Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles by author Paul Lintern. It is set in 1831 and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of a young girl.
To Amelia, it looked like a small army heading to war: Uncle Jacob, his brother John, Isaac and Wolf Paw, Mr. Pittinger and his sons, the two Osbun brothers and Mr. Charles.
They were dressed in heavy boots, thick pants and heavy long-sleeved shirts. Each had a long-rifle, a large hunting knife and a shovel or pickax.
Only Autumn and Amelia were weaponless, and riding together on Chestnut, they hardly seemed to belong on such a mission. But they were excited about what was going to happen, even though they did really did not know what that was.
“What will we be doing today, Isaac?” Amelia asked, since he was the one closest to them.
“A couple of us will dig or pick at the rocks, while the others will stand with rifles and axes. We also have these long forked sticks, to pin them against the rocks.
“We may start a fire to smoke them out,” Isaac said. “Most will just try to crawl away, but some will try to attack. We just have to be sure none of them get to us.”
“Why do you just want to kill them all?” Amelia asked.
“Ever been bitten by one?”
“But they have to be good for something.”
“Sure, tasty meat, snakeskin boots and belts, even baby rattles. What they are not good for is our livestock,” Isaac said.
Amelia understood, but still felt uneasy. Sure, she remembered people in Boston telling about hunters in the old days chasing down bears and panthers and mountain lions that no longer roam around her city, but she had never tried to hunt down a whole herd, or flock or whatever large numbers of snakes are called.
“Father said he once went on a hunting trip with hundreds of farmers all across the area,” Isaac said. “They began in a huge circle and starting moving toward each other. By the time they got within a mile of each other, they had rounded up hundreds of deer and bears and panthers and raccoons and foxes and anything else in the way. It was quite a haul of furs and meat, but mostly, it got rid of the biggest threats to our farms.”
Wolf Paw, who had kept silent until now, said, “White men don’t like anything to be in the way of their progress.”
“Then why are you coming along?” Isaac asked.
“I like snake meat,” Wolf Paw said.
On the Big Hill the brigade stopped at the northern side. They left the horses along the road in order to walk to the ravine. Snakes and horses do not like each other.
As the men and boys hiked toward the ravine, the girls walked several steps behind. They knew they were supposed to stay out of the way, but weren’t going to sacrifice their curiosity.
The Osbun brothers volunteered for pick and shovel duty, while Mr. Charles started a fire, to throw in whatever pits they found. The others stood ready with guns and axes.
At first, it seemed like a fool’s venture, digging at rocks, aiming rifles at holes in the ground, throwing smoldering grass into this crevice or that. Amelia thought it looked pretty silly.
But, all of a sudden, she heard it. Rattling. Inside the ground. Here, there and everywhere. One came out of a hole, then another, and another. Suddenly there was another hole, and more snakes, then another hole, and more snakes.
To Amelia, it seemed like the earth was shaking. Uncle Jacob fired a shot, Mr. Pittinger did the same, while his sons started flailing their axes. She saw Isaac lean over and cut the head off a snake, its jaw still wide open, then pick up the body and throw it on what was to become a pile, its rattle still shaking.
Autumn began to step back. Amelia just stood there, looking at all the commotion. As Mr. Charles threw burning grass into one hole, smoke drifted out of others.
Mr. Osbun lifted up one rock, his brother lifted up another. Gunshots, one after another, pierced the eardrums, each rifleman firing almost as often as he could load his gun. Rattles shook everywhere.
Five, 10, 20 snakes. Thirty, maybe more. Amelia realized she shouldn’t be standing there. She turned around and saw that Autumn had moved across the rocks. A good idea. She began to step toward Autumn, but stumbled. As she reached out her arm to catch herself, she realized she was reaching for a yellow rattlesnake.
She screamed louder than she had ever before remembered screaming. Instantly the gunfire stopped and everyone looked her way. Amelia felt a sharp pain in her right wrist. She tried to lift it up but realized a snake, as thick as her arm, was clamped down on her, its green eyes with black diamond spots staring her down.
She wanted to shake it off but felt like she couldn’t move. Her wrist felt like it was on fire, and her voice sounded far away to her, like this was happening to someone else.
She turned her head toward Autumn, who had the most horrified look, with huge eyes, and a scream stuck in her throat. Then she turned the other way, and saw the men, some standing paralyzed, but others moving toward her. She seemed to see Wolf Paw running at her with his knife coming out of its sheath. With three leaps he was there; with one swipe, the snake, except its head, fell onto the rock; with one squeeze on the snake’s head, the jaw let go and Wolf Paw threw the head aside.
Amelia felt her heart pumping, and suddenly she saw Wolf Paw look her in the face, then grab her wrist and tear the sleeve up to her elbow. As she looked on with horror, he took his knife and cut her wrist, where each fang had been.
”What’s happening to me?” she yelled to him, but he just stuck his mouth on the wound and drew the blood and venom out. A moment later, he spit it out on the same rock where the dead snake lay. As he tore off the rest of her sleeve and tied it tightly around her arm, Amelia noticed everyone was talking, but not saying anything, and though it was the middle of the day, the skies were turning dark.
Amelia just vaguely noticed that her arm no longer hurt, and that everything was becoming very quiet, very dark, very calm.