The following account comes from an early text describing the hunting practices of the southeastern United States, as told by an Englishman who lived many years in that region. Being from that era, the inherant prejudices are apparent. Please note, as well, that the account is being related for its historical value only under NO circumstances should the related snakebite remedies be construed as medical advice. They have the potential to cause pain, injury, and death. You will find a curious blend of fact and fancy in this writing. Several of the anecdotes taken from other sources are apocryphal. The natural history includes fiction along with some rather intriguing factual insight.
From: A Hunter's Experiences in the Southern States of America
Description. General colour greyish, with a number of lozenge-shaped black markings, edged with yellowish white upon the back; the tip of the tail black; the belly yellowish white; at the extreme end of the tail a number of horny rings, or rattles, increasing in number, as is supposed, with the age of the reptile.
Length. They are frequently found over six feet in length.
Lucky is it for the backwoods' hunter that there are but few species of this venomous genus, and that they are all provided with the rattles, from which they take their name, and with which they give a timely warning to the intruder who may venture too near their haunts. The poison of the rattlesnake is extremely virulent; more so in the hot parts of America than naturalists, who have only seen the reptile in this cold land, can at all realise.
This warning sound has saved many lives; and statistics will go far to prove that, in spite of all our prejudice against the serpent tribe, the number of human beings actually injured by them is very small. The rattlesnake, like most venomous reptiles, seldom makes an unprovoked attack upon man.
The structure of the rattle found on this class of reptiles is very curious. It has been supposed to consist of a number of bones loosely contained in a horny case, the agitation of which produces the noise. This is not the fact; it is made up of a number of rings received upon each other, and movable; only the first being firmly attached to the last vertebra of the tail.
The number of these rings depends upon the age of the snake, one being added to the rattle every time the reptile changes its skin. Twelve is considered a good number, though there are stories going the round of camp fires, of immense snakes that have been killed with as many as thirty rattles. The noise is produced by the snake shaking its tail, the motion knocking the rings against each other; and the noise is greater or less, according to the quickness with which the tail is moved. If the animal is very angry, it shakes the rattle so violently that it can hardly be seen, and the noise is excessively loud, resembling that which would be produced if a quantity of loose substances were placed in a tube, closed at each end with parchment, and shaken. It is said to be perfectly audible at the distance of a hundred feet; while at other times, when nothing has occurred to excite the snake's anger, it can scarcely be heard as it makes its way slowly through the grass and brushwood, so that a person might easily come close upon it without observing it.
The head of the rattlesnake is large and flat, and of a triangular shape. It is covered with scales, similar to those on the back; the scales on the muzzle and over the eyes being very large. The mouth is very wide, and the snake is able to swallow animals and birds of a large size, without much inconvenience. Behind each nostril the upper lip is pierced with a little groove. In the upper jaw are placed the deadly fangs, concealed between the external and internal jaws, like the blade of a penknife in its sheath. The fangs are curved like the claws of a cat, and are frequently half an inch in length; about a tenth part of an inch from the point is an orifice, through which the deadly venom is discharged. The gland which contains the poison is at the base of the tooth, and on examination will be found two or three drops of a fluid, which much resembles clear honey in appearance. This poison bag is so connected with the hollow part of the fang, when it is in a state of erection, that a very slight pressure or resistance forces it through the orifice with considerable violence into the wound made by the point. The rattlesnake cannot be fairly said to bite its victims; but, opening its jaws to their widest extent, it throws its head forward, striking the fangs like hooks into the unhappy object of its rage, and driving the poison into the wound, like the arrows of the Bosjesmen. So strong is the poison, that even vegetables feel its effects when inoculated with it; healthy young plants soon become seared and blighted, as though a flash of lightning had scorched them.
A gentleman, fond of trying experiments, had a dog exposed to the bite of a rattlesnake; the animal died in fifteen minutes. A second dog was then bitten, which expired within two hours; while a third, which the snake was provoked to bite, lived rather over three hours after receiving the wound. Another experiment is on record, in which a dog was killed in thirty seconds, and another in four minutes, and some time afterwards the same snake died from the effects of his own poison, within twelve minutes, after inflicting a wound with his own fangs.
In the earlier days of the American Revolution, many people looked upon this snake as a fit emblem for the national flag; and until the eagle took its place, it held quite a conspicuous position in the imagination of the public, assuming for a short time an historical interest. Benjamin Franklin, printer, philosopher, and statesman, wrote a very pleasant essay in support of the proposition; and the celebrated Paul Jones, in his journal, says something about such a flag being used on board the ships of the young republic.
In the Northern States the rattlesnake becomes torpid as cold weather approaches, retiring to holes in rocks, or beneath the roots of trees. Sometimes on the plains they are known to occupy the same domicile with rabbits or the prairie dog. They retire to their holes after casting their skins, and before the autumnal equinox; and there they remain till spring cheers the earth once more. During this time their bite is said to be harmless, as it is most dangerous in thunder-storms, when the air is much charged with electricity.
The Indians, though they dread, and many tribes reverence, the rattlesnake while living, will yet kill, and even eat him if they have a chance. They watch for one when asleep, and pin his head to the ground with a forked stick. Thus secured, the snake is soon killed, skinned, and cooked.
The Americans sometimes assert that the English, and in fact all nations where the climate is more temperate, have no venomous snakes. Surely, the Americans must forget that the adder is much dreaded in the New Forest, and in fact all over the south coast of England; and that, although its bite seldom proves fatal to man (cases of death are, however, not unknown), numbers of sheep and cattle are every year destroyed by these savage little vipers.
It is, perhaps, the comparative freedom from venomous reptiles there being only one kind known in England that makes the Englishman shrink from everything of a snaky appearance, when he visits the jungles of India or the forests of America.
Although he soon becomes accustomed to all kinds of wild beasts, and shows the utmost indifference to them, he can never conquer his aversion to the whole serpent race. Yet the same thing may be said of the human mind everywhere it recoils with disgust from the presence of snake life.
This terror is, perhaps, one of the most incomprehensible instincts of humanity, for it prevails everywhere, even when it has not been forced upon the mind by experience. No reasoning overcomes it. Perhaps it is founded upon the superstitions of olden times; for, in every ancient nation, we find the serpent taking some position, frequently a very prominent one, in their mythology. Upon all the ancient monuments of Egypt, of Greece, of Persia, of India, and of Arabia, we find the serpent figuring as the type of wisdom and mystery. On the remains of ancient Nineveh, and upon the walls of the old Aztec temples of Mexico, it holds a very similar place. Images of snakes are dug out of the huge mounds of the western prairies, as they are found in the Egyptian caves and mummy vaults.
The ancients had many sublime fancies, and many ridiculous ideas respecting snakes; but most of the fables of the past have been swept clean away by the light which modern science has poured upon them and their haunts; and at the same time the reptiles themselves disappear, or, at all events, decrease in number as a country becomes populous a necessary result of the hatred with which they are everywhere regarded, excepting amongst the Africans, by whom they are reverenced, fed, and preserved.
Although snakes have been looked upon as lowest in the scale of animal creation, from the fact of their possessing only a body without members, their structure displays much beauty in its formation, and is better adapted to their haunts, food, and general manner of life, than is that of any other living creature. It moves with ease and freedom, though it has neither legs, arms, wings, nor fins, the work of all those limbs being performed by a modification of the vertebral column. As they move upon their bellies, it is evident that their greatest danger is from above; its joints are therefore so formed, as best to resist pressure in a vertical direction, and the body is so constructed, that in moving the serpent undulates in its movements from side to side. Thus fashioned it can swim or leap, it can wrestle and crush its foe in its gripe, or lift its food to its mouth.
The rattlesnake is said to be viviparous, though I cannot vouch for the truth of the assertion. M. de Beauvois states that he saw the young of the rattlesnake take shelter in the parent's mouth when disturbed, and other travellers have made similar statements.
At all events, the rattlesnake, or any other serpent, would have no difficulty in performing such a feat, for its jaws are most capacious. They are held together only by strong muscles, so that the snake, if so inclined, can separate them from each other. This arrangement is very convenient, when we recollect that serpents never tear or gnaw their food, but, as a general rule, swallow it whole. The larger kinds, indeed, crush their prey; but even that operation does not render it much easier to swallow, and it often happens that the mouthful is much larger than the jaws between which it is to pass.
But the serpent can not only unhinge his jaws, he can protrude or retract one independently of the other, so that he can push forward one set of teeth and hook them in the prey, and bring up the others until the dainty morsel is wholly engulfed.
Rattlesnakes are said to possess the power of fascination, and to employ that power in the capture of their food. Disputes have long been rife on that point, much having been both said and written in support as well as in condemnation of the theory. The old French traveller, Le Vaillant, relates that he saw a bird, on which a snake had fixed its eyes, trembling violently, and that when the reptile was killed the bird was found dead, from fright, as was supposed, as no wound could be found upon it. In the year 1723, Mr. Paul Dudley gave an account of the rattlesnake, in which is the following passage :
'A man of undoubted probity, some time since, told me that as he was in the woods he observed a squirrel in great distress, dancing from one bough to another, and making a lamentable noise, till at last he came down the tree and ran behind a log. The person going to see what had become of him, spied a great snake that had swallowed him. And I am the rather confirmed in this relation, because my own brother, being in the woods, opened one of these snakes, and found two striped squirrels in his belly, and both of them head foremost. When they charm, they make a hoarse noise with their mouths, and a soft rattle with their tails, the eye at the same time fixed upon the prey.'
For my own part, I incline to the opinion that rattlesnakes charm their prey; and if a case has never chanced to come under my notice, many stories have been related by persons whose truth is above suspicion. Philosophers who study snakes from stuffed specimens and write very learned books after seeing the reptile in a bottle of spirits of wine, may perhaps doubt; and there is nothing in the example before them to lead them to believe that snakes have such fascinating manners. They may say that the story arises from the fears and cries of birds and other animals, whose nests or young have been destroyed, and that the anxiety of the parent bird makes it fall an easy prey to the crafty reptile. But all who have seen the reptile in its native haunts, as I have, must acknowledge that its gaze is painful to encounter, and that even the mental powers of man are apt to grow benumbed when that eye, so full of command and yet so mysterious in its gaze, meets the human vision.
Let no hunter stop to gaze upon the fearful crotalus, or he will experience a strange subtle charm which it will require a most resolute effort to break through. His blood will start back from his heart; he will feel as conscious of the presence of real and imminent danger as though he stood upon the brink of some fearful precipice. The spiral convulsions of the snake will find a response in the whirlings of his own fevered brain; the forked tongue will play before his gaze with increasing rapidity till it seems like a flash of lightning; the continual hum of the rattles will be like a droning music soothing his senses, and its mysterious eyes will glare as openly and terribly as the portals of Dante's Inferno. Let him not stop to look upon the death-dealing object; but with well-directed shot sever its head from its body, or with clubbed gun pound that horrid head to jelly.
Nor is this caution needless. There are men who have experienced this strange fascination. A gentleman living in Philadelphia was riding on horseback to visit a friend, when his horse refused to go forward, being alarmed at the presence of a huge rattlesnake that lay right in his path. The gentleman, who had some slight belief in the power of snakes to fascinate their victims, alighted from his horse with the intention of leading his animal around the object of its terror. While he was doing this the snake coiled itself up and began to sound its rattle, keeping its eye firmly fixed upon the enemy. Its eyes glared with such fire and fury that the gentleman found himself all over in a perspiration, and for a short time was spell-bound and unable to move hand or foot; he could neither advance nor retreat. Happily, his reason was not benumbed, and in a short time mental courage began to conquer bodily fear. Staggering like one in a drunken dream, he approached the reptile, and by a luckily well-aimed blow dashed its brains out on the spot.
The rattlesnake is not the only fascinating reptile, as witness the St. Louis (Missouri) Herald for the 12th July, 1854. A black snake, more than seven feet long, is there said to have displayed similar powers. And the whole story ends in a fearful tragedy.
In Franklin County, Missouri, lived a little girl, thirteen years of age, along with her parents. She had always enjoyed good health, but was suddenly seen to waste away, till she became a mere skeleton. In the spring months of the year she exhibited a strange propensity to take her meals away from the house, carrying all her food to the banks of a stream near at hand, where she had been known to sit for hours at a time. The neighbours began to wonder at this extraordinary conduct, and suggested to the father that it would be well if a watch were set upon her movements. This was accordingly done. On a Friday morning the child went out and sat in her usual place by the creek till near]y noon, when she returned to the house and asked for food, upon which a large slice of bread and butter was given her, and she returned to the waterside.
In the meantime the father had stealthily followed his child, and ensconced himself behind some bushes. To his intense horror, he saw a huge black snake slowly lift its head into the child's lap, and receive the food from her hand, exhibiting the utmost greediness, and showing signs of anger whenever the child attempted to taste the food; the poor girl trembling like an aspen leaf all the while. The father uttered a loud groan as he beheld the influence which the monster had gained over the mind of his child. But some slight noise he made alarmed the snake, which glided away into the creek, and was lost to sight. He questioned the child as to why she gave her food to the snake, but she would not, or could not, give any answer.
After a consultation with some friends, it was determined that the girl should not be hindered from going to the creek the following day, and that if the snake made its appearance it should be killed. The child took her food to the creek the next morning as usual, and in due time the snake made its appearance. The father, who was watching with loaded gun, at once fired, and sent his shot through the reptile's head. The girl at once fell down fainting, while the snake, after rolling and twisting about, died. The girl recovered, but when she saw the monster was dead, swooned again. She once more recovered, but only to fall into convulsions a third time, and finally died without giving any explanation as to the influence the snake had exercised over her. In her last moments she seemed to be in the greatest agony, both of body and mind.
The editor of the paper from which this tale is taken vouches for the correct statement of this strange and horrible fact in the following words:
'We know that there are many persons who doubt the reality of such fascination, but if they entertain any doubts on this subject hereafter, the relations of this unfortunate little girl can be found, ready and willing to corroborate our statement.'
In Eastern lands, snake charming is a profession of great honour and antiquity, and many surprising tales have been related of their seeming willingness to listen to the voice of the charmer. In the Southern States, many of the negroes seem to me to possess this power over the hideous reptiles; and very few of them would ever kill a snake, giving as a reason, that they should have bad luck afterwards. They seem to be able to handle snakes with impunity, as the following anecdote will show.
An eccentric physician was desirous of studying the habits of the rattlesnake, and in order that he might do so at his leisure, had a number of the reptiles caught and confined in a large cage, which, for fear of accidents, he always kept in his own bedroom, examining the reptiles every night before he retired to rest, for the purpose of ascertaining that they and the cage were quite secure, and that they had been properly attended to during the day.
One night he returned very late from a party, rather fatigued, and perhaps a little the worse for wine; however, he quite forgot his usual precautions, and jumped into bed without so much as glancing at the cage containing his treasures. But the hot, sultry weather prevented him from sleeping for some time; and as he lay tossing on his couch, a slight noise attracted his attention, which sounded very much like something sliding along the floor. On looking to see the cause for it was a bright night, and the moon shone right into his room he saw at a glance that the door of the snakes' cage was open, and that one of the largest of the reptiles was advancing leisurely towards him.
The doctor hardly knew how to act. It is true a loaded gun stood in the corner of the room, but then, for aught he knew, some of the other snakes might be at liberty, and thus he might tread on one of them and pay the penalty of his rashness. A slight consideration of the matter convinced him that the safer plan would be to lie perfectly still till morning, when the servants would be awake, and this he did, taking the precaution to draw the gauze mosquito curtains as closely around his couch as possible. In the meantime, the snake, after roaming about the room for some time, approached the bed, and in a little while all became quiet.
It seemed many hours, but at length daylight arrived. The doctor listened with impatience, and at length heard the footstep of his black valet approaching the door. The doctor at once called out to him not to enter, but to fetch an old negro who worked on the plantation, and was said to possess a strange power over all crawling things. The valet, on hearing that the snakes were loose, soon brought a venerable Ethiopian, to whom the matter was explained. As soon as the old negro understood, he at once declared himself willing to enter upon the task, expressing a thorough belief and confidence in his own powers. On entering the room he discovered a large snake sleeping very quietly under the bed. The doctor at once ordered him to shoot the reptile, but this the man refused to do, and saying that he could take up the snake without the least danger of being bitten, he began to whistle and sing in a strange tongue, all the while approaching the reptile gradually, till at length he passed his hand over its head in a soothing manner. At length he lifted up the reptile's head, and induced it to repose upon his arm, without exciting the slightest symptom of anger or fear.
The doctor began to grow rather alarmed for the safety of his servant, and desired him to return it at once to the cage, but the old man was very unwilling to comply. On approaching the cage the snake began to show signs of anger, lifting up its head, hissing, and working its rattles. The negro recommenced his incantations and soothing words, and soon restored the snake to its original calmness. The doctor was more alarmed than ever. It seemed that the negro could not get rid of the reptile, though he had charmed it. The old man, however, had a plan in his head, and called for a sheet; by moving it gently to and fro he soon accustomed the reptile to the sight of the strange object, and by dexterous management slipped the edge of it beneath the snake's body, between its coils and his arm, whistling and singing more vigorously than ever while so doing. When he had the sheet properly adjusted, he skilfully and quickly rolled the reptile up in it, after which a few rapid movements restored it to its old quarters.
The old negro ascertained that all the other snakes had remained in the cage, and after receiving a handsome present from the doctor, retired unharmed. He declared, however, that it would be impossible to charm that snake again, as he had deceived the reptile by the exercise of his power.
I have several times narrowly escaped from the bites of these reptiles. On one occasion, I made up the number of a party for the purpose of fishing and shooting on a small island, off the coast of Florida. We crossed in a boat, landed at the north end of the island, and fixed our camp in a very pleasant spot, under the shade of a grove of live oak and laurel-bushes on the bank of a small stream, which had its source in a marsh in the centre of the island. The situation commanded a very pleasant view. On one side was the green coast-line of the great continent, where the wave dashed itself into white foam on the sandy beach, with here and there rocks of fantastic shape, and verdure-clad islets; on the other hand was the mighty ocean, stretching away till it was lost in the distance, where wave and sky seemed to mingle together. We shot; we caught fish and oysters; and, when the day was at an end, a good supper was followed by two or three 'goes' of grog beyond the usual allowance.
During the night I felt thirsty, and walked down to the stream two or three times, as did some of my companions. Strange to say, everyone returned with the tidings, that a rattlesnake had been heard not many yards away, and always exactly at the same spot.
As soon as it was light, I once more took my way to the water for the purpose of bathing and drinking. To my horror, I saw coiled up by side of the path, within twelve inches of where I had stepped, a huge rattlesnake. A single moment I stood, while the creature began to erect its head and spring its rattles; then jumping a yard back, I seized a large stone, which I hurled with all my force at the reptile, cutting him in two. It measured a trifle over six feet in length, with well-developed fangs and poison-bags full of venom. Six or seven times that snake must have been passed and repassed during the darkness of night; yet, by a miracle, we all escaped from its bite.
The food of the rattlesnake consists chiefly of birds, squirrels, and such small game; though it does not despise turkey's eggs. It is incapable of seizing its prey, except when coiled up, ready to spring, and therefore it cannot give chase. This being the case, the snake would be compelled to fast for a very long time, unless it was able to a certain extent to fascinate its prey. All snakes and the rattlesnake is no exception to the rule emit a peculiar odour when excited, or angry; and it seems very probable that this strong scent, being directed in a continual current towards the destined victim, exercises a stupifying influence over the poor squirrel, rabbit, or bird, dulling its senses and rendering it unable to escape.
In addition to all this, it has been stated by an American author, that the rattlesnake is unable, or, at all events, unwilling to take any food without undergoing the preliminary excitement of charming it; and he gives an instance of a gentleman who kept a rattlesnake in a cage for some time without food, and then gave it a rat. The reptile took not the slightest notice of its new companion; and in a short time the couple were on peaceable, if not friendly, terms with each other; and so things continued for two or three weeks. One morning, however, sounds were heard in the apartment where the cage was kept. The gentleman proceeded thither, and saw the snake coiled up, its head raised above the body, its mouth open with the tongue shooting about, while the tail kept up a continual humming rattle. The poor rat seemed to be in the greatest terror, yet kept approaching its deadly foe. When the quadruped was close to it, the reptile darted with lightning velocity, and struck the fatal blow. A few convulsive kicks terminated the rat's existence, and the reptile soon worked it down its capacious throat.
At any time, during the weeks they had lived together, the reptile could have swallowed its companion as it ran about, or slept, upon the floor; but the excitement attendant upon charming seemed necessary before it could do so with pleasure or satisfaction.
Rattlesnakes, as a rule, love woody ground in a dry situation, although one species haunts swampy districts, and is termed the marsh-rattlesnake. It is quite as deadly in its nature as any other member of the family.
In the neighbourhood of most large towns in America, rattlesnakes are very rare. As the ground is cleared, they are killed or driven from their haunts. The hog an animal which generally accompanies the Anglo-Saxon in his onward march has proved of immense service in clearing the woods of these noxious reptiles, being, with the exception of man, the most destructive enemy which the snake has to encounter. An old grunter will even trace the snake to its haunt, or den, by the scent, and carry the war into the enemy's camp.
Of course, the snake sounds an alarm the moment it sees or hears the invader, and prepares for action; coiling itself, and brandishing its forked tongue. The hog disregards these hostile looks, and presses boldly forward, sidling up in such a manner, that its fat cheek, presented to the fang of the snake, catches the blow aimed by the enraged reptile. As soon as the foe has exhausted its venom and strength, the hog puts his foot upon the neck of the serpent, and tears its body with his teeth.
If a herd of deer chance to see a rattlesnake, the old buck generally gives battle, though he adopts very different tactics, of a light cavalry order. The buck will trot round and round the snake for some time, seemingly with the intention of confusing the reptile. Suddenly, he will start off to some distance, and, returning at full gallop, spring five or six feet into the air, alighting, with all four of his sharp pointed hoofs, upon the coils of the snake, and springing aside instantly. If the assault has been performed with precision, the snake will be found cut to pieces.
The black snake attacks the poisonous crotalus in a somewhat similar manner. The rattler coils himself up while the non-venomous creature glides round and round the foe with great rapidity both combatants hissing like small steam-engines. The rattlesnake attempts to follow the rapid circular movements of its foe, but is unable to do so, and despairingly drops its head to the ground perhaps feeling a little giddy from such unaccustomed exercise. This is the moment for which the black snake has been watching and waiting; and in a moment it darts in, seizes its adversary by the back of the neck, and then the struggle begins. The black snake throws coil after coil around its foe, as they roll over each other, while the rattlesnake vainly endeavours to extricate himself. In a few minutes the rattlesnake lies motionless. The black snake cautiously uncoils himself, and after giving a triumphant hiss over his foe, disappears from the scene; generally to the banks of the nearest stream.
During the summer months they generally go about in pairs; so that if one is killed the hunter had best look out for the other. This habit is not confined to the rattlesnake. Most venomous species observe the same rule. A negro slave in St. Domingo once took advantage of it to perpetrate a foul crime.
The negro had joined a conspiracy to revolt, but being suspected of lukewarmness in the cause, was commanded to destroy his master's only daughter as a proof of his zeal, or suffer death himself. The rascal accomplished the deed without attracting the least suspicion towards himself. He discovered the haunt of a pair of deadly snakes, and by means of those arts peculiar to his half-savage race, enticed them to the neighbourhood of the house. He then informed his master that he had reason to believe that there was a venomous reptile in the neighbourhood. A reward was offered for its destruction, which was gained by the negro himself, who killed the female snake the following morning. His courage and devotion was highly complimented by the master, and an additional reward given by the daughter of the planter. The moment the negro was unobserved, he set to work to complete his plans. He dragged the body of the dead snake along the ground, through the house into the young lady's bedroom, and allowed it to remain for some minutes between the sheets on the bed. This done, he concealed the snake about his body, and carried it to a distance. Night came, and the surviving snake began to seek its mate. The scent was still on the ground, and the reptile followed it up to the door, and then glided across the hall to the chamber of the planter's daughter. The trail was quite warm; the snake worked its way beneath the coverlet to the place where the other had been; and when the unfortunate girl moved her hand in her sleep to brush it from her neck, the fangs of the enraged reptile were instantly buried in her throat. The deep sleep produced by a sultry heat was upon her, and she awoke no more. When the parents visited their child in the morning, an offensive, putrid mass of corruption, in which they could hardly recognise the loved countenance, was all that met their sight.
In some parts of the Southern States these snakes are so numerous that it is dangerous to camp out without taking some precaution to guard against them. The camping-ground should be chosen upon an open space away from weeds, bushes, or rocky ground. Some hunters encircle their bivouac with the horse-hair halters which they carry, to protect themselves from the snakes. I know not whether there is any magic or virtue in horse-hair, but the reptiles have never been known to enter the magic circle. They have also a most decided antipathy to the leaves or branches of white ash, and are never found in spots where that plant is abundant. Some hunters, acting upon this hint, stuff their mocassins and boots with the leaves, as a safeguard against the bite of rattlesnakes.
Numerous remedies have been proposed as a cure for their bite suction, caustics, and internal medicines. The Indians frequently employ the first-named remedy. They also use some roots and leaves which they say have a good effect. Amongst these latter may be mentioned a root called heart-snake root, as well as a species of chrysanthemum, called Saint Anthony's Cross. These remedies they often carry about with them, and when bitten, chew some, swallowing the juice, while the masticated pulp is applied to the wound.
Catesby, the American traveller, is of opinion that if the Indians recover from the bite, it is more from the slightness of the wound and a good strong constitution, than from the efficacy of the remedies. He states that persons have survived for hours without taking any medicines whatever, when the fangs had not touched any vein or nerve; but that, when the case was otherwise a vein or artery having been pierced death ensued in a very short time; on one or two occasions in less than two minutes.
Many persons in the South go about armed with a phial of ammonia, which is considered a good antidote. But the backwoodsmen and hunters myself amongst the number place unbounded confidence in unlimited quantities of the best whisky. If a man is bitten, pour glass after glass of the spirit down his throat, till his stomach will hold no more; and in nine cases out of ten, he will appear little the worse for the bite in a day or two. The snake wastes his venom on a man whose blood is diluted with whisky.
The symptoms are a swelling of the body, the tongue becomes inflamed, the mouth is burning, an inextinguishable thirst is felt; the edges of the wound first become gangrened; fearful pains are felt in every part of the body, and continue till death ends the agony of the sufferer.
Those who have been bitten and recover are generally reminded of their lucky escape by periodical aches and swellings, or weakness in the part injured, or by a derangement of the action of the heart.
But, luckily for all American hunters and travellers, cases of rattlesnake bites are extremely rare, being very seldom reported in even the most sensational newspapers of the whole American press. The animal when unprepared for action, i. e. when not coiled up, is very slow in its movements, so that man can easily escape from its presence.
Another serpent found in America, and nearly as poisonous as the rattlesnake, is the Mocassin Snake. These are numerous in the swampy grounds of Carolina, Georgia, and other Southern States. In many of its habits it resembles the rattlesnake, though it does not grow to such a size, nor does it possess the warning rattle. Their bite is supposed by the negroes to be incurable. The flesh about the wound mortifies and falls away, the mortification extending gradually over the body. The only method said to be effectual is tying a ligature both above and below the wound, and resolutely cutting the flesh right down to the bone; after which the wound should be cauterised. If the patient survives both the venom and the antidote, he must possess a very strong constitution.
The mocassin snake is seldom known to grow much more than four feet in length, though it is thick in proportion. When provoked, they swell out the body, flatten the neck, and thus cause the head, mouth, and eyes to look very large. They are marked on their skins something in the fashion of a rattlesnake, though not so distinctly. They are of a very dull coppery hue.
'I have never known any instance of death from the bite of this snake; and am convinced that if the hunter will exercise caution, and look before he leaps, or steps, he may venture with safety into any part of the American wilderness.