Ranch life for a tenderfoot like myself was a constant learning experience… and some of those experiences were life-saving.
Like the time I tried to gather eggs in the barn after dark. I had reasoned that the chickens would be on their roost and all I had to do was gather their eggs for my breakfast. This was not necessarily always true.
I headed down to the barn with my flashlight. The batteries were always near failure; but did I let that bother me? Of course not! I carefully opened the door of the barn so as not to disturb the hens on their roost. I began my search for eggs among the many bales of hay near the back of the barn. At first the search was not too difficult, but after finding four or five eggs it became far more futile. I figured there would be at least eight eggs because we had eleven chickens in the barn. I believe there was only one rooster in the bunch.
I was probing between the bales of hay when I heard a distinct and recognizable rattle. My brain immediately registered “rattlesnake.”
Just at that moment the batteries in my flashlight began to falter; then completely failed, leaving me in the absolute ink-black darkness of the barn. Suddenly I realized I had made a big mistake. I should have had some new batteries on hand for the flashlight.
The four eggs in my lard bucket mattered not. My concern now was getting out of the barn without being snake bitten. I heard many notorious tales about the deadliness of these so called “wiggle-tails” from various old-time cowboys. Here I was with my “wiggle-tail” in close proximity to the middle of a dark barn looking for a safe way out. The “wiggle-tail” wasn’t one of Barkley’s friendly cow dogs either.
The rattler continued his annoying and fearsome display of alarm and warning. I wasn’t sure which one.
I wasn’t sure what the safe direction of retreat would be from the barn either. All I know was I wanted to [?? – word damaged on page], then run like hell. My intuition had told me to freeze. All the stories I had heard said the best thing to do when you can’t see a rattling rattlesnake is to freeze in your tracks and don’t move until you locate the snake. That was easier said than done.
I looked over my shoulder, without moving, at the starlight around the barn door. My eyes were slowly becoming accustomed to the dark. Thank goodness the door wasn’t a close fit. I couldn’t decide exactly how to get away from this aggravated rattlesnake. Should I jump? Should I run? Should I stay where I was until he crawled away?
Finally I made my decision. Stand fast, and don’t move! I continued to mess with my flashlight… and it finally came on with a very dim beam. I carefully shined the light around until I found the rattlesnake.
It was about eighteen inches from my leg and coiled to strike. I stood frozen in horror fearing the worst.
After several minutes the snake finally uncoiled and slowly began to crawl away. This four-foot Western Diamondback could have spoiled my otherwise wonderful day, and this tenderfoot cowboy had survived another day and learned another valuable lesson. Have new batteries on hand for the flashlight if [you’re] going to hunt chicken eggs in the barn after dark. Still, the next time I encountered a rattlesnake I wasn’t so lucky.
To this day I don’t know how I survived all my encounters with mishap while working at the Quarter Circle U Ranch. Actually I didn’t!
One early May morning Mike Finley and I were riding west of the ranch along a road looking for strays. We hadn’t found any, but the day was warming up very rapidly. The stifling heat convinced us we needed a break from the burning rays of the sun. We found shade under a large mesquite tree and decided to rest for a while. I tethered my horse to a small palo verde. We needed a cool drink of water, which we sipped from our canteens.
I was riding a somewhat greenbroke sorrel gelding. He didn’t appreciate me horsing him around, and he was difficult to mount and dismount. He always wanted to spin and jump to the side a little as you tried to step into the stirrup. Those who rode him didn’t appreciate his antics. Finally I was out of the saddle and had him tied beneath a palo verde tree a short distance from the mesquite we were resting under.
As we rested Mike noted my horse continued to act up beneath the palo verde. He pulled back on the lead rope that was holding him fast and was snorting. Finally I got up and walked over to the horse.
At the base of the palo verde there was a large brittlebrush. I carelessly reached down to loosen the lead rope. That was a mistake I would live to regret. Just as I grabbed the lead rope I heard a rattlesnake rattle and I then felt a burning sensation on my left hand between my index finger and thumb. I had been rattlesnake bitten.
At first I could feel a swell of fear rise in my body while edema settled in my hand. But, I untied the horse, got him away from the palo verde and the rattlesnake. The horse then settled down and was quite calm.
I mounted him and told Mike a rattlesnake had bitten me. His reaction was disbelief. He walked over to the palo verde and saw the three and a half-foot Western Diamondback slowly crawling away.
Once Mike realized I was bit we rode quickly back to the ranch house. He took our horses down to the barn and unsaddled them while I cleaned up for my trip to the hospital.
At first I didn’t think I would make a trip into the hospital, but within an hour my hand and arm were so swollen they were almost unrecognizable. I knew then that I would have to go to the hospital.
Fear really began to settle in as I watched the swelling continue up my arm to my shoulder. Finally I was getting a little short of breath, I had a heavy metallic taste in my mouth and my heart rate was up. Mike drove me into [San/Sand] Tank Restaurant. His hi-speed driving over Peralta Road scared me more than the snakebite.
Bob Calfee had a phone at [San/Sand] Tank and he called the sheriff’s office. However, before a deputy arrived a highway patrolman named Charlie Sharp drove up for a cup of coffee. Once the emergency was explained to him he drove me into the Southside Hospital in Mesa.
The crisis was almost over but I didn’t know it. I was one of the first snakebite victims in Arizona to be treated with anti-venom. I survived the snakebite and returned to work at the U Ranch three days later. I had a painful arm, but I was certainly wiser and more experienced.
An encounter with a rattlesnake can be a painful affair. Today such an experience can be extremely expensive. A friend’s “pet” rattlesnake bit him and before the medical expenses were over he had more than $15,000.00 in out-of-pocket expenses that his health insurance company would not cover. Health insurance doesn’t always cover ignorance.
I have always said there is no such thing as a “pet” rattlesnake. Common sense should prevail, but it doesn’t always.