Texas is the perfect environment for many creatures. One of them is snakes, and here in Central Texas we have poisonous ones: copperheads, coral snakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins) and rattlesnakes. Early Comal Countians were very familiar with our slithering neighbors. The NB Zeitung records many encounters by citizens all around the county — many of them deadly. Here are some of the early ones:
• 1855 — Joseph Scherz of Cibolo DIED of snake bite.
• 1859 — 6-year-old son of Mr. Hazeldanz of 8 Mile Creek DIED of rattlesnake bite.
• 1860 — Son of Wilhelm Fehlis of York Creek found DEAD of snake bite where he was picking dewberries.
• 1861 — G. Sacherer killed 6’8” long, 10” diameter rattlesnake.
• 1868 — Son of Kresche DIED of snake bite and Bartels loses horse from snake bite, both from Hortontown.
• 1874 — Morhoff of Comaltown bitten on hand by rattlesnake.
• 1880 — C.J. Wells, caretaker of mail and stagecoach stop, DIED of snake bite.
• 1881 — Child of Mr. Riesling of York Creek bitten by rattlesnake while picking cotton; Johanna See DIED of rattlesnake bite; Henry Lueers of Purgatory Springs killed 6’ rattlesnake that had 10 baby rabbits inside; Mrs. Wilhelm Uhle bitten by snake.
• 1882 — Child of Christian Pape and child of Jacob Heidrich bitten by rattlesnake.
• 1886 — F. Alves killed large rattlesnake with 13 rattles; F. Donnerberg of Blanco, killed rattlesnake with 15 rattles and five unhatched eggs.
• 1887 — 8-year-old son of W. Fenske of Davenport bitten by copperhead.
• 1890 — Julius, son of Fritz Coers, DIED of rattlesnake bite; son of Theo. Heise of Hancock Valley bitten by rattlesnake.
• 1894 — Carl Brehm of Selma and Fritz Buch of Schumannsville bitten by rattlesnakes; 8-year-old daughter of Heinrich Jentsch of Huaco Springs and 4-year-old child of George Beierle DIED of snakebite.
• 1895 — Mr. Thormeyer bitten by rattlesnake; John Sippel killed rattlesnake with 12 rattles; 65-year-old Marie Werner DIED from rattlesnake bite; Heinrich Jentsch of Hueco Springs killed 30 rattlesnakes on his farm from January until October (he lost his daughter to snakebite in 1894).
• 1896 — Hermann Dierks and Mrs. Frank Nowotny bitten by rattlesnake; 10-year-old son of Syl. Steubing DIED from rattlesnake bite.
• 1900 — 2-year-old son of Carl Tonne of Davenport bitten on the leg by rattlesnake.
• 1901 — 10-year-old daughter of Fritz Scheel of Anhalt DIED of rattlesnake bite while walking to school.
• 1902 — Willie Bremer of Bracken bitten by rattlesnake; son of Friedrich Jonas bitten by rattlesnake while picking cotton.
• 1903 — Heinrich Harborth and H. W. Glenewinkel found nest of snakes in Harborth’s pasture and killed an 8’ prairie snake and 12 rattlesnakes; Max Heimer of Smithsons Valley and Theodore Holekamp bitten by rattlesnakes; Marie Syring bitten by snake while cutting corn tops on her father’s farm.
• 1904 — 19-year-old Eduard Jonas bit by rattlesnake in cornfield; Arno Jentsch bitten by snake; 8-year-old son of Heinrich Schneider bitten on finger by rattlesnake.
• 1906 — Franz Preiss and Ottomer Linnartz were at Twin Sisters and came upon a rattlesnake running with 12 babies. She saw them and swallowed all the little snakes. 8-year-old daughter of Rudolph Jonas DIED of rattlesnake bite.
• 1919 — 9-year-old daughter of Ernst Pape of Sattler DIED of rattlesnake bite.
The paper also has articles on how to treat snakebite. In 1855, it suggested the use of whiskey and button snakeroot (Eryngium yuccifolium or Liatris squarrosa, both go by the common name “rattlesnake master”). I had to do some research. The chewed roots were applied to wounds and used as a cure for snakebite by Native Americans. They also used it to expel worms, induce vomiting and treat liver trouble. The plant could be used in the treatment of disorders of the kidneys and sexual organs since it had diaphoretic, diuretic and (in large doses) emetic properties. Other ailments treated with button snakeroot were infectious fevers and respiratory complaints. Did the whiskey just make it go down easier?
My dad recently told me a story about my granddaddy. When he was a little boy growing up in Schumannsville, he stuck his hand down a rat hole. He got bit by a rattlesnake. His mom ran to the chicken house and grabbed a hen “that was sitting on eggs.” Ripping it apart down the middle, she wrapped the chicken around his hand and left it on the wound until the “meat turned blue.” Granddaddy got sick, but it didn’t kill him.
David Hartmann recently shared this same cure on a Facebook post, so it must have been common knowledge for folks around here. A friend of mine who grew up in Mexico says they used to do the same thing. A dead chicken? Apparently, the chicken’s body temperature is higher and this draws the poison into it and out of you. I don’t know the medical reason, but it saved my granddaddy’s life.
Back then, fewer people meant more places for these creatures to live. Today, with all the new building and loss of farm and pasture land, you’d think we would see a decline in the snake population. But not around my house.
I know some of you like snakes and just walk around them. That’s fine. But even when I know the role they play in “the circle of life,” I’d rather not share my space with them. I live on property known as “Rattlesnake Hill” by old-timers. A couple of years ago, my mom killed over 20 rattlers one spring. This spring we have had three sightings and two exterminations — one got away into the bushes. One of the deceased had actually moved in under my back porch. For over a month we could hear the rattles go off every time we walked over the floor. Named the thing Sparkles. Sparkles scared my exterminator away — literally. Finally, my son met Sparkles on the its way out from under the house, with a .22.
Neu Braunfelser Zeitung collection, Sophienburg Museum and Archives