Tuesday, July 11
    With thanks to the Brattleboro Historical Society Web site comes this article written by Maj. Frederick W. Childs, correspondent for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. It was originally printed in the Brattleboro Reformer on Aug. 24, 1883. It's been edited for length.

BRATTLEBORO

Just across the Connecticut River and directly opposite Brattleboro village, towers old Wantastiquet Mountain. Near its base, and not far from where the zigzag path that leads to the summit begins, may be seen a slide of dirt and broken rock from which stones for building purposes have been taken for a dozen years or so. This ragged place is known by those living on the New Hampshire side as the "rattle-snake den," and wonderful tales are told of its peculiar inhabitants.

Fourteen years ago Andrew D Thomas, then 20 years old, while strolling on the mountain with a friend, accidentally discovered the haunts of these venomous serpents and he thus describes his experience:

"It was Sunday, the next day we had mowed out six rattlers from our hayfield which were stiff and dormant from the effects of the early morning cold. Thinking perhaps we might possibly run upon more we armed ourselves with heavy canes and sauntered out. After walking about the mountain we came across a hole in the ground a trifle smaller than that of a woodchuck. By thrusting our sticks down into it we soon discovered that it was inhabited by snakes, and immediately after we were startled by seeing them all about us, hundreds of them seemingly, coiled on the ground, on stumps, and in fact, up in the bushes. I immediately went to the house, got my gun, and shot 12, which were from two to four feet long. This was the first time they had been discovered in quantities."

Since they have been found there every year by parties who out of curiosity, or with expectations of profit, have searched for them. Mr. Thomas has undoubtedly had the most experience in capturing them, he having caught and sold as many as 100 within the past two years.

One day he brought in eight alive, securing them by a slip-noose made of strong cord and attached to a four-foot stick; these he mostly sold to the local cigar-makers for from $3.50 to $4.50 and as high as $10, who generally put them in fruit or candy jars filled with alcohol and sent them to New York, but for what purpose he was not appraised.

It is the habit of these snakes to come out of their dens on the approach of warm weather and crawl about the mountain and toward the river until the first cold night, when they gradually work back to their winter quarters. The removing of the stones for the purposes named has served to drive the snakes from their old place of abode to other localities, and they have been found near "Mine Mountain," in the rear of Wantastiquet, and elsewhere.

Mr. Thomas tells of an occasion when he and the late Uncle John Gore were bee-hunting near the "mines," when they suddenly came upon three sizeable serpents in the breaks. "Uncle John," being rather poor sighted, nearly stepped on them, but they were finally dispatched and 9 ounces of oil obtained, for which they received $1 an ounce, it being used for croup, rheumatism and other ailments.

Rattlesnakes have often been killed on the road leading from Brattleboro to Hinsdale and in the door-yards of the farmers, though, singularly enough, there have been no fatal snake bites reported within the memory of the present generation, though it is said that a boy was fatally bitten years ago in Chesterfield.

It was not an unusual thing even within a few years past for farmers living near the mountain to take a handful of salt with them whenever they went berrying, which if speedily applied to a bite was believed to be a sure remedy.

An occasional rattlesnake has been killed on the Vermont side of the Connecticut, and these were thought to have swum the river. Royal Wood, who lives but a short distance below the village, killed one not many years ago which was found coiled up on a mat in front of his door. Mr. Thomas declares that the rattlesnakes can be heard from 15 to 20 rods away and that they seldom rattle unless frightened.


Fran Lynggaard Hansen writes her weekly column, "Downstreet," from her Brattleboro home. She welcomes your comments at franlynggaardhansen@yahoo.com.