Sometimes a gem of story can be discovered from clues in our family histories. My parents recorded my grandfather telling his life history in the 1970’s. After relating the basic facts of his life story, Grandpa began to loosen up and with his memory jogged, he started to tell some of the most memorable events of the early years. His tale of the snake and my dad’s bluetick coonhound should have been one I recognized, but my dad didn’t include this story in his history. However he did write about coon hunting, so I combined the two memories into this fictionalized account of life in 1934 Oklahoma.
The Snake and the Bluetick Coonhound
by Diana Elder
The pup eyed the snake warily. It didn’t look like much all coiled up in the long brown grass, but the pup’s nose told him it was alive and his hunter instincts wouldn’t let him give up. He’d caught the snake’s scent playing “fetch the stick” with his boy. Unable to contain himself he’d chased down the strange reptile and started barking to let the boy know he’d found his prey. His keen ears picked up a strange rattling sound and then he felt a sharp prick on his nose.
Bob’s dad, Les, had come home one day with a brand new pup. “Bob, now that you’re seven, you’re old enough for your own coonhound. Train this one right, and he’ll tree you a coon in a few months.”
Bob stared into the mournful brown eyes and fell in love. His pup had long black ears and the black spotting or ticking covering its gray body that made him look sort of dark blue. Bob guessed that’s where the name “bluetick coonhound” came from.
All the neighbors in Cherokee County, Oklahoma had coonhounds and at night they’d go out coon hunting. The thick forests in the foothills of the Ozarks had trees and coons a plenty. The hounds would catch the scent of a racoon and take off running, men and boys following the best they could. It wasn’t hard to find the bluetick coonhounds, their distinctive barking could be heard from a long distance away.
Bob wasn’t old enough for coon hunting, but he’d seen the skins his daddy brought home. Once a raccoon was treed, if the tree wasn’t too big, the men would cut it down and kill the coon. Dried and stretched his dad would sell the coonskin for a few dollars. The cash came in handy for buying food they couldn’t grow or hunt.
Bob took good care of his pup, feeding him and trying to keep him out of trouble as he grew. Bluetick coonhounds were prized in the county for their hunting abilities and the pup’s curiosity had kicked in right away.
Now that the pup was four months old, he was already faster than Bob. When the pup smelled any kind of animal he’d chase and corner it until Bob came to its rescue. The two were playing “fetch the stick,” when the pup suddenly took off barking. He had caught the scent of an animal.
Bob chased his little coonhound into the woods surrounding their cabin clearing. The pup’s barking suddenly changed to yelps and when Bob caught up with him he saw why. His beloved pup had cornered a rattler and got himself bit. He was running crazily in circles, yelping and whining. Madder than heck, Bob picked up the biggest stick he could find and started whacking at the tan and black snake.
Les had been digging out a stump, but hearing the commotion he ran, arriving just in time to see his young son attacking a decent sized rattlesnake. “What in tarnation is going on here, son!” he exclaimed.
Bob, red faced with anger, yelled, “He bit my pup!”
Les replied, “Well, he’s going to bite you if you don’t get away!”
Les grabbed the stick from his boy and with a sharp blow of his shovel, dispatched the snake. Bob gathered up his whimpering pup and ran for the cabin, calling, “Mom, mom, come quick, my pup’s hurt!”
Bob’s mother, Ettie, came running out of the cabin, worried when she heard the desperation in Bob’s voice. The little pup’s face was already swelling and she knew she needed to get that swelling down. She quickly mixed up some baking soda paste, her remedy for bee and wasp stings, hoping it would also work on the snake bite.
Gently applying it to the pup’s nose, she calmly told Bob, “Just hold him still so the venom won’t spread.”
Bob tended his pup all that day and the next, holding him in his lap and reapplying the soda paste. He knew his dog was better when he wouldn’t stay in his lap, but was itching to play. Bob just hoped he’d learned his lesson and wouldn’t bother a snake again!
Writing the Story
Not knowing anything about bluetick coonhounds, I did some research to learn about this breed of dogs and found a video on Animal Planet that gave me a visual and lots of fun facts that added depth to my story. Visualizing my seven-year-old dad with his pup helped me make a real connection to the adult dad I remembered. We always had dogs when I was growing up on the farm in Idaho and although my dad didn’t go coon hunting, he did hunt pheasant and deer. Dogs and hunting were just a way of life.
I am the lucky recipient of family histories that give little snippets of life in the 1930’s. From the perspective of my dad, Bob, and my grandfather, Charles Leslie, I have these accounts.
For entertainment neighbors would go out coon hunting. Dogs would bark and men and boys would try to follow the sound till [the] dogs ran [the] coon up [a] tree. If [the] tree wasn’t too big they’d cut it down. Stretch and dry the skins and get a few dollars that way.
Charles Leslie’s account:
Bob had a little bluetick hound pup that he thought the world of. He was about four or five months old. He found him a rattlesnake, he got snakebit. Bob seen him, he grabbed a little stick about two feet long, he lit it on the snake. I saw him and yelled at him and he said, “he bit my dog.” And I said, ‘He’s going to bite you if you don’t get away.” So I got to kill the snake. The dog’s face swelled up a bit, but we put some soda on it and he got all right.