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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Turtle Toes, The Capital's First Drunkard


"None but the oldest inhabitant of Madison will remember Pinneo," wrote George Hyer about 1870, "and little was known of him even by them. He was a vagabond naturally and a long life of dissipation had confirmed him in all his vagabond notions and habits. Pinneo came to Madison among the first and commenced work as a shingle maker or 'shingle weaver,' as he styled himself. He built a hut in the woods near the outlet of Lake Mendota and when sober used to retire to it and weave shingles, for which the new settlement offered a ready market..."

He was "ever ready to do the bidding of those choosing to command his services when sober, which was only when every artifice and cunning had failed to provide the means of getting drunk. He would retire to his cabin, work steadily and quietly until a customer came for shingles, for which terms of payment were positive -- cash down. When once in possession of money, there was no more work in Pinneo, who would by a more direct route reach town in time to get 'glorious' long before the purchaser made his appearance with the shingles.

"After he had endured a week's drunk, his red face and bare breast shone in the sun with a peculiar brilliancy, and he was a sight as seen in the morning after a night's lodging under a tree, or under some outhouse shelter, as he shook himself and started for his morning potation at the nearest drinking house.

"He had not worn shoes for years, and in his drunken frolics he had acquired the habit of kicking out grubs and roots with his bare toes. This he was often induced to do for a drink, and many was the grub kicked out of King Street by Pinneo long before Nicholson pavement or the office of street commissioner was thought of. His feet looked in shape and color like mud turtles, and his toes resembled so many little turtle heads half drawn in, so bruised and battered were they by hard usage."

You can read more about poor Pinneo, his best friend Butterfield, and his tragic inebriated demise, in Daniel Durrie's History Madison, including the Four Lake Country, to July, 1874, with an appendix of notes on Dane County and its towns (Madison, Wis.: Atwood & Culver, 1874)


:: Posted in Odd Lives on September 2, 2007

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