Southern Snake Handler

February 20, 2020


The Southern Snake Handler - story by Leslie Anne Tarabella -
I found three of these snake skins in my garden last summer.

One of the changes in Southerners over the last generation or so, is that we are no longer snake killers. Before some of you cry about not harming living creatures, let me just say, there was a time when “poisonous” meant “danger” and we didn’t feel badly when we chopped the head off a viper and didn’t apologize for protecting our livestock and children.

As the South moved from dirt roads to cul-de-sacs, you would think the snake issue would have gone with the wind, but even in my neighborhood of matchy-mailboxes, I’ve found several snakes slithering between the roses and rosemary.

The Southern Snake Handler - story by Leslie Anne Tarabella -

Great Uncle Boonie pulled a pistol out of his truck’s glove box one day while standing around frying fish. He fired it once, and all the men looked over their shoulders and declared in unison, “copperhead,” then kept talking. It was no big deal, almost like swatting a deadly mosquito.

As a little girl walking to the car with my grandmother, she suddenly blocked me with her hand and said, “Stand still.” She left, then reappeared with the garden hoe and proceeded to kill the largest rattlesnake I’d ever seen. Just a few powerful, yet ladylike “chop-chops,” and the deed was done. Wearing a tan checked dress, she tossed the headless carcass beneath the mimosa tree and said, “He’ll wiggle till sundown.” From then on, I saw my grandmother as part “Ma Ingalls,” from Little House on the Prairie, with a dash of Wonder Woman.

The Southern Snake Handler - story by Leslie Anne Tarabella -
I had a water moccasin like this fall into my canoe on the Blackwater River. My Dad threw me out of the boat and took care of the snake with a paddle.

A “good” snake eradicates your garden, barn or yard of pests, and he’s welcome, but unfortunately, they don’t stand around long enough for me to properly flip through a book to identify them, so screaming and running seems like my best option. My grandmother would be ashamed.

“Hushpuppy,” or “Pup Boy” was a good dog who died from a snake bite he received in a cool forest near Florala.

Making everyone in the room cry, his owner told how Pup Boy dragged himself home, with a swollen face, to die at his master’s feet.

With the heartbreaking snake-bite story fresh on his mind, my father spotted a large snake on the side of his house. Realizing his dachshund was in great danger, Daddy ran inside to get his snake gun. The coyote and bear guns were rarely used but stood ready if needed.

Returning to the yard, my Dad found the evil snake was still sunning himself, partially coiled with its head stretched beneath the azaleas. Taking aim, he cut loose and, “blam!” “blam!” “blam!” Daddy successfully blew three holes in his brand-new water hose.

Thinking his mistake was hilarious, Daddy asked his ophthalmologist, “Guess what I killed?”

Garden Hose - The Southern Snake Handler - story by Leslie Anne Tarabella -
My scary water hose.

My garden hose is textured black and keeps shriveling and wiggling long after I’ve turned off the water. It’s creepy and makes gardening an adventure. A generation ago, I would have kept a sharp hoe nearby and taken care of poisonous snakes like a bold Southern woman. My neighborhood association frowns on loud, blasting snake guns, so screaming and running is my only hope of survival. Fearful of both real snakes and my garden hose, what kind of city-slicker Southerner have I become?

This story first appeared on

  • I was so proud of my strawberry patch one year and came home from work every day to lovingly weed and water it. One evening I picked up the black hose to throw it out of the way, only to realize it was a Huge Black Wiggling Snake in my hand! Pretty sure my blood curdling scream scared the poor snake more than my husband. That was the end of my strawberry growing career. My local produce stand offers a lovely array of berries in nice, safe baskets.

  • Before we moved down here from Minnesota, I wrote to Alabama Gardening magazine to ask about the possibility of snakes in my southern garden. I received a long letter from the editor scolding and lecturing me on the benefits of snakes. I had pictured them hanging in the trees and was horrified when I learned that they could climb bushes to drop into your yard. I had asked David to build a 8″ electric fence around our property and that shot that idea. We’ve been here 15 years and the only snake I’ve seen is “Frankie”, a black racer. He is very long and scary but we have reached an understanding of sorts. He agreed to live under our heat pump and only come out at night. I promised not to shriek when I see him.

    • People have strange ideas about Alabama, but the snake infestation is a first for me to hear! Glad you and Frankie are friends now.

  • A couple years ago, I happened upon a King snake in my backyard. I fooled with it a little bit and even got one of my cat’s attention to it, but there was no intention to do it harm–that King snake was a big reason why no venomous snakes were never to be seen on my property!

  • Wayne Conrad says:

    My daddy used to say that all snakes are poisonous unless the snake proves differently!

    • Many people feel that way. I hate to offend the nice ones, but I scream at them as well.

  • And what about those sticks that look like snakes?!? They’re scary too! ?

  • I understand it is now illegal in Georgia to kill a non-poisonous snake. Glad I’m a Bamagirl as I don’t know the difference. They all are deadly to me.

    • I can understand their reason behind the law, but it seems pretty hard to enforce. It’s a slippery law.

  • I chuckle every Spring when folks on Instagram and Nextdoor start posting pictures of snakes asking if anyone knows what kind of snake the picture might show. As far as I’m concerned, IT’S. A. SNAKE!! I don’t care what “kind” it is, or if it’s helpful in nature, it’s a snake and that’s all I need to know.

    This past fall, just after Thanksgiving, I went out to remove my fall themed decor from the front porch. When I lifted up the last small hay bale there was a snake curled up underneath. It was not moving and I hoped it was dead. Realizing I didn’t have a hoe or even a shovel to chop the head off, I grabbed a hammer and broom from the garage. I swept the snake, which wasn’t dead, but was slow, into the flower bed and proceeded to beat it to death against the landscape rocks with the hammer. I watched that thing for almost an hour to make sure it was good and dead before putting it in a bag and into the trash. Be assured, next fall I will probably forego the hay bales, and just put up a Happy Fall, Y’all sign and call it good.

    • I’m sure someone will want to scold you, but I’m dying laughing at the thought of you taking care of slithering danger! And as for the people who post photos of snakes they see, if you have time to get out your phone, turn on the camera, take a photo . . . why don’t you just run?

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    %d bloggers like this: