30 April 2010

Rattlesnake Tales in Eastern Kentucky

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber 2010

Today's Independent newspaper in Ashland, Kentucky proclaimed "Large snake leaves a calling card." Yep it is Rattlesnake season in Eastern Kentucky. The article made me smile.

Clell Lucas, minister of Princess Chapel, has honored several with graveside prayers in Klaiber Cemetery the past few years. He found the skin of what appears to be a large rattler in a shed he was cleaning out. The article goes on to say that Rush, Kentucky is known for big ones. Toward the end of the article Lucas states "Sam Jenkins and Alfred Sexton, both of Rush...I would go to them for information about snakes. They're both dead now..."

What in the world does this article have to do with a genealogy blog and why did it make me smile? First Appalachia is one of the few places I know where introductions begin with at least three generations of genealogy: "This here is Joe Jones, his mother is Sue Jones and his grandfather was George Jones." Appalachia is the center of ballad making and ballads are a very useful tool when doing Eastern Kentucky Genealogy, which I have mentioned before in this blog. And story telling is the heartbeat of our community. Rattlesnake stories are right at the top of the list.

Sam Jenkins, mentioned by Clell Lucas in today's rattlesnake article was the grandson of Hulda Sexton Kitchen. The Sexton's migrated from Letcher County, Kentucky to Carter County, Kentucky. Sam died in 1977. Alfred Sexton. Well actually there were two and both had a pretty good knowledge of this hill country. Alfred James Sexton was the son of Andrew Jackson Sexton and died in 1983. Then there was Alfred son of William Riley and Dicey Thomas Sexton. And the Lucas family - you guessed it - lot's of ties to the Sexton family. Cousin's at every turn.

Which brings me back to story telling. There is usually a thread of truth in Eastern Kentucky stories. Some may be golly whoopers but if you listen closely you will ascertain bits and pieces of knowledge that you can carry through life.

I remember when I got my first dulcimer made by Leslie Crawford, a talented dulcimer maker in Boyd County, Kentucky. The first thing I was told was to drop the buttons of a rattlesnake down through the fret holes so it would play "sweeter." I still have those buttons in that dulcimer. Unfortunately this may be one of those golly whoopers because I can only pluck. I enjoy my private moments plucking but I doubt if anyone else would call it sweet playing.

Then there was that time in 1997 when my neighbor killed the baby rattler in her barn. We were having a log house raising at the time and a young builder from Ohio got really excited. Buckeye had never seen a rattler before. Put that baby rattler in a baggie in his suit case and took it back to Ohio. Last I heard his mother was horrified first at the smell and then the discovery of the snake in his dirty laundry.

The summer of 1968 is another good rattlesnake story. We pulled in the driveway for Sunday dinner, when I explained to my husband that someone must have died. Cars and trucks were lined up and down the driveway, as far as you could see. John Henry Powell Sexton Klaiber exclaimed that I was to look from a distance at the dead snake, at least six feet long but warned that a dead snake can still bite. Seems the snake had curled up on the back porch. When Elsie Rucker Klaiber saw it she never stopped dialing the phone until everyone in the hollow was called. One person had enough sense to stop at the milk house down the road and alert John Henry what was going on. Yes we have the buttons for that snake as well.

I killed a rattlesnake in 2004. Before you think I was brave, I ran over it at least 20 times with the car tires. Disappointed the neighbor because I destroyed its buttons. Hubby killed one last year that was curled by his fence post while mending fence at the top of the hill.

Life is made up of memories and stories. When Brian Tackett visited awhile back he said his memory is filled with the warning of "watch out for the snakes," from the minute he opened the car door as a little tyke until he became a grown man. I visualize my father in law sitting on the tractor with his gun across his arm "standing guard" as I picked blackberries many years ago. The warning is not an idle threat.

Now realize that the above tales are the 20th and 21st century and the pioneer families settled around Garner and Rush, Boyd County before it was even a county in 1860. The rock cliffs and the hills were cleaned for pasture with bare hands and hand tools. In the 1880's and early 1900's farmers became home miners. They would dig for coal with small picks laying on their stomachs in the hillsides to eek out a little extra money. Many stared snakes right in the eyes!

These stories give us a look at how our pioneer families lived in these same hills. Understanding the area where your ancestors lived helps you to know who these people were and how they lived and worked.

By the way it is time to celebrate Arbor Day so I think I will go out to plant my trees. But I am taking a hoe with me!

1 comment:

  1. Shoot, heard worse, of such at many Free Will Baptist slaying in the Spirit testing the whoopers from whence comes the next bite and not dieting from the venom shot in an arm or the chest. One bite so powerful the fangs got stuck in the pen holder which was made of plastic, which said Craftsman Tools since 1927. I was a small boy and as I stepped back I fell over one of the women who had passed out, who had victory, and had victory over fear and lived to tell she had been bitten. Law how mercy