Monday, April 3, 2017

Don't Be a Victim of Snakebite

March 27, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

Just recently, a 67 year old man from California visiting the Mirage area was bitten by a Western Diamond Back rattlesnake when he was inspecting his RV. He had heard a strange noise under it.

A five-year-old girl was bitten by a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake in a dry wash along I-17 Highway north of Phoenix. She was rushed to the children hospital for treatment. This is a tragic way for us to be alerted to the dangers involving poison reptiles while we are in the outdoors during snake season.

This year 2017, we are experiencing an extremely warm February and March. Rattlesnakes are out and moving about. Several sightings have been reported. The snakes like basking in the warm rays of the morning sun.

Reptiles, meaning most cold-blooded animals become very active when temperatures begin to rise into the mid-seventies and eighties. In the spring reptiles come out of hibernation and begin their search for food. August and September are traditionally the most active months for rattlesnakes on the Sonoran Desert at elevations below 4,000 feet. In late fall when temperatures drop below seventy-eight degrees reptiles begin to prepare for hibernation. I have lived in the Sonoran Desert for the past seventy years and I have encountered hundreds of rattlesnakes. If the truth were known, most of us who walk or hike in the desert will pass by ten snakes for every one we see. Under most conditions a rattlesnake is very difficult to spot unless it is disturbed and it moves. Rattlesnakes generally rattle before they move, but not always.

A rattlesnake can easily be identified by the triangular-shape of its head and the rattles on its tail. A closer examination will reveal an elliptical-shaped pupil in its eye. Believe me I don’t usually get that close to look! This trait is common to poisonous snakes of the Sonoran Desert. All rattlesnakes will have a pit organ near the nostril orifice. Rattlesnakes come in a variety of colors and patterns. Most rattlesnakes found in our area will have rings around their tails above the rattles. The color of these rings will alternate between black and white in various shades. The visibility of these rings will depend on the species. The Western Diamond Back rattler’s rings are very pronounced and stand out, where as the rings on an Arizona Black is not very visible because of the blending of the rings. Occasionally a rattlesnake will lose it rattlers; when this occurs, the difficulty of identification increases.

Rattlesnakes are ectothermic vertebrates (cold-blooded animals), meaning they lack an appropriate physiological mechanism for maintaining body temperature. All cold-blooded animals are at the mercy of their environment. The air and ground temperatures will dramatically affects all reptiles in their environment. This condition directly affects their daily rhythm of activity in their habitat.

There are six species of rattlesnakes in our area. They include the Western Diamond back (Crotalus atrox), Mohave (Crotalus scutulatus), Arizona Black (Crotalus vidiris), Black-Tailed (Crotalus molossos), Sidewinder (Crotalus cerastes), and the Tiger (Crotalus tigris). These animals have a very highly developed mechanism for injecting venom therefore making them very successful predators on the desert. A rattlesnake’s diet is composed of small rodents 82% to 85% of the time.

Reptiles, including rattlesnakes, like cool shady spots during the spring, summer and fall months. During the winter month’s, rattlesnakes generally go underground and hibernate. They usually choose caves and old mine tunnels. Occasionally dens of rattlesnakes have been accidentally uncovered by construction equipment and hundreds of rattlesnakes are found at one time.

Rattlesnakes have been known to come out of hibernation if temperature warm up to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The functioning temperature for a rattlesnake is 72 degrees Fahrenheit to 78 degrees Fahrenheit and it effective temperature is 82 degrees Fahrenheit to 96 Degrees Fahrenheit. The effective temperature is the temperature at which the snake moves about and hunts for prey. Direct exposure to heat or sunlight in elevated temperatures will kill a rattlesnake in 10 to 15 minutes.

You might say rattlesnake season is twelve months a year in the lower Sonoran Desert if temperatures rise above 72 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter months. Rattlesnakes are most commonly sighted from the first of April until about the middle of October. These animals are primarily nocturnal and prefer the hours after sundown and before sunrise. Most victims bitten by rattlesnakes are generally bitten ½ hour before sundown and up to two hours after sundown. It is estimated 72% of all bites occur during this period.

There are some interesting facts about rattlesnakes. The oldest known rattlesnake in captivity was 30 years and 7 months. This snake was a Western Diamond Back (Crotalus atrox). The largest rattlesnake officially recorded was an Eastern Diamond Back (Crotalus adamatus) at 7 feet 4 inches. The largest Western Diamondback was measured live at 6 feet 8 inches. There have been many wild claims about ten to fifteen-foot rattlesnakes, but usually these are snakes that were measured after death and their skin had been stretched. The average distance a rattlesnake can strike and effectively inject venom is approximately one-third of its body length.

Some eighty per cent of all rattlesnake bites are the results of carelessness or the handling of rattlesnakes by older juveniles or young adults. It is now estimated some twenty per cent of rattlesnake bites are accidental or legitimate. About fifteen per cent of rattlesnake bites are dry socket-bites, meaning no venom was injected into the victim. The Arizona Poison Control Center and other medical resources reported some one hundred and twenty-one Crotalus envenomizations for the year 1991. This statistics quadrupled in 2003. Again statistics have almost quadrupled for 2005. These numbers continue to increase each year as our population continues to grow and more people head for the outdoors.

How do you know a rattlesnake has actually bitten you and if the reptile injected venom? There are several signs and symptoms of envenomization. First there will be fang marks. These fang marks can be singular, dual or even a scratch. Fang marks are generally a very small puncture wound. A burning sensation usually follows the injection of venom by the reptile. A metallic or rubbery taste in the mouth often follows a bite, but not always. The tingling of the tongue or numbness can also occur. If a rattlesnake has injected venom into its victim, local swelling will occur within ten minutes. The amount of venom injected is generally indicated by the severity of edema or swelling at fang puncture site. Nausea and weakness is often associated with snakebite. Black or blue discoloration will generally appear near the site of the puncture wounds caused by the snake’s fangs after three to six hours. Every snakebite victim should be treated for shock. Shock is a greater threat to the victim’s survival then the actual venom of the snake.

The following is the recommended first aid for a rattlesnake bite. Call 911 immediately, snakebite is a medical emergency. If medical help is several hours away the following treatment is recommended. Calm and reassure the  victim and decrease the movement of the limb. Identify the snake if it is possible without further risk of another bite. It is not recommended to use a constricting band or tourniquet unless you are a medical professional. Many snakebite victims have come into emergency rooms with a constricting band, such as shoelace, completely obliterated by edema or swelling. It is extremely important to move the victim to a medical facility without delay.    

The following are some things we can do to prevent rattlesnake bite.

When walking in the desert or in any area known for reptile habitation, always look where you step, or place your foot, or feet (Caution should always be used at night, late evening, and early morning). Always look where you are placing your hands or fingers. Use extreme caution before placing your hands where you can’t see what you are touching.  Always look before sitting down, especially around or near boulders or brush. Think before defecating or urinating in the outdoors. I have observed a variety of bites during the past fifty years that resulted from total lack of common sense. Small children must be closely supervised at all times in areas of possible snake infestation or inhabitation.
If you and your family observe these basic rules you should be safe from snakebite. Again, watch where you put your hands, feet and where you sit. As urbanization continues at the desert edge in Arizona the threat of snakebite is always a reality. Small children have become the tragic victims of snakebite in recent years because of little or no supervision by parents or responsible adults.

I have tried to be as thorough as I can with accurate information about rattlesnakes in Arizona. It is important to take note, the better understanding we have of reptiles, the better chance we have of not becoming a victim of snakebite.

I would like to thank Jude McNally, and his staff, Arizona Poison Control Center, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, and Dr. Findlay E. Russell and his enormously valuable resource Snake Venom Poisoning printed by Scholium International, Inc., Great Neck, New York 11021. This book is a physician’s desk reference for snake venom poisoning.

For information call Arizona Poison Control System 1-800-362-0101. (The state legislature may not be funding the Arizona Poison Control Center because of budget cuts this year.)

For snake removal in Apache Junction call Apache Junction Fire District - 480-982-4440.
Tom Kollenborn directed the Snake Alert program for the Apache Junction Unified School District for seventeen years. He attended workshops and worked closely with the University of Arizona Poison Control Center and Medical Center.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Day of the Cowboy

March 20, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A national holiday that recalls the “Day of the Cowboy” is somewhat interesting and unique. The cattle industry was a wild and rough business during the early years of 1850–1930. These eighty years of cattle ranching, roundups, trail drives, rodeos and even motion pictures played a role in shaping our image of the American cowboy. All these roles helped to form the cowboy image so familiar to many of us. When we think of cowboys, we think of cattle, horses, the open range, a ranch house, corrals, windmills, Stetson hats, bandannas, chaps, spurs, boots, lariats, and saddles. Today we mill around an imaginary world of the “Old West.” To some degree, many of us believe this world still exists today. There are movies, dude ranches, and gunfights to enrich our beliefs of what the “Old West” was like.

I can only speak from my experiences as to what cowboys are really like.

William Thomas Barkley watches from the back of the corral as he sits atop his horse “Champ.” c. 1958

When I was a young man I dreamed of being a cowboy based on the images portrayed on the silver screen at the old Rex Theater in Hayden, Arizona. I knew cowboys were good, honest and respectable men. They always defeated the bad guy, defended the good guy and won the heart of the ladies. Hollywood had created the perfect image of the American cowboy on the movie screen in my mind. This cowboy persona accompanied me throughout my life.

My image of the American cowboy was shattered when I accepted a job on the Quarter Circle U Ranch in the mid 1950s. I expected the cowboys to be a hero in all aspects, however I soon found out this was not case. Real cowboys were still only human—they were not always the men I thought they were. The real cowboys I met around Apache Junction, Globe, San Carlos, Tonto Basin and Winkleman were of a different breed. However, many of the cowboys I met were what I had expected. Some were rowdy, wild, and often careless. They drank far too much alcohol, cussed too much and were often not too dependable. Some of the best cowboys I ever saw were Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation east of Globe. Floyd Stone, owner and operator of the Tortilla Allotment, hired Apache cowboys to work his ranch. Most were really good cowboys and knew how to work wild cattle. Elmer Pope, an Apache cowboy, could rope a wild cow on the run in the roughest country east of Superstition Mountain. Stone always had a problem keeping his San Carlos cowboys sober.

Cowboys such as John A. Bacon, Bernard Hughes, Charlie Weeks, George Cline, Billy Garlinghouse, Slim Ellison, William A. Barkley, Billy Martin Sr., Billy Martin Jr., Jimmy Heron, Frank Herron, Duane Reese, Wheeler Reece, Bill Bohme, Royce Johnson, Jack Reeder and many more were real cowboys in our area that have left the legacy of the cowboy and cattle ranching in central Arizona. They were all good men.

First, and most important, a good cowboy has to be honest and responsible. These are the star attributes of a cowboy’s character, because they were often left in charge of corralled animals that needed to be fed and watered daily. By all means, not all cowboys are good cowboys. Any rancher will testify to that statement. Most cowboys are hard workers and they also play hard. Most of them love cowboy or country music. They would rather talk about cattle, horses, saddles, horse trailers or pickup trucks. Now, your old time cowboys wouldn’t be caught dead listening to some music we call Country-Western today.            

As a young man, I dreamed of someday owning my own cattle spread. Of course, it was nothing but a dream although I did manage to work for one of the real legendary cattle outfits. The old Quarter Circle U Ranch belonged to William A. Barkley and William Thomas Barkley. I worked for the Barkleys in the twilight years of this legendary Arizona cattle ranch. This was during the late 1950s and I cherish those couple of years I spent becoming what I am today. Life on that ranch certainly shaped my character, but also strengthened the values I had learned from my mother, father, and silver screen heroes. More than fifty years ago I sat astride a wild ranch pony and chased wild cattle across the mountains and desert east of Apache Junction. In those early days, there was not much in Apache Junction but a filling station, some permanent residents and a few desert dwellers that lived in mobile homes. To find the old Quarter Circle U Ranch you had to drive out Highway 60 some nine miles and turn east toward Don’s Camp. After driving another eight miles, you arrived at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. This ranch was really isolated with no communications with the outside world. The old ranch had no electricity and little running water. Conditions were very primitive, but I learn to cope with my new environment. My parents thought I was insane working in such a lonely place, making little or no money. I could never convince them that I had found my calling. I wanted nothing more than be a cowboy. My dad had wanted me to go to college and make a career for myself. I suppose I was a disappointment when all I could talk about was the Quarter Circle U Ranch and the cattle I cared for.

Like all good things my cowboy career ended one day when I was severely injured by a large Brahma-mixed bull. I lay in a hospital bed for several weeks. I found a new direction in life. I realized my father and mother were correct and I eventually returned to college and embarked upon a new career with the life of a cowboy always in the back of my mind.

Now friends, that is why I continue to this day wearing my cowboy hat, western shirts and jeans. Deep down in my soul I am still that young cowboy that worked on the Quarter U Ranch so many decades ago. The “Day of the Cowboy” honors this magnificent persona of the American West. I dedicate this column to all the cowboys who believe and follow this philosophy in life. An old friend, “Arkie” Johnston, recently passed away and left a cowboy legacy. He had four sons who are some of the best cowboys in the Southwest.

Note: Those of you that would like to read about another real cowboy, I recommend the book Cowboy Sign by Duane Reece. Duane has cowboyed all his life, and spent twenty years as a rodeo hand. His book should be on every cowboy and cowgirl’s shelf or in his or her saddlebags. For more information about Duane’s book, call (928) 812-0300 or drop a card to Kaycee Reece-Stratton, 4840 Longhorn Lane, Winkelman, AZ 85192.

Monday, March 20, 2017

"Arkie" Johnston: Occupation Cowboy

March 13, 2017 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday, when I met “Arkie” for the first time at Dallas Adair’s Greenhorn Stable next to the Superstition Inn. Dallas told me Arkie’s name, but that was about all. He was showing Arkie some tricks to packing a horse for a trip over rugged terrain in the mountains. This was some time in either 1972 or 1973. Eventually, I was talking to Arkie and he told me he was giving up truck driving to become a cowboy. He was adamant about making this decision. He had been raised on a farm in Minesota around horses and cows. He understood working stock and cattle. He wanted more than anything to be cowboy on a ranch in the American Southwest. From that day on he worked on those cowboy skills. Packing, riding, roping, fence work, windmill work and whatever else was part of a cowboy or rancher’s job. Arkie soon found there wasn’t much money in just being a cowboy so he decided to start his own pack outfit. He decided to take on an old cowboy, “Bud” Lane as a partner. Bud was quite a legend in these parts with a reputation as a very skilled cowboy and rodeo rider. It wasn’t long before Arkie opened Peralta Stables on South Meridian Road below Broadway Road in Apache Junction. Arkie and his stables were almost our neighbors.

Arkie Johnston, a top hand,
a good cowboy who would help
 just about anyone in distress or in trouble.
Shea Lynn, my daughter, loved horses like all young girls so she eventually got a job attending to Arkie’s five children and helping Pandy, Arkie’s wife. We were always taking Shea Lynn down to Arkie’s to baby sit. Shea Lynn started riding Crow occasionally and having a great time. She and Charley, Arkies son, were riding Crow one day when the horse jumped a small ditch and they both feel off. Charley broke his arm.

It was some time in the 1970s that I traded Arkie my Chevy pickup for a horse named Crow and a pair of Crockett spurs. Crow turned out to be the best horse I ever owned—and I have owned several over the years. I boarded Crow with Peralta Stables for several years until Arkie sold out and decided to manage the U Ranch for Chuck Backus sometime in the early 1980s. Knowing Arkie, it was one adventure after another. First there was the Circlestone documentary, then the legendary Joe Mays Expedition and the Crystal Skull, then the May’s Documentary. This was followed by a summer at the Reavis Ranch. On all of these Johnston adventures, I learned many new things, whether I agreed or disagreed. I met Auggie Guiterriz, Don Allen and Frank Liken. Then in 1982 the ride to the top of 5024 with Nyle Leatham, reporter for the Arizona Republic, Arkie Johnston, Ken Coltmen, Doc Case and myself. This was a trip that none of us would ever forget. Arkie started helping out on roundups here and there, learning the skills of a range cowboy and better knowledge of the cattle industry. Eventually he sold out the Peralta Stables and became ranch manager for Chuck and Judy Backus.

Arkie was at the U Ranch in the 1980s. When Arkie left the U Ranch he was a top hand, a good cowboy and knew what he was doing. He had totally fulfilled his dream to be a cowboy. He always loved the cowboy way. Arkie would help just about anyone in distress or in trouble. His heart was in the right place, but sometimes he was a bit wild like all cowboys have been at one time in their lives. He raised four sons, Will, Charley, Chester and Matt to be cowboys. These four young men will carry on his legacy.

Editor’s note: Everett Kenneth “Arkie” Johnston was born in Humbolt, Minnesota on June 29, 1944. He was U.S. Army veteran. He had five children, Will, Charlie, Matt, Chester and Catie. He had fifteen grand children. Arkie is survived by his brothers Jack and Larry, and also his sisters Linda, Phyliss, and Christina. Arkie Johnston passed away on February 22, 2017, in Mesa, Arizona.