Mad Dogs and Venomous Snakes: The Inconsequential Nature of Everyday Life

Whenever I get the time, I love poring through old newspapers from Chattooga and Walker Counties, searching the bits of news for names of people in my family tree. The Summerville News and Walker County Messenger are littered with my ancestors far and wide. Most of the time when an ancestor is mentioned it seems inconsequential. The more I read through these things, the more I feel like I’m looking at a Twitter feed from over 100 years ago! Indeed, social media isn’t the phenomenon of the new millennium we think it to be. Sure, the bits and bytes shuffling back and forth between our smart phones and computer screens weren’t around in our ancestors time. But our ancestors were just as interested in everybody else’s “status updates” as we are today… only the medium for sharing those updates has changed.

This week I started combing my records for some of these “status updates” so I could put together a selection for you here. Looking for a unifying theme of some sort, I noticed an awful lot of talk about rabid dogs and dangerous snakes. Yep, that’s what I said: dogs and snakes. Now I don’t mean dogs and snakes at the same time. But there seemed to be an awful lot of newspaper mentions about these two animals. I suppose for a rural country area you’re going to have a lot of dogs and, well, a lot of snakes. And I suppose it also makes a good news story to talk about the latest mad dog or venomous snake. Still, it gives me a chuckle to think that over a century later this is what I’m reading about. Like I said… inconsequential.

But apparently to our ancestors it was enough to make the newspaper.

In 1896, a record-breaking rattlesnake was found in Gore:

“T.M. Ballenger, of Gore, killed a rattlesnake last Friday morning near Luke Prickett’s residence in Dirttown valley, which was one of the largest of its kind ever seen in this section of the country. It was four feet and eleven inches in length, and had fourteen rattles and a button, and was ten inches in circumference at the largest part of its body. It was truly a monster of its kind, and it was fortunate that Mr. Ballenger killed it” (Rural Life).

In May 1893 in Subligna, “A mad dog passed through our valley a few days ago and bit some of Terrell Gray’s hogs, also some of W.G. [Wiley Gresham] Scoggins. The dog was killed by James Rush” (Grigsby).

Later that same month in Gore, “J.A. Youngblood killed a rattlesnake a short time ago that had fourteen rattles and a button” (Grigsby).

In June of 1893,

“Tom Scoggins had quite a narrow escape from a mad dog last Sunday evening. He was returning home after dark when the dog attacked him, making a desperate effort to bite him in the face, but was luckily prevented from doing so. He caught the dog and dragged him down the road and was finally assisted in killing him” (Grigsby).

[I’m not sure which Tom Scoggins this is, but probably either this one, this one, or this one]
[Update 24 Aug 2012: Thanks to cousin and blog reader Nelda Scoggin Reynolds, we determined this is Thomas Henry Scoggins (1869-1951).]

And in Nov 1891:

“Mad dogs have got up a boom over in Haywood Valley. A stray dog came along a few days ago and bit a dog and this last bit some cattle. The result is that Jim Millican and Brack Dunwoody each lost a yearling and several dogs have died” (Grigsby).

I’m sure there are even more dogs and snakes lurking in the pages of the local newspapers. I didn’t have to search very far to find these references–and I didn’t look any further because, well, one needs only so many dogs and snakes to make his point.

Interestingly enough, though, these snake stories weren’t always just written about in the local paper. I ran across this bit in the Boston Daily Globe from 6 Jul 1883: “Archie Reed of Villanow, Ga., killed two rattlesnakes, one of which was trying to swallow a rabbit” (A Few).

Can you imagine a Boston paper writing about a Villanoian killing a snake today (whether or not a rabbit was involved)? Hardly. But might it make the rounds on Twitter? Absolutely… just ask the Bronx Zoo’s Cobra for a few pointers.

The next time you update your Twitter, remember that people 100 years from now–more even–may look back and wonder just why in the world you were talking about such unimportant things. And yes: it will happen. The Library of Congress has already acquired the entire Twitter archive, ensuring your rants about mad dogs and venomous snakes–or whatever the heck else–will be around for posterity. It’s a little intimidating in some ways to think about all that data. But somewhere, somehow I can almost guarantee it will become of valuable use not only to historians but also genealogists like you and I.

The fact is that all those inconsequential bits about our ancestors lives might not be so inconsequential after all. They are but a tiny piece of the story–yes–but they reveal interesting details about those who came before us. And so, too, we reveal interesting details about ourselves.

If you like this post, be sure to Tweet it!

The top photo was taken in West Armuchee at the Lawrence Cemetery. Far from a mad dog, this guy lives at the old Lawrence home and is as friendly as they come. I photographed the snake–not a rattlesnake like those found in Chattooga and Walker counties–in Baltimore on the same trip as when I visited Finns Point National Cemetery.


“A Few Snake Stories.” Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922). 6 Jul 1883: 1. Historical Newspapers. ProQuest. Accessed 6 Apr 2012.

Grigsby, David & Delores, comp. Summerville News 1891-1903. This document was dictated from copies of the Summerville News on microfilm at the Summerville Library in 1987 and later transcribed.

“Rural Life In Georgia.” Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945). 25 Jul 1896: 4. Historical Newspapers. ProQuest. Accessed 6 Apr 2012.

3 Responses to “Mad Dogs and Venomous Snakes: The Inconsequential Nature of Everyday Life”

  1. Tammy says:

    I miss our little furry friend there. He was a wonderful friendly creature. And the snake pic is absolutely amazingly beautiful. I actually really love snakes as long as they aren’t chasing me. I had a water snake do that once. Anyway, thanks for mentioning about the Twitter Archive. It amuses me to think of someone going through there shifting out trends and figuring out what people were doing. Sort of like sifting through the collective unconscious…

  2. Julie says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention the “mad” dog that bit you on the rear! Evidently even today there is a problem with rattlesnakes. I’ve seen several facebook pics from people back home who have killed them lately!

    • I’m glad you jogged my memory on that, Julie! I didn’t even think of that story as I was writing this, but it would have fit in nicely!

      And yes, you’re right about the snakes. I’ve seen some people post such photos too. Case in point that today’s social media is much more like the newspapers of old than we might think!

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