~ Rattlesnakes

11 Jan

My grandfather was Paul K. Heck of Mondovi, Wis.  My mind always goes back to him around this time of year.  He was born on July 14, 1898, west of Mondovi in Canton township.  He lived to be about 95 years old.  For many years he dairy farmed northwest of Mondovi in what is known as German Valley.  The early settlers in that valley were all of German ancestry, that’s how the valley got its name.  My grandfather farmed there many years before moving into Mondovi to live.  Oftentimes in my single adult years, after milking my parents’ dairy cows in the evening, I would go to my grandparents’ home and visit with them.  They had excellent memories and such a wealth of information from years gone by.  The following account is one that my grandfather told me one evening, that I’ll probably remember the rest of my life.  I’ll do my best to retell it here now.

My grandfather had a friend many years ago who hunted rattlesnakes!  He hunted many of them in the area along Highways 37 and 35 between Mondovi and Alma, especially down through the Alma area.  The Buffalo River runs along Highway 37 and flows into the mighty Mississippi River just north of Alma.  There are many large hills and magnificent bluffs along these rivers, particularly in the Alma area.  Some of the bluffs I have been told are over 500 feet tall.  Some of them go right straight up, with the lower parts of them covered with trees and the upper parts having huge rock faces with some grass growing on them.  These beautiful bluffs with the great Mississippi River flowing beyond them are a real sight to behold.  I think of the Bible verse that says, “The creation declares the glory of God.”  Only God could create such a masterpiece.

These many thousands of acres of river bottom land surrounded by thousands of acres of impressive bluffs were and are premium rattlesnake country–some of the best in the world.  In the early to mid 1900’s there was a very large population of these snakes in that area.  They were a dangerous problem to all the people living there.  Sometimes farmers would go to their warm barns early on cold mornings only to find a rattlesnake curled up in there.  That would get the farmer fully awake really fast.  Hopefully he would find it before his cats or cattle did.  If not, he would oftentimes end up with a dead animal.  During hot weather the snakes would sometimes seek the shade under the steps or porch of the house.  Imagine the wife going down the porch steps and having a rattlesnake start to rattle at her a few feet away!  If a person got bit by one, he had to get to a doctor fast or cut himself and try to get most of the venom out or else it would mean death to him.

With such a dangerous snake problem on their hands, Buffalo County put a sizable bounty on rattlesnakes.  A number of men became excellent rattlesnake hunters and made good money doing it, especially during the Great Depression.  Most of the time the hunters hunted on the high parts of the bluffs in and around all of the rocks.  The snakes liked to sun themselves up there on the rocks, and they also had their dens in the rocks.  Usually a man would hunt them all by himself.  My Grandfather’s friend would oftentimes get a few snakes in a good day of hunting.  He would kill the snakes and cut the rattles off the end of their tails, then take the rattles and turn them in to collect the bounty money.  There was another way to make money on them too.  For a number of years, I was told, some of the restaurants in Alma would buy some of the larger snakes and serve them for dinner!  I guess it was considered kind of a delicacy and many people ate them.  That is one I would definitely “pass” on though.

One sunny day, after WWII, my grandfather’s friend was hunting rattlers high on a bluff in the rocks and crevices.  Now when he hunted snakes, he kept his eyes and ears really open looking for them.  The snakes could blend into the rocks, grass, and brushy areas real easy so a lot of times the snakes saw him before he saw them.  When a snake saw him close by it would start to rattle its tail. He would hear it and step in close and kill it.  He carried a strong stick that was four to five feet long.  He’d swing it, hit the snake in the head, and kill it.  On this particular day he was in a rocky area that was pretty level.  All of a sudden he heard a snake rattle on one side of him.  Then he heard another one rattle on the other side of him, and then another one, and yet another one! He was surrounded by four very upset rattlesnakes, one on each side of him.  As grandpa told the story, I started to wonder who was really being hunted here.

The man realized he was in an extremely dangerous situation.  If he got bit by two or three of these snakes being way up on the bluff all alone, far from help, he was as good as a dead man.  He was a very experienced hunter though and realized he had to stay calm. He quickly eyed up the situation and came up with a plan.  He decided to call up the U.S. Marines.  He figured if they could take care of the Japanese soldiers at Okinawa, they could take care of a bunch of rattlesnakes.  No, I’m just kidding, but he probably wished that he could have done it.  I know I would have!

He decided to turn in a circle on one foot as fast as he could, swinging his stick, trying to get all four snakes in one swinging action in a matter of one or two seconds.  He knew the odds were against him but he didn’t see any other choice.  He swung–and, all I can say is that the Lord was with him.  He killed all four snakes.  He cut the rattles off all four and headed for home, calling it a day.  I think his getting all four snakes in one swing was a far greater accomplishment than any golfer that ever shot a hole in one!  He did say, however, that over his many years of hunting rattlesnakes he did get bit twice; but he got medical attention and lived to tell about it.

Over the years though, because of the heavy hunter pressure on them, the snake population greatly declined.  The bounty system had worked and most people were very thankful with the results.  The hunters who made most of their money off the snakes saw their livelihood dwindling greatly.  Some came up with a very evil solution.  They would find a rattlesnake and pin it to the earth.  Then they would cut its rattles off and let it go.  In time it would grow back new rattles on its tail and reproduce more snakes.  A rattlesnake without its rattles is an extremely dangerous snake.  People would walk right up to them and get no warning from the snake and be bitten by them.  It is real sad to think that some snake hunters would do this for the love of money, thus stealing from the taxpayers and endangering the lives of other people.  The Bible is most certainly correct when it says, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  We all need to guard our hearts from the love of money and make sure we live honestly before the Lord and all men.

The Bible also refers to the devil as the serpent or snake.  And, just like a rattlesnake without a rattle, the devil is a deceiver, but Jesus crushed that snake’s head at Calvary so that we could have victory over him.  More than that, we can have a personal relationship with God and make heaven our home some day when we die.  One day I read a book about an all-loving God who sent His Son Jesus to Calvary to die and pay the price for my sins, so I could be forgiven and redeemed unto Him.  I got down on my knees that day in my bedroom and asked Him to forgive me and to be Lord of my life.  I committed to follow Him and live for Him all the rest of my life.  If you have never done this, I cannot urge you strongly enough to do it today.  You will never regret it.  I haven’t.  I only wish I would have done it sooner.


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