24 February 2010

A case of the shingles - Wisconsin, 1850

In 1850, 10-year-old Stephen Bentley arrived with his family at the river town of Cassell, in Sauk County. Wisconsin’s lumber industry was just beginning to flourish, and every day its products floated past the town on their way to the Mississippi.

“Raftsmen often stopped at our house to get something to eat,” he recalled, “and sometimes hired my father or myself to boat them across the slough or to their stuck rafts.” Young Bentley would listen intently to the colorful stories of people such as raft pilot Buckskin Brown, who related a unique experience his crew had one night in Sauk City.

After a hard day’s work, Brown’s men had tied up on the riverbank and made their way up to a tavern. Possessing a powerful thirst but no money with which to relieve it, “they carried a bunch of shingles up to the saloon and offered it in lieu of cash.” This sat well with the saloon keeper, who asked them to stack the shingles in the backyard. A little while later, still parched, they decided to sneak the same batch of shingles around to the front, where they sold them a second time for another round of drinks.

Over the course of the evening, they repeated the trick so often that the exact number of trades got lost in an alcoholic haze. Brown estimated that same bunch of shingles was resold 11 times. And wanting to leave the tavern tidy, the lumberjacks even carried it back to the raft when they silently pushed offshore in the dark.
Found in today's Wisconsin State Journal.

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