The Turnbo Manuscripts

by Silas Claiborne Turnbo

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By S. C. Turnbo

There is no question but that large black reptiles once inhabited the Ozarks as well as other kinds of snakes. Though while not the size of serpents we read of which live in warmer climates, yet uncommon sized black snakes were seen and killed here in various places by the pioneers. Without further comments we will now proceed to give a few brief stories of the dark colored serpents as told me by hunters and others. G. W. Thurman says that in 1850 while his father lived on the south bank of White River above the mouth of Beaver Creek in Taney Co., Mo., he and his two small brothers, Granville and Willie Thurman, and three of his uncle Bob Thurman’s children, Jane, Martha and Tom Thurman, while playing together on a drift near the river’s edge one warm Sunday they encountered a very large black snake which lay in a coil on two logs which lay across an opening in the drift. Mr. Thurman said that the snake raised its head in a foot of his face before he was aware of its presence. "I happened to have a stout stick of green wahoo wood in my hand and as the ugly reptile darted its tongue out almost in my face, I struck it a blow on its neck which paralized the snake long enough for me to pull it out of the drift and finish killing it. The serpent was 8 feet in length and measured three inches across the head. I was just 12 years old when I killed that big snake," said Mr. Thurman.

Mr. Ned Upton who lives four miles west of Gainesville, Mo., says that while he lived on Lick Creek below Gainesville he was out hunting one day in a hollow which empties into this stream and heard a great commotion among the little song birds and on approaching the spot he was surprised at seeing a monster black snake nearly eleven feet long lying on the limbs of a large plum tree. The reptile had its mouth open and a dozen or more of birds were fluttering and flying a circle around its head. This was carried on by the birds for a few minutes when one of the little songsters ventured right up to the reptile’s mouth and the snake caught the bird and swallowed it immediately. This broke up the charm and the remaining birds ceased their noise and all flew off in different directions. The serpent was entirely too large for me to tackle it with a club, even if I could reach it in the tree, and I shot it to death. This was in the latter 50’s." said Mr. Upton.
Jasper Casey who lives at Lead Hill, Ark., informs me that after his father left the Buffalo Fork of White River and settled on Clear Creek three miles above its mouth in Marion County, Ark., he and his brother, Jesse Casey, while passing a tree that stood near the yard gate (this tree was the chicken roost) seen an extremely large black snake starting to crawl up the tree. "We called father," said he, "and he come and killed it. The snake measured eight feet and four inches long and was between four and five inches through the middle part of its body. This was in the early fifties and I remember that I was quite a small boy at the time of this little incident."
While writing these tales of black snakes I have two other stories of serpents that were not the real genuine black snakes which we will relate in this same chapter. The first story was told me by William Brown who said that one day while he and another man were hunting in Big Beach Hollow which runs into the White River below Bradley’s Ferry in Marion Co., Ark, they found a cave at the head of a hollow which flows into Big Beach and prepared a torch and ignited it and went into the cave to explore it and said he, "We found bear beds and bear tracks. The tracks were imprinted in the soft clay. We also discovered a stone with the figures "1815" cut on it, showing that this cave had been visited by some person during that period. After we had went a short distance further into the interior of the cavern we found a bigger find than the ones just mentioned which was in the shape of a frightful looking serpent lying stretched in front of us. Its head was as large as a man’s clenched hand and it was not less than nine feet in length. Its color was that of a cotton mouth snake and it lay perfectly quiet with its head raised a little. We were scared when we first observed it but seeing that it did not threaten us we concluded to shoot it. My companion held the lighted torch while I took aim at its head and fired. Unfortunately at the discharge of the gun the flash from the priming pan put the light out and a panic ensued right then and there. It was intensely dark in the cave after the light was extinguished but we hurried out by crawling and going half bent until we reached the entrance—scared bad enough for we thought the reptile was right after us, but we seen nothing more of it. I have hunted near that cave since but I never did offer to go into it anymore and never knew whether I killed or wounded the serpent or not," said the old pioneer.

The other story is a remarkable one and was related to me by Silas Risley, the well known large man who lives near Dugginsville in Ozark County, Mo. "One day in 1856," said Mr. Risley, "my parents sent me to "Dine" Turley’s mill on Brattons Spring Creek. We were living then on Little North Fork near where Theodocia is now. The road from our house to the mill lead along the ridge by where the hamlet of Isabel now stands. After I had passed nearly a mile from where Isabel is I rode up near an enormous snake before I noticed it. The monster was lying stretched across the road and was not less than 12 feet long with a very large thick body of a dark rusty color. The serpent raised its head four feet above the ground and darted out its tongue at me. Its head was as wide across as a man’s two hands placed together edgeways. There were two smaller serpents lying with their heads close to the middle part of its body which apparently caused the big serpent to resemble a three pronged snake. I backed my horse away from the terrible looking monster as soon as possible and rode around it and went on. Though I was only a boy yet this is no imagination or an invented snake tale, but is an actual truth. When I returned back where it was lying across the road it was gone, but the trail it left as it crawled along was visible. When I reached home and told my mother about it she told me to shut my mouth for my account of it sounded so strange and unreasonable she would not believe it. "Sile," said she, "you got scared at nothing and your eyes were bigger than what you supposed you seen and imagination got the better of you." But my mother was mistaken for I seen what I tell you I did. She never would allow me to repeat the story in her presence again. Since then I have told it to very few people. I give you the story because you take an interest in gathering up an account of the strange things that have happened in these hills in the long ago," said Mr. Risley, as he ended this singular story.

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