As long-time readers of this column know, I have very strong feelings about snakes, to put it mildly. I think a few remarks about local snakes are timely since we seem to have more snakes this year than usual for some reason. I am sure someone knows the reason but whatever the reason, we have to deal with them. In my area, as in most of Kentucky, we are blessed with copperheads, rattle snakes of one or more varieties and cottonmouths.
Yesterday I was told about a mature lady who killed a copperhead snake in her garage. Another person killed a rattlesnake in their yard. As a rule, rattlesnakes are not aggressive unless threatened but my experience has been that copperheads seem to lie in wait, hoping to bite someone.
The largest rattlesnake I ever saw was about as big around as a ½ gallon jar. My father wanted a big rattlesnake to have tanned for a belt. A neighbor caught a big rattler, put it in a sack and brought it to my father. It got out of the sack about the time he arrived at our house and he had to kill it. Daddy took it to the taxidermist but he stopped several times on the way and by the time he got there, the snake had deteriorated and couldn’t be tanned. I could not imagine wearing a snakeskin as a belt.
I remember many experiences with venomous snakes as a child. My grandfather told me that the really big rattlers never came out of the big forest of several thousand acres in our area because there were small ponds and streams where they could get water. However, in severe droughts, they did leave to get water from creeks and ponds and some of them would cross his farm to get to his pond.
Ma and I were sitting in the swing on the porch one afternoon when she cried,
Oh, Mercy! Ring the dinner bell, Honey. There is a big rattlesnake trying to get under the porch. She got a walking stick from the porch and kept pushing the snake backwards while I rang the bell for Pa. When he came running, he killed the snake and then he was furious at Ma because he said that the snake could have jumped the two feet to bite her. It was the first time I had ever heard him raise his voice to her. He left the snake under a tree near the porch because he said the snake’s mate would come. I think that was an old tale but I sure didn’t tell Pa that. He also killed a big copperhead in the cellar but I have told my readers about having to help take all the cans of fruit and vegetables to the attic. There is no feeling quite like putting your hand on a copperhead, which is what happened to me when I went to the cellar for Ma. Every time I see a jar of peaches, I think of that darned snake.
On a farm, wherever you have corn stored or anything that would attract mice and rats, you will find snakes. Pa’s solution was to find a couple of king snakes and bring them to a place near the stable. I would occasionally see one of them, or both, near the stable or barn and they were really big snakes but I eventually learned not to fear them but always kept clear of them.
Unfortunately, those of us who are morbidly afraid of snakes want to kill all snakes, the good and the bad. Black snakes and king snakes are beneficial in that they kill venomous snakes. They also kill mice and rats. They are totally harmless but I prefer them at a distance. Even the lowly little garter snake is utterly harmless. In fact, they eat insects and especially like slugs.
Once, when Pa let me go with him to the river bottom field, about a mile or more from the house, I rode a mule, my favorite treat. We came to a little spring called Cannon Spring and he stopped and showed me a rare sight. A king snake and rattlesnake were battling but it seemed that the king snake was trying to swallow the rattlesnake. There was a big washtub nearby and Pa put it over the two snakes. When we returned from the river field that afternoon with the mules hitched to a wagon, Pa stopped and lifted the tub off the snakes. The king snake had swallowed almost the other entire snake. That memory is very clear today.
For my sister Sally who is especially fearful of snakes, even pictures, I apologize for this column and promise to forego more snake stories for a long time.
Thank you for your phone calls. I can be reached at 270-522-3632 with questions, suggestions or comments.