Monday, December 14, 2009

Drunk as a boiled owl ...

I've mentioned the WPA's fine Montana guidebook here before, but that was only one of many literary and artistic efforts the agency undertook here during the Depression years. One relatively little-known project involved collecting Montana "folklore" ... anecdotes about the state's past obtained through both an oral history program and a review of published sources. A vast amount of material was gathered, and it's now archived at MSU.

Unfortunately, little of the material has ever been published, outside of a 1999 anthology titled An Ornery Bunch. Here's one of the stories reproduced in that volume -- it was first found in an 1889 issue of the Anaconda Standard:
On November 21st, 1889, one of Butte's judges received the surprise of his life when John Dough walked into police court and nonchalantly and soberly informed his honor that he intended to get drunk and disorderly. He said he was determined to become inebriated for a day and desired to have his trial pronto and pay whatever fines the judge wished to impose. The charges amounted to eleven dollars, one dollar, and costs, which Mr. Dough willingly paid. Upon being paid the judge told the man he could go and perform as he intended.

"Thanks, Judge," replied the potential celebrant. "Does that mean biling drunk?"

"Yes, drunk as a boiled owl."

"Does it include disorderly conduct?"


"Thanks," he said and walked out.


  1. The man had obviously been snowed in the house in -30 weather with a 3 year old and a 5 year old, ten days before Christmas. Bless his heart.

    (I see that it happened in much for theories...)

  2. Well, given that this is Montana, that exact scenario you described could have happened right before Thanksgiving, too ... or Halloween, for that matter!