Warren County Historical Society Presents …
June 16, 2014
Rattlesnakes in Warren County
The following is a combination of articles that appeared in The Hague Chronicle in 2012.
Thank you to Pat McDonough, the Hague Historical Society and The Hague Chronicle for allowing us to reprint the material here.
Reuben Davis, Rattlesnake Hunter
As you travel down Tongue Mountain and near Sabbath Day Point between Bolton Landing and Hague, that there’s a stone-wall-enclosed gravesite set off in the woods to your right. The stone reads “Reuben Davis, died June 8, 1857, AE 74.” It’s a peaceful spot in the heart of rattlesnake country, perhaps carefully chosen for a man who spent his days hunting the reptiles.
On November 8, 1888, the New York Times ran this piece:
The Rattlesnake Exterminator
The Albany Journal’s Lake George correspondent writes: Isaac Davis of Hague, who in four years has killed upward of 1400 rattlesnakes, and who last Fall at the county fairs of this vicinity was the first to handle rattlesnakes in public exhibitions, recently killed four monster rattlesnakes near Sabbath Day Point.
This year he has killed upward of 400 for which he has been paid a bounty of 25 cents per snake. He makes rattlesnake hunting, catching, and exhibiting his whole business, and is paid $50 a month during the season by property owners about Hague for killing snakes in aid of their extermination. He is believed to be the only man in the world following this occupation.
He is an intelligent man, fond of reading, of quiet demeanor and gentle disposition. His friends apprehend that he will meet his death some day in handling these reptiles, but the business seems to have a fascination outside of the remuneration it affords him. He always carries with him a remedy in case he should be bitten, but does not feel any special confidence in its efficacy. He is a man of 45 and killed his first snake before he was 6 years old, but never went into regular snake hunting until four.
His father before him was the famous snake hunter, ‘Mint’
Reuben Davis’ gravesite.
y use of ‘rattlesnake weed.’ It used to be a standing joke about the lake that when a rattlesnake bit old ‘Mint’ Davis it was the snake that was poisoned to death. The old man certainly seemed to have no more fear of a rattlesnake than a child of a kitten.
The Davis men made a name for themselves hunting and bagging rattlesnakes. They also made money! So abundant were the snakes years ago that farmers in the area killed them by the hundreds as they worked their fields. In 1884 the Ticonderoga Sentinel reported that the rattlesnake population at Lake George was increasing. According to the paper, “One farmer killed over fifteen of them during haying. A bounty ought to be affixed for their killing.”
In 1945 Gillette Bartlett of Sabbath Day Point was quoted as relating there was a time “when rattlesnakes were so prevalent on Tongue Mountain that a hunter of the reptiles would bring in as many as 20 a day for a bounty of $3.50 each.” That was pretty good money!
Business was so good that there began to be a bootlegging problem – that is folks were killing snakes outside the region and bringing them to towns like Hague for the bounty of $2.50/snake at the time. In 1940 the Glens Falls Times reported that the Warren County Supervisors had passed a resolution requiring that anyone applying for a bounty would have to provide a certificate of title to the snake “just as if he were attempting to dispose of an automobile”. The Supervisors were in a quandary because while they wanted to reduce the rattlesnake population in order to encourage tourism, they didn’t want to get stuck for an outlay of cash for the rattles, and they didn’t want Warren County to get a reputation for being more populated with rattlers than it actually was!
Rattlesnake in color.
Thomas F. Lonergan, Sr., a local historian, wrote in the Ticonderoga Sentinel on February 8, 1940, that Elisha Belden had settled in our area in earlier times. “He was known as ‘Father Elisha’ and was a great hunter and also famous for hunting rattlesnakes. However, one day he did not return from his rattlesnake hunt and a search for him on the mountain revealed him sitting on a rock frightfully swollen and blackened with poison – dead. A snake cut to pieces with his jackknife lay by his side, as he had tried to doctor the snake bite by the pieces of the snake itself.”
An on-line site tells us the timber rattlesnake averages 3-4 ½ feet, likes deciduous forests and rocky terrain, and is carnivorous, highly poisonous and very dangerous. It also tells us this viper is threatened in New York State due to loss of habitat and indiscriminate killing. Perhaps all those bounties had their intended effect. Nevertheless, don’t risk Elisha’s fate – be watchful when you’re hiking.
The Warren County Historical thanks Pat McDonough and The Hague Chronicle for allowing us to use this material.
© June 16 2014, Warren County Historical Society