Rattlesnake Poison

Speaking of rattlesnakes.

And not to contend with Mr. Atoka who apparently isn’t aware that the Rattlesnake Roundup started in Sweetwater, Texas, I have a story to tell that I used to share in my public speaking engagements, based on the topic, “Things Aren’t Always as They Seem”, especially out and away from city life.

Okay, even though it only started in 1958, maybe that Sweetwater event wasn’t first, but it’s undeniably the biggest. And, politics aside from all the hand-wringers and sob-sisters who lament ill-treatment and, gasp, torture of the poor poisonous rattler, it not only serves a good purpose, it’s just darned good entertainment in a big, Texas way.

Anyway, Old Tom Wilkerson had been working the Rattlesnake Roundup for nigh onto 30 years and, along with his wife, was instrumental in spreading this bit of homespun entertainment through many of the small towns in West Texas, Sweetwater kicking things off on the first weekend each March.

Like Atoka’s character, but not as lucky, Old Tom has to take an unanticipated dump during a snake hunt, and hung his ample behind over a fallen stick of wood that might at one time have been a decent-sized mesquite tree. Paying no never mind to conditions below his dangling parts, Tom put that puppy to work and did his stuff.

Only thing was, Tom had placed himself directly above and within striking distance of a very irritated old West Texas Diamondback. Ignoring the poop, that snake gave no traditional warning. Instead, it simply sank its fangs into the plump aspects of Tom’s backside. Upon which, Tom yelped, wiped, turned around and stomped both his deposit and the rattler into eternity.

Meanwhile, his wife, having heard the commotion, came to check on Tom and they made the mutual discovery of two little holes in Tom’s butt. They washed off the area. Mama Wilkerson produced a very sharp pocket knife, cut a couple of X’s into the holes and commenced to attempt to suck the venom out of Tom’s rump.

They got Tom, wounded and embarrassed, to the doctor’s office whereupon an examination that included some degree of chucking, and Tom swearing with words he normally kept for bad drivers who cut him off on Sundays after leaving church, Doc made a declaration.

“Tom,” Doc said. “You got a lot of fat back there, and there’s not one scrap of poison in you.”

“Thanks to my wife’s quick work,” said Tom.

Doc remained silent for an extended period of time. Well, he did let loose with a few chuckles before getting his face straight enough to talk seriously.

“Mama Wilkerson sucked nary a spec of venom out of your backside, Tom. With all that fat back there, the venom didn’t go anywhere it was intended. It simply fell right back out of those fang holes.”

Mama Wilkerson looked on, an incredulous expression on her face.

“You mean to tell me I kissed that old fart’s ass for nothing!”

By this time there was a bit of an audience and all of them broke out in hysterical laughter. The laughter got louder and even more hysterical when Doc replied.

“Tom, your wife did more damage to your rear with that pocket knife of hers than ever that poor old rattler did with his fangs.”

NOTES to READERS: It has been duly reported by many a journalist covering these events—yours truly included—that the rattlesnake roundups started as a means for pest control. Rattlesnakes were so prolific in the rural areas, even coming into town and biting children, pets and scaring housewives white-haired. This was bad enough, but they also were killing livestock—important to ranchers and farmers.

Even with four-to-seven tons of rattlers collected each year during just the Sweetwater roundup, there always seemed to be enough left over that some hiker, domestic or wild animal, or kid got bit. Some died, most lived.

Yet, in spite of this, there are those who have actively tried to shut this event down, even though there never seems to be too few to round up. Rattlesnake venom is a hemotoxin—it rots the tissue and blood of a victim. And, the effect is accumulative, in spite of anti-venom. Eventually, you get bitten enough times, and receive enough anti-venom, you die. Simple as that.

So long as there are enough rattlers to go around, and plenty more next year, I’m not sure how concerned I am about rattlesnakes going extinct anytime soon in West Texas.

— Earl Chessher

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