Bill Sniffin: Where Did Rattlesnakes Go In The Rattlesnake Hills?  Does Rattler Taste Like Chicken?

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

Rattlesnakes are common in Wyoming. Just about everybody has a favorite story. Here is mine:

We lived in an area called Squaw Creek (now Popo Agie Creek) outside of Lander for 21 years. It is a beautiful area dominated by big red rocks and was well-known as a snake haven.

One day our dog scared up a pretty good sized one and I knew I had to kill it. But how? It was getting away in the sagebrush and there wasn’t time to get a shovel or a gun. I spotted a cement block. I heaved it at the snake and killed it.

Forever more, our kids, who were quite young then, referred to it as the time “dad bricked the snake!” 

We buried the snake and then were horrified the next day to see the dog had dug it up and left it on our front porch. Luckily, the pooch did not get stung by either a live or a dead rattlesnake.

The Rattlesnake Hills

Out east of Riverton is a place that used to be crawling with rattlesnakes, so much so, that it is called the Rattlesnake Hills.

Today it is hard to find any rattlers there.

Mining expert Dave Miller of Riverton knows why. “In the Gas Hills I have heard that story. Tens of thousands of early drill holes were never plugged! I have heard stories of rattlesnake skeletons at the bottom of drill holes in the underground mines!”

Seems that rattlesnakes love to move into dens created by other critters. When they crawled into these seemingly bottomless drill holes, they were never seen again.

Perhaps the name should be changed to “No Rattlesnake Hills.”

Does Snake Taste Like Chicken?

One of my favorite Wyoming-themed books is Rising From The Plains by John McPhee.  The lead character is the famed Wyoming geologist Dave Love, who died some years ago.

Love grew up on an isolated ranch in the exact center of Wyoming. Here is McPhee’s story about the Love family and rattlesnakes.

Their mother rented a house in Lander and stayed there with them while they attended Fremont County Vocational High School. Lander at that time was the remotest town in Wyoming. It advertised itself as ‘the end of the rails and the start of the trails.’ “

The Love Ranch was one of those outposts that was so far from everything else that anyone passing through would stop. Often, people would sleep in the bunkhouse and join the Loves for dinner.

McPhee writes about one memorable meal.

“People like that came along with such frequency that David’s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called ‘Murderers I Have Known.’  She did not publish the manuscript or even give it much private circulation, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming. As David would one day comment, ‘they were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them — so many of them were such decent people.’

“One of these was Bill Grace. Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been ‘doing his civic duty.’   At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner. Although David and Allen were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe. As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day — a big one, over five feet long.  Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner. She and their father sternly instructed David and Allen not to use the world ‘rattlesnake’ at the table. They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth.

“The excitement was too much for the boys. Despite the parental injunction, gradually their conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake. Casually — while the meal was going down — the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth. Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.

“Bill Grace said, ‘By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat, I’d kill them.’

“The boys went into a state of catatonic paralysis. In the pure silence, their mother said, ‘More chicken, Bill?’

“‘Don’t mind if I do,’ said Bill Grace.”

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