Bar Cleared Out When Tom and His Snake Came In

Johns, Thomis Aaville b. 1878

Deseret News July 19, 1977 – Today Section
First of a Series by Eva Cragun Heiner

The following story was written by Mrs. Heiner’s Brother, Mormon Cragun, many years ago. Born in 1880, he told it to his children and grandchildren many times before he died. Mrs. Heiner, who lives in Salt Lake City, was the youngest of 13 children and the only one still living. A little town, consisting of about 30 families and known as Pleasant View situated at the foot of Ben Lomond Mountain and located 10 miles north and a little west of Ogden, Utah in Weber County, is the place where our family settled with the other pioneer families in the early 1870’s.

There were several of us young teen-age boys in this small community who were full of life and always looking for adventure. One such spirited boy was my friend Tom Johns, who had seen his older brother Walter catch snakes. Walt had been bitten by one, but he had taken his knife and cut the bite open, sucked out the blood, and soon was just fine.

Rattle Snake

Tom thought that he could do like Walt had done. One day he managed, with a forked stick, to catch a rattler around the neck He brought it down to our house and asked me to go with him out to the Hot Springs, about a mile west of where we lived, where he thought he could sell it to a Chinese doctor who said he used snake oil for medicine.

On the way we stopped at several homes to display the catch and show how brave Tom was. When we stopped at Thomas Budge’s place, Tom held the snake on the door step and it flipped its body around, making such a noise that Thomas Budge said “Get than damn thing out of here.” Tom picked it up and on we walked.

We reached the Hot Springs after dark and the bar room was filled with men who worked on the railroad and at the farms around the neighboring towns.

Tom walked right in the door and laid the snake on the center of the bar. The snake threw its body around and rattled so loud that it did not take but a couple of seconds before the bar room was left to Tom and the snake. It was clearly evident that no one wanted anything do do with it, not even the Chinese doctor or the Chinese cook. Of course this was a big disappointment to Tom, and there was nothing left to do but start the walk back home.

When we reached the big Cottonwood tree in front of Herbert Rhees’s home, Tom was ready to stop and rest. He said to me, “You take the snake for a minute.” I said “To thunder with you – not on your life will I take that snake.” So, after fooling around a while, he said “The snake has bit me.” I said “Throw it down,” and I decided to run to Chauncey Rhees’s place as fast as I could go.

It was not easy for Tom to throw that snake down. He had to tear it loose first. He finally did get rid of it and followed me over to Chauncey’s home where they let us in. Tom asked Chauncey to cut a gash in his finger, so that he could suck the blood out. Chauncey only said, “Cut it yourself.” So Tom pretended he was cutting and trying to get some blood out, but I never saw any blood.

We walked on up the street as far as William Barker’s. When they heard Tom’s story they became very concerned. We were only teen-aged boys, but Tom had been going with William Barker’s daughter Amy. When she heard about Tom, she wanted to get the doctor right then. But Tom made excuses, saying he was all right.

Finally we got a lantern close enough to him, as he was lying on the floor now, and we could see that he was really swelling up. I ran as fast as I could to my Uncle Wilson Craguns’s home, as I knew that he had the only telephone in the town in his grocery store.

His house was dark and everyone had gone to bed. I knocked hard on the door and he answered. When I told him about Tom, he said “I knew that snake would kill that kid when I saw him with it.” But I begged so hard for him to let me phone the doctor that he gave in and went with me to the store. When I got Dr. Joyce on the phone and told him Tom was dying, he said he would come as fast as he could. He rode his horse, as that was his only means of transportation. He ran his horse as hard as he could and made the 10 miles from Ogden to Pleasant View in 25 minutes.

June Wade heard about Tom and went to tell his father, Bishop Edward Wade, who lived about a mile to the east. He had Tom brought to his home. The boys stopped the doctor as he came by and Dr. Joyce worked all night over Tom who was swollen up like a toad.

Finally the swelling began going down. As the sun was coming up, the doctor said that Tom was now out of danger. And soon the doctor left for home.

Tom’s finger that had been bitten by the rattler was always funny looking almost like a snake’s head. And it stayed that way as long as Tom lived.

*  *  *  *

Amy Barker married Tom on 5 May 1901.  She is the sister of my Great-Grandmother, Harriet Matilda Barker.

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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