I was on my way to breakfast at Hyvee the other morning when I ran into a friend selling peanuts to benefit the Lion’s Club. She made a request of me. It had nothing to do with peanut sales.
“Quit posting pictures of snakes on Facebook!” she said emphatically.
Actually, the picture that raised her ire was posted 4 years ago and then recently reposted as a “memory” at Facebook’s suggestion.
Snakes fall into that category of things that I was scared of or disliked when I was younger, but that I now like or at least appreciate the benefit they provide. Spinach and asparagus and Donald Trump also fall into that group.
The picture to which she referred was of an Eastern Hognose snake I encountered along the Katy Trail. It looks like a cobra but is actually the Barney Fife of the snake world. When it feels threatened, it rears its head and does its best impression of a cobra. If the threat continues, it will fake a seizure, throw up, poop or play dead. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I would have done if it had struck at my leg while I was taking its picture.
While the Eastern Hognose (aka “Spreadhead”) snake is harmless, in 1953 my hometown of Springfield, Mo. made snake headlines nationwide when a more lethal snake suddenly started showing up on lawns and in vacant lots. It started when a resident used a garden hoe to kill a hooded Indian cobra they discovered in their front yard. Then five more hooded cobras were dispatched with garden hoes the weapon of choice. One was shot 5 times but had to be finished off with a hoe.
Nervous residents watched their step. Snake posse’s were formed to search for more cobras.
Eleven cobras were eventually killed or captured in Springfield. One still resides in Springfield. It is preserved in a jar at the Drury University Science Center.
Suspicion on how cobra’s ended up slithering around Springfield centered on a pet store owned by Reo Mowrer near where the cobra’s began turning up. Mowrer went to his grave in 1970 denying involvement in the appearance of the cobra’s.
In 1988, another suspect came to public attention. Springfield resident Carl Barnett confessed to columnist Mike O”Brien of the Springfield News-Leader “I’m the one that done it.”
At age 14, Carl explained, he had bought an exotic fish from Mr. Mowrer’s pet shop. When the fish died within 24 hours, Carl received an unsatisfactory customer service experience when he complained to Mr. Mowrer about the lack of longevity of the fish he purchased..
Per Carl, Mr. Mowrer responded “That’s tough, kid! Get lost!”
Since complaining on social media was still decades in the future, Mr. Barnett did the next best thing. He secretly opened a crate of what he said he thought were harmless snakes he found behind Mr. Mowrer’s pet shop and set them free. When he realized what he had done after cobras started showing up in the area, he said he lived in fear that someone would find out he was responsible for the next 35 years. He finally confessed when he was sure the statute of limitations had expired for his foolish act.
I tried unsuccessfully to find out if Mr. Barnett is still alive. If he was 14 in 1953, he would be around 80 today. If you know Carl Barnett, let me know. 35 years of living in fear is a high price to pay for a dead fish.
The lessons to be learned from this story?
- Don’t leave your box of venomous hooded Indian cobras where others can get to them.
- JUST REPLACE THE DANG FISH!
- In a skirmish between a dangerous snake and an Ozarker with a hoe, bet on the hoe.
- It is not possible to eliminate selfies, fake friend requests or snake pics from Facebook. You may not like it, but as Reo would advise, “That’s tough. kid! Get lost!”
The front & back cover of the September 28, 1953 Life magazine featuring the article “An Ozark Town Hunts Cobras”. Life and Luckies had a good run, but are both now pretty much history in the United States.