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Having a round with Roger Pinckney XI

Roger Pinckney and Elizabeth Sher. IMAGE BY AUTHOR

By Charles W. Waring III

Like than the sentinel bald cypress commanding a gentle rise in the swamp, Roger Pinckney XI was the high-spirited cultural warrior who inspired his people and the curious. He had victories where so many others failed and wrote more than ten books and penned hundreds of essays, especially hunting stories.

  Roger was known well beyond our shores as he had a regular gig with the national magazine Sporting Classics and often wrote about his early life out in Minnesota where he built a cabin and dwelled amid the woodlands for 15 years. In his most recent and perhaps final column, he poured out his heart about his current wife, “Miss Biscuits,” from their first date to her severe challenges with alcohol, which she overcame; he closes with how he welcomed her back.

  When nestled in our Lowcountry, he was the living embodiment of John Denver’s “Back Home Again,” for he knew joy within his homeland with the authority that comes from paying your dues — reading, studying and listening. He did decades of “sponge work” in bars, on docks, at tailgates, on boats and at his home.

  Roger Pinckney now belongs to the ages, as we contemplate his mark on the world and his wide circle of friends. He took his leave on April 3 at age 77 and died at home on his beloved Daufuskie Island, just as he wanted.

  He had friends in every corner of the Lowcountry. Pierre Manigault, chairman of the Evening Post Publishing Newspaper Group, remarked:


Roger had a large appreciation for the Lowcountry’s abundant natural and cultural heritage and a deep conviction for the importance of preserving both, particularly on his beloved Daufuskie Island. It was the guide for how he led his life, the theme behind his writing and at the heart of the legacy he leaves. He will be greatly missed and long remembered.


Indeed, he was a double-barreled Southern persona and writer, gripped by the land. Roger lived out the traditions that few understand; however, important literary critics like James Kibler, who in his Faulkner the Southerner, would no doubt see him as he does the Mississippi bard when he writes:  “Southern ways have to do with pressing terra ferma.”


The Post and Courier’s Jessica Wade inked some kind words about our man, as he was their book division’s star. He made Evening Post Books a real deal. John Burbage co-founded the books division and was Roger’s highly capable editor and longtime friend.

In the P&C tribute, we read: 

John Burbage describes Pinckney’s return to the Lowcountry as “a traditional hero's story.”

“The young hero leaves homes, goes off and comes back with something very special,” Burbage said. “In this case, it was his ability to tell stories and share them with people back home.”

It turns out that many of Roger’s protagonists wear the mantle of hero in fighting the development that is choking our homeland. John Burbage could not be more correct in his portrayal of Roger.

He was truly an authentic spokesman for Sandlappers, just as his distant cousin Josephine Pinckney described in the stanza of her poem “Island Boy” about Mikell who was “as proud as the King of Spain.” Recall that Mikell was merely delighting in a singular moment, one where he celebrated the freedom of paddling in a Lowcountry creek and being surrounded by bait galore that he was collecting to go fishing. Roger was like Mikell at all the occasions where I ever saw him.

  I was honored to be his friend, especially as part of the mythical Lowcountry Panther Society. The imaginary and unspoken LPS was built on handshakes between those of us who have seen a big cat with a tail as long as the body. When you have seen one, you know. You believe. Roger was so taken with the panther that he wrote an essay about it for our Charleston Mercury. Then, about five years later he wrote this damn fine book called Washed in the Blood.  Check it out:

  It was this writer’s delight to read and review this book for the Charleston Mercury, as these opening comments demonstrate: 


Liquored-up lads on a Bertram 31’s transom were the first to speculate that Roger Pinckney XI would place a puma right in the center of his latest novel, Washed in the Blood — at least that is the palmetto pulse from our spy in an undisclosed marina near Beaufort. Like the puma of the novel, Cousin Roger is a rare cat and mysterious to those, especially from off, who don’t know this living legend of Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. Our writer knows his Lowcountry in a manner so well that his book achieves the sparsely used word known as verisimilitude, a ten-dollar vessel of vocabulary that fits a tale possessing the pace of a panther on the hunt: slowly observing from a distance, then creeping up to get close to its prey and finally rushing in for the kill.

  To believe in the existence of the panther is to embrace conservation, enjoy life to the fullest and honor our culture and traditions; this was the essence of Roger Pinckney. He was raw but so is our land, especially at low tide when the breeze wafts the perfume of wet pluff mud across your nostrils. In Washed in the Blood, Roger’s protagonist is a wee bit autobiographical of a younger version of our late friend. Rut Elliott sure speaks as Roger often did:  “The dead speak better when the magnolias bloom on a hot night with no breeze when the scent makes you dizzy and you swear you could cut the air with a dull skinning knife.”

  That kind of writing is what made many of us just love old Roger; he was real, funny and devoted to the land where his people settled a dozen or so decades ago.

  Roger and field sports were as inseparable as the majesty exhibited by a lovely live oak bending on its knees to the incoming tide. He liked classic double guns and hand-carved decoys and hunted with them, not allowing them to collect dust as would some dandy poseur in a sterile steel tower. He was fascinated by the orchestra of the hounds set out in the woodlands to chase the white-tailed deer. Roger wrote about his annual hunt on Daufuskie and those he enjoyed with the Middleton Hunting Club where he was a frequent guest. He documented these hunting traditions, and Elizabeth Sher was with him to take the photographs. She recalled:


It was my pleasure to meet Roger Pinckney a few years back in the fall.  I was photographing a deer drive with the Middleton Hunting Club, and he was memorializing the tradition of the club and the sport with his writing.


During our short time in the field, I found Roger a delightful raconteur with a little bit of rascal and a whole bunch of Southern graciousness and charm. He was confident and completely comfortable being Roger. After our day at Middleton, we talked on several occasions of additional projects together, including the annual deer drive on Daufuskie, but life events and time got in the way. I feel a great loss that I will never have another day in the field with Roger.

  He struck a Hemingwayesque pose and knew his people, even if nine generations back, as was our cousinly connection. One found no better company for an after-the-hunt tailgate than dear Roger. Many will raise glasses of brown liquor in honor of Roger Pinckney XI; others will continue to spill ink to sing his praises. Nonetheless, we all will rejoice in having known a damn fine man who will make us stand a little taller when we speak of our homeland and the need to protect it with everything we have; Roger did, and we must.


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