Posted by: patwogan | August 27, 2008

Snake Hunting

My uncle Leo was Dean of the Physics Department at Kansas State University.  He and Uncle Doc were the first people in our family to be college educated.  I know now what a remarkable accomplishment that was as my Grandparents were not wealthy people.  My father was terribly proud of Uncle Leo partly because he was his older brother and partly because he had a degree.

One time when Uncle Leo came home to visit Grandma and Grandpa, he brought a professor from the biology department with him.  The purpose of this particular visit was to gather specimens for study in biology.  The specific specimens they were looking for were snakes.

Our home by Glencliff was near the Elk River, and there was a road that ran through the woods down to the river.  There were a lot of rocks and holes in the cliffs along the river that were home to many snakes.  Some of them were venemous.  In this area there were a lot of Copperheads and some Timber Rattlers.  There were also Bull Snakes, Black Snakes, and other more common non-venomous varieties.  But there were a lot of snakes.  It was an excellent snake hunting ground.  It was to this veritable snake paradise that my father, my uncle, and his friend travelled.

The had snake-sticks, a tool used to capture live snakes.  It was, if memory serves me correctly a long stick which had a forked end.  They would place the forked end of the stick over the snake directly behind the head and then pick up the snake by hand and place it in a “gunny” or “tow” sack.  A “gunny” sack was a burlap bag probably eighteen inches wide by three feet long.  I do suppose they wore gloves when they handled the snakes, but I don’t know for sure.  I do know that apparently they knew how to handle the snakes as they didn’t get bitten by them.  After they had gathered enough snakes, the sack was tied with a rope at the top and they carried it suspended from a pole on the shoulders of two of the men. 

Now I don’t know how many “enough” was, but I do remember when they brought them to Grandma’s house and emptied them into a large glass aquarium which they had placed on top of the cistern platform.  I had never seen so many snakes in my whole life.  I was fascinated, frightened, and repelled at the same time. 

I also remember my Grandma’s reaction to seeing all those squirming snakes in the glass aquarium on top of the cistern platform.  She didn’t care if these men were both professors at a leading university or that they were gathering these specimens for study at that same university.  She just wanted that glass aquarium removed from the top of her cistern platform and she let them know that in no uncertain terms.  I remember hearing things like, “What if that glass aquarium breaks and all those snakes get into the cistern!”  Although they had covered the top of the aquarium and had put bricks on top of the cover, she was also concerned that the snakes might escape somehow.  No amount of reassurance convinced her.  They moved the aquarium to someplace less risky. 

I know now that it didn’t make any differnce that he had a degree, or an important position at the University, his Mother was still in charge at her house, and he was still her son.



  1. Eeeks – that is like having tarantulas in classrooms. I was always terrified that they would get out. A bunch of snakes in the house… no thank you!

  2. I love your stories!

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