The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

It is strange how serpents are endowed with the power of charming small animals such as rabbits and squirrels. All I know about it is what is told me by those who have seen such things. Whether the reptile overcomes the little animal through fear or fascination, I am not prepared to say, but according to the evidence as given by others the attraction the snake exerts over the animal seems irresistable and it is compelled to yield to the influence of its enemy. It seems useless to give a further description of this kind than we have stated elsewhere in these sketches to prove this charming process that reptiles possess and is not worth while to add further testimony on this subject. But, however, we will give the following accounts to add strength to that already given.

One day while I was conversing with Joe Davis, a former resident of Christian County, Mo., mention was made on the above subject when Mr. Davis said, "As to snakes charming rabbits, I saw something of that kind myself once which reminded me of the tales I have heard told of this sort. On a certain occasion while I lived in Christian County I went down into the creek bottom of Swan Creek and while in a thick bunch of timber, I heard a rabbit squeaking in a few yards of me. The weeds covered the ground so thick about me that I could not see the rabbit and I went up a little closer and saw it crawling along very slow as if drawn by some object. The little animal was trembling all over as if it had been struck on the head with something and stunned. In a few feet in front of the rabbit was a dark colored snake lying stretched where the ground was nearly bare of weeds. In a short space of time the rabbit had advanced within 2 ½ feet of the reptile’s mouth. Having great pity for the rabbit I did not wait until it got in reach of the serpent’s mouth and picked up a stick and struck at the snake, but the stick was so rotten that it broke and the snake was not hurt and it crawled into the weeds and was gone. The rabbit appeared to be almost paralized with fear. Very soon it began to wiggle around but seemed to be entirely helpless and was not able to get out of my way. Directly it ceased to move in an effort to run and began to pant as hard as if it had been on a long race. I do not think the snake had touched the rabbit before I saw it. After I stood awhile and watched the little animal breathe so rapid I went on and left it in that condition," said Mr. Davis.

Mr. Nate O’Neal informed me that one day while he and Alex Nelson were hunting squirrels on the bank of the Niangua Creek four or five hundred yards from where it empties into the Osage River they noticed a fox squirrel on the trunk of an Ash tree that leaned over the water. This tree stood between the creek and the bluff and was six or eight feet from the edge of the water. When we first observed the squirrel it was coming slowly down the tree and began to chatter. Its body also quivered. Just before it got down to the foot of the tree it stopped and started back up the tree backward and after climbing up in that way a few feet then came down it again. This was repeated a half a dozen or more times and the squirrel got nearer the ground everytime it come back down the tree. We were unable to form an opinion what was wrong with the squirrel that made it act so strange. There were weeds and other obstacles around the roots of the tree that prevented us from seeing anything to attract the squirrel until we walked up nearer the tree, when we saw a rattlesnake five feet in length lying stretched with its head resting against the foot of the tree. Before we had seen the reptile Nelson remarked that he would shoot the squirrel and end its trouble for it seemed to be suffering from pain caused by some disease. But when we saw the rattler he desisted and said that the serpent was using its power in charming the squirrel and he wanted to learn how the snake used this attraction on birds and little animals. As stated above when the squirrel went down the tree it would approach a little closer to the rattler before it would back itself up the tree again. It was several minutes before the squirrel got right up to the snake, but when it did the rattler moved its head slightly and lay hold of the trembling squirrels head with its mouth which made the squirrel twist and squirm its body and kick and scratch the reptiles neck with its hind feet. Though the squirrel looked stout and active yet it was powerless to make only a slight resistance. Our curiosity of seeing the serpent and squirrel going through the performance of charming and being charmed, Nelson shot the snake which cut it almost in twain just below the neck which released the squirrel. The latter now began to revive from its half stupor and went back up the tree without making the least noise and it did not stop until it got nearly to the topmost limbs and remained as quiet as if it were under the influence of chloroform. It was not dead for we could detect its breathing. After waiting awhile to see if it moved its position which it did not while we remained there we went on without molesting it. The rattler carried eleven full rattles. This occurred near where I lived in Camden County, Mo.," said Mr. O’Neal as he ended his account of the rattlesnake and squirrel.

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