I ain't Rattle Snake Kate but.....................

The legend of Rattlesnake Kate

Kate wearing her rattlesnake skin dress

One spring day near Greeley, Colorado, a young woman by the name of Kate McHale, was riding her horse to a nearby pond to hunt ducks for dinner. As she dismounted to unlock a gate, Kate was startled by a rattlesnake, which she promptly shot. However, the noise brought three more snakes out of the nearby bushes. Kate was able to shoot those as well, but she was running low on ammunition. And the snakes just kept coming.
Being a resourceful pioneer woman, Kate uprooted a “No Hunting” sign and used it to kill snakes. Her battle took nearly two hours and when it was all over, Kate had killed 140 of the critters. Apparently, the snakes were just rousing from their winter sleep and her gunshots stirred the nest.
Her epic battle made her an instant celebrity once word got out. Newspapers all over the world published her story. Kate decided to put the skins to use and made a dress out of 50 of them. She also made a pair of shoes and a neck band which she often wore.
I learned about rattlesnake Kate many years ago when we lived in Colorado.   We went were visiting a museum in Greeley.  http://greeleyhistory.org/pages/rattlesnake_kate.html  At the time I was very intrigued  by the legend.   It was said that her young son was  riding horse back with her.  I really never thought that Rattlesnake Kate and I would have anything in common.   Well, little did I know..........
The Nebraska Prairie is home to the Nebraska Prairie Girl and the Prairie Rattlesnake.   Usually, we are able to co-exist nicely.  They exist away from my house and I exist away from their houses.   Sometimes our paths cross.......

Crossed Paths

We have lived on the Nebraska Prairie for almost 14 years now,  in those 14 years we have had 6 rattlesnake encounters.   This is the about the most recent encounter.  
Much like Rattlesnake Kate,  I was with my young child at the time.   I did not climb off of a horse, but out of my pick up truck.    I had just come home from town and was taking my 2 year daughter out of her car seat and into the house.  I heard a noise that stopped me dead in my tracks.   Looking around I saw a rattlesnake coiled up right beside the house.   I backed away towards the truck and told my toddler,  "I have to put you back in your car seat,  mommy has to kill a snake."   Usually, she would get very upset if I returned her to her car seat.  However, she must have sense something was wrong.   I got her buckled back in and as I am walking away she says, "mommy kill a snake."   I can not imagine being Rattlesnake Kate and having her young child on the back of a horse surrounded by rattlesnakes.  That must have be one amazing horse and child to stay put during the ordeal.   
I ran around the house and went in another door to put on my cowboy boots.  (flip flop sandals are not the thing to wear when dealing with  a rattlesnake.)    I ran out into the barn and found my weapon, a flat shovel.   Then I ran back to the house to deal with the snake.   The snake was being held captive by three of our farm cats.   (side note:  Every time we have had an rattlesnake  in the farm yard, the snake has been surrounded by farm cats.  They seem to always be the ones to find them first, thankfully)   I shoed the cats back out of the way and to safety.   When I approached the snake to make my first attempt at him,  he jumped at me a good 3 feet.    That scared me to death!   I have killed a few rattlesnakes since living here and have never had one jump out that far.   Before he had a chance to strike again I struck him with the shovel.    All the while I am dealing with the snake I can hear my little daughter say, "mommy kill a snake"  
I have to say I hate killing anything.  The rattlesnake has just as much right to be here as I do.  However,   it is just far to dangerous to move the rattlesnake to another location or allow it to leave on its own. 
Once a rattlesnake is dead you have to remove the head and bury it in the ground.   What?  Of course you do it with the shovel, never touching it with your hands.  It is  very important to dispose of the head so nothing can come in contact with it.  The head will continue to try to bite for a long time afterwards and the venom is still lethal.   You do not want a child, person, pet, etc. to come in contact with it and accidentally get poisoned. 
With the head safely buried it was time to get back to the business of the day, getting my daughter back out of the truck and unloading the groceries.    Of course my nerves were shot and I was shaking from the snake encounter, but life goes on.   My husband was on his way home  and had missed all the fun.   So.......I decided to surprise him with snake body.    I took the body of the snake and coiled it up near where I had killed it.   (I was careful coil it's body around the missing head)  Rattlesnakes will continue to move their body once killed until sun down.  Creepy, I know.    Anyway,  I was hoping he would walk by it and see it moving and freak out.    However, my plan back fired.   My husband, Tractor Dave, walked right past the snake with out even noticing.   Ugh!   I had to take him outside and show him what he had walked past.   When the snake moved, Tractor Dave jumped back and said, "does it have its head?"  Ugh!  Would I be standing there showing him a rattlesnake with its head?  NO!   
Now as I see it, since I killed the snake the least my wonderful hubby could would be to dispose of the body.   He did and he remembered to cut off the rattle, (the end of the tail) for my souvenir.   We buried the body  a safe distance from the head.   This is in case an animal digs up the body for some reason.   You do not want them to come across the head as well. 

What do you do with the rattle?   Usually, throw it in a jar with the other rattles you have collected.    The bigger the snake the more buttons (sections) a rattle will have.   This snake was about average and had seven buttons.
I have 136 more rattlesnakes to kill to be in the ranks of my pioneer sister Kate.  However,  I really hope that I never encounter that many rattlesnakes.   The adrenalin rush from killing one snake is enough to about do a person in.  I cannot imagine killing 140 at one time.
I have made one decision from this snake encounter.   The next time I have to kill a rattlesnake I am going to skin it and eat it.   I thought to myself what kind of Nebraska Prairie Girl are you if you do not throw the rattler in a frying pan?    I told my husband about this decision and he said,  "I want no part of that!"   I guess he just does not have the same pioneer spirit...................
Nebraska Prairie Girl


Popular Posts