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The San Francisco call. (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, August 28, 1898, Image 19

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When the rocks get too warm in the hot summer days the
snakes love to climb into the trees bordering the river and en
joy the warm air. For some reason they take a great delight in
forming a wriggling, coiling network of snakes. As this ball
of snakes increases in size by eager newcomers the limb grad
ually bends, and very frequently the increasing mass of rep
tiles break it. Along the river bank are scores of branches and
limbs that have been broken in this fashion.
SNAKES, snakes everywhere; but
not one them will bite.
There are hundreds, thou
sands, millions of them, all
spread out on the logs at the
foot of Klamath Falls in Ore
And what Is more the residents up
there rather encourage their existence.
For any one caught killing any of them
Is likely to be zealously prosecuted. In
fact, it Is a case of the people liking
These water snakes of the Klamath
River are one of the wonders of nat
ural history. Scientists have spent
years in studying them and there is
a great deal -"■>♦ to learn. The snakes
are absolutely harmless and belong to
what is known as the "eutaenia" fam
ily. For miles and miles up and down
the river they can be seen at any time
during the warm season. During the
winter they roll themselves into living
balls, sink to the soft mud at the bot
tom of the river and pass several
months hibernating.
These snakes seem to be most nu
merous in the vicinity of Klamath.
Falls, the county seat of Klamath
County, Oregon. This is a town of 1500
people and makes some pretension to
being metropolitan. Yet there are
snakes running wild in the streets all
summer long.
• Early in the spring the snakes come
from the bottom of the river and dur
ing the first warm days spend their
time sunning themselves on the logs.
As the season wears along the snakes
become more and more numerous, until
the logs will no longer hold them and
they begin to climb the river banks.
At "first they are rather timid and
scurry off into the water at the ap
proach of a human being, but in a short
time soon grow to learn that no harm
will come to them. When this stage of
intimacy with the inhabitants of Klam
ath Falls is reached the snakes can be
watched from a =hort distance' and they
will not pay the least attention. It is
even possible to walk among them, but
not many people care to do this.
Although the people up in Klamath
Falls know the snakes are no more
harmful than a pigeon, nobody ever
goes in swimming during the "snake
To see the snakes amusing themselves
on the river bank during the long
In the early fall, when the rocks are beginning to take on a slight chill the
snakes have the fashion of gathering in balls. Per haps it arises through the
gelfishncss of the big snakes trying to keep above the chill rocks by coiling over
the smaller snakes. At any rate, these ballu of snakes are frequently seen of the
size of big barrels. Before they begin to grow torpid through the weather the
whole ball will dissolve and slip away if a stone is thrown into the heap. Later
on they become so torpid that a ball of them is sometimes rolled over by using a
piece of board as a lever.
t hours of a warm day is a signi. iievei iv
be forgotten. They are quite playful
and exhibit a great deal more liveli
[ ness than would be expected of them.
1 But it is a sight that gives most people
1 the "creeps." In fact, many people In
Klamath Falls cannot be induced to go
near the river for fear of seeing horri
ble sights.
What starts the snakes seems to be
something of a mystery. A bunch of
several thousand will be stretched out
on the rocks as motionless as if dead.
Suddenly one moves, then another and
another. Instantly the whole mass be
gins to wriggle. Here and there the
snakes glide over one another uttering
a peculiar squeal that is almost blood
Then the fun begins. The snakes are
from five to six feet in length and
thick in proportion. Their bodies are
correspondingly heavy, but they move
about with the greatest ease. All
through the wriggling mass big fellows
can be seen raising themselves high in
the air and snapping their jaws, just
as if they were angry and would attack
the first creature that came near them.
But it is all fun, and when they get
tired they draw out to one side and give
some of the others a chance.
In a few minutes the wriggling mass
somehow gets to moving in a circle.
Round and round they go, one trying to
catch the other, but never succeeding.
The air is now full of squeals of the
blood-curdling kind.
After the snakes have been "exercis
ing" a few minutes a peculiar. Inde
scribable odor can be noticed. At first
it is not very unpleasant, but after a
while a similarity to skunk can be de
tected. What the smell eventually be
comes is not known, for at this stage
of the game all spectators move back
as far as is necessary.
•Why don't you people get rid of
those snakes?" I asked one of the In
habitants who had been watching the
performance one day last week.
"Don't want to," he replied. "They
are useful as well a"s ornamental. And
besides there's another reason why we
don't give the boys permission to go
out among them with clubs."
"What's that?" I asked.
"They'd smell bad."
"Don't they smell bad now?"
"Yes, pretty bad, that's true, but that
ain't a marker to the way they'd smell
If ten thousand dead ones was piled
Remarkable experience of Buffalo Bill, F. X. Aubrey and
other famous scouts and daring pony express messengers.
THE old Santa Fe trail, 'Ike many
of the world's great highways,
has been a racecourse at times,
over which some of the most
marvelous rides have been ef
fected by men w" -se powers of
endurance have never been excelled In
Among those who were famous as
long distance riders In the days of the
"Commerce of the Prairies" was F. X.
Aubrey. His remarkable feats In this
particular have certainly never been
up on the river bank- You've never
Bmelled dead snake."
"But how axe they useful?" I asked.
"Principally In the orchards. Don't
(enow how we'd get along if It wasn't
'or them snakes. All we do is let them
ilone and they simply go in and Just
help themselves to all sorts of bugrs,
ints, gophers and small animals that
play the mischief with fruit trees. And
the snakes don't stay on the ground
;ither. Not much. If there's any ani
"na! up a tree that they want they go
jp and get him. And these snakes will
tackle any other kind of snake that
hey meet. Rattlers are their favorites.
md it don't take them long to do 'em
We were standing on the sidewalk
n front of Sherring's saloon and I was
istening eagerly to all the old resident
)f Klamath Falls had to tell me, en
:irely oblivious to surroundings.
Suddenly he took hold of my coat and
gave it a gentle tug. "Step off here
a moment an"d let them pass by,"
he said.
I did as told and stood in the gut
ter while a brace of large snakes
rapidly passed along the sidewalk
in the direction of the river.
"But don't these snakes ever do
any harm?" I asked.
"Oh, yes; everything has its draw
backs, you know," the old timer re
plied. "On these warm days, after
a cold night, the snakes climb into
the trees and hang there in a sort
of network. As long as there are
only a few it don't matter, but
sometimes they get so thick they
break the branches and ruin the
"There's another trick these
snakes have," he continued, after a
pause, "but you won't see it until
next month. That's rolling them
selves into balls. Hundreds of
them get together and mix them
selves up so badly you can't
tell which Lead and tail belongs to the
same snake. And it takes them a long
time to get apart. I've seen some men
roll a ball of them as big as a barrel
and tumble it kerplash into the river.
How the snakes on the inside manage
to live Is more than I can say."
Snakes are not the only queer things
they have in abundance at Klamath
Falls. This is also the "toad" season.
At this time myriads of the tiny sau
rians come down on one side of the
river, cross the bridge, go right through
the town and up on the other side.
Where they come from and where they
go to no Klamath resident knows.
These toads are about one inch long,
and are a feast for the snakes. The
reptiles swallow at least a dozen of
them apiece, and still there are always
millions of toads Ipft, hopping, hop
ping toward the bridge, across it anti
into the country beyond.
As well as snakes and toads, Klam
ath Falls also has a periodical visit
from a bullfrog "wave." This comes
every three or four years, and "mil
lions" again is the only numeral that
will describe the quantity of the rep
tiles. They always come during the
skin shedding season and wander far
from the river bank, on warm days
they will get on the sunny side of a
house and pile on top of one another
as high as the window sills. Here they
pull off their skins and eat them. After
this act is accomplished they disap
pear, no man knows where.
All summer the inhabitants of Klam
ath Falls have some aquatic visitor to
interest them, and when the long win
ter days come and the rain comes
down in torrents many grow quite lone
ly and long for the return of the snake
In Teneriffe the people communicate
with each other at a distance of over
four miles by an organized system of
excelled, If they have even ever been
equaled, which is doubtful.
Aubrey was a Scotch-Canadian by
birth and emigrated direct from Quebec
to the remote West. He was a man of
education, apparently, for I find that
he was the author of one or two meri
torious articles on a journey and so
journ in California, which were pub
lished in one of the r jly magazines of
the country, about the time of the dis
covery of gold on the Pacific Coast. He
had also traveled extensively through
the then almost inaccessible region of
what is now the territory of Arizona,
and from him was first learned the fact
that the savages of that remote Mexi
can country employed gold bullets in
charging their crude firearms.
General Marcy met F. X. Aubrey in
1849, who had just returned from Cali
fornia, and en route crossed the Colo
rado near the outlet of the big canyon,
where he met some Indians, with
whom, he informed Marc he ex
changed leaden for golden rifle balls,
and that these Indians did not have
the slightest idea of the relative value
of the two metals.
The first ride Aubrey attempted was
in 1850. He made a bet that he could
cover the distance from Sxnta Fe.
N. M., to Independence Mo., over the
trail, in alght days. It is 765 miles be
tween the two points via the "Santa
Fe trail," as the freight caravans
traveled it, and by that route, on a
wager of $1000, Aubrey was to ride.
Aubrey succeeded in winning, making
his destination, the Jones House in In
dependence, three hours before the ex
piration of his time. During this, his
first ride, he killed a number of horses,
the death of one when within twenty
five miles of Council Grove compelling
him to walk to that place, carrying hip
saddle on his back, where he obtained
another anlmart and continued his won
derful ride.
This feat of Aubrey's was regarded
as the greatest ride ever made by any
one in ancient or modern times, and he
became the hero of the incipient bor
der town. Independence, where he was
feted and made the lion of the day.
His fame spread throughout the entire
From a photograph by Mrs. Sarah E. Harshbarger.
The photograph from which this sketch was made was taken in a quiet corner of the Harshbarger back
yard, which runs down to the river. The photograph was taken during the summer, when the temperature of the
days and nights was warm and even. In the fall of the year, when the nights are chill and the days are warm, the
snakes gather in the greatest number, for they dearly love to come out of the cold water and task in the warm sun
shine. At that season it is impossible in some places to see the ground on account of the wriggling, worming, tor
pid mass.
West, including California, where he
was well known.
Although pec-ple marveled much at
the wonderful endurance of the man,
and the remarkable time In which ne
had made the trip, still Aubrey himself
was not at ail satisfied with it. He de
termined to break that record, and the
following: season he made another
wager, of, $5000 in gold, that he would
succeed in doing P . -.
He accomplished his record-breaking
clash across the great plains in the
marvelous time of only five days and
thirteen hours. His objective point
was the same hotel, the Jones House,
where he had ridden to on his former
trip. On this one, when he reached
that hostelry, he was perfectly ex
hausted and in a fainting condition, his
horse quivering from head to foot and
white with foam. Aubrey was lifted
from the back of his faithful animal by
His friends and carried into his room in
the house, where he lay in a complete
stupor for two dnys.
Six horses, which previous to- starting
from Santa Fe had been stationed at
distances varying from twenty-live to
"fty miles along the route, fell dead
under him, so terribly fast did he force
them on.
He possessed a beautiful mare Nel
lie, a favorite animal, noted for her
speed and endurance, but she expired
at the eid of the first 150 miles
Aubrey was killed by Major Richard
v eightman, a volunteer officer of the
Mexican War. and at the time of the
tragedy was publishing a paper In
Santa Fe. He and Aubrey had been
warm friends for years. After his sec
ond great ride Aubrey left Santa Fe for
California, and upon his departure for
that region Weightman published an
account of his friends leaving, which,
however, did not at all meet with Au
brey's approval. Upon the latter's re
turn to Santa Fe in 1554 he and Weight
man met, of course, journeyed to a
saloon, where both ordered whisky but
before either had time to raise' his
glass to his mouth Aubrey said to
Weightman, "Why did you publish that
lie about my going to California?"
The manner in which Aubrey put the
question angered Alajor Weightman,
and he threw his whisky in Aubrey's
face. Aubrey reached for his revolver,
but before he could draw it Weightman
sprang upon him and plunged his bowle
knife into Aubrey's heart, killing him
instantly. Weightman was, of course,
acquitted of the charge of murder.
Aubrey lies buried in an unknown
On his last great ride he rode day and
night, stopping only long enough to leap
from his tired animal and spring on
a fresh one. He made more than 200
miles every twenty-four hours, and all
the sleep he took aggregated but three
hours during the entire five days. Au
brey's ride eclipsed that famous one
recorded in the old English legends of
the outlaw Dick Turpin, from London
to York.
Weightman was a dapper little fel
low, extremely polite and affable, prid
ing himself upon "first family" connec
tions, and always sported a fine cane.
He had a small round ball of a head,
bald on top. light hair, florid com
plexion and small, piercing, deep-set
eyes. He was a man of some ability,
a fierce Southerner and defender of
slavery. He was plucky. He was as poor
as he was proud, a high liver, with the
tastes and habits of a millionaire and
the purse of a pauper. He resided
In Atchison. Kan., for several years;
was City Recorder for one or two terms
and was a candidate for re-election In
1861, but was defeated. When de
prived of his office he was literally re
iuced to extremities. Weightman was
a most gullant officer in the Mexican
war, and when hostilities commenced
between the North and South he joined
.he Confederate forces, with whom all
lis sympathies were enlisted. At the
errible battle of Wilson's Creek, at the
lead of his brigade, he was ki'.led at the
i^ery summit of "Bloody Hill"- three
mllets pierced his body. He and Gen
?rU Lyon fell within thirty -"-arris o
>ach other. Both were brou-rht off the
leld and laid side by side upon blank
;ts under the shade of the same tree.
William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) has
nade a remarkable record as a long
llstance rider, not for speed, but endur
mce. Cody's famous ride over portions
»f the "old Santa Fe trail." and its
•amifying branches, was of such a
■haracter as to call forth the encomi
ims of General Sheridan, who refers to
t In his "Memoirs," aa well as General
a. I. Dodge, himself a distinguished
Klamath Falls has another Silurian wonder outside its
millions of snakes. Every year in the fall, about September,
countless toads, about the size of one's thumb, come hopping
through one end of the town and make for the other end and
across the big bridge which spans the river. Where they
come from and where they go nobody knows. All the inhabit
ants have to say is that regularly every year in the fall the
deluge of toads passes through the town and disappears over
the bridge and there's millions of them. The snakes make
an annual feast of these little fellows, and they gather by the
thousands at the bridge to intercept them. Each snake
usually devours ttight or en toads, but this evidently makes
no impression on the number of toads, for, according to tha
natives, ''there's always millions of toads left."
The Klamath Falls has another wonder — its bullfrogs.
The deluge of bullfrogs comes along every three or four years
and, like the toads, there doesn't seem to be any limit to them.
They pile up in the warm corners of porches and back yards
several feet deep, get the chill out of their bones and then,
like the toads, they hop along and disappear .
army officer of hierh rank, who was
nevertheless a plainsman and hunter
of more than average prowess.
Cody's remarkable ride occurred at
the breaking out of the war declared
against the allied plains tribes during
the winter of 1868-69, in which cele
brated campaign General Sheridan took
the field In person, having such Indian
fighters as Sully and Ouster as his
principal lieutenants. Cody tells the
"story in excellent taste, and although I
was in active service at the same time,
and was cognizant of the, facts. I shall
quote fully from Cody's own version, as
published in his excellent autobiogra
phy. It was commenced on the day
on which Cody had his funny yet
rather tragic experience with Santata,
the war chief of the Kiowas, when Cody
"pulled the wool over the eyes" of the
wicked old savage regarding some cat
tle which had no existence in fact, crea
tures of Cody's fertile imagination, yet
the necessary lie was the means of sav
ing the famous scout's scalp. The
story will be found in full in the chap
ter of "Famous Men of the Trail," In
my "The Old Santa Fe Trail."
Cody says: "The commanding offi
cer at Fort Dodge was anxious to send
some dispatches to Fort Lamed, but
the scouts, like those at Fort Hays,
were rather backward in volunteering,
as it was considered a very dangerous
undertaking to make the trip. As Fort
Lamed was my post, and as I wanted
to go there anyhow, I said to Austin
that I would carry the dispatches, and
if any of the boys wished to go along
I would like to have them for com
pany. Austin reported my offer to the
commanding officer, who sent for me and
said he would be happy to have me tako
the dispatches, if I could stand the trip
on top of all that I had already done.
'All I want Is a good fresh horse, sir,'
I said.
" 'I am sorry to say that we haven't
a decent horse here; but we have a re
liable and honest government mule, if
that Avill do,' said the officer. 'Trot
out your mule," said I, 'that's good
enough for me. I'm ready at any time,
When the trip was finished I had rid
den from Fort Lamed to Fort Zarah,
sixty-five miles — there and back — in
twelve hours, which included the time
I was taken by the Indians across the
Arkansas. In the succeeding twelve
hours I had gone from Fort TTays to
Fort Dodge, thirty miles on horseback,
and thirty-five miles on foot, to Fort
Lamed. and the next night sixty-five
miles more to Fort Hays. Altogether I
had ridden and walked 355 miles in
fifty-eight hours, or an average of six
miles an hour. Of course, this may not
be regarded as very fast riding, but
taking into consideration the fact that
it was mostly done in the night and over
a wild country. with no roads to fol
low, and that I had to be continually on
the lookout for Indians, It was thought
at the time to be a big ride, as well as
a most dangerous one."

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