History records the Chinese using oil from snakes to alleviate joint pain, but with the coming of the patent medicine man, snake oil took on a different connotation: fraud and fakery.
The traveling elixir peddlers sold their medicines with the promise of cures for practically everything that ails you.
Seventy-five years ago on April 3, 1938, The Oklahoman reported the story of rattlesnake hunter Herb Pinack of Medicine Park.
“He seeks out the dens of the rattlesnakes, kills them and collects the fat from the sides of the rattlesnakes. From this fat he renders an oil which has been known for years for its medical qualities.”
“From the time of the medicine shows when the wandering doctors went through the country selling their remedies, snake oil has been known as a healer of rheumatism, toothache, earache and other aches for which penetrating oil will give relief. Rattlesnake oil, according to Pinack, is one of the most penetrating oils that have ever been found and a small amount rubbed into a joint sore with rheumatism or dropped into an ear will give quick relief. He sells the oil for $20 an ounce, but a small amount will last the winter for an average family.”
On a sunny Sunday, reporter Helen Gilbert met Pinack and his wife in the Wichita Mountains to hunt rattlesnakes.
“I saw two people wandering among the rocks on a ledge above me and calling up to them I asked if they were hunting rabbits. They yelled back. “No we are looking for rattlesnake.” I had seen a posted sign on a fence that I had just crossed and when Pinack answered that he was looking for rattlesnake I thought he was trying to scare me.”
“Soon, I came closer to Pinack and his wife and they invited me to join them. Still thinking the snakes were a joke, I trailed along and fell into conversation. Pinack told me how he had killed thousands of rattlesnakes in the 36 years that he had lived in the mountains and how he decided to make a hobby of killing them and collecting their oil.”
Herb Pinack located a den and killed six rattlesnakes.
“With his penknife, Pinack slit their skins, his knife making a slight raking sound as it cut through the scales. With deft fingers he pulled the fat from their sides and dropped it into a fruit jar which he brought along.”
Rattlesnake oil may truly just be snake oil, but as media continues to bring stories of the next great cure, and who knows, but real snake oil might be worth another look from scientists.
If you want to get out there and hunt your own, consider attending the Waurika Rattlesnake Hunt, April 12-14; the Apache Rattlesnake Festival, April 18-21; and the 48th Annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, April 26-28.
Here’s a story from The Oklahoman on Nov. 5, 1927, that begins with a life lesson.
“You can never tell what a tremendous bearing a sweet smile and a gentle disposition may have on your entire career.
“Consider for example, the case of Rex, the little brown guinea pig in the city chemist’s office, named after Rex Cleveland, city pure food inspector.
“Several weeks ago when ten little guinea pigs, the world’s most helpless animals, arrived at the chemist’s office Rex immediately showed signs of being friendly. While the other little pigs would scurry away in high terror when anyone approached their box, Rex plainly showed he was not afraid. He would walk boldly up and eat lettuce out of your hand, and he let it be known if you wanted to rub him behind the ears, it was alright with him. In fact he liked it.
“As a result, no diphtheria tests have been made upon Rex. While his little playmates suffer with sore throats and have high fevers, as result of inoculations, Rex just scampers about as happy as he can be, doing nothing all day but stuffing his little stomach with nice fresh lettuce and getting his ears rubbed.
“And that isn’t all. Employees of the chemist’s office have interceded for Rex, and he is soon to be taken to the city zoo where he will have a comfortable home for the rest of his life.
“Now, the moral is, if you’re a guinea pig, be a sweet little guinea pig.”
There was a follow-up on Dec. 17, 1927, reporting the arrival of Rex and two fellow guinea pigs at the zoo, with the note that they would soon be on display in a cage made especially for them.
Guinea pigs normally live four to eight years. There was no further mention of Rex, but we can guess he spent the rest of his life with fresh lettuce and a scratch behind the ears. Not a bad life at all.
Often in these pages, a reader-submitted story will appear about a beloved cat or dog.
This story by Leon Hatfield, veteran reporter and rewrite man, appeared on Page One of The Oklahoman on Dec. 16, 1937.
I hope it gives a chuckle to those who have been owned by cats and to those familiar with their ways:
Ding Dong Bell
Pussy’s in the well.
Who got her in?
Little Johnny Green.
Who took her out?
Little Johnnie Stout.
— Nursery Rhyme
A bob-tailed black cat Wednesday rewrote the old nursery rhyme. The cat didn’t have much time to polish up the rewrite but it went about like this:
Ding Dong Fire Bell
Where’s the cat that’s raising hell?
Way down in the dark old well.
Who fetched her up so she could chew us?
Nobody we swear, but Arkansas Lewis.
Black cats are bad luck. They are bad luck even to black cats. Bill Blagg, deputy sheriff, has always known black cats are bad luck, but he thought when he found a bob-tailed black cat it would trim the danger some.
He took the cat to George Angerman, superintendent of the courthouse. He told Angerman it was a nice cat, a good mouser and true lover of home and fireside. Angerman gave the cat some milk and turned his head. When he looked again the milk and cat were gone.
Two days lapsed, during which persons passing down the alley north of the courthouse would stop and listen to the melody of a distant cat which they took to be singing the “Love Song” from that widely known production, “The Alley Fence.”
It wasn’t until Wednesday that someone decided the cat was singing what it took to be a swan song. Investigation revealed the cat had tumbled or had been pushed into an abandoned well beneath a loading dock across the alley north of the courthouse.
The fire department was called. A big hook and ladder truck responded and the firemen got down on their tummies under the dock and called “Kitty, kitty,” as the fire manual says they should do under such circumstances.
The cat only wailed louder. The firemen made torches of newspaper and held them down in the well the better to see. The cat began demanding apologies from the Japanese emperor.
Finally that husky H.M. “Arkansas” Lewis tossed off his hat and let himself down the old well shaft. The cat climbed him and he climbed after the cat while a gathering crowd cheered.
The cat showed no appreciation. It glared maliciously at one and all and sneered:
“What’s been keeping you guys? Pst. Pst.”
Angerman took the beast into his arms and with it yowling and clawing headed toward milk.
It wasn’t that long ago that alpacas were an endangered species, at least in the United States.
In 1964, there were only 9 alpacas in the United States, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, now the Oklahoma City Zoo, was able to acquire one of those on permanent loan.
His name was Manco, and, according to a story in The Oklahoman announcing his arrival, the zoo’s director, Warren Thomas, hoped to selectively breed the alpaca with its larger cousin, the llama. His intent was to cross breed until the offspring were mostly alpaca and protect the animal from extinction in the United States.
No information exists on how successful Thomas was, but his preservation plan was no longer needed because in 1984, a 1940′s importation ban to protect against hoof and mouth disease was lifted.
Between 1984 and 1996, importations of alpacas were allowed from South America, until the Alpaca Registry closed the registration books to only American bred animals.
Margie Ray of Ray Farms, considered the founder of alpaca breeding in Oklahoma, acquired 3 imported alpacas in 1986.
There are now more than 170,000 alpacas in the United States, and, in 2009, there were more than 80 farms in Oklahoma.
Alpacas are raised for their hair or fiber. They come in 22 colors and two types: suri, which has long silky hair, and huacaya, which has soft fluffy hair.
Once a year, usually in spring after the show season, the animals are sheared to make them more comfortable during the summer heat and the fiber is processed for various uses, such as roving for spinners, thread for weavers, and yarn for those who knit and crochet, rugs, jewelry and more.
The Alpacas of Oklahoma, A-OK, are having their annual show Easter weekend, April 7 and 8, at Shawnee’s Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center, 30 miles east of Oklahoma City and easily accessible from Interstate 40.
The alpacas are shown at halter, obstacle, public relation, junior exhibitor and showmanship. Costume classes also are presented.
The show is free to the public and offers an opportunity to meet alpacas and their owners and to buy alpaca fiber, yarn, jewelry and other alpaca related items. You might even buy an alpaca or two.