Rattlesnake, a complex symbol of American culture

From March 12th to 14th, Sweetwater, Texas, USA held the annual rattlesnake round up celebration. In this world’s largest round-up of rattlesnakes, tens of thousands of snakes were beheaded and skinned amidst the cheers of people. The scene was very bloody. Some people regard this event as local cultural heritage, but animal protectors have called for the prohibition of such cruel killings. In fact, in American history, rattlesnakes are a special and complex cultural symbol. Before the War of Independence, this kind of counter-attack animal represented the North American colonies’ resistance to Britain. However, in reality, this dangerous animal is in a situation where everyone shouts and beats, and a large number of them are tortured and killed. The culture and reality of rattlesnakes are embarrassing.

“Miss Rattlesnake” pageant attracts attention

This spring, the rattlesnakes in Texas did not get a chance to recuperate. While the new crown pneumonia epidemic in the United States is still severe, Texas relaxed its epidemic prevention and control measures on March 10, allowing commercial activities to be fully opened. This allowed this year’s rattlesnake rounds to continue.

The Rattlesnake Roundup Celebration in Sweetwater City is Texas’ annual event, and this year marks the 63rd consecutive time the city has hosted the event. Despite the impact of the epidemic, this year’s event still attracted tens of thousands of people. We must know that the population of Sweetwater is just over 10,000, which shows the popularity of this activity.

In fact, Sweetwater is not the only city hosting rattlesnakes hunting events. Many states in the Midwest and South of the United States have such customs. Rattlesnakes are the most common venomous snake in the United States. When European immigrants first arrived in North America, people and livestock were often bitten or killed. Therefore, starting from the 18th century, some areas of the United States began to organize activities to round up rattlesnakes. People have invented various methods to “lead the snake out of the hole”, including filling the snake hole with gasoline.

To a certain extent, the killing of rattlesnakes is a microcosm of North American colonial history and pioneering history. However, with the development of society, this event has gradually evolved from its original defensive purpose into an organized and large-scale entertainment celebration. Among all localities, the Rattlesnake Roundup Festival in Sweetwater is the most famous.

The content of the celebration is “rich”, including rattlesnake hunting competition, cooking competition, big stomach king competition, etc. The most eye-catching is the “Miss Rattlesnake” beauty contest, also known as the “Miss Snake Charmer” beauty contest, local 16-19 Girls as young as the age can participate. Unlike other beauty pageants, this competition focuses more on “courage” in addition to appearance and dress. Contestants need to cut off the snake’s head with a knife and skin the snake to prove their bravery. The classic picture of this beauty pageant is a young girl holding a long fork to provoke a beheaded rattlesnake.

Quite controversial

The scene of the Rattlesnake Hunting Festival can be described as horror and bloody. According to statistics, Sweetwater City catches more than two tons of snakes when an event is held every year. The judges will measure their weight and length, and then remove the venom. Most of these snakes will be beheaded. The processed snake meat will be made into a variety of food and distributed to the audience, and the rest of the snake skin will be sold or made into decorations.

Snake blood was seen everywhere at the event site. On the wall, there are bloody handprints. These are all signs of “victory” left on the wall by the participants after skinning the rattlesnake. When rattlesnakes one after another were beheaded, the crowds onlookers, including children, would scream and laugh continuously. It is also for this reason that this activity has been controversial. Critics believe that this cruel slaughter scene has no educational significance for minors. However, the organizers believe that through such activities, young people can identify venomous snakes and overcome people’s fear of snakes. In addition, this celebration has long become an important source of local income, generating approximately US$8.3 million in revenue each year.

Many people use the “infestation” of rattlesnakes in Texas and other areas as an excuse to round up this animal every year. However, official statistics show that fewer than 5 people die from snakebites in the United States each year, including those who refuse to seek medical treatment and those who are bitten by their own poisonous snakes. In addition, the use of gasoline to catch rattlesnakes not only reduces the number of rattlesnakes, but also pollutes the surrounding land and groundwater, and more than 350 wild animals and plants are affected. Some areas have already started to change. Clarkston, Georgia, stopped holding rattlesnakes hunting activities in 2012 and replaced them with the “Rattlesnakes and Wildlife Celebration” to let the public understand the safety knowledge and habits of rattlesnakes.

Complex cultural symbols

The rattlesnake is a representative of North American colonial culture. In 1751, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, put forward an ironic suggestion: the colony could distribute rattlesnakes all over the United Kingdom in order to “repay” Britain for transporting criminals to the North American continent. In 1754, Franklin published a political cartoon called “Join or Die” in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In the painting, the North American colonies were depicted as broken into pieces of snakes to symbolize the division of the colonies. He also published an article at the same time, calling on the colonies to unite against foreign enemies. Later, the American military commander Christopher Gadsden designed the famous “Gadsden Flag”: the flag has a yellow base, a rattlesnake coiled on it, and the text “Don’t step on me” beside it. This flag is considered to be one of the earliest national flags of the United States. The author and historian of “The Flag: American Biography”, Mark Lepsen, believes that this snake that warns the enemy against provocation is a symbol of opposition to British rule in the North American colonies and support for the independent revolution.

However, with the development of American society, this rattlesnake pattern gradually gained new meaning. In the 1970s, it became a symbol of libertarian support for small government and individual rights. After the “9.11” terrorist attack in 2001, and the rise of the tea party later, this pattern was used to express the “spirit” that dared to resist and despise the outside world. As of 2018, 10 states including Alabama allow drivers to use this pattern as license plates. But later, this pattern became a representative of racism, far-right and gunism.