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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Buckskin Brown and the Marvelous Shingles

A Greek philosopher once claimed that you can never step into the same river twice. His maxim apparently escaped the notice of some Wisconsin lumberjacks.

The trees of the Wisconsin River pinery were among the first harvested. As early as 1853, 20 mills were running more than 100 saws and floating 70 million feet of lumber downriver each year. Makeshift rafts carried Wisconsin boards as far as St. Louis. The work was hard and dangerous, as these photographs by H.H. Bennett show.

Drinks for Shingles

One night about 1850, a river pilot named Buckskin Brown tied up his raft at Sauk City. His crew was tired and thirsty and, "being without money," (as a friend later recalled), "they carried a bunch of shingles up to the saloon and offered them in lieu of cash."

The saloon keeper agreed to the deal, saying, "All right, just carry them out into the back yard."

But one round was not enough for the hard-drinking loggers. So two of them soon re-appeared at the front door with a load of shingles and asked for another round. They were told to carry them out to the back yard and leave them with the others.

As the evening wore on, more bunches of shingles were exchanged for drinks. Eventually the lumberjacks wobbled back down to the river and at daylight they launched their raft back into the current.

The Same Shingles Twice

A witness later reported Buckskin Brown saying that "some of the boys claimed they sold that bunch of shingles eleven times and then carried it back with them to the raft. He said he didn't know how many times they did sell it, but he knew he had all the whiskey he wanted."

There's no record of what the saloon-keeper said when he discovered their trick. But we probably couldn't publish it here anyway.

:: Posted in on May 16, 2012

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