Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks : Page 2 of 4
Arizona Rattlesnake Crafts & Rocks
Q: John, it's been 30 years (1979) since you and your wife Sandy left Rockford, Illinois, and headed for Arizona, "trading the work-a-day world for the laid-back and somewhat lazy lifestyle of rattlesnake hunters." Do you have any regrets? Would you have done anything differently?
A: I worked for Sundstrand Aviation as a contract administrator for over 20 years, and Sandy worked as a secretary for a cable TV company in Rockford.
We met some 30 years ago and almost immediately decided that we'd quit our jobs and move to Arizona. It was the second marriage for both of us, and we had 7 pretty well grown "kids" at the time. We gave our notices at work, and proceeded to make firm plans to leave. Sandy gave her car and most of her belongings to her "kids", and after a great "good-bye" party given by Sundstrand and old high-school friends, we departed, not knowing just what we'd do in Arizona.
I had attended college in Gainesville, Florida, and while there had done some snake-hunting in Payne's Prairie, so Arizona's rattlesnakes were interesting to me. One of our first stops in Arizona was a shop that sold Rattlesnake hat bands for $50 each. We both decided that maybe that was the way to make a modest living, and to have fun at the same time.
Our initial attempts to make things from the rattlesnakes that we caught were almost comical, but we were successful selling hat bands, buckles and belts at local flea markets where customers were not too particular.
Everything was new and exciting for us as we bought a small trailer and settled in to learning how to work with leather and snakeskins.
As we look back at the beginning of our new lives, we have no regrets. The Arizona sunshine and warm weather suited us just fine, and the fact that we had no bosses, and lots of freedom while in our mid-40's was just what we wanted. We were fortunate to not have any health issues for so many years, and no insurance to cover them, if we did.
We both kept in close contact with all of our old friends from Rockford, and many of them have visited us over the years...curious as to what we were doing and how we were making it together.
Q: How many nights a week during the summer months do you hunt rattlesnakes? What time of the night do you start and finish? And how many snakes do you typically bring home?
A: We began a routine of hunting rattlers by driving many old country and blacktop roads at night between about 6PM and 9PM. Just a regular Arizona hunting license was required and we could catch as many as 4 Diamondbacks and 4 Mojaves per night. We decided that we would not "play" with them or keep them alive for any length of time. We felt that if we did, sooner or later we'd get bitten. A bite from a rattler would put you in intensive care and cost upwards of $10,000, so that was something to be avoided at all costs. We kept records one year and it took us an average of 9 and 1/2 hours of hunting, for each rattler we caught. We quickly learned how to skin and gut the snakes and tan the hides so that they became supple and would last indefinitely.
Q: Do you hunt and use other types of snakes besides rattlers? What do you do during the rest of the year?
A: We did not kill any harmless snakes, but if we found them recently killed on the road, we could take their hides and use them for our crafts. Arizona has about 15 different species of rattler, but by far the most common are Western Diamondbacks and Mojaves. We did find a few Arizona Coral snakes over the years, and we had those mounted professionally.
We catch the bulk of the rattlers in June, July and August, and make our crafts from them the rest of the year. We use the vertebrae to make earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, and the fangs to make necklaces and rings and earrings. We also use the rattles to make key chains, necklaces, earrings and hat tacks. The heads are dried and used with fangs extended, to make rearview mirror decorations, tie tacks, and plaques. The skins are used for making check book covers, wallets, purses, bracelets, hat bands, credit card holders, knife cases and sheaths, coasters, buckles and barrettes.
Q: Surrounding your shop is an outdoor museum, "an acre of over 5000 primitive and western collectibles on display that aren't for sale." Where did all of those artifacts come from, and how long do you think they'll last being openly exposed to the elements? Will you ever sell them, or just let them 'return to the earth?'
We moved from the Phoenix area to a small ghost town in Southeastern Arizona named Gleeson. From our tiny trailer there, we'd sell our crafts to tourists, out of a suitcase. Eventually we sold out of a shed, as our products and business grew.