KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS
Emigrant Life in Kansas by Percy G. Ebbutt




CHAPTER IV

SNAKE STORIES, ETC.

Our first acquaintance.--A novel weapon.--A false alarm.--A narrow escape.--A curious sight.--Instinct of pigs.--Our decision, and how we kept it.--Snake hunts.--Another kind of wild cat.--Varieties of snakes.--An easy victim.--Frogs and snakes.--Game.--Figure 4 traps.--Edible and other prairie plants
WHILE wandering about the country one Sunday afternoon during our first spring, we came across our first snake.

san

My father and I were walking along the dry bed of a stream, when I saw a tremendous snake coiled up on a pile of drift wood, and I set up a yell (you must remember that I was only just eleven years old, and it was my first; I never yelled afterwards at a snake). My father lifted me up a bank about three feet high that was in front of us, and sprang up himself, and then asked what was the matter. I motioned to him to be silent, and then pointed


Page 60

below to where the snake still lay as though asleep.

As we had nothing to attack the thing with we reluctantly passed on after looking at it some little time. Presently, however, we came to some young trees, so we cut a long pole with my big knife, and then went back to settle the business.

We approached very cautiously, so as not to awaken the snake, and then my father, dropping on one knee at the top of the bank, dealt the reptile a most tremendous blow. No movement followed, so the dose was repeated, still with a like result, and upon pulling the snake up on the bank, we found that it had been dead for some time, as the insects had began to bore holes in it and eat it. It was a bull snake about six feet long, and not considered poisonous.

We did not always find them dead though. Shortly after this five of us were returning from a bath, and came across a rattlesnake all alive and kicking, or rather jumping. After a short consultation, having nothing with us more formidable than towels, my father took off one of his long Wellington boots for a


Page 61

weapon, and hopping on one foot, very cleverly killed the wretched thing. On the same journey, when a little nearer home, and while passing through some very long- grass by the side of a stream, we were rather scared by a very loud and strange noise close to us in the tangle. Thinking it might be some dangerous wild animal, one of us rushed to the house for a couple of guns, while the others kept watch. Upon the arrival of the firearms, the contents of two barrels were poured into the spot from whence the noise came, and what do you think was the result? We had simply killed an old heron, who was sitting on her nest over her young ones!

Our next experience with snakes was when Jack and I were walking to Parkersville one day. There was a little bit of a track worn by this time over the grass, and I saw two rattlesnakes lying in the beaten-down grass, and jumped over them just in time to avoid treading on them. Again we were unfortunate in having no weapon with us, and had to pass on, carefully remarking on the place, so that we might be prepared on our return should they still be there.



Snake Kill



Suckling pig


Page 63

When we came back one of our neighbours was with us carrying an axe, and upon reaching the spot we found the snakes not far away, and he soon cut them in pieces.

One morning my father was just going to pull on his long boots in the house, and finding that one of them felt rather heavy he shook it, and out rolled a rattlesnake. I guess that was rather a narrow squeak. On one occasion Humphrey went out to feed the hogs, and upon looking into the sty occupied by the old sow and her family of ten, he found a rattlesnake lying with the busy little ones, taking some refreshment. They all seemed very happy together, with the exception of one poor little fellow, who was of course crowded out.

Humphrey called us all out to see this curious sight, and then the snake was dragged out and killed with a pitchfork. Some people might doubt the accuracy of this statement, and I almost think that I should had I not seen it myself. I had heard before of cows being milked by snakes, but not pigs,. as the two are mortal enemies; but in this case the old sow was asleep, or she would not have allowed it.


Page 64

A pig, if attacked by a snake, if it is a venomous one, will lay down and present its face, and let the snake bite it in the cheek several times, where it seems to take no effect. When the venom is exhausted in this way for the time being, the pig will get up and calmly take hold of the snake and rend it to pieces. In the case of a non-venomous snake the pig will not take so much trouble, but will at once attack it and eat it. So much for the instinct of pigs.

All these little incidents made us rather nervous at first, and we boys declared that we would never go about without thick boots and leather leggings on, but "Familiarity breeds contempt ;" and before the summer was over we had got used to such things, and were running about without boots or stockings on, as is the custom there among boys in hot weather. By this practice the soles of our feet became like leather, and I have often stood upon a cactus and felt nothing of the prickles.

Sometimes Jack and I, and three or four Quinns would get up a snake hunt. Taking one or two dogs with us, and a large pole for


Page 65

a lever, we would go and pry up big rocks, and look under them for snakes, and then haul them out and kill them. We often settled a good many in this way with sticks and stones.

It was rather dangerous work perhaps, but no one was ever hurt. We were all pretty nimble, and could get out of the snake's way when he jumped, and the chances were that his back would be broken before he coiled for another spring.

One day, when out on this business down a creek, our dogs chased a cat that had left civilisation and taken to the woods. They ran her pretty close until she sprang up a big hickory tree, from which, though, we soon dislodged her.

The tree was about sixty feet high, and she went almost to the top, but I followed, and soon shook her down. She then took to earth, disappearing down a hole under a big rock.

We set to work digging and poking about for a while, until presently, instead of the cat, out rolled-a six-foot bull snake. Of course, as we were out hunting for snakes and not for cats, this served our purpose as well,


Page 66

and after settling his hash we left the cat in peace.

Now and then we came across the "blueracer " snake, but never managed to kill one, for, as its name implies, it is a quick traveller; in fact, it is no sooner seen than gone, like a flash of greased lightning with the brake off.

Another mystery to us was the glass snake, so called from its brittleness; for with a slight blow it would break in two. Moreover, it is supposed to possess the marvellous property of being able to join itself together again after an accident, but I am inclined to think this a popular delusion. I have never proved it by experience, although after having apparently killed one-broken it into several pieces and leaving it-it had singularly disappeared, as though the head had come back to gather up the remainder (for the head and front part generally managed to escape). This matter I must leave for settlement to others better versed in this branch of zoology than myself.

Another kind of snake, and one that we were not at all fond of, was the mocassin, a poisonous snake very similar in size and colour to the rattlesnake, but generally to be found


Page 67

in the water. For this reason it behoved us to be careful in going in to swim, or we might find our bath occupied.

There was another kind of water snake, a little harmless thing, that we paid no attention to, often being in the water at the same time.

All kinds are now beginning to get quite scarce, as nobody passes one if he can possibly kill it. Sometimes we had hard tussels, and sometimes they were found in such positions as to fall an easy prey to our tender mercies.

One day Humphrey found a big bull snake down a hole which had been dug for a fence post. All he had to do then was to ram away at the "critter " with the post. It was like using a big pestle and mortar.

Occasionally we would be guided to a snake by the cries of a frog, and would find the poor thing halfway down the snake's throat, with his legs crushed out of all shape. The snake then became our victim by way of a change.

Once we found a big snake that had just swallowed a smaller one; it was lying almost helpless, with the other's tail protruding from its mouth. We then killed two with one stone.


Page 68

Small game was very plentiful, such as d prairie chickens, quails, snipes, wild ducks, i rabbits, and jack-rabbits. The latter were large creatures, closely resembling the English hare, but more of a fawn colour. Like the hare, they do not burrow in the earth, but lie close in the grass; sometimes so still would they sit, in the hope of not being seen, that we a have been able to throw ourselves on them and catch them.

Occasionally, if on the high flat prairie, we 0 used to run them down on horseback; but it was a hard run, as they were very swift, and i went in long bounds like a kangaroo.

The snipes used to amuse us a good deal by the trouble they took to lead us from their nests when disturbed. If we rode close by a snipe on her nest in the grass, she would spring out and flutter away, as though her wing was broken, at the same time piping; most mournfully, as though in great pain. If we followed she continued the game until we got about fifty yards from the nest, when she would fly away safe and sound, uttering a noise which one could almost fancy was a laugh at our being duped.


Page 69

Of course to any one in the secret it was vain work on her part, as, directly a bird flew up in such a commotion, one knew that the nest was close by.

Prairie fowl

With the commencement of autumn there were hundreds of wild geese, cranes, brant, swans, etc., flying south to their winter quarters among the lagoons of the Mississippi and other regions, only stopping at night to feed, so that we seldom got a shot at them, as they flew so high.


Page 70

In the spring they flew north again, on their way to the great lakes. They looked very pretty in their great V-shaped flocks, and made a great noise as they flew.

In the winter we used to catch a great many prairie fowls in traps. We would put a big box on top of a figure 4 piece, and throw some Indian corn under for bait, and would sometimes catch as many as three or four of these large birds at one time.

One year we had a small patch of land sown with buckwheat, but as it was not very good, it was never carried, and the prairie fowls used to come there in swarms when the snow was on the ground. As we had four traps, we nearly lived on prairie fowls that winter.

They seemed very simple in that respect, although wary enough as regards shooting them, for when feeding thus in a field there was usually a sentinel perched upon the fence.

Quails are very easily caught in traps also, and as they always keep close together in a covey, we sometimes caught nine or ten at once. I remember Humphrey killing eighteen at one shot with a gun when in the woods.


Page 71

A figure 4 trap is made in this way. A stout stick, sharpened like a chisel at the top end, is placed upright on the ground with a notched stick resting upon it in a sloping position. This second stick is also sharpened chisel-wise at one end, and it catches in a notch in a third

Trap

and longer stick. This one has another notch cut in its side, which catches on the first stick. The trap-box or tub, or whatever it may be-rests on the top of No. 2 stick, and binds all together. The bait is placed on or near the end of the long stick,


Page 72

and a very slight touch is suffficient to drop the trap. This arrangement is said to have been invented by Daniel Boone, the old Kentucky settler, when his ammunition was all used up. He used to apply the principle to tremendous heavy logs to fall on and kill bears and deer.

There are several kinds of wild plants growing on the prairie which are edible, or at least useful medicinally. Wild onions, or shallots, were very plentiful. They grew encased in woody, fibrous coverings, which, when stripped off, disclosed a little kind of spring onion which was very nice.

Artichokes, too, were abundant, and another plant tasting exactly like celery. Then there was the wild tea-plant, a small bushy shrub with white flowers and crisp, bright green leaves, which, when picked and dried in the sun, made very good tea. Tea can also be made of the leaves of the raspberry canes, quite as good to my taste as the ordinary Chinese beverage.

Then there was also a herb which we used as medicine for any little disorder inside. Besides these there was a peculiar plant known as rosin weed, from which exuded a


Page 73

gum which the girls and boys used to gather for chewing. Chewing gum is much sold in the towns, but it is of a different material to this.

Another plant was known as "snakeweed." One was popularly supposed to find a snake under it, but this rule did not always hold good, though we certainly found snakes near the weeds sometimes. It was rather a peculiar weed, something like a broad bean, with flowers of the lupin kind. Sensitive plants also abounded on the rocky upland, the leaves of which all closed up upon being touched. They had beautiful pink flowers with a most lovely scent.



Go to Previous Chapter     Go to Next Chapter     Go to Contents