A thing about growing up in New Mexico is you come to grips pretty early with the concept of rattlesnakes. When I was in elementary school we lived in Roswell, it was town, so we heard about rattlesnakes but hardly ever saw one. But our parents always put the fear of God in us about rattlesnakes. As my dad was fond of saying, “Rattlesnakes might not hurt you, but they can damn sure make you hurt yourself.”

As a kid I lived in abject fear of running into a rattlesnake. I had never even seen one until I was about 10 or 11 when we moved to Hot Springs, which then became Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It’s on the Rio Grande River, which goes through the Elephant Butte Lake and then on down to Las Cruces, El Paso and Mexico.

When we first moved to Hot Springs my parents were the care-takers of a motel. It was a very small motel. Only had six, or seven units. It was across the street from the river.  It was one of those really, really cheap motels. My dad worked as a carpenter/ handyman or whatever job he could find in town, and he also took care of the maintenance around the motel. Mom was in charge of cleaning and managing the rooms.

We never had very many customers. You’d think since we were right across the street from the Rio Grande, we might have had more customers, but we weren’t on the best side of town. Across the street nestled against the bank of the river was a small tackle shop that my friend Joe’s dad owned.

Unless you’re on the river, it is a parched, bone-dry desert all around T or C,… so whenever it rained the gullies would immediately fill up, and the resulting flash flood would wash all the rattlesnakes into the river. After a big rain, there would be a gazillion rattlesnakes floating down the river. We’d watch them make their way to the bank and try to slither out, and for the next two or three days, you’d better be careful where you stepped.

My friend Joe was Native American… I think, Navajo, but I’m not sure. He and his parents lived about four miles out of town, and sometimes I’d go out there and spend the day. Most of the time I was scared to death because their place was smack dab in the middle of rattlesnake country. Joe had told me that a couple of times his mom had gone into their laundry room and found a coiled rattlesnake among the clothes. That’s when he introduced me to Max! 

Joe had a black Lab named Max… and Max could kill rattlesnakes. I saw it happen. We were in Joe’s back yard and Max, always on the lookout, saw a rattlesnake. He noisily went charging toward it. The snake coiled as Max came running toward it, enticing the snake to strike, (Max made sure he stopped short of the distance the snake could’ve struck him). The snake quickly coiled itself up again. (I found out later a snake can strike about three-quarters of its length.)

Max had lured the snake to strike in order to establish the distance it COULD strike. Max, then stayed just far enough away that both he and the snake know it can’t strike that far. Now Max starts circling the rattlesnake.  He walks very slowly… The rattler’s eyes are glued to Max’s movements,  and as Max goes behind the snake, it quickly swivels it’s head to pick up Max on the other side as he passes behind him. At first, it’s so fast, that it almost seems like the snake’s head can endlessly turn. Now, Max slows down even more… slowly… slowly… even slower. Max is hypnotizing the snake. As he walks slower and slower… the snake begins to get a little lazy.  It doesn’t whip it’s head around quite as quickly… and when the snake finally gets sluggish enough and turns his head slowly enough, Max lunges in from behind and doesn’t let go until the snake’s head is off.

I asked Joe if Max had been trained to kill rattlesnakes… Joe said, “Talk to my dad, and he will tell you the myth of the coyote who could kill rattlesnakes”.