There are sixteen different types of rattlesnakes. There are numerous subspecies but they can all be identified by the jointed rattles on the tail. Rattlesnakes sleep in the shade during the day and are active during the night. They live mainly on small rodents. The larger varieties are capable of killing and eating squirrels or rabbits. The largest of the rattlesnakes is the western diamondback. These grow up to six feet. The size of a rattlesnake is important as it determines its striking distance, the quantity of his venom and the length of its fangs. The venom immediately stuns small creatures. Larger animals will take some time to die.
I killed a rattlesnake this morning close to the cabin, and have taken its rattle, which has eleven joints. My life is embittered by the abundance of these reptiles - rattlesnakes and moccasin snakes, both deadly, carpet snakes and "green racers," reputed dangerous, water snakes, tree snakes, and mouse snakes, harmless but abominable. Seven rattlesnakes have been killed just outside the cabin since I came. A snake, three feet long, was found coiled under the pillow of the sick woman. I see snakes in all withered twigs, and am ready to flee at "the sound of a shaken leaf." And besides snakes, the earth and air are alive and noisy with forms of insect life, large and small, stinging, humming, buzzing, striking, rasping, devouring!
For the bite of a rattlesnake, a great variety of specifics was used. I remember when a small boy to have seen a man bitten by a rattlesnake brought into the fort on a man's back. One of the company dragged the snake after him by a forked stick fastened in its head. The body of the snake was cut into pieces of about two inches in length, split open in succession, and laid on the wound to draw out the poison, as they expressed it. When this was over, a fire was kindled in the fort yard and the whole of the serpent burned to ashes, by way of revenge for the injury he had done. After this process was over, a large quantity of chestnut leaves was collected and boiled in a pot. The whole of the wounded man's leg and part of his thigh were placed in a piece of chestnut bark, fresh from the tree, and the decoction poured on the leg so as to run down into the pot again; after conlining this process for some time, a quantity of the boiled leaves were bound to the leg. This was repeated several times a day. The man got well; but whether owing to the treatment bestowed on his wound is not so certain.
Just after we had encamped, one of our men named Thompson, while staking out his horse was bitten on the hand by a rattlesnake. It was a small one, however, and he suffered but little from the effects of the bite. We scanned the wound with a penknife, and applied some soda to it, and the next morning he was well enough to travel. I do not think the bite of the rattlesnake is as often fatal as people generally suppose, I have seen several men and a great many animals bitten by them, and have never known death to ensue, except on one or two occasions. Still, I have no doubt there is great danger, whenever the fangs of the snake strike a large vein or artery. I believe the bite of the tarantula is much more fatal. I have seen two or three persons bitten by them in Mexico, neither of whom recovered, although many remedies were used. The Mexicans say they will kill a horse in ten minutes.
I at once commenced reloading my old muzzle loader, when the guide at the tops of the bluffs yelled, "Look out for the arrows!" I looked up, and saw the air apparently full of them. Almost simultaneously one hit me in the right hip. When I jerked it out the head remained in my leg, where it remains still. There were a couple of inches of blood on the shaft of the arrow when I pulled it out.
The doctor thought the arrow might have been poisoned, as these Indians were noted for using poison in their arrows. They would poison them in this way: They would catch a rattlesnake, and when they would kill a deer or an antelope, they would take the fresh liver, and let the rattlesnake bite it until it would get full of poison. Then they would run the shafts of the arrows through it. On the shafts were small grooves to hold the poison. Under the most favorable circumstances this poison would retain its strength about one month, but during moist weather it would not last over a few days.