The following story was written by my Aunt, Ruth Ann Collins, the brother Ruth Ann referred to was Bob my dad, Robert Fitzsimmons Collins; the father was Jesse Millard, actually Ruth and Bob’s step father. The excitable mother was Cora Jane Hathaway Collins Millard mother of Ruth and Bob; she was also the mother of the two younger children, Mary and Howard Millard. Mother, Cora Jane, had a reason to be afraid of snakes; one morning when she sat on the privy seat a copper head lying on a ledge under the seat struck her on the bottom. A doctor was summoned by riding the 12 miles bareback to Reeds, MO to bring back the doctor. Cora Jane had a hole cut in a sheet and placed over her body with the hole lined up over the site of the snake bite. The doctor never saw the woman whose bottom he treated for snake bite. Anyway, on with Aunt Ruth’s story!
“I had a most unusual experience while living in the Ozark Mountains in Stone Country, MO. Our house was a three-room shack made of clapboards which are the first and last slabs sawed from the logs with the bark still on. My father was working for a sawmill company out of Springfield, MO, and their camp was between two mountains, miles to any town or grocery store. About once a month dad hitched up the mules to the wagon and drove the twelve miles to Reeds, MO, for supplies. Garber was closer but it had only one general store, a post office, and a blacksmith shop. Between the trips my father made. We would run short of things, so Bob, my brother, and I would climb the mountains and go through the huckleberry patches and brush to the railroad track and on into Garber for the needed supplies.
It seemed to be a year that many snakes were every place. There were many of them along the railroad track but we felt safe since we could see them first, and besides mother never knew we walked across some high railroad trestles.
A small stream of water ran down past the camp which was especially inviting to moccasins and other water snakes. There were many copperheads around the piles of lumber and the logs that had been rolled down the mountain sides. We even had them in the house. One time my brother threw a shoe at a snake that was hanging by its tail, and was ready to drop onto a bed. It drew back and disappeared.
Mother lived in terror the summer we were there. Her fright at seeing a snake would last for hours. So it was no surprise that she became hysterical the day she saw a snake slithering through the door into the house. I was afraid too, but I knew I had to do something, and quick. I was only twelve but the oldest of four children, and mother was expecting again.
It was about 11 o’clock in the morning of an early summer day. All the men were working at the sawmill, about a quarter of a mile away. The snake kept coming along the floor near a wall until it came to an old metal trunk in one corner of the room, there it stopped. It crawled behind the trunk and coiled up! The trunk top was shaped like a barrel lying on its side and I realized I had to get on top of it in order to do anything. I mounted the trunk, my bare feet only a few inches above the snakes ugly head.
I told my mother to stop screaming, get the children out of the way and bring me the iron kettle of water that was boiling on the wood stove. The kettle was heavy and I could not balance well on the rounded trunk top. As I poured the stream of scalding water onto the snake, its thrashing against the trunk was so violent it almost shook me off. Finally, for good measure, I dashed the coffee left from breakfast (grounds and all) into the corner. After much commotion it gave up and I dragged it outside with a long stick. After everyone had calmed down a bit I began to feel remorse for being so cruel. My father looked very serious when he said it was a timber rattlesnake and it was a good thing my foot hadn’t slipped.
I claim the doubtful honor of being the only person ever to scald a large rattlesnake to death. My sister asked me recently if I remembered scalding the rattler? How could I ever forget the smell that poured into my face from the mixture of hot coffee and venom?”
Aunt Ruth was born in 1894, the summer in the logging camp was in 1906, and she died after a long and fruitful life in Pryor, OK in 1979.