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September 7, 1861: Fremont

September 7, 2011

Rattlesnake 02

Rattlesnake; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 50

[Today] we started for a high mountain some twenty miles southeast1, in the center of the range. We followed up a canyon several miles, and when we left it we struck up the wrong ridge and came out on another peak twelve miles distant from the one we started for. It answered our purpose, however. We got the topography of a region on which maps were blank. We attained a height of over three thousand feet, but the distant view was obscured by smoky air.

An incident of the day may be noted, as it came very near costing the Survey a valuable mule, if not an assistant also. We stopped on the summit, took our bearings and observations, unsaddled, and fed our mules some barley we had brought, then sat in the cool shade of a fine oak and took our lunch. Then a smoke while waiting for an hour, hoping the air would clear and enable us to obtain distant bearings. It was useless, so we saddled up. Just as I finished, I felt something squirming under my feet vigorously, looked and found I was on a snake, holding him fast under my well nailed boots while he was writhing to get free. I stepped off from him and saw that it was a large rattlesnake! He ran between the forefeet of the mule, over one hoof, then through between the hind feet. I took the tripod of our compass and caught him, held him fast and cut his head off with my bowie. He was between two and a half and three feet long and had nine rattles. Had he shown as much fight as the others we have seen, both I and the mule would have got our share. But my buckskin pants and my boots would have been pretty good armor, for buckskin absorbs the poison from the tooth so much that but little enters the wound, it is said.

He had three fangs, two on one side, side by side. They were as sharp as needles. I took them out as trophies. A cool breeze blowing over the summit probably accounts for his stupidity. He struck the tripod vigorously, however, when I overhauled him. He had come out from under the tree, from a hole less than two feet from where we were sitting. Here was a danger seen, how many unseen we pass only our Protecting Providence knows.

1Possibly Eylar Mountain or Black Mountain.

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