Growing up in Utah’s sagebrush mountains with its rocky cliffs, it’s inevitable I’d see a rattlesnake. My mother warned me to be careful where I walked or played as a child. My dad was more adventurous; he took me out hunting for rattlesnakes when we were on picnics in the mountains of central Utah. Carrying a big stick, he used it to deftly hit a rattler on its head killing it instantly. Seeing no need for snakes in the world, he hunted them and collected their rattles.
Working on the railroad, my dad’s family had lived in many out of the way places at train stops that no longer exist. When the children were old enough for school, they moved back into town where they attended classes. Grandpa still worked daily out on the railroad, then returned home for the weekends. During the summers when the kids were out of school, the family lived together in one of the small company homes located along the tracks in rural Utah. Living in the boonies without electricity or a nearby grocery store was an adventure. Many mornings my grandmother chased the rattlesnakes out of her house with a broom. (Photo on left is my dad proudly showing his dead? rattlesnake.)
The boys in the family became very skilled at hunting rattlers. As far as I know none of our family was ever bitten, even grandpa who had been a sheepherder, outdoorsman and hunter all his life. He respected snakes and stayed out of their way unless he was specifically hunting for them. I know some of the workers on his railroad work gang actually ate snakes for their scanty mealtimes. I guess that’s putting the reptiles to a good use.
When some of my grandparents’ ancestors arrived in the Utah territory, they lived in dugouts (see photo on right) before being able to build themselves proper homes. Finding an available hillside, a small room was dug out. Walls of adobe or wood, and a roof of tree limbs covered with sod made for temporary living quarters. A stove or fireplace inside provided heat and light. Usually the opening for a door was covered with a blanket. I can just imagine the number and variety of living creatures including snakes that looked upon this newly constructed abode as inviting. When it rained, the roof invariably leaked and had to be patched. Living in dugouts with rattlesnakes doesn’t sound fun to me but it was all they had.