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Owen Historical Society News: Snakes be wary of Owen Co. ladies

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By Bonnie Strassell

Many may recall the old saying, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” After spending the afternoon celebrating the 96th birthday of Monterey resident and historical society member Lela Maude Hawkins, I discovered there is more than one way to kill a snake.
Snakes are a part of everyday life in the rural landscape of Owen County. They are a key component in the balance of nature. Small snakes feed on many harmful bugs and insects, and larger ones eat mice, rats, and other small mammals that can destroy crops or damage property. Farmers are aware of these facts, yet most people, except perhaps little boys, dislike snakes and go out of their way to avoid them. Some are fearful of them. Ever since the Garden of Eden, snakes have gotten a bad rap.
In Kentucky, snakes range in size from the 7-inch worm snake to the massive 6-foot black rat snake and can be found anywhere in the state from dense state forest lands to suburban backyards. There are 32 types of snakes found in Kentucky, and only one-eight are venomous. Some believe that the snake commonly found in barns on dairy farms and known as cow suckers or milk snakes drink milk from cows. However, this is not true. These quick creatures of the night are actually attracted to the mice who hide out in the hay.
The subject of snakes surfaced at the birthday party when Joyce Hill Hardin explained her torn rotator cuff was the result of a snake fight.
The slender woman, whose ties to Owen County go back for generations, explained that one night she opened her door to find a large snake curled around the metal protector attached to it. She gently closed the door and circled around to the front of the house via the garage where she retrieved a tree branch lopper. From that time on it was a battle of wills between Joyce and her adversary who was determined to retain his head.
Joyce was the victor, but in the process she injured her shoulder, and months later her injury remains as a painful reminder of the intense battle.
On the other hand historical society board member Ruth Ann Hazlett preferred a different weapon to rid the world of one more snake
When she discovered a snake in the office of Margaret Murphy of Monterey, she ran into the kitchen, grabbed a pair of kitchen meat shears, and rushed back to bravely face her foe.
With the help of neighbor Billy Karsner, who stood on the snake’s back, Ruth Ann was finally able to decapitate the intruder. I’m not sure if those shears were ever used again to cut meat but they certainly saved the day in the Murphy household.
Several years ago, Lela Maude Hawkins chose the familiar hoe to confront a snake in her yard. The agile reptile was making an attempt to slither up a tree, and for some reason Lela Maude (in her mid 80s at the time) did not relish the thought of him sharing a tree branch with song birds.
She and the snake danced around each other for awhile as Lela Maude delivered some well placed blows to the snake’s head.
It goes without saying that it is unwise for anyone or anything, including a cunning snake, to tangle with a spry little lady from Monterey who was born in a log cabin, rode horses and stripped tobacco with the best of them.
It is always best to leave a snake alone, but if a battle presents itself, these determined Owen County women might just give a few pointers on successful procedures to defeat an adversary.
Join us on Feb. 14  at the I.O.O.F. hall. The Owen County Historical Society will not only celebrate Valentine’s Day at Big Jim’s Spaghetti Dinner (the complete meal for $7), but will also remember the birthday of Kentuckian Abraham Lincoln.
Born in Kentucky on Feb. 12, 1809, Mr. Lincoln, portrayed by Nelson Doyle of Williamstown, will honor us with his presence. After the meal, he will present a program and will answer questions about his presidency during the Civil War. This will afford an opportunity for us to gain insight into the life and times of the 16th president of the United States.
We will soon be reprinting Mariam Houchens’ “History of Owen County, Kentucky.” The presale price is $33. “Echoes From Lusby’s Mill and Vicinity” is printed and ready to purchase for $12. Many other books and pamphlets are on sale at the Historical Society Museum. A complete list, as well as other important information, can be viewed at our website at www.owencohistory.com.