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“The Little Boy and the Snake” from “Who Blowed Up the Church House?” by Vance Randolph. Told by Pete Woolsey, Pineville, MO., September, 1924.

On time there was a woman, and she had a little boy. Every day she would give him a bowl of bread and milk. He always carried the bread and milk out in the brush to eat it She thought it is as kind of funny he wouldn’t eat in the house, but she did not say nothing. Every day she heard the little boy talking and laughin out in the brush, but she figured he was talking to himself. He could talk pretty good for his age. A girl told her that the little boy was all the time playing with a snake, but the woman didn’t believe it.

One day she slipped through the fence to find out what the little boy was doing, and she seen him setting on the ground with a big yellow rattlesnake wrapped around his legs. He would eat a little of his bread and milk, and then give some to the snake. They was having a fine time together. That was why the little boy always took his bread and milk out in the brush that way and would not play with the other children.

The woman did not say nothing, but she went back to the house and got the shotgun. Pretty soon the rattlesnake seen her coming. It moved away from the little boy, and then reared up and begun to rattle. So then the woman shot the big snake and killed it.

Snake boy

The little boy did not make no fuss. He just looked at his mother once, and his eyes was like snake eyes. Then he went back to the house, and he never spoke another word to anybody. He never laughed no more, and he never eat another bite except some leaves off of a weed. Nobody knowed what kind of a weed it was. On sunny days he laid still in the sunshine, with his eyes wide open. He just kind of pined away and got thinner. They had the town doctor come out, but it didn’t do no good. About three weeks after she killed the big snake, the woman found her little boy laying in the path and he was dead. His mouth looked kind of funny, and his eyes was not like other little boys’ eyes.

The town doctor said maybe the little boy was poisoned by eating weeds. But the home folks did not believe no such foolishness. Everybody knowed that the woman’s first husband was part Cherokee, and he was kind of a snakey-looking fellow. It was against his religion to kill snakes. Some folks thought there might be a little cross of rattlesnake in the family.

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Vance Randolph also mentions this type of folk tale in his “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:

There are several old tales about an odd relationship between snakes and babies. According to one story, well known in many parts of the Ozark country, a small child is seen to carry his cup of bread and milk out into the shrubbery near the cabin. The mother hears the baby prattling but supposes that he is talking to himself. Finally she approaches the child and is horrified to see him playing with a large serpent usually a rattlesnake or copperhead. The baby takes a little food but gives most of his bread and milk to the big reptile. The mother’s first impulse is to kill the snake, of course, but the old-timers say that this would be a mistake. They believe that the snake’s life is somehow linked with that of the child, and if the reptile is killed the baby will pine away and die a few weeks later. I have heard old men and women declare that they had such cases in their own families and knew that the baby did die shortly after the snake’s death.