Soapweed's Ranch Ramblings
The writings of a Nebraska Sandhills cattle rancher!

Rattlesnake Stories
April 7, 2003

Fortunately on our ranch we have never seen a rattlesnake. My dad's buildings are three miles across the hills to the west, and he has lived there since 1946. We have never seen rattlesnakes there either. The old railroad track is about three miles south of us, and for years it seemed the track was the dividing line. South of the tracks there were rattlers, but north of the tracks they seemed to be non-existant. Now the railroad line has been abandoned and the tracks taken up. Guess there is nothing to stop rattlesnakes from progressing north anymore. Of course we do have other varieties such as bull snakes, adders, blue racers, garter snakes and an occasional milk snake.

My mother has always been scared to death of any kind of snakes. She can't even thumb through the "S" encyclopedia without having somewhat of a tizzy. I don't like snakes, but can tolerate them as long as I see them first.

My cowgirl wife and I got married in 1979, and lived the first seven years after that on a ranch that had plenty of rattlesnakes. One summer during haying, we killed four rattlers in four days. On one occasion I got to see two snakes doing their "commando dance." They were intertwined around each other standing straight in the air. About two-thirds of their bodies were upright and they each had a third of themselves still on the ground. I thought at first it was a mating ritual, but found out later it was two males fighting over territory. I was mowing hay that day, and from a distance thought it to be a tree branch that had blown out into the meadow. I got off the tractor, and in the name of scientific interest got pretty close to them to watch. They paid me no attention, and I had time to mow on back to the pickup and return with a spade to do away with them.

One spring day, my wife and I were turning on windmills, and changing oil in them at the same time. Our little boy was about three, and he would climb each tower during the ritual. We had driven up to a windmill and while we were pouring the oil, the little guy ran over to the foot of the tower. He came running back exclaiming, "There is a big bull-worm over there." Fortunately it was just a bull snake. We don't kill them because they eat rats and mice.

There was an old area cowboy that used to get a rattlesnake mad and coiled up ready to strike. He always wore Bluscher boots with a two-inch riding heel, and he would stick his foot out at the snake. The snake would strike, and before it had time to re-coil, he would stomp on its head.

One time a neighbor could hear a snake buzzing between the boards on the wall of his barn. He had heard that if you waved a gun-barrel back in forth in front of a snake, the snake would hone in on the end of it and when you pulled the trigger you automaically killed the snake. He found a knot-hole in the barn wall and stuck a .22-rifle-barrel into it. He waved it slowly back and forth and pulled the trigger. The rattling stopped and he was proud that he had done his good deed for the day. A couple hours went by and he got to thinking that the dead snake would start stinking and smell up the barn. He decided to take a few boards loose and remove the snake. After doing this he found the snake very much alive and madder than a hornet. The only thing that the rifle shot had accomplished was to shoot the rattles off of the end of the tail!

About ten years ago, my dad and I were riding in a pasture about half way between our place and where Lone Wolf lives. Dad had a bunch of yearlings summering there, and we were gathering them to sort some of the bigger ones off to ship the next day. It is great grazing land in that area, but rattlesnakes were always prevalent. I rode over the top of one, and since it is a cardinal sin to not kill one if there is a chance, I got my rope down and dismounted from my horse. The snake had crawled head-first into a hole that was smaller than he was. He was trying to go forward but couldn't. I didn't want it to get away, and knew that as tight as the hole was it couldn't get its head doubled back to strike me. I grabbed it with my gloves intending to pull it out and stomp on it before the head came clear. The slithery critter hunkered in and swelled up and wouldn't go into reverse. I hollered at Dad and he rode over. He also grabbed on, but we couldn't budge it. He said, "I'll get it." He put the loop of my lariat rope around the snake and pulled real hard and real fast. I was standing completely in the wrong place, and the snake was de-gutted all over my britches. It looked a lot like what would come out of a lanced lump-jawed cow. Even though I cleaned myself up to the best of my ability, I still felt rather impure the rest of the day. On the bright side, our mission of killing the snake had been accomplished.

Some folks had a ranch down in the hills. The lady raised turkeys and had a fair sized herd. They kind of ran loose out in the pasture, but knew to come in a feeding time. She would watch the turkeys and would often see them in a circle cackling noisily. When this would happen, she knew they had a rattlesnake spotted. She would then kill the snake, and the turkeys would settle down. She told me that one summer, she killed over eighty rattlesnakes that the turkeys found.

One October morning a fellow that lived up on a flat a couple miles off of the river was in the grainery. He saw a snake trying to get under the floor. He killed it, then spotted another. The snakes were coming in to their den, and he didn't do anything the rest of the day but kill rattlesnakes. By sundown, he had done away with over twenty of them.

Rattlesnakes and prairie dogs have a lot in common. They live in the same holes, and the world would be a much better place if neither of them existed. The snakes are dangerous, and prairie dogs pulvarize and ruin pastureland that could be put to much better and more productive use.






Copyright © 2005 Steve Moreland
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