A Different Kind of Cow Pie
My Strangest Encounter with a Person, Place, or Thing in the West Return to contest page »
A female college student finds a very unusual cow pie that isn't a cow pie after all. Her reaction to finding this unusual cow pie surprises her coworkers such that they never again tease her about what she'll do if she finds a rattle snake.
My strangest encounter with a rattlesnake occurred on a summer job while in college. I was working as a range conservationist student trainee with the Soil Conservation Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service). As a female in a non-traditional field I had received comments from my coworkers such as "since I was a woman and hadn't grown up on a ranch I couldn't possibly succeed as a range conservationist" to "we can't wait to see what you'll do when you encounter a rattlesnake on the job. We bet you'll go running and screaming to the truck."
My first encounter with a prairie rattlesnake came about six weeks after my first day on the job. One of my coworkers and I were out measuring a livestock water pipeline. It was an unusually cool, drizzly, overcast morning for summer in Estancia, New Mexico. The area was open, treeless prairie dominated by blue grama grass. I was in the lead with the 100' chain following the disturbed ground where the pipe had been laid. We were measuring it to verify that a certain amount of pipe had been laid for a government cost share program.
Several hundred feet into the measuring I could see ahead of me something I first mistook as a cow pie. However, when I was just about on top of it I realized it was actually a prairie rattler. Since the weather was unusually cool it was snoozing and didn't notice I was there so it didn't coil up and shake its rattle at me. I realized quickly I had the perfect opportunity to pull a joke on my one of my coworkers who had been saying I would act like a sissy when I encountered a rattlesnake. So I stuck the chaining pin about 6" from the pile of snake I originally thought was a cow pie and signaled to my coworker that I was ready to move on.
I continued walking listening for my coworker to say "chain", the signal that he had reached the chaining pin I had placed next to the snake. I didn't hear anything when I expected to so I looked back and caught a glimpse of him running to the truck to get a shovel. A very amusing scene unfolded as I watched him run back to the location of the snake where he proceeded to chop that snake up into many pieces. I don't know how many pieces he needed to chop that snake into before it died. However, I'm quite sure it didn't know what had hit it because my coworker acted quickly and thoroughly. If any wildlife was looking to dine on prairie rattler it probably didn't have to do much chewing to swallow that snake.
Nothing more was said as we finished measuring the pipeline. However, when we got back to the truck my coworker handed me the rattle from the snake he had killed. I never again heard any speculation as to what I'd do if I found a rattle snake and to this day I still have the rattle in a jar sitting in one of my kitchen drawers.