Thursday, July 24, 2008


Snakes get a bum wrap and I'm one of the guys who contribute to that --- I don't like them. In fact, I jump about six feet when one surprises me (let's face it, I'm older now --- make that four feet). But I don't kill them and I've even reached the point where, having jumped four feet, I realize how foolish I've been, walk back and watch the critter for a while.

My mother hated snakes in a steely-eyed murderous sort of way. If she caught sight of a snake, even one that was minding its own business, she grabbed a hoe and it was a gonner. Dad didn't mind them, even cultivated the bullsnakes that occasionally took up residence in grain bins because, he said, they ate mice.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources tells us that three varieties of rattlesnake are found in diminished a numbers in the state --- a few prairie rattlesnakes in some parts of the Loess Hills and more timber rattlesnakes (photo above) and massasauga rattlesnakes, but all are rare and endangered.

This all came to mind early this week when I received an e-mail from James F. Mahaffy of the Biology Department at Dordt College in Sioux Center. As part of his research into "historic populations of rattlesnakes in Iowa and Minnesota," he's ferreting out reports of deaths attributed to rattlesnake bites in the state.

I post a lot of genealogically-related stuff to assorted Web sites and he'd come across something I'd written about Cousin Alonzo Miller, who according to family lore died during August of 1869 at age 7 of a rattlesnake bite on the farm in English Township where he lived with his parents, Sylvanus "Vene" and Adelia Miller. Sylvanus was the youngest brother of my great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah Miller. Vene's wife had one of the more elaborate names in the family --- Adelia Permelia Lucinda Phylena Nottage.

Anyhow, Sylvanus moved to English Township from Monroe County in 1853 --- a time when there weren't many people around, but there were a lot more rattlesnakes. He married Adelia in 1859 at her home in Wapello County not far from Eddyville and brought her back to Lucas County where they settled down to raise a family that included Mary and Alonzo, both of whom died young; and Sarah Naomi (Miller) Minter and William L. Miller, who lived long lives. Mary and Alonzo reportedly are buried in Brownlee Cemetery, although their graves aren't marked.

I was able to tell James Mahaffy that the mortality schedule attached to the 1870 federal census of Lucas County tends to support the family rattlesnake lore --- although because of legibility problems and enumerator errors it wouldn't be wise to bet the farm on it.

Then I decided to run "snake" and "rattler" through Darlene Arnold's extraordinary index to vital records (and anything else that interested her) in extant Lucas County newspapers. I've bragged about this incredible resource before --- you'll never know just how handy it is until you've used it. I came up with the following list of stories related to snakes (including one death that occurred in Lucas County and another that probably did; sadly, there are no surviving newspapers from the time of Alonzo's death).

Keep in mind that there are no extant copies of Lucas County newspapers from the 1850s and very few from the 1860s. The number of surviving issues grows through the 1870s and is fairly complete after 1880. It's also likely that only a small percentage of the snake stories told in Lucas County ended up in the newspaper. The letters after the dates of publication indicate the name of the newspaper: D is Chariton Democrat, H is Chariton Herald, P is Chariton Patriot, HP is Chariton Herald-Patrion and L is Chariton Leader.

Here's the list.

Barron, J. T.'s son, story, 07-26-1895D, pg8, bitten by rattlesnake - Derby items

Barron, J., son, story, 07-25-1895H, bitten by rattlesnake

Blue, Mrs.'s son, story, 07-18-1883P, 3 miles southwest of Russell, bitten by rattlesnake

Danner, Newton, story, 07-04-1912P, fp, son of D. N., bitten by rattlesnake

Dixon, Gerald, story, 07-22-1920L, pg5, fishing, went to sleep, snake coiled around neck, saved

Dixon, Robert, story, 08-01-1912P, pg9, son of Mr. and Mrs. George Dixon, bitten by rattlesnake - Russell

Duckworth, George, story, 05-11-1894D, bitten by rattlesnake, Olmitz & Cedar items

Eaton, Johnnie, Jr., story, 06-19-1902D, pg8, bitten by snake, getting along OK, Norwood items

Floyd, Chas., story, 10-03-1895H, almost bit by rattlesnake

Gillespie, J. T., story, 08-08-1895H, quite a fright from a large bull snake

Hall, J. H., Mrs., story, 06-23-1898P, stepped on rattlesnake, it bit her toe

Johns, Samuel, story, 04-15-1886H, snake story (but no indication what kind of story, FDM)

Lighter, Everett, story, 08-20-1896H, bitten by rattlesnake

Lott, Chas., story, 05-28-1891D, lifting potatoes from box, bit by rattlesnake

Magnall, Thomas's dau., story, 09-17-1884P, bitten on foot by rattlesnake

McCullough, Leroy, story, 09-05-1877P, bit on foot by rattle snake

Messenger, E., story, 07-21-1880P, bitten on leg by rattlesnake

Morris, Lew, story, 09-11-1902D, fp, bit on cheek by rattlesnake

Nelson, August, Mrs., story, 10-18-1895D, pg5, bitten by rattlesnake

Nelson, Worth Eugene, death report, 07-27-1922P, fp, son Mr/Mrs. Schaterick Nelson, snake bite, buried Centerville

There is no record of this boy’s death in Lucas County, nor is there a complete obituary. This suggests, but does not prove, that he did not die in Lucas County. The full story probably would straighten that out.

Noble, G. W., story, 08-20-1873P, bitten by rattlesnake

Prather, Johnnie, story, 10-15-1897D, pg8, bitten by small rattlesnake - Cedar items

Rustan, Homer, story, 06-28-1932L, fp, son Mr/Mrs. Albian Rustan, bit by rattler

Sefrit, Amy, story, 08-17-1905P, fp, dau Mr/Mrs. George Sefrit, bitten by rattlesnake

Shardeen, Dan, Mrs., story, 08-19-1898D, pg8, bit by rattlesnake, almost fatal - Derby

Sowash, Vernon, story, 08-01-1895H, found a snow white rattlesnake

Thompson, G. J., s-08-13-1896H, rattlesnake on porch

Vawter, Victor, death report, 09-08-1910P, pg7, bitten by snake (Thomason/Arnold Cem) - Liberty

Cause of death in Lucas County death records is given as infection from a snake bite; Victor's grave is marked in the Arnold Cemetery.

Weller, girl, death report, 09-19-1895P, pg2, bit by rattlesnake (Eldorado Cem) - Cedar Township

Weller, Hilda, death report, 09-19-1895H. of snake bite, dau of Wm. Weller, bur Eldora (actually Eldorado FDM)

Weller. Hilda, death report, 09-20-1895D., pg5, dau. Mr/Mrs. Wm. Weller, bit by snake (LaGrange Cem; Actually Eldorado FDM)

Quite a few place conflicts here, but online Monroe County tombstone inscriptions show Hilda B. Weller, born 28 March 1892, died 9 September 1895, age 3yrs, 5 mos, 12 dys, daughter of W.A. and C.M. Weller, buried in Elderodo (sic) Cemetery, Cedar Township, Monroe County. The southwest corner of Cedar Township, Monroe County, joins the northeast corner of Cedar Township, Lucas County, so it’s difficult to say whether Hilda died in Lucas or Monroe County, but the number of reports would suggest Lucas County as does the mistaken report that she was buried in LaGrange Cemetery, located on the Lucas/Monroe County line in Cedar Township, Lucas County. No death record found for her in Lucas County, however. Original stories might clear this up.

Whitten, Clark, Mrs., story, 08-17-1896D ,pg4, bitten by rattlesnake

Whitten, Clark, Mrs., story, 07-16-1896H. bitten by rattlesnake

Whitten, Clark, Mrs., story, 07-16-1896P, pg3, bitten by rattlesnake,

Wilson, James, Mrs.. Story. 05-22-1902H, killed full grown rattlesnake on her veranda

Yocom, Dr., story, 05-10-1894H, buggy ran over snake, threw Dr. Yocum

Yoders, Freddy, story, 07-13-1893H, stepped on a rattlesnake

So there you have it. Be kind to snakes. It's unlikely you'll ever see a rattlesnake, less likely you'll be bitten by one and unlikely you'l die of it even if you are.

No comments: