100 Years Ago

Thursday, August 29, 1918

The barn on the farm of F. A. Chapman at Hillsboro was struck by lightning and burned last Friday night. Several hundred bushels of wheat and oats and much hay and straw belonging to Geo. L. Clark and Mike Cleek was destroyed.

The big silo on E. F. McLaughlin’s farm on Stony Creek was struck by lightning in the heavy storms of Saturday afternoon. Considerable damage was done.

The lightning struck a hay stack for Gilbert Sheets during a storm last Friday and burned it. There was a powerful fall of rain.


Dear Editor:

I have read quite a few snake and fish stories in your paper. I send the following story, which I cut from a very reliable paper:

Returning from a trip thru the Cumberland Mountains, Alfred Allen, salesman for a wholesale grocery firm, declares that a plague of rattlesnakes has broken out in some communities. He tells how one family was almost wiped out. Surrounded by rattlesnakes on the second story of his home after his father and mother and little sister had been stung to death by a swarm of reptiles on the floor below, 15 year old John Hatfield was saved from death only when neighbors cut thru the roof and after lassoing him, pulled him up to safety.

The Hatfields, who are Kentuckians, arrived only this spring. Neither they nor any of the old residents knew that rattlers were anymore plentiful at the foot of the mountains than in many other sections. Therefore, when the elder Hatfield bought a three-acre patch and began the erection of a small two-story house, there was no more than ordinary interest. The subject of snakes never entered into the calculations at all.

Less than two weeks ago, the house was finished and the family moved in. Mr. and Mrs. Hatfield made frequent trips to Frank Bartlett’s general store to buy things for their new housekeeping, but suddenly these trips ceased altogether. Neither Hatfield, his wife or either of the children appeared.

For the first two days, Bartlett thought it strange that none of the Hatfields had been seen. On the third day, he had a premonition that something was wrong at the Hatfield’s. Having consulted with a neighbor, Will Frick, together they speculated on whether a new family living in a secluded place at the foot of the mountains might not have been murdered as they slept.

“I reckon we’d better take a look,” said Frick.

They made their way to the new Hatfield house and as they approached, all seemed as usual. Doors and windows were closed; all was quiet, and it seemed as if the family might have gone away for a few days without telling their neighbors. That was Bartlett’s thought when he failed to discern anyone. He would have left, but Frick was more inquisitive.

“If they’re away, it won’t do any harm to take a peep thru the window,” he said. “and if they’re sick, maybe we ought to.”

So, boldly marching up to the house, they approached one of the ground floor windows, Bartlett was the first to look in.

“My god,” he exclaimed, as he staggered back.

Frick rushed expecting to look thru the windows on mangled bodies, but an entirely different spectacle was viewed.

The lower room of the house was literally alive with rattlesnakes. They were coiled about every bit of furniture so thickly as to almost hide three chairs, while the floor was overrun with them. They seemed to be several huge separate nests of snakes, each of which gave the appearance of a great animated ball.

But that was not the particular spectacle that horrified the two men.

On one side of the room, near the fireplace lay the body of Hatfield, with possibly twenty or more rattlesnakes twisting and squirming around his limbs and body. Nearby, lay the body of his wife, also covered with the venomous reptiles. Three yards away was the lifeless form of the eight year old daughter, who presented a similar horror.

“But where’s the boy, young Johnny?” asked Bartlett.

Fortunately the house builders had left a ladder, so when Frick and Bartlett determined to see what was in the upper story of the house, they had little trouble. Putting the ladder to the upper window, Frick climbed up and looked in.

There stood Johnny Hatfield on a bed, and all around the bed were rattlesnakes which he was chasing away with a pillow.

“Pass up the ax, and be quick,” yelled Frick, who at a glance took in the situation and the only possible remedy.

Bartlett passed up the ax. Frick took off his shoes in order that he might tread the slanting roof in greater safety, and then stepped forth and began to chop a hole as nearly over the bed as he could gauge the distance…

Bartlett got a rope which he passed to Frick, and Frick lowered it thru the hole to young Johnny with directions to loop it under his armpits. The boy tried to do so, but by this time he had become both weak and frightened…

After three misses, Frick caught him firmly around the waist. With Bartlett’s help, he pulled the boy up to the roof…

It was a full hour before Johnny was able to talk. Then he told the story of the family tragedy. All had gone well in the house for the first few days, which had been quite chilly. Early one evening before it had become dark, his mother was at the fireplace preparing supper while he, his father and sister were seated at the table in the middle of the room.

Between the table and the fireplace, was a carpet, and Johnny thought he saw the carpet move. Then it seemed to move again, and more noticeably. Before he had stopped wondering what the movement signified, a large rattler crawled out from under the carpet. Then came another and another, and more and more.

The elder Hatfield killed several of the snakes, but they came faster than he and the boy could strike. Hatfield kept fighting after he had been stung several times, but finally he fell from exhaustion. Mrs. Hatfield fainting, fell and probably died unconscious. The little girl attacked, stood petrified with fright and could do nothing to beat back the snakes.

Johnny fought his way to the stairway and placed lighted candles at the head of the stairs.

The candles were all burned out by the time the rescuers came…

Mountain men believe that the heat from the fireplace drove out the snakes and that the house must have been built over several nests.

It was impossible to rescue the three bodies. Bartlett returned to his store and drove back with six gallons of kerosene oil, which was sprayed over the little house, some being poured down thru the hole in the roof. Two torches did the rest of the work. Snakes and human bodies were all consumed in the fire.

more recommended stories