Rattlesnake Acres

[Editor's Note: The methods used by Captain Loomis to treat snakes bites are not recommended,
and may prove hazardous to one's health. This is a historical recollection only, and not meant as
medical advice. Medicine has progressed significantly since the 1920s, and medical facilities are
much more accessible.]

Ranch life was not without it's share of hazards; one of the more common to humans and animals were rattlesnake bites. During their first few years in Alder Creek, Captain Loomis claimed to see 40 or 50 rattlesnakes a year. In his journal, he related a number of tales about his run-ins with the deadly reptiles. As with most emergencies on the ranch, these incidents were dealt with locally, and dismissed as a necessary price for the otherwise idyllic life they had chosen.

Captain Loomis had killed many rattlesnakes and always tried to figure out just what they would and could do. In his journal he wrote:

"I have never yet found one that can strike over one-half of the length of their body and I can't remember a case where the rattler didn't try it's best to get away. The only dangers I can see is in stepping on them or when reaching down getting too close for their comfort. Most people have an idea that snakes will deliberately lie in wait for them and that they can jump a good many feet. My treatment against their bites is a simple one. I take a sharp knife and make a 3/8" deep incision cutting lengthways and away from bites – squeeze all blood from cuts and if you happen to have permanganate of potash rub a few crystals into wounds. I was bitten twice by rattlesnakes once in the leg, once in an arm and had no serious affects whatsoever. It is my belief that those who die do so from fright, not from the snake poison."

Captain Loomis wasn't the only ranch resident bitten by a rattler. Their collie dog (whose story is told in Collie) and Grace were also bitten. Captain Loomis described one of these incidents:

"On my way to the mine I had cut some firewood in Arrastra Canyon – about a mile from home – which I packed home on burros. After it was all brought in my wife in walking up that way noticed that I had left a lot of fine stuff and bark, both of which she likes to use in the wood burning stove we use up here. Whenever we were out in the hills on a walk she had made it a practice to bring in a piece of bark or wood. This has become a habit with both of us.

She asked me to go up and bring the small stuff down but I was busy with something else so I didn't do it. So one morning she and her grandson Lester, who was then about 5 years old – saddled up one of four burros, took a lunch, and said they were going on a picnic. Lester came walking in some time during the afternoon. I knew that something was the matter so I asked him "Where 's grandma?" In his slow, deliberate way he replied "Oh, she's a coming" and added a while after very unconcerned "she was bitten by a rattlesnake".

I went into the house quickly, got my first aid kid and started up the trail. I soon met her – she came walking along slowly – holding her arm, trying to cut off circulation. I took her into the house and lanced the two bites on the forefinger of her right hand. Then I used a hypodermic needle to inject a solution of permanganate of potash into the wound. The hand and arm kept swelling so I cut clear to bone the second time and had her keep her hand in the solution of permanganate. She felt pretty sick for a few days, the action of the poison ... affecting her right shoulder & throat.

After my first treatment and when she had become somewhat comfortable, I went back up to Arrastra Canyon. My wife had told me where the burros were and that she had been bitten when picking up a nice piece of bark. When I got up there I found the rattlesnake still in the place she had told me. I dispatched the snake and brought the burros back. While I was gone she had written a letter to each of her children for fear that she might die of the effects of the bite – but she was as well as before a week afterwards."

During the time the Loomises lived at the ranch, the critters became more scarce, eventually being seen only a few times per year. However, they obviously continued to thrive in the area. Charles Foster, owner of a small portion of the ranch from 1967 to 2000, named his place "Rattlesnake Acres".

The story "Rattlesnakes" provides Grace's version of her rattlesnake bite tale.

Pasted Graphic
Unidentified man posing beside Loomis Ranch sign, c. 1980.
Note "Rattlesnake Acres" sign.
Dick Worsfold Collection, Sierra Club-Angeles Chapter Archives

[Sources: Lester Loomis Journal - Wandalee Thompson Collection (2002.1.23)]