page 549



Written for the “ Spirit of the Times.”

As a “ Mounseer” would say, “ one gran, magnifique, pretty good” Deer Hunt came off a few weeks since in the mountains of Morgan county, Tennessee. The party--made up of the best materiel--consisted of Judge A------, J. M. W------, J. A------, and some two or three veteran hunters, rife for sport and full of fun. As my object is not to give a detailed account of the hunt, but only one of its incidents, I shall content myself with merely saying, that after a four days’ hunt the three gentlemen named returned with twenty pair of hams and divers specimens of smaller fry. J. A. killed a fine buck at 160 yards off hand, shooting at the head and hitting it. Judge A------ an ardent sportsman and splendid rifle shot) also killed at “ long taw.” But a truce to this, and now for the incident.

As every day hath its night and every rose its thorn, so this mirthful party had its “ pest,” in the shape of a huge raw-boned loquacious Irishman, who, uninvited, had quartered himself in the camp, boarding and lodging at the expense of the crowd and contriving in countless ways to render himself a nuisance when awake, and when asleep accomplishing the same praise-worthy end without any contrivance at all--it being a natural gift, and used by the possessor with most tormenting effect. The man snored,--and how he snored, will presently appear ; suffice to say, a more unmitigated nuisance was never abated in a more summary manner.

They soon learned by his conversation and behavior that he was afraid of snakes generally, and “ ould snakes” in particular ; indeed, I think that the sequel warrants the bold asertion that he would have given long odds in favor of a Stock Creek gouging, rather than face an 18 inch moccasin with “ bells on his tale,” as he termed rattles. The man had heard some awful snake yarns or tales since his “ laving the sod ;” this was evident from the morbid dread, yes, horror, he felt of the crawling tribe. Well, with the Queen of Sheba he might truly say that “ the half had not been told him,” after a night’s experience at a hunters’ camp in Tennessee.

On the second night of his intrusion he made himself more than usually welcome, by “ getting, sir, somewhat, sir, shot !” as Tom Murray said when an ounce of lead took up its lodgings in the “ fork” of his breeches, thinking (if lead can) no doubt, that it had more room there than in the powder bed of an old brass boring iron. He told long dry yarns, all having a more or less remote bearing on his own prowess or skill, and more than once insinuated a desire to make a demonstration, by having the use of the skull of “ ony jintlemin present, and a two fut thron, fur jist a minit !” Well, all this was very pleasant, and I have not doubt perfectly satisfactory, so far as he individually was concerned, but with his hearers it was quite a different thing ; yet still they endured it ; but the cup of patience was nearly full, and that night it overflowed, bearing off on its boiling current, the “ cause” of the “ rise,” to regions far away and unknown. After he had wearied himself with his “ blather,” and showed symptoms of turning in, Jim A------told him a few yarns bearing on the much dreaded snake subject, and particularly on their size, variety, and amiable temper in those parts, dwelling at length upon their apparent social disposition, assumed only with fell intent to those whose nearer acquaintance they sought. This evidently did not sit well on the excited stomach of this pugnacious sprig-of-shillalah, as was manifested by the furtive and uneasy glances he ever and anon cast at his blanket and “ location.” But bed time came, and after reconnoitering his sleeping ground he proceeded to count his beads and the chances of being “ snake-bit” before day, then “ tucking in” his blanket and wishing “ the sowls ov all snakes in these perts in purthiculer,” in a country where, to say the very least, they would have but a slim chance for indulging in their natural torpidity, he fell asleep.

And now the storm began. His snoring grew fast and furious, loud and long ; occasionally a sort of half snort, half grunt, terminated with “ snakes, by jabers, blast their sowls !” “ Ugh ! ugh !” when there came the variation or chorus in the shape of a grind of his teeth that threatened to drive them through his jaw or crush them to powder ; by way of variety he would hold his breath a few seconds and then snore again, and such snoring ! my stars, that I could spell it ! It was a sort of cross between the breathing of an asthmatic elephant and the braying of a superannuated donkey, whose will lasted longer than his wind. Well, it thus continued with the regularity of the whip-poor-will’s coy until, say half an hour before daybreak, when J. M. W., (Jim W. we’ll say,) whose stock of patience had long ago evaporated, unrolled himself from his blanket, saying in his usual quiet way, “ Humph ! I’ll stop that infernal concert or start the maker of it, see if I don’t ! Umph !” he then awoke Jim A. and the Judge, when a plot was laid and thus carried into execution.

W. got his hunting-knife and going to where the offal of a large deer had been thrown he cut off about seven feet of gut, and securing the ends with twine to retain the contents, he tied one end of it fast and tight to a corner of Paddy’s shirt-tail that had wandered through a “ rint” in the seat of his breeches, coiling it all up smooth by his side, snake-like and true. All things thus arranged, the conspirators laid down again, and at the conclusion of one of the stage-horn snores with the “ snakes sowls” variation, Jim A. roared out at the top of his voice, “ HU WEE ! HU WEE ! A big copperheaded black rattle-snake, eleven feet long, has crawled up my breeches and is tying himself into a double-bow-knot round my body ! ” giving the Irishman, with every word, a furious dig in the side with his elbow, with a running accompaniment on his shins with his heels ! Of course, all this noise and hurting awoke him quick and wide ; in his first movement he laid his hand on the nice cold coil of gut at his side. Hissing out a “ Jayzus” from between his clenched teeth, he made a bound that carried him some ten feet clear of the camp, and with a force that straightened out the coil and made the snake’s tail crack like a cart whip ! Casting one wild blazing look behind he tore off with the rapidity of lightning around the camp in a circle of some forty feet across, and at every bound shouting, or rather yelling, “ Saze ‘im ! saze ‘im by the tale ! Oh, howly Vargin, stop ‘im ! Och, Saint Pathrick ! tare ‘im in till jabletts ! A wha ! Bate 'im to smittereens wid a gun, can't yees! He's got me fast howld by me ------! och he has, by Jabers ! an he’s a mendin his hoult, a wha ! Howly Father, he’s got a shark hook on ‘is tale ! Och, murther, he’s forty fut long ! !” On making this last circuit he ran through a part of the smouldering camp-fire, and the twine at the aft end of the gut caught ; fire ; this brought a new terror, and added a strong inducement for him to put on more steam and increase his rate ; round and round he went ! “ He’s a fiery sarpint. Och, murther ! Howly Vargin, he carries a lite to see how to bite by ! Och, help ! I’m swallowed (jumping a log) intirely all but me hed ! He’s saxty fate long, if he’s a fut ! Thread on his bloody, fiery tale, will yees ? Thry to save me !” then, as if inspired with new life and hope, he

page 550

roared out, “ Shoot ‘im ! shoot ‘im ! but don’t aim at ‘is hed ! Shoot ! shoot !”

Now here was a picture ! There stood the Judge hugging a sapling with both arms and one leg, his head thrown back emitting scream after scream ; like a child’s when he wants you to help him up, and it was scream for scream with the Judge. All sounds, at all like ordinary laughter, had ceased, and the present notes would have rendered immortal the vocal fame of a dozen panthers, accompanied in their concert by the fog whistle of a steam boat. Yonder stands Jim A.--“ fat Jim”--with his legs about a yard apart, his hands on his hips, shouting at regular intervals of about five seconds, “ Snake !--Snake !! --SNAKE ! ! !” [1] at the same intonation, but so loud that the echoes mocked each other from fifty crags, and “ Snake ! Snake !” reverberated loud and long among those mountain slopes, while his eyes carefully and closely followed the course of poor Paddy round the camp. After running round it about thirty times, the persecuted one flew off in a tangent into the dark woods, and the medley sounds of “ snake ! murdther ! help ! fire ! saxty fut ! Howly Vargin !” &c. gradually died away in the distance, and the hunters were alone.

“ Umph,” said Jim W., (after stopping his laughing hiccough,) “ umph, I thought that gut would stop snoring at this camp at least ! Umph.” The next evening the Patlander was seen travelling at a mighty rate through Knoxville, with a small bundle under one arm and a huge shillalah in the other hand, poked out ahead of him in a half defensive, half exploring attitude. When he was hailed by Archy Mc-------- with, “ Which way, Paddy ?” Casting round at the speaker a sort of hang-dog, sulky glance, he growled forth, a word at a step, “ Strate to Ireland, by Jayzus, where there’s no snakes !”

You cannot say “ snake” to either member of the party yet, without its costing a set of vest buttons or producing a “ stitch in the side.”


Source: New York Spirit of the Times 15.47 (17 January, 1846): 549-550. University of Virginia Alderman Library.

Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.

[1] Original text omits final quotation mark.

We would like to thank the staff of the Library of Virginia Archives and Special Collections, Alderman Library, and Barrett Collection for their assistance. This page contains material in the public domain and it may be reproduced in its entirety or cited for courses, scholarship, or other non-commercial uses. We ask that users cite the source and support the archives that have provided materials to the Spirit site.