Snakey folks of Sullivan's Hollow.
Whether we liked them or not, there were some snakey folks who lived on the Hough farm. We avoided them when we could, but we did have confrontations. To the east of our house, we had the Hollow and sandy hills draining into it. For some reason the copperheads and pigmy rattlers liked the brier patches in the old fields, said cleared and worked by slaves a hundred years earlier.. Perhaps the snakes preyed on the rodents who came at night to eat the fallen berries.
To the west we had the Meadow and its stream of running water. There we encountered cotton-mouth moccasins, perhaps the most deadly of all the snakey folks, and other non-venomous snakes such as the coach whip, black runner, king snake, and chicken snake. The last time we ever went to the Josh Lack swimming hole, we had a great time splashing about for about an hour, then we got out and put on our clothes. As we were doing that, we saw a black cotton-mouth moccasin swim leisurely across the swimming hole. We never went back there.
From time to time we would hear about someone killing a coral snake or a timber rattler, but we did not seem to have any. We also heard of unusual snakes which we never saw, such as hoop snakes. The persistence of such stories in my childhood make me think someone saw snakes in copulation, where they might perform unusual gymnastics. Some of these antics have been filmed in recent years and can be seen on TV. No one knew in my childhood, who could or would tell me, how snakes copulated, but people did claim to have seen hoop snakes.
I believe the pit vipers (pygmy rattlers, copperheads, and cottonmouths) mostly hunted at night when they could use the heat sensing organs of the pits on the sides of their heads. When we encountered them in the daytime, they always seemed sluggish and easily killed. We never got bitten.
The copperhead is a coppery brown snake about four to five feet long. We also called them rattlesnake pilots for historic reasons. If you found a copperhead, said the folklore, you should watch out for rattlesnakes. I think the truth was that they hunted the same prey and wound up in the same brier patches with copperheads. The pygmy rattler was what we found, and they had small rattlers which identified them. They seemed to be nondescript sandy brown no more than 18 inches long. We killed copperheads and pygmy rattlers each year, especially when we gathered wild blackberries.
The cottonmouths in the old Meadow probably crawled up the stream from Clear Creek. Actually the old Meadow was the last definable headwaters for Clear Creek. The Cottonmouth is a black water moccasin, but may live anywhere along the creek bottoms. They seemed to live on frogs, crawfish, and minnows. They were four or five feet long and big around.
We killed one or two each year. On one spring day, we burned off the bank protecting the meadow and disturbed four cottonmouths, apparently still in hibernation. They struggled out of the burning brush and we whacked their heads off with our grubbing hoes.
The coach-whip was a snake half black and half white. It was not poisonous and hunted rodents in high grass, oats, or other grain. They could stand up and look over the tops of the grass to locate their prey when they were close to it. A big snake could stand up four feet in this way, a startling sight if you were a small boy just four feet tall. My
father told the story of cutting oats with a reap-hook, with his sisters following, gathering and tying the oats in bundles. A coach whip reared up in this way just in front of him, and he automatically swiped at him with the reap-hook, taking off his head. But this was an otherwise harmless snake.
Our version of the black bull snake was called the black runner, and it was our most common snake. It was completely harmless and lived on rodents and, I believe, birdÆs eggs. It was an avid tree climber, which I once observed at close range. My three younger brothers, Clifford, Donald, Roland, and I were playing along an old field, barefooted, one day when I stepped on something which squirmed under my foot. I jumped automatically and up came a black runner. It ran up a brush pile, then stretched up a few feet to the first limb of a small oak tree, then up, limb by limb to the top of the tree. We could see it was a black runner and not a cottonmouth. I was upset about being frightened and resolved to get even with that snake. I got a small limb and climbed the tree up to the point where I was about four feet from the snake. My beating limb was about three feet long, just a little short for hitting the snake on the head. I compromised by hitting the limb, hoping to jar the snake loose. Each time I hit the limb, the snake did indeed jar, but a little closer to me. As he got closer, he and I could see each other's thinking. He wanted the trunk of the tree so he could escape downward safely. I could see he was going to use the trunk whether I was there or not. I decided on the OR NOT and scrambled down. Clifford, Donald, and Roland took up a refrain that I was scared of a little black runner. Indeed, they were right. I then threw my stick at the snake and dislodged him and down he came, landing on the brush heap and slithering away in the grass. Clifford, Donald, and Roland all told the story over and over about the day a little black runner frightened the wits out of Granville.
We never killed the King snake, a constrictor which ate rats and other snakes. I do not remember its coloration, but they seemed less afraid of humans than other snakes. They would show up within our barn, or along the fence rows of our fields. They could get six feet long.
We also had a dark-colored snake we called a rat snake, which we allowed to roam in our hayloft and corn crib in search of mice and rats. A larger version we called a chicken snake, which could kill grown chickens. I never knew whether we had two different snakes or just one which was a juvenile and another which was full grown. Our working rule was that we killed any snake near the chicken houses and tolerated any snake in the barn.
When we visited Cliff Hough on the old Hough farm, he had a snake or two which had taken up residence near his house. As a paramedic, he had learned to handle snakes, and had no fear of capturing them and moving them out of his yard. However, we had no such skills in growing up and had no desire for learning them.
But it is interesting to know that snakes we knew on the Hough farm may have descendants there today. They outlasted people.