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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Amazing Curative Power of Rattlesnakes


At the battle of Wisconsin Heights in 1832, Sgt. John McNair took a bullet in the behind. Although it was just a flesh wound, he complained loudly about it and insisted he could no longer ride his horse. His comrades thought he was milking a minor injury for all it was worth and teased him mercilessly, as young men will do (especially when private parts are involved). But McNair continued to moan and groan, claimed he was incapacitated, and begged not to be abandoned.

His captain, Daniel Parkinson, was more sympathetic than the other soldiers. He rigged up a litter between two horses to cradle his injured sergeant for the journey from the Wisconsin River to the fort at Blue Mounds. But when they were descending a hill, the horses had to twist along narrow, curving paths and the makeshift hammock came apart.

Rattlesnakes As Incentive

"Here was a dilemma," Parkinson recalled. "The litter was broken up, it was dark, and McNair declaring that he could not ride on horseback, and the company was far in advance with all the provisions and necessary materials for camping... At length I said, 'Boys, bring the horses and fragments of the litter to the foot of the mound and I will carry Mack down, and then we will mend up the litter so that it will carry him on to the encampment.' I took him up in my arms, although he weighed about one hundred pounds, and after going down the Mound, which was quite steep, I was compelled to lay him down.

"It seems that I either laid him on or so near a large yellow rattlesnake as very much to disturb his snakeship's equilibrium, and he set up such a terrible rattling or whizzing as to frighten me much — The boys all fled precipitately, and I jumped back several paces.

"The poor fellow [McNair] cried out in the most supplicating manner. 'O! Captain, for God's sake don't leave me here to be devoured by these d—-d snakes!" — for by this time there were evidently two of them; and from the noise in the stillness of the night, and in the midst of a dense forest, there seemed to be legions of them giving their fearful notes of warning.

"Recovering from my momentary fright and feeling the necessity of instant action, I pitched in, as politicians say, caught the poor fellow by the heels, and dragged him unceremoniously out of so dangerous a proximity to a ten times more frightful enemy than Black Hawk and all his warriors. And remarkable to relate, the poor fellow never uttered a groan.

"After the panic was a little over, I broke the silence by asking — 'Mack, don't you think you can ride on horseback now?' to which he instantly replied, 'O God, yes — ride or anything!' and thus in due time we reached the camp of our company."

Learn More

You can read all of Daniel Parkinson's memoir here, and you can see more than 100 other eyewitness accounts of the Black Hawk War here.


:: Posted in Animals on August 22, 2013
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