(This is part of the Growing Up In Utah's Dixie series, by LaVarr B. Webb)
If I remember right, the year was 1931 and I was about
10 years old. It was summer time, and Virgin was overrun
with mice, rats, squirrels and skunks. The town leaders, I
think Alma Flannigan was mayor, decided to have a "tail
party." The town was split into two districts that were to
compete against each other.
The competition involved seeing how many of the
pests each district could catch. Trappers were to collect
tails and turn them in to the district leaders. Points were
awarded for each tail, and rat tails were worth more than
mice tails, and skunk tails were the most valuable of all. A
careful record was kept, and after a given length of time, a
winner was declared, and the losing team had to put on a
big party for the winners.
I can't remember which team won, and I don't remember
anything about the party, but I do remember running a
trap line, and catching an endless number of rats, squirrels
and skunks. I became proficient at setting traps, and even
clubbing skunks before they were able to spray me. But, I
am sure, a rank odor traveled with me that had nothing to
do with B.O.
One day I was walking my trap line, collecting squirrel
and skunk tails. I had set one trap quite high up in a hole in
a dirt bank. Without thinking, I reached into the hole,
grasped the chain to which the trap was attached, and
pulled the works out of the hole.
At that moment I heard an unmistakable and chilling
noise and I nearly jumped out of my shoes. I lost my balance
and tumbled down the dirt bank, bouncing against a
tree at the bottom of the slope, chills racing up and down
A large rattlesnake was caught in the trap. The jaws
had clamped down on his middle, and about two feet of tail
and head were thrashing freely on each side of the trap. I
had placed my hand up against the trap and it was pure
luck I wasn't bitten.
I had been expecting a squirrel. The rattlesnake was a
very frightening surprise. I pulled my mind and body back
together, killed the snake, and collected its rattles.
It seems that everyone cut the rattles from the snakes
they killed. They became trophies -- something to brag
about -- but they also could be handy for frightening people,
even emptying rooms. We would make a loop out of string.
The looped string would be about 14 inches long. Then we
would tie a snakes rattle in the center of the loop.
We would rub our fingers with rosin, then place them
in the loops of the string. By rotating our hands, with the
tight string moving on our rosined fingers, we could make
the rattles vibrate. It sounded just like a rattlesnake. It
was great sport to steal up behind an unsuspecting soul
and scare him out of his wits by making the rattles chatter.