- July 16, 2023
- Jan Swan Wood
We day worked a lot back in the day and one of the people we worked for had a big summer range about 25 miles from us. It was good country with strong grass and plenty of water. He ran mother cows on it every summer and into the fall. He had a guy who worked for him full time on another place about 120 miles away, so it was often handier to just hire us to go do what needed doing.
We had gotten the first call from the guy and he wanted us to gather the bulls so they could be hauled home. Son Colin was about 9 and he went along to help us. He and I took the east side of the pasture while his Dad and the dogs took the west side. We would push the bulls toward the center as we rode north, then gather them ahead of us as we rode back to the south and toward the pens.
As Colin and I rode the east ridge looking for bulls, we heard a rattlesnake buzz. I stepped off of Sailor and handed my reins to Colin. I took my rope down and using the end of my rope, killed the snake by thumping its head several times, then cut it off with my pocket knife. I cut off the rattles, too, and put them in my pocket. Getting back on, we hadn’t gone another 50 yards when another one rattled. I repeated my snake killing procedure. Just as I got that one, another rattled from about 20 feet away. I walked over and killed that one, which led to another one buzzing nearby. Looking around us, I noted the sandstone rocks along
the ridge and when I got back on Sailor, I could see multiple snakes from higher up. Sailor and Snickers were getting pretty fidgety, since they could not only hear them but smell them, so, we decided to ride carefully on.
I can’t remember now how many rattlers we saw that day but it was dozens, and if I’d have stopped to kill every one of them I’d have been there until the snow fell. It was downright creepy riding through the big grass and hearing them as we passed. Who knows how many didn’t rattle but just went in a hole. They were thicker along those sandstone outcroppings, so I suppose there were dens there and they were starting to gather close for winter, but there were a lot of them over the whole pasture.
We got the bulls gathered and kept turning up rattlesnakes all the way back to the pens. It was pretty amazing that nothing got bit while we were in and amongst them with the cattle. The bulls walked around them when they’d buzz, so I guess they were accustomed to them. The dogs were sure careful and the horses kept an ear pointed for them.
Later that winter, I was visiting with a guy who had lived on that place, near where the pens were, when he and his wife were raising their family. They had five little kids who couldn’t go outside that first summer because of the snakes in and around the house and buildings. His wife was getting pretty edgy, both from the snakes and a herd of little people confined to a hot house, so he knew he had to do something to get rid of the snakes. His answer was to go get a big sow pig from his brother and he turned
her loose in the yard. She was a gentle thing toward the family, but not toward the snakes. That sow killed and ate snakes for days until finally, it was safe for the little kids to go outside. They let the sow roam free around the house yard and buildings and she hunted snakes constantly. Apparently hogs aren’t affected by the venom and he said she’d get struck with no ill effects. She raised a litter of pigs and they ate snakes too.
After our experience with the rattlers on that place, I think I’d have had a pet pig to patrol for them too. If I’d have been riding out there regularly it might have been prudent to take the pig along. Maybe even a pack of pigs. Instead of a group of cow dogs, they would be snake hogs!
About Jan Swan Wood
Jan was raised on a ranch in far western South Dakota. She grew up horseback working all descriptions of cattle, plus sheep and horses. After leaving home she pursued a post-graduate study of cowboying and dayworking in Nebraska, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota....