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Snake Folklore from Louise Pound

Louise Pound (1872-1958) excelled in many fields of endeavor, including education, writing, and sports. She is also remembered as an authority on Nebraska folklore. Many of her writings on this subject were collected and edited for publication just before her death in 1958. The resulting book, Nebraska Folklore, includes a chapter on traditional Nebraska snake lore.

Pound noted, "The most striking notion of Nebraska snake lore has to do with the curative powers associated with snakes, notably the rattlesnake." She listed the following beliefs: "Application of a snakeskin will cure a headache. A snakeskin is good for rheumatism. Rub a piece of snakeskin in your pocket to cure rheumatism. A snakeskin around the head will cure fever.

"Rattlesnake rattles will cure a headache if held against the head. Carry rattlesnake rattles in your hatband to cure headache. Wear the rattles of a rattlesnake in your hat to cure rheumatism. Let the baby chew rattlesnake rattles to help his teeth through. Put a rattlesnake rattle in a tobacco bag and hang the bag around a child's neck during teething. When a baby is fretful while teething, string three large rattles of a rattlesnake on a red cord and put it around the child's neck. Do not remove the rattles until the child is through teething.

"A snake head bound on a bruise will effect a cure. The bite of a rattlesnake will cure tuberculosis. The warm intestines of a rattlesnake are especially curative for pneumonia. Wrap a snake around the neck and allow it to creep off and a goiter will disappear."

Pound concluded, "Snake oil . . . served or serves as a cure-all. Itinerant medicine peddlers appeared in Omaha and elsewhere as late as the 1930s selling snake oil, supposedly from Indian formulas."

(February 1999)



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