Northwest NEWS

January 4, 1999

Features

The last rattler of my youth

Oscar Roloff by Oscar Roloff

   I was a fifth grader at the extreme edge of the lonesome Yakima Indian Reservation. Had no neighbors, only rattlesnakes, coyotes, and sheepherders ranging afar on the slopes covered with sagebrush.

   We had a few cattle to milk. No other income. Starvation was always at our front door.

   Prior to leaving civilization, we were warned to be extremely cautious about the proliferation of rattlesnakes that seemed to always encircle our house, our chickens, dogs, cats, and us. Thus, I always carried a long stick and wore shoes when we had them; we were often too poor. When we left the small town of Toppenish, I sharpened my Boy Scout knife, broken and bent as it was.

   My first spectacular sight on the empty range was watching a bull snake completely swallow a rattlesnake. Sure strange. Stayed afar.

   I then walked down to Toppenish Creek that skidded here and there on our land. It always seemed to be flooded. No income from that.

   While near a huge clump of sagebrush, I heard a rattling noise. I quickly grabbed a long stick and stood back, completely scared. They are extremely poisonous via injection. At least I was told that was often the case. I began banging away until the snake stopped moving its 3-foot-long body.

   Grabbing my Boy Scout knife, carefully I cut off the rattles and took them home. Years passed, and my cup full of rattles decreased in number as more wanted to see my gleanings of rattles and hear about my collection.

   Soon, one by one, my number dwindled. Seemingly the rattles slipped into the pockets of visiting friends, mostly children, as I told them how I'd accumulated them.

   Now, all gone.