Step right up ladies and gentleman. We have here a sure-fire cure for the common cold. Yes, it’s true: Stone a rattlesnake to death – cut its head off with PVC pipe- skin it and attach it to the back of your saddle. No more sniffling, sneezing or wheezing guaranteed. Who knew I’d missed my calling as a bonafide Snake Oil salesman.
I gazed out the kitchen window at a stormy sky blanketed with foreboding clouds. Wind is one of the few weather conditions that will keep me out of the saddle. Between the pending storm and a full blown head cold – I decided it would be a good day to reload ammo and watch Lonesome Dove. My farrier and friend, Jimmy Mason, however, had other ideas that didn’t involve being a sniveling couch potato.
I’d asked him earlier in the week if he was interesting in riding. I was wrong to assume a more than average chance at getting caught in a thunderstorm would deter a hardened cow hand like Jimmy.
I read Jimmy’s text: “Hey Slacker….go ahead and wuss out if you want to. I’ll understand if you can’t hack it. No problem – we can wait until a nice sunny day when the conditions are just perfect. Maybe we can get somebody to saddle your horse for you too…greenhorn.” Maybe that’s not exactly what he said, but “slacker” and “wuss” were part of the text.
Finding somebody willing to ride with you is next to impossible. I better not chance bailing on Jimmy or he may never go willingly again.
“Oh…I’ll go if you want. Far be it from me to let a little potential pneumonia and thunderstorm keep me out of the saddle.” I said.
“Okey Dokey Artichokee…I’ll pick you up in 25 minutes.” He replied.
I saddled J’Lo and locked Jack in the dry lot. He got his ride in yesterday and I didn’t feel like ponying today. Normally I have everything with me but the kitchen sink tucked away in my saddle bags. Since it would be a quick ride and I was hauling with somebody else – I left my saddle bags, camera and pistol behind.
We pulled off a gravel road and backed into an overgrown four-wheeler trail that meandered through a ranch owned by Jimmy’s family. I felt kind of bare without my usual provisions. I tucked my phone into the inside pocket of my fleece jacket. At least I could take a picture if we saw something cool.
J’Lo is one of the few horses I’ve ridden that doesn’t seem bothered by the wind. When she jumped and minced side-ways I knew there was good reason. She gingerly danced around a half-coiled rattler.
“Let’s shoot it and skin it and stick it to your saddle!” He says.
“Uh..ok??” I said.
“It will be COOL!” He says.
“Do you have your gun?” He asked
“No. Do you have your gun?” I answered.
“No. Let’s hit it with a rock.” He suggests.
Jimmy kind of throws like a girl. Then again, so do I apparently but at least I AM a girl. Jimmy would take a try with his goofy little girlie toss and then I’d take a run at it. Literally. I’ve seen the You Tube videos. I wasn’t taking any chances on become the next internet sensation. I made my girly throws on the run. “DID I GET IT?!” I’d shout at a dead run 30 feet from the snake.
We must have thrown a dozen rocks at it. Eventually one of Jimmy’s girly tosses makes contact.
“We can pick it up on our way back.” He said.
I feared if we left it – it would come back to life and crawl away before we got back.
“Cut its head off so it doesn’t revive and we lose it!” I pleaded.
Jimmy looked at me like I had lost my mind. There was no way he wanted to touch that snake. I could tell by the look in his eyes. Jimmy, fearless farrier and all around tough Cowboy…has an aversion to snakes. Does anybody really like snakes?
“It can’t come back to life if its dead…can it?” He exclaimed with a hint of trepidation in his voice.
We discussed the possibility of it coming back to life before smashing it a few more times with a rock. Still – it just wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted…no, needed, to make sure that thing was dead.
I picked up an old bone lying nearby.
Jimmy looked bewildered.
“What are you going to do with that?” He asked.
“I’m going to kill the snake with it…again.” I said.
It worked for the caveman – why not. I let fly the bone in an over-handed hatchet-type throw. Dang..missed again. The second toss hit home, catching the snake between the bone and a rock.
“Did you see that!? It’s head flew off!”
I confidently (and mistakenly) imagined the last bone toss delivering the fatal blow by beheading our venomous prey. Just like Xena Warrior Princess and her deadly war lord killing chakra. This is my story, my imagination – don’t judge me.
I tiptoed closer to inspect the carnage – because everybody knows that rattle snakes don’t strike at tip-toeing warrior princesses. The snake wriggled and writhed about. Nope – not dead. Head still attached. Xena would not be impressed.
Somewhat convinced the snake would be there when we returned – we mounted up and continued on. We dropped down off the ridge into a creek bottom out of the wind. J’Lo and I loped behind Jimmy and Bling, his palomino mare. We loped up and over the rolling hills of Rock Creek. Wild daisy’s and Sunflower speckled the spring green hills of sage and bogus bluegrass. My inner Lorne Green recalled the theme song to Bonanza.
“Dummdededumdededumdumdum…” Jimmy chimed in. Neither one of us were in danger of winning the next season of American Idol. We best stick to snake killing. We all have our talents…carrying a tune is not one of mine.
We rode along the top of a ridge. The face of a vertical slope dropped to the ravine 50 yards below.
“Hold on Jimmy…let me get my phone out. You go all “Man from Snowy River” and I’ll catch it on video!”
All joking aside – I was not surprised when I asked him if he’d ridden down anything that steep and he said he had. Jimmy has lived the life many of us merely romanticize about. I love listening to him tell stories of days as a buckaroo for local ranches; of being lost in dense fog and bitter cold bringing cattle down off the mountain. He and his fellow cow hand spent the night in an old Railroad building until daylight…nearly freezing to death. “And that, my friend, is why you use a Navaho blanket over your saddle pad in case you need to wrap up in it for warmth.” Duly noted.
He tells of thrilling rides down hills every bit as steep at break neck speed on a wrangle horse bringing the remuda in off the range. With a big smile and eyes that glint with excitement he exclaims: “AND IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!”
Neither one of us were carrying a knife. Everything I owned was in my saddle bags back in my trailer. I knew better. A person should never go riding without a pocket knife at minimum. How were we supposed to cut the head off our snake? I don’t care how cool of a story it would have been to tell the grandchildren, I wasn’t biting it off.
I dismounted and picked up a piece of broken PVC pipe. Jimmy asked what I was going to do with it. I informed him I was going to cut the snakes head off with it. Again, he looked at me like I might have gone daft. Maybe so – but you might be surprised at how sharp the edge of that broken PVC was.
Jimmy placed the piece of pipe in his pocket. I didn’t want to carry it. Knowing my luck – I’d go galloping across the open hills, J’Lo would stumble and fall and I’d fly through the air head over heels and impale myself on it. “You know,” he said, “riding with you makes me kind of paranoid.”
We circled around skirting a grassy hillside that met up with the road we started out on. Soon we came to the spot where we’d left the “not quite dead rattlesnake.”
Oh gross! Its guts came out! Part of the entrails had protruded from its under-belly. While Jimmy stepped on its head – I tugged at the guts and laid them on the ground. For somebody who protested the dissection of frogs in biology class – I found the internal workings of this particular reptile somewhat fascinating.
LOOK! Its heart is still beating! Let me get a video of it! Jimmy looked a bit green around the edges. I quickly shot a video of the still beating heart of the disemboweled snake. PETA would not approve.
Using the sharp edge of the PVC pipe and a rock as a hammer, we quickly separated the head from the body. We snatched a few pictures of our trophy. Jimmy said he would show me how to stick it on my cantle when we got home. I guess I’ll try anything once. Even if it is draping a slimy snake over the back of my custom saddle.
We couldn’t just leave the head and guts exposed. I’ve heard the head can still be dangerous. We dug a small depression in the dirt to lay the head in and piled rocks over the top. I placed the bone and PVC atop the snake’s grave as a monument. Jimmy removed his hat and said a few kind words over the departed reptile. “May the snake rest in peace….es. Yes, may he rest in PEACES!”
It was obvious Jimmy was not relishing the thought of carrying a snake, dead or otherwise, back to the trailer. I looped it over J’s saddle horn. It writhed a little causing the rattle to buzz. That wouldn’t do. I couldn’t have the thing acting like it was alive even if it was minus a head and several vital organs. I used the saddle strings to secure it in place just in case it miraculously re-grew a head and come back for vengeance. One can never be too careful.
Having that snake draped over my saddle horn was disconcerting. I don’t care that I had personally witnessed the beheading, disembowelment and dissecting of said snake – I could not make myself lay my hands close to that saddle horn. I rode the remainder of the way to the trailer with my hands and reins chest high.
As soon as we arrived home we went about the task of skinning the snake. It was easier than I thought it would be. I’d already removed most of the guts. All that was left was to slice it down the underside and peel back the skin at the base of what was formerly known as its head. Slicker than peeling a ripe banana….albeit a whole lot smellier. That puppy stunk! J’Lo noticed it too. Looking over Jimmy’s shoulder at the skinning process, she stomped, snorted and made a beeline for the pasture.
According to Jimmy, the underside of the skin is like glue and will stick to the cantle for a good year or so. I had my doubts…but when it was all said and done, it looked pretty cool.
One of the items on my bucket list is to cook a rattle snake. Here was my chance. I inspected the skinned rattler. It looked like a long, skinny fish with just as many tiny bones to deal with. I tossed it in the burn barrel. There’s plenty of time to check it off my list along with starting a bar fight in Montana and visiting Dollywood while Dolly’s still alive. I might better hurry on that last one.
All in all – it was a great day. It would have been too easy to succumb to the sniffles and couch up watching a Lonesome Dove marathon and I’m very glad I didn’t.
You shouldn’t wait for the perfect conditions to do what you love. It’s always going to be too windy, or two hot or too something…but as Jimmy would say: Just being in the saddle makes any day the perfect day to ride.