The Woman Who Struck Fear into the Hearts of…Rattlesnakes

I couldn’t resist sharing this tale with y’all. I was doing a little research and stumbled across the story of  Kate McHale Slaughterback. Born in Longmont, CO in 1894, Kate was a pistol. By all accounts, she was strong-willed, independent, arguably surly, and she did not like to be told what to do. By anybody. Which may account for several failed marriages.

Perhaps headstrong to a fault, I can’t help but think this is the very flaw that saved her life and created her legend. You see, Mrs. Slaughterback came to be known as “Rattlesnake” Kate because she killed a few of the critters one afternoon–over 140 of them. One. Hundred. Forty.

As you might expect, the indpendent Kate could handle a gun. One afternoon she and her three-year-old son ventured down to a local pond. Some duck hunters had been there earlier and Kate thought she might have the chance to bag a wounded one for dinner. Walking back to her son and her horse, she noted a rattler crawling across her path and popped him with her .22. But another rattler appeared. And another. The ground literally started squirming with writhing, hissing, rattling snakes, scores of them, separating her from her little boy.

Kate shot rattlers until she ran out of ammo then she snatched up a sign (that supposedly read NO HUNTING) and went all Samson on the reptiles. For over two hours, she bludgeoned, kicked, stomped, and smashed snakes. Finally, she had a path open and made a beeline to her boy.

A neighbor noted her disheveled appearance when she returned home and she shared her story. Whether to prove the truth of it or gather up the skins, she and the neighbor returned to the site of the massacre. Color him appropriately impressed and he spread the story. The tale went viral, especially once the newspapers got hold of it, and like reporters were apparently compelled to do in those days, they gave Kate a moniker, dubbing her “Rattlesnake” Kate.

Kate was a skilled taxidermist and entrepreneur. Her fame allowed her to sell rattlesnake souvenirs, but she also made herself a dress out of the hides. Upon her death in Greely, CO in 1969, the garment was donated to the history museum there.

Now, I just want to say, what Kate did was crazy amazing. But as an arachnophobic, I can totally understand it. FEAR can make you insanely strong. If Kate was as afraid of snakes as I am of spiders, I can easily understand going whirling-dervish mad and killing snakes in a blind rage of fear and fury. And then you strand her child on the other side of the reptilian river? Oh, yeah, this is a Mama Grizzly story.

Can you imagine what she might have done if she’d had the jawbone of an ass?

Photo credit: 1987.32.0013A, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection. Katherine Slaughterback with two strings of rattlesnakes, 1925. Photographer unknown.


About Heather Frey Blanton

"I believe Christian fiction should be messy and gritty, because the human condition is ... and God loves us anyway." -- Heather Blanton

Posted on January 23, 2019, in Ladies in Defiance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. wow this interesting. yup, don’t stand in the way of a mamma and her child. fear can make us women do many a strange things. thanks for this wonderful story.

  2. Reminds me of one time I was working in my flowerbed…I had just been down on the ground pulling loose weeds. I stood up and picked up my maddock to loosen some more weeds. Lo and behold, I had been sharing close space with a snake. Without even thinking, I swung that maddock until my arms were tired. Then I threw it down and ran into the house and stayed until my husband got home. When I told him of my heroic adventure, he went outside to check it out. When he came back into the house, he was laughing like a hyena. Told me the biggest piece of that snake he could find was about two inches long. So even though I was terrified (I don’t even want to touch a picture of a snake!), I did put the poor tithing out of its misery.

  3. Oh my gosh! I love this story and the picture!! I can just see him using that sign and annihilating those snakes! Fear can get the adrenaline pumping at a mighty fast speed! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Oh Heather! I, as most of us, would like/love to have a book about this lady! What a story! So many of us don’t know how to get to these stories except through wonderful talented writers like you. Thank you for the story Yours in Christ Dorothy Sexton

    Sent from my iPad


  5. I am surprised her son didn’t get bit by one of the snakes.

  6. Charlene Whitehouse

    I can’t even imagine. I would be running for the hills. But if my child was involved I would fight for them to the moon and back.

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