The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

In the days of diamond rattlesnakes it was dangerous to encounter one and almost sure death to be bitten by one. Mr. Ben Hager, an old time citizen and resident of Madison County, related to me this story. Holmans Creek in Madison County, Ark., is a small tributary of War Eagle River. It derived Its name from George Holman who was among the first settlers of Madison County and was the first settler on this stream. He lived just above the mouth where there is a fine spring of water. My father lived on this same creek but he went there long after Mr. Holman did. When I was a small boy a man of the name of John Clay lived six miles from our house. He was a son of old Grandma Clay whose husband had been dead many years. One day Mr. Clay come to our house and asked me to go squirrel hunting with him and as I was doing nothing at the time my father game his consent for me to go. Clay wanted me to go along and "turn" the squirrels for him when they went up a tree. When we got into the edge of a small pinery which was near one mile from Holmans Creek the dog treed a squirrel up a pine tree that had a cordon of wild currant vines entwined around it. I and Mr. Clay walked around the tree in opposite directions to find or locate the squirrel. As Clay passed around with his face turned up looking into the top of the tree for the squirrel a diamond rattlesnake darted its head out of a hollow place in the ground where a dead pine tree had been burned out by the roots in time and the space had grown full of weeds and wild grass. The reptile was coiled in this sunken place and it struck Clay in the groin and sank its fangs into the flesh. The man stepped back instantly and shot the snake while it was getting into a coil again. There was not a moment to lose to see if he had killed the serpent and we started back to our house. The man soon began to suffer excruciating pains of distress and anguish. Added to this he become very sick. He could hardly walk. I assisted him all I could and he struggled on until we were in ¼ mile of the house when he could get no further. I let him down on the ground and ran with all the speed I could command up near the house and called my father and soon informed him of Clay being bitten by the rattler and where I had left him. My father ran with me back to him and my father who was a stout man picked Mr. Clay up and carried him to the house and started a messenger off on horseback to Huntsville for a doctor. In the meantime we all done what was in our power for the relief of the suffering man, but all in vain, for he sank into a semi comatose condition. When we tried to rouse him up the man would say, "Please, let me sleep." It was only two miles to town and the messenger got there as quick as his horse could carry him. The first physician he met was Doctor Ruth and he informed him what was wanted and the doctor hurried to our house, but Mr. Clay was dead when he arrived. It was shocking indeed. Just a few hours ago he was in good health and in nice spirits. Now he lay dead. He had died in less than two hours after he was bitten. On the following morning after he died I and father and Doctor Ruth and others visited the place where Mr. Clay had been bit and we found the snake dead. The shot from Clay’s gun had took effect in the reptile’s back and killed it. We had no way to measure its length correct, but the men all estimated it to be eight feet long. The body of John Clay received burial in the Bohanon graveyard at the Bohanon Schoolhouse which is situated on the mountain between Holmans Creek and Richland Creek.

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