in. So, how are you surviving in cyberspace?

    July 15, 2014

  • Territory impressive as well

    For the next seven days, the world of golf will focus on Edmond, Oklahoma in general and Oak Tree National in particular as the revitalized club and course hosts the prestigious 2014 U.S. Senior Open.

    July 6, 2014

  • Our division is not as dire as some insist

    Am having an Independence Day hangover — and no, it’s not because of any libation I may have consumed during the holiday weekend.

    July 6, 2014

  • Election shared few surprises

    There were no significant surprises or huge upsets in last Tuesday’s election,  but there were some twists and turns of interest locally and statewide.

    June 29, 2014

  • Other voices talk about us and our nation

    It’s almost Independence Day and I could wind philosophic and poetic about this country I love and into which I was lucky to have been randomly spawned.

    June 29, 2014

  • Technoman is relishing art of daydreaming

    Friends and neighbors, greetings again from 21st Century Technoman, and please forgive me if it seems I’ve been ignoring those of you who need a little human contact in their otherwise techno-dependent lives.

    June 22, 2014

  • However dubious, Cooter is a famous American

    His name is indelibly etched in the American experience. For generations, his reputation has crossed political, social, ethnic and regional lines.

    June 15, 2014

Poll

Should the date for The World's Largest Garage Sale be changed from the third weekend in July to sometime in October to take advantage of cooler weather like we had this past weekend?

No. It's better in the summer cause kids are out of school.
Yes. More shoppers would come during nice fall weather.
Either time is fine.

     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.