June 28, 2024

Raymond-Casco Historical Society to present rattlesnake lore event

By Kendra Raymond

When you think of rattlesnakes, the mind wanders to southwestern areas, deserts, but mostly how to avoid them. Believe it or not, the term “rattlesnake” holds a significant piece of lore in the Town of Raymond history. Timber rattlers presumably inhabited the area in abundance prior to 1900 and one could even say the area was infested with the reptiles.

A presentation at the Raymond-Casco
Historical Society at 6:30 p.m. July 8
will discuss rattlesnakes and their
relevance to Maine's past.
The Raymond-Casco Historical Society will showcase that connection in an upcoming event entitled, “Rattlesnake: A Western Maine Story” at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 8. The free event will feature guest speaker Mike Davis, Assistant Director of the Bridgton Historical Society, who will tell stories of the past and chronicle the eradication of the timber rattler (Crotalus Horridus) in Maine.

RCHS president Frank McDermott says that Raymond had a large number of rattlesnakes in the past, so many that businesses were built around it.

“Most of the rattlesnakes were on Rattlesnake Mountain,” McDermott said. “The timber rattlers were so abundant that people actively trapped and milked them. They made medicines from it and ran entire businesses selling the products.”

He explained that so many people were actively selling things made from rattlesnakes that the practice eventually killed them off and they disappeared. The last known capture was in 1870. The decline is attributed to trapping practices, forest fires, and timber harvesting.

Local historian the late Ernest H. Knight chronicles several such stories in his book, “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” Knight provides the history of the mountain and delves into the local fascination and use of rattlesnake oil. He wrote that Casco and Raymond were once a prime habitat for the critter.

Passages from the book explain: “At the time of the first pioneer settlers it was infested with this feared reptile and was the home base of those inhibiting the surrounding area. Some of the early citizens, notably “Rattlesnake Ben” Smith and John Cash who both lived on Raymond Hill, became proficient in the capture and usage. Ben Smith liked them and kept them as pets to carry about with him to show anyone who was interested, while John Cash caught them for their oil which he rendered from their carcasses and peddled to those needing a palliative care for rheumatism. Ben claimed to have found the way to remove the fangs to render them harmless. He removed fangs with the pincers he used in repairing his shoes and tested his protective theories on small animals, while peddling his snake oil liniment for rheumatism and other ailments of the hard-working settlers throughout the local area and at militia musters.”

Smith eventually married and raised a family on Raymond Hill. His children were adept rattler hunters and often kept pets in their bedrooms and used the skins as toys. Granddaughter Margaret Pummer actually had her own crotched snake pole and joined her grandfather on trips up the mountain. Despite his propensity toward herpetology, Smith eventually perished one night in the bed he shared with his beloved pets.

McDermott shared that Crescent Lake was originally called “Great Rattlesnake Pond” and Raymond Pond was referred to as, “Little Rattlesnake Pond.” He also shared the fact that Ben Smith, an original Raymondtown settler, ran a business selling rattlesnake oil, presumed to provide cures for medical ailments. Smith sourced his oil from rattlesnakes on the mountain near his farm, which he later named “Rattlesnake Mountain.”

As development progressed, the names of the lake and pond were changed as lots weren’t selling well on water bodies with such “unwelcoming” names.

McDermott said that event guests should plan to arrive early as a large turnout is expected and seating is limited.

“It should be a fascinating lecture lasting about 30 to 45 minutes,” he said.

RCHS offers an exciting visit including local history exhibits, demonstrations in the Watkins Blacksmith Shop, tours of the one room schoolhouse, and views of the classic vehicles collection.

The Raymond-Casco Historical Society is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 3 p.m. and admission is free. Donations are always welcomed.

The RCHS is located at 1 Shadow Lane in Casco, just off Route 302.

Check out the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and the Watkins Blacksmith Shop on Facebook or on their website at: https://raymondcascohistoricalsociety.org <

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