Skinning a Snake
By Ken Harris ©2007
Greenwood, South Dakota, summer, 1948. Our family took a summer trip to South Dakota. At the time I thought it was a simple vacation trip, the kind people take to major tourist destinations. Like Greenwood. In fact, my father was considering going into farming in the Dakotas.
But we traveled around South Dakota a bit. We visited some relatives in Greenwood on the brakes of the Missouri River, on the Yankton Reservation in Charles Mix County. All that’s left of Greenwood now are foundations where houses used to be. I imagine the Missouri River flooded so often that people just got tired of rebuilding. But Greenwood will always have a place in my heart because that’s where I taught myself how to skin a snake.
It came to pass in this town of Greenwood that some cousins and I came across a rattlesnake downtown. Of the group of us, I was oldest at 14 and so clueless I would be lucky to tell up from down at high noon. Being dumb kids, we killed the snake. So far, so good. A dead rattler isn’t likely to hurt us. We could just pitch it somewhere and that would take care of it. Right? Wrong!
A female cousin rather near to me in age, a rather good looking female cousin in fact, stated that she would like to have the skin for a decoration, maybe a hat band. Not to worry, said I, for I was an expert snake skinner from way back and would be pleased to present here with the trophy. As you might guess, I had never skinned a snake in my life. Or wanted to.
Just as an aside, I have observed that attractive females are dangerous to immature males and should be kept away until the young men are, what, say 50?
I cut off the snake’s head with a knife and buried it. Then I cut off the rattles because I thought she might want to wear them as a decoration on her prom gown. After I had removed the head and the tail, I had this long, headless, tailess thing which still occasionally squirmed. “What next, Ken,” thought I. Can I pretend to hear my mother calling?
Not with a good looking girl present. So I borrowed a single edge razor blade and began to cut along the center of the belly at one end of the snake hoping to finish at the other end without going to far astray. I cut too deeply a time or two and the snake’s insides began to become outsides. I mastered my gag reflex, for in those days I wasn’t even keen on taking out the garbage, and continued my incisions.
Once the surgery was completed my next problem was to peel the skin from the snake in one piece. Getting started was more difficult than you’d imagine. You have to immobilize one end which I did with a hammer and a nail. After the grand peeling I had two objects, a smelly snake skin and a slimy dead snake. Snakes aren’t slimy when they are alive and inside their skin. But dead and denuded, they are pretty slick rascals.
By now, though, I was home free. We threw the carcass away and pinned the skin down, flesh side out, with thumb tacks. Then we salted the skin. Mortons® iodized salt.
Everyone was pleased with our deed except me. Not only had I spent an entire afternoon in an inelegant enterprise, but my hands smelled I didn’t want to get them within six feet of my nose. My hands, unfortunately, were firmly affixed to my wrists, well within smelling distance.
So come all you young gentlemen and listen to my tale. If a good looking girl wants a snake skin, keep your hands in your pockets and your mouth shut. Let her skin it.