The Origin of the Phrase “Drunk as Cooter Brown” Dates Back from the American Civil War and Refers to a Heavy Drinker Who Escaped Being Drafted Due to His Continuous Intoxication

Have you ever heard the phrase “Drunker than Cooter Brown”? If you haven’t, now’s your chance to learn it and if you have, you’ll find this article informative concerning the strange origin of the man behind the phrase.

Well, actually, there are two versions of the story of who exactly was Cooter Brown and why his name became synonymous with drunkenness. The first version claims that Brown was a white man living in the border area between the American North and South. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Brown faced the risk of being drafted by either of the sides involved.

Since he wasn’t interested in fighting the war and had friends and family on both sides, he decided to do something so ridiculous that it actually worked. In order to avoid military draft, Cooter Brown started drinking excessively every day until the war ended. When he was approached by troops of the Union or the Confederation, he would be so drunk that none of them thought he would be of any use in their ranks.

It was a true miracle how he didn’t get shot for aggravating the draft service, but luckily for Cooter, the war couldn’t wait for him to get sober.

Punishment with “Barrel Shirts” during the U.S. Civil War; date and location unknown.
Punishment with “Barrel Shirts” during the U.S. Civil War; date and location unknown.

According to this version of the story, the phrase originated from those days, as Cooter Brown’s continuous state of intoxication became legendary. Variations of the phrase emerged at an unknown time during the war, including “as drunk as Cooter Brown” or “drunker than Cooter Brown.”

Now, this version of the story involved a white, drunk man, but there is another which claims that Cooter Brown a man of African-American and Cherokee origins, who lived in the south of Louisiana. He acquired a small plot of land, which he received as a gift from an old Cajun fur trapper. He had a small hut which came with the land, and he lived there during the dire times of the Civil War.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Brown faced the risk of being drafted by either of the sides involved.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Brown faced the risk of being drafted by either of the sides involved.

Since he was fearful of people and wasn’t exactly interested in fighting the war, as long as he was left alone, he too, like his double from the first version, came up with a plan of how to avoid being pressed into service. He was reluctant to choose sides, for he wasn’t sure who would win, nor how that would affect his life and the land he had acquired.

In order to make sure he was left out of the conflict, Brown started to drink all day, which allegedly wasn’t too hard for him to do since he was a heavy drinker anyway.

Camp scene, winter quarters
Camp scene, winter quarters

Cooter was known for always being dressed as an Indian, emphasizing and confirming his Native American origin, for Indians were considered freemen by law, unlike the African-Americans who were subdued to enslavement.

Whenever Union or Confederation soldiers would arrive, he would be dead drunk. Sometimes, they would get drunk with him, and then leave him in peace. Soon enough rumors of a crazy, drunken Indian named Cooter Brown started circulating all around the war zone.

Unfortunately, by the time the war ended, Brown was suffering from a serious case of alcoholism, unable to break his bad habit. Allegedly, one night his shack caught fire and burned to the ground, with him still inside. The locals who investigated the site the following day claimed there were no remains of Cooter’s body to be found. They assumed that Cooter Brown’s body was so full of alcohol that he was completely consumed by the fire.

Either way, the story of Cooter Brown, the ingenious draft dodger, has traveled through time for more than 150 years and remains one of the colloquial phrases for heavy intoxication even to this day.