The Poison of the Rattlesnake

THE animal kingdom adds but two active poisons to the numberless fatal agents which form in bark and seed, or get new birth by annual dozens from the chemist’s laboratory.

These two animal poisons are furnished by the race of venomous serpents and by the toad, whose ancient and evil reputation modern toxicology has finally justified by discovering in the mucus of his skin a deadly and rapid poison. The other animal substances which injure we may pass over here, because the venom of the centipede or the scorpion is rarely fatal, and at all events is not to be compared to the potent material which the rattlesnake, cobra, or viper deals out to its victim.

The venom of the serpent is certainly one of the most powerful of all the poisons; and it therefore strikes us as strange, that, for devilish devices to kill, men have plundered vegetable and mine, but have left to the serpent untouched his death-giving juices. So far is this from the popular belief, that venom has been for ages supposed to form part of certain famous poisons, and within a few years it was thought to be the chief ingredient in the well-known arrow poison of South America. The symptoms of venomtoxication are, however, distinct. It only injures when placed under the skin or deep in the tissues, and it is absolutely as harmless as bread when swallowed. To have been used by the poisoner it must, therefore, have been lodged in the tissues,—a difficult task ; and we should have then found related a certain set of symptoms which would be unmistakable as evidence of the character of the poison. No such histones exist; and the doubtful case of the Queen of Egypt is the only one where the venom of the serpent figures upon the pages of historic poisonings.

The savage has been equally unwilling or unable to employ venom ; and the various poisons with which he arms his spear or dart — such as the upas of the east and the various wooraras of South America and the Isthmus—are all found to be of vegetable origin, and to act differently from the poisons yielded by the snakes of the various countries in question.

It is to be presumed that the nonemployment of a poison so fatal and so widely diffused has been due to the difficulty of securing it in quantity, and to the world-wide dread of serpents, rather than to anj other cause. Such sentiments may have had something to do with the scientific neglect which so long left these poisons to be the subjects of a hundred fabulous tales, while other and far less interesting poisons have been studied over and over with never-ending care and patience. Not, however, that this has been the only reason. Science is fearless, and carries untrembling her all-revealing torch, with little regard to the fears and prejudices which check the steps of those who are not her followers and priests. But in Europe, where investigators are abundant, poisonous serpents are small and rare; whilst in lands where the snake exists in hideous plenty, the experimental toxicologist is rarely found, or lacks the means to carry on his pursuits. In Europe, also, the added interest which once belonged to the subject on account of the number of serpents has lessened with their gradual extinction; and, as man has not himself employed this poison, it has also wanted the fascination belonging to agents which, having once figured in some famous poisoning case, never again fail of interesting the chemist and toxicologist, who set about at once to discover antidotes and detective tests for each rare poison, as in turn it makes good this horrible claim to be so considered. In this way the great Palmer case brought about the most careful study of both strychnia and tartar emetic ; while the equally infamous Boccarmé poisoning in Belgium led to a thorough investigation of nicotine, which for the first time made its appearance upon the annals of crime.

Lacking this kind of interest, but surrounded by a haze of the strangest popular beliefs, the serpent venom got no fair examination until the researches of Francesco Redi, whose essay, originally in Italian, 1669, is now before me in Latin form, Amsterdam, 1675 ; a small volume of “ Experimenta circa res diversas naturales, speciatim illas, quæ ex Indiis ad feruntur.”On the title-page, a buxom figure of Science receives gifts from a plumed Indian with a crocodile comfortably bestowed under his arm. Charas, a better observer, wrote soon after Redi. His work, entitled “ New Experiments upon Vipers, with Exquisite Remedies, etc., now rendered English,” London, 1673, set at rest many popular fallacies, and prepared the way for the more elaborate research made by the well-known Felix Fontana, and first published at Lucca in 1767. Of this remarkable toxicological study it is difficult to speak too highly. Resting upon at least three thousand experiments on all classes of animals, it displays an amount of industry and scientific sagacity which have been rarely equalled. A short chemical paper by Lucien Bonaparte, and scattered records of cases of poisoning, comprise nearly all that has been added to the subject, so far as concerns the viper. In the East Indies, Russell and Davy have since experimented with the venom of the cobra, and Dr. Rufz has given us an excellent account of the dreaded vipère fer de lance of Martinique, while in our own country the toxicology of the rattlesnake and copperhead have been studied of late with every advantage which the most modern methods could give. From these researches collectively we are able to offer a sketch of the toxicology of snake poisons which will at least approach in completeness that which can be given of any of the best-known and more accessible poisons.

The United States possess but three kinds of poisonous serpents, known in popular language as rattlesnake, copperhead, and moccasin. The first of these having been the chief subject of study, we premise by stating that nearly all of our statements refer to this serpent. As a poisoner it ranks side by side with the cobra and viper fer de lance, and probably above the copperhead and the moccasin. In fact, all that we know at present leads us to believe that the venom of all serpents is alike in toxic character, and only differs in degree of virulence and in amount; so that what we gather as to the chemical and other qualities of the venom of any one serpent may, as a rule, be said to apply alike to all of this terrible family.

The rattlesnake, as every one knows, gets his name from the curious jointed appendix to the tail by which the hunter becomes aware of his neighborhood. We have seen one of these sets of rattles numbering eighteen joints, another thirty-six ; which, if the vulgar notion be correct, would allot to the owner just so many years of life. We have known, however, three of these joints to form in forty summer days ; so that it is probable the larger snakes might carry them by dozens, if they were not so brittle as constantly to be broken off and lost.

The attitude of a large rattlesnake when you come suddenly upon him is certainly one of the finest things to be seen in our forests. The vibrating tail projects from coils formed by about half the length of the snake, while the neck, lifted a few inches, is held in curves, the head perfectly steady, the eyes dull and leaden, the whole posture bold and defiant, and expressive of alertness and inborn courage.

Let us tease this gallant-looking reptile with a switch. He has power to throw his head forward only about one third to one half the length of his whole body, so that our game is safe enough. Sometimes he will strike at the stick ; usually he reserves his forces, judging wisely as to his own powers. At last, when he finds that he is getting nothing by pluck and endurance, he turns his head, and, unrolling coil from coil, glides away, not very swiftly, ready at a moment to coil anew, as a regiment forms square to receive a charge. If, as he glides along, you can seize his tail, and quickly enough lift him from the earth, holding him at arm’s length, he will be utterly unable to return on your hand or to reach your body, having none of the great physical force of his cousins the constrictors. If, while on the ground, in any posture, coiled or not, you seize his tail, that deadly head will return upon you with a swiftness which seems as though you had touched some releasing spring in a quick machinery ; so that there is no truth in the notion that the snake can strike only when coiled. The awful celerity of this movement is in odd contrast to the sluggard pace of most of his actions, which are sadly deceptive, and have cost more than one man his life. Hundreds of times have we seen this swift motion, and as often marvelled at the simplicity and certainty of the means which drove the relentless, death-laden head to its mark. Let us look a moment at the rest of the apparatus, and then we shall the easier understand how all the parts unite in functional activity so as to give to this horrible instrument the same efficiency which Nature has secured for her other and more seemingly useful purposes.

The laboratory in which the serpent makes his potent medicine is an almond-shaped gland behind the eye, on either side of the upper jaw. It looks like the ordinary salivary glands, and is merely a mass of minute tubes surrounded by little sacs or cells, only to be seen bv a microscope. Here the venom forms, and thence reaches a larger tube at the lower side of the gland. This is the only poison-sac. It communicates with a tube or duct about the size of a steel knittingneedle, which runs forward under the eye, and then around the front of the upper jaw, where it has a slight enlargement made up of muscular fibres, so arranged as to keep the duct shut and to cork up the poison until a greater power overcomes the resistance. The anterior bone of the serpent’s upper jaw is double,— one for each side. It is an irregular truncated pyramid; apex down, and hollowed, so that in it rests the stout base of the fang. This exquisite instrument is merely a hollow tooth, curved backwards like the bend of a sabre, with a little forward turn at the tip, which is itself solid, for strength’s sake, and as sharp as the finest needle. About a line below this point, on the front aspect, there is a minute opening. If we run into this a bristle, it will appear at the base of the tooth, just where the tube leading from the gland lies against the fang, and is held to it by the folds of tissue which lie in the gums. When unused, the two fangs, with their supporting bone, in which they are rigidly fixed, are drawn backwards, and lie, covered by a cloak of mucous tissue, one on each side upon the roof of the snake’s mouth. A second muscle is so attached to the maxillary bone as to be able to erect it, together with the fang, which, when thus ready for use, projects downwards into the open mouth, its convexity forwards.

Thus placed, it is at the utmost disadvantage ; and this is only in part overcome by the backward bending of the head and the extreme opening of the mouth at the moment of the bite, Lastiy. Let us understand that two powerful muscies fastened to the upper bones of the head run over the venom gland, and then are attached, one on each side, to the lower jaw. Let these muscles shorten and two things result, — the jaws close on the body bitten, and, the gland being abruptly squeezed, the venom flies along the tube of exit, through the basal opening of the fang, and out at the orifice near its tip.

It will be easy now to understand how this wonderful machinery moves in sequence to its deadly result. You have come a little too near this coiled death. Instantly the curves of the projecting neck are straightened, half a ring of the coil flashes out with it, and the head is thrust at the opposing flesh, the bulk of the body serving as an anchor. As it moves, the neck bends back, the mouth opens wide, the fangs are unsheathed and held stiffly, and you have a sharp pang as the points enter the skin. Quick as thought the lower jaw shuts on the part, deeper go the fangs, and, the same muscle which closes the jaw compressing the glands, the venom is injected among the tissues which the fangs have pierced. Of late the doctors have taken to administering medicines by a very similar process, which has been found to combine economy in the amount of medicine needed with the utmost efficiency as to results. This instrument is merely a hollow needle, through which the medicine is forced by a syringe. I wish I could say that the hint was taken from the snake, so much of a plea might have been put forward for his abused race.

It sometimes chances that, despite all this exquisite machinery, some little failure occurs, which may be taken as a desirable piece of good luck for the person aimed at. For instance, the teeth may strike at a disadvantage and be suddenly doubled backwards, whereupon the venom occasionally goes down the snake’s throat, and, as we shall see, does him no such harm as drugs usually do the apothecary ; or it chances that, the sequence of actions failing as to their due order, the venom is ejected before the fang enters, or escapes at the base of the tooth on account of the duct not being drawn neatly upon the aperture of the tooth.

Let these incidents occur, and at the same time let the sharp and hooked teeth of the lower jaw wound the skin, and we shall have all the material for a case of rattlesnake bite, in which we may administer an antidote with great surety of success. A snake strikes you, the skin is wounded, and the conclusion is naturally drawn that you are also poisoned; whereas both in man and animals, as we have seen many times, the victim may drag the snake some distance, hung to the tissues by the harmless little hooked teeth of the lower jaw.

It is also a matter of moment whether, being bitten, you have received two fang-wounds or only one, because the two glands are as independent cf one another as two rival drug-shops ; and, if you get both fangs in you, the dose of the venom is twice what it would be if only one of them entered. Luckily, it often chances that, in small members like the lingers, one tooth goes aside of the mark, and so fails of its purpose, thus lessening the risk exactly one half.

These keenly tempered fangs are liable to be lost by accidents, and also to fall by natural decay. When the former occurs, the snake is unarmed for the time ; but in a few days a reserve fang — which always lies behind or to one side of the active tooth — becomes firmly set in its socket, and comes into apposition with the opening of the duct. It is therefore not enough to pull out the active fang, since numerous others lie ready for use in the gum behind it. A young friend once showed me a small rattlesnake, from which he had taken the active fangs three months before, supposing the reptile thus disarmed for life. He was accustomed to handle it freely, and had never been bitten. On opening the mouth, I pointed out to him the new and efficient teeth which had taken the place of those he had removed. How much danger he thus ran it were hard to say, since the snake may be handled with impunity, if care be taken not to hurt it or to use abrupt motions.

A very startling incident illustrative of this occurred some years ago in Philadelphia. A tavern-keeper had in a box two large rattlesnakes, perfectly wild, and not long captives. Coming into his bar-room early one morning, he found his little daughter, about six years old, seated beside the open snakebox, with both serpents lying in her lap. He was wise enough, seeing her unhurt, to ask how they got out, and hearing in reply that she herself had lifted them from the box, he ordered her to replace them, which she did without harm, finally closing upon them the lid of their cage. Snakes long confined very often become so tame that, as we have found, they will allow mice, reed-birds, or pigeons in their cage without attempting to injure them. If any still doubt that the rattlesnake may be handled with impunity, the experience of the naturalist Waterton may end his doubt. His biographer describes him as seizing and holding poisonous serpents with an indifference which is only credible to those who have studied their habits with care. We are persuaded, however, that certain snakes are more likely to strike than others, some requiring the utmost provocation. This is very apt to be the case after the serpent has bitten a few times vainly upon a stick or other hard body ; so that it seems probable, not only that the snake has memory, but that individuality may exist in forms of life even as low as this one. Where in the descending scale does this cease ? Are there clever earthworms and stupid earthworms, — no two things anywhere precisely the same ?

Let us now pursue our inquiry,— see how we may get the venom for study, and what physically and chemically this marvellous liquid may be.

Many ways of handling the serpent were tried before one was found simple and safe enough. While the complicated methods were used some narrow escapes were made, until at last we hit on a plan which answered every purpose. A stick five feet long, cut square at the end, was fitted with a thin leather strap two inches wide, tacked on to one side of the end, and then carried over it and through a staple on the other side, where it was attached to a stout cord. Pulling this leather out into a loop, and leaning over the snake cage, which is five feet deep and now open above, we try to noose one of the snakes. This has been done so often as to be difficult. At first, when it was slipped over their heads, they crawled forward through it ; now always they have learned to draw back on its approach. At last one is taken, the leathern strap is drawn tight around his neck by pulling the cord, and is kept so near to the head that he cannot turn to bite the stick, if the pressure should provoke his wrath. Thus secured, we lift him from his dozen of friends, and, holding the noose firm, so as to keep him well squeezed against the end of the stick, we put him on a table. Next, resigning the staff and string to an assistant, we open the snake’s mouth, and, with the edge of a little saucer, catch and elevate the two fangs. This is an old snake, milked often before, and now declining to bite unless compelled. Holding the saucer in one hand, we seize the snake’s head over the venom gland, and with a thumb and forefinger press the venom forward through the duct. Suddenly a clear yellow fluid flows out of the fangs. This is the venom. The snake is four feet long, untouched for two weeks, and has given us about twenty drops of poison. The assistant replaces him in his cage, and we turn to look at the famous poison which a living animal carries unharmed in his tissues for the deadly hurting of whom it may concern. There is some of this fluid in a phial on the table before me, and here some of it dried for three years, — a scaly, yellow, shining matter like dried white of egg, and as good to kill as ever it was. No smell, if fresh ; no taste ; faintly acid, and chemically a substance which is so nearly like this very white of egg that no chemical difference may be made between them. Two things so alike and so unlike ! Indeed, it seems hardly fair of Nature to set us such problems. We fall back upon an imagined difference in the molecular composition of the two, — very consoling, no doubt ; but, after all, the thing is bewildering, explain it as we may. We would like not to believe it. We think of poisons as unlike what they hurt. Let us take from a dog’s veins a little blood, keep it a few hours in the open air, and throw it back into his circulation, and very surely you have given him his death. Ugly facts of disease where the body gets up its own poisons for home use make the wonder less to the doctor ; but even now to him it must still seem wonderful, this little bit of white of egg to nourish, and this, to no human test, differing in composition, good for destroying alone.

It was once thought that the poison ceased to be such when not injected by the maker, Fontana disproved this, and so we may safely use it in our researches as we get it from the snake, with the great advantage of knowing what dose we administer. Let us now study the symptoms which this poison produces, and then learn, if possible, how it acts, and on what organs; because, as modern science has shown, all poisons have their especial organs, or sets of organs, upon which chiefly their destructive influence falls. This sort of analytic separation of the effects of poisons is always difficult, and never more so than as regards venom.

Rattlesnake poison is not fatal to all life. You cannot kill a crotalus with its own venom, nor with that of another. Neither can you poison a plant with venom. And, in fact, if you manage the experiment cleverly, canary-seed may be made to sprout from a mixture of venom and water.

We have seen, too, that the serpent often swallows his own poison. As for him, if it will not hurt being put under his skin, the wonder of its not injuring him when swallowed is little enough. It only excites amazement when we learn that it poisons no creature if ingested. We have fed pigeons with it, day after day, in doses each enough to have killed forty had it been put within the tissues. Placed in the stomach, it lies within some thousandths of an inch of the blood-vessels, only a thinnest mucous membrane between ; and here it is harmless, and there it means death. Let us follow this problem, as has lately been done. Why does it not poison ? We give a pigeon fifty drops of venom, which, otherwise used, would kill a hundred, and that surely. For three days we collect all the excretæ, and then, killing the bird, remove with care the contents of the intestinal canal. Knowing well what fluids dissolve the venom, we separate by this means whatever poison may be present from all the rest of the substances passed by or taken from the bird. Then, with the fluid thus obtained, we inject the tissues of pigeons. No injury follows ; our poison has gone. But where, and how ? Let us mix a little of it with gastric juice, and keep it at body-heat for an hour. It still poisons ; but we learn at length, after many essays, that very long digesting of it in constantly added quantities of gastric juice does change it somewhat; and so, as we do not find it in the excretæ, we come to think that, being what we call an albuminoid, it is very likely to be altered during digestion, and so rendered innocent enough, it may be. Here, at last, we must rest, having learned first that venom will not pass through the mucous surfaces ; and, second, that it undergoes such change in digestion as to make it harmless. In these peculiarities it stands alone, if we except certain putrefying substances which may usually be swallowed without injury, but slowly kill if placed under the skin.

As regards also the mode in which venom is hurtful to animal life, this potent agent is altogether peculiar. Let us examine a single case. We inject through a hollow needle two drops of venom under the skin of a pigeon. On a sudden, within a minute, it is dead, without pang or struggle; and the tissues, when examined, reveal no cause of death. The fatal result is rarely so speedy; but here, as with all poisons, personal peculiarities count for a good deal, and one animal will die in a minute from a dose which another may resist for hours. We repoat the experiment, using only half a drop. In a few minutes the bird staggers, and at last crouches, too feeble to walk. The feebleness increases, vomiting occurs, the breathing becomes labored, the head falls, a slight convulsion follows, and the pigeon is dead. This is all we see, — merely a strange intense weakness. Before trying to explain it, we shall do well to watch that which takes place when a larger animal, surviving the first effects, perishes after a few hours or days. Here is a record of such a case. A large dog, poisoned with five drops of venom, lives over the first few hours of feebleness, and then begins to show a new set of symptoms. Some horrible malady of the blood and tissues has come upon him, so that the vital fluid leaks from the kidneys or the bowels, and oozes from the gums. The fang-wounds bleed, and a prick of a needle will drip blood for hours. Thus exhausted, he dies, or slowly recovers. Meanwhile, the wound made by the injecting needle or the fang has undergone a series of changes, which, rightly studied, gave the first clew to the true explanation of how this hideous agent acts.

A large and growing tumor marks where the needle entered. We cut into it. There is no inflammation at first ; the whole mass is fluid blood, which by and by soaks every tissue in the neighborhood, and even stains the bones themselves. If, for the sake of contrast, we wound any healthy part with a common needle, without venom, we open thus a few small blood-vessels, which presently cease to bleed, because the escaped blood quickly clots, and so corks their open mouths by a rarely failing providence of allthoughtful Nature. The conclusion seems easy, that the venom destroys the power of the blood to clot, and so deprives the animal of this exquisite protection against hemorrhage. If the creature live long and the dose be heavy, the collected blood putrefies, abscesses form, and more or less of the tissue becomes gangrenous. Nor is this evil only local. The venom absorbed from the wound enters the circulation, and soon the whole mass of the blood has lost power to clot when drawn. We are not willing to assert that this is a putrefactive change ; but it is certainly in that direction, because this blood, if drawn, will now decay faster than other blood. By and by it begins to leak through the various tissues, and we find blood escaped out of the vessels and into the brain, lungs, or intestinal walls, giving in each case specific symptoms, according to the part injured and the function disturbed.

A further step has of late been gained towards comprehending this intricate problem. A young rabbit was made senseless and motionless with chloroform. Then its abdomen was opened, and a piece of the delicate membrane which holds the intestines was laid under a microscope, and kept moist by an assistant. The observer’s eye looked down upon a wild racing of myriad blood-disks through the tiny vessels of the transparent membrane. Presently the assistant puts a drop of venom upon the tissue we are studying. For thirty seconds there is no change. Then suddenly a small vessel, giving way, is hidden by a rush of blood-disks. A little way off another vessel breaks, then a third, and a fourth, until within five minutes the field of view is obscured by blood, which at last causes a rupture in the delicate membrane, between whose double folds the vessels run to and from the intestine. We are now as near to the centre of the maze as we are likely to come, nearer than we have come with most poisons. We have learned that this bland, tasteless venom has the subtle power to forbid the blood to clot, and in some strange way to pass through the tissues, and to soften and destroy the little blood-vessels, so that they break under the continuing force of the heart pump.

The same phenomena may be seen on the surface of an open wound treated with venom; and that which happens in the wound, and, in the experiment just described, goes on at last everywhere in the body; so that in dozens of places vessels break down, while the blood is powerless to check its own wasteful outflow, as it would have done in health.

We have dwelt so long upon the symptoms of the protracted cases of snake-bite as to have lost sight for a time of the smaller class of sufferers, who perish so suddenly as to forbid us to explain their deaths by the facts which seem so well to cover the chronic cases. These speedily fatal results are uncommon in man, but in small animals are very frequent.

It is common to see pigeons die within ten minutes, and in these instances no trace of alteration can be found in the blood or the solid tissues. Upon considering, therefore, the two sets of cases, it seems pretty clear that the venom has, besides its ability to alter the blood and enfeeble the vessels, some direct power to injure the great nerve centres which preside over locomotion, respiration, and the heart’s actions.

To describe the experimental method by which these conclusions were reached would demand the space of another article, and involve a full explanation of the modern means of studying the effects of poisons ; so that for this reason we must beg the reader to accept the proposition without being troubled with the proof.

It were well if the record of horrors ended with the death or the recovery ; but in countries where poisonous snakes are abundant and cases of bite numerous, it is not uncommon to find that persons who survive become the victims of blindness, skin disorders, and various forms of palsy.

Fortunately the average snake-bite, even in India or Martinique, is far less fatal than was once believed ; so that even dogs, when bitten, are by no means sure to die. Thus, of nine so treated on one occasion, only three perished ; while among the eighty cases of venom poisoning in man recorded in our own medical journals up to 1861 we have but four deaths. This unlookedfor result is due chiefly to the fact, that the danger is directly as the amount of venom, and that the serpent, unless very large and long at rest, or in captivity, can rarely command enough to kill a man. Once aware of these facts, it is easy to see why so many remedies got credit as antidotes in a disease supposed to be fatal, and in reality not at all so.

Among the most absurd of the tales which rest on the common belief that a mere prick of a venomed fang may kill is that of the farmer who was stung by a snake, which not only slew him, but left its fang in the fatal boots ; which falling to his descendants, proved fatal to two of them also. This story is to be traced to its original in the Letters of an American Farmer, by St. John (de Crèvecœur), where it loses none of the piquancy of the later versions.

The reader will by this time understand that it is impossible the mere wound of the dry fangs could destroy three persons in succession, so that we may confidently dismiss this tale to the limbo of other snake stories.

A few words must suffice to tell all we know as to the proper treatment. There are in this country at least a hundred supposed antidotes, and in Martinique about as many. It is an old saying of a wise doctor, that diseases for which there are numerous remedies are either very mild or very fatal. Taking the mass of cases of snakebite in this country, few die; and this is why, as we said before, all means seem good alike. Tested fairly, where the dose of venom has been large, they are all alike worthless, — a beautiful subject for the medical statistician.

Looked at with an eye to symptoms, we see in the first effects of venom a dangerous depression of all functions, exactly like what follows an over-dose of tartar emetic. The obvious treatment is to stimulate the man, and this is the meaning of whiskey for snake-bite,— a remedy, by the way, which enormously increased the number of snake-bites in the army on our frontier. The intensity of the depression is shown best by the amount of whiskey which may then be taken with impunity. In one case, a well-known physician of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, gave to a child aged two years a pint of whiskey in two hours. A little girl of nine years old in South Carolina received thus a pint and a half of whiskey in four hours. Neither patient was made drunk by these doses, and both recovered.

It is likely that too much whiskey is often given in such cases, since all that is desirable is to keep the person gently stimulated, and not to make him drunk. Nor does stimulus destroy the venom, — it only antagonizes its activity, as is best shown by mixing venom with alcohol, and then injecting the mixture under the skin, when the subject of the experiment will die, just as if no alcohol had been used.

As to local treatment, whatever gets the venom out of the tissues is good. Cross-cut the wound through the fangmarks, and suck at it with cups or with the mouth, if you like the bitten person well enough. Cut the piece out, if the situation allows of that, or burn it with a red-hot iron, — milder caustics being mostly valueless. One other measure has real utility. Tie a broad band around the limb above the bite, so as to stop the pulse. Now give whiskey enough to strengthen the heart. Let us then relax the band, and so connect again the circulation of the bitten part with the general system. The poison, before in quarantine, is let loose ; the pulse becomes fast and feeble. We tighten the band, and give more liquor. The principle is this: You have ten men to fight, and you open the door wide enough just to let in one at a time. So much of the venom as your local treatment leaves in the tissues has to be admitted to the general system soon or late ; we so arrange as to let it in a little at a time, and are thus able to fight it in detail.

Stripped utterly of its popular surroundings, and told in the plainest language, the mere scientific story of the venom of the rattlesnake is full of a horrible fascination, such as to some degree envelops the history of all poisons. One would like to know who first among the early settlers encountered the reptile, and what that emigrant thought of the original inhabitant. What they wrote of him soon after is told in the following quotations, with which we shall close. They have a peculiar interest, as the first printed statements about the rattlesnake, and as giving the earliest expression to certain fallacies which still retain their hold upon the popular mind.

(From New English Canaan, or New Canaan. Written by THOMAS MORTON, of Clifford’s Inn, Gent. Printed at Amsterdam, 1637.)

“ There is one creeping beast or longe creeplc (as the name is in Devonshire) that hath a rattle at his tayle, that does discover his age; for so many yeares as hee hath lived, so many joynts are in that rattle, which soundeth (when it is in motion) like pease in a bladder, & this beast is called a rattlesnake; but the Salvages give him the name of Sesick ; which some take to be the Adder ; & it may well be so (for the Salvages are significant in their denomination of anything) & is no lesse hurtfull than the Adder of England & no more. I have had my dogge venonted with troubling one of these, & so swelled that I had thought it would have bin his death ; but with one saucer full of salet oyle poured downs his throate he recovered & the swelling assuaged by the next day. The like experiment hath bin made upon a boy, that hath by chaunce troad upon one of these, & the boy never the worse. Therefore it is simplicity in any one that shall tell a bugbeare tale of horror, or terrible serpents that are in that land.” (p. 82.)

(From New England’s Prospect. By WILLIAM WOOD. London, 1636.)

“That which is most injurious to the person & life of man is a Rattlesnake, which is generally a yard & a halfe long, as thick In the middle as the small of a man’s legge ; she hath a yellow belly, her backe being spotted with blacke, russet yellow & greene colours placed like scales ; at her taile is a rattle with which shee makes a noyse when shee is molested, or when shee seeth any approach neere her ; her neck seemes to be no thicker than a mans thumbe, yet can shee swallow a Squerrill, having a great wide mouth, with teeth as sharpe as needles, wherewith shee biteth such as tread upon her ; her poyson lyeth in her teeth, for shee hath no sting. When any man is bitten by any one of these creatures, the poyson spreads so suddenly through the veines, & so runs to the heart, that in one hour it causeth death, unlesse he hath the Antidote to expell the poyson, which is a root called Snakeweede, which must be champed, the spittle swallowed & the route applied to the sore ; this is present cure against that which would be present death without it; this weede is ranke poyson, if it be taken by any man that is not bitten, unlesse it be physically compounded ; whosoever is bitten by these snakes his flesh becomes spotted like a leaper untill he be perfectly cured. It is reported that if the party live that is bitten, the snake will dye, & if the party dye the snake will live. This is the most poysonous and dangerous creature, yet nothing so bad as the report goes of him in England. For whereas hee is said to kill a man with his breath, & that hee can flie, there is no such matter, for he is naturally the most sleepie & unnimble creature that lives, never offering to leape or bite any man if be be not trodden on first; & it is their desire in hot weather to lie in pathes, where the sun may shine on them, where they will sleepe so soundly that I have known foure men stride over one of them & never awake her; five or six men have been bitten by them, which by using snakeweede were all cured, never yet any losing his life by them. Cowes have been bitten, but being cut in divers places & this weede thrust into their flesh were cured. I never heard of any beast that was yet lost by any of them, saving one mare.” (p. 38.)

(From New England’s Rarities. Discovered by JOHN JOSSELYN, Gent. London, 1672.)

“The Rattle Snake who poysons with a vapour that comes through two crooked fanges in their mouths ; the hollows of these fanges are black as ink. The Indians when weary with travelling, will take them up with their bare hands, laying hold with one hand behind their head, with the other taking hold of their tail, & with their teeth tear off the skin of their backs & feed upon them alive, which they say refresheth them.” Ugh ! ! (p. 38.)

We are aware of no earlier accounts ; so that, in the scope of this article, the readers of the Atlantic have the first and the very last words concerning the serpent in question.