Hoop Snake Hype By Mark Spitzer Of all the suspect Ozark malarkey the hogwash of the hoop snake has got to be called out supposedly there’s a certain serpent up in them hills which grips its tail in its jaws forms itself into a circle then goes rolling at speeds exceeding sixty miles per hour (Museum of Hoaxes) before straightening out at the last second and skewering humans with the deadly stinger on its tail of course there are a few ways to avoid this type of attack first documented in the 1700s (Tour in the U.S.A. vol. I, 1784) then later recounted in tales of Paul Bunyon and Pecos Bill first you can dive through a hoop snake’s hoop which will cause it to high tail it away or secondly and most commonly as Vance Randolph described: “in most cases this creature pursues some poor hillman misses him, and strikes the horn on its tail into a growing tree; the hoop snake’s horn is deadly poison and the tree always dies” (Ozark Magic and Folklore, 1947) Otto Rayburn adds to this the story of Aunt Steller Bonham who “wus pickin’ blackberries on a bluff above Clabber Crick . . . [and] saw a hoop snake rollin’ straight fer her. Snakes alive, she wus scairt! Hit wus as big ‘round as yer arm an’ made a loop th’ size of a bar’l hoop” that hoop snake though “jist ripped her dress with th’ pint of hits tail” and when she washed that dress “th’ pizen in hit turned three tubs o’ warsh water plumb green” (Ozark Country, 1941) (bonus fact: hoop snake venom has also been reported to make wood inflate to improbable proportions) Anyway in the oral tradition of the hill folk more hoopy hearsay began going viral; a phenom which continues to this day especially in chatroom chatter ie South Carolina 2009 when Norma Nichols narrated how her and her grandma fled an aggressive rotating wheel of a snake adding “THEY ARE REAL” similarly Vietnam vet Darrell C swore “a hoop snake stung [his grandpa] thrashing wheat in Oklahoma” 1917 then there’s Kaijene whose “grampa died from a bite in 1960” as well as Wendell Davis recalling one “the size of a . . . bicycle tire” (hoaxes.org) that’s why back in the thirties herpetologist Raymond Ditmars placed “$10,000 in a trust at a New York bank as a prize to be given to the first person providing evidence of . . . existence” (snake-facts.weebly.com) but guess what? No one brought a hoop snake in so let’s just break it down to the most common denominator in most of these stories claiming this snake is black a detail noted by reptile curator Karl Schmidt of the Field Museum of Natural History: “the habit of the common black snake of eastern North America of gliding along at great speed over the tops of bushes without descending to the ground may have a bearing on the origin of the belief in the hoop snake’s rolling method of progression” (Natural History Magazine, 1925) a fact I can corroborate having witnessed on the Fourche-LaFave near Bigelow a six-foot black rat snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) flying down a cliff face hardly even touching it in pursuit of a skittering mole I won’t go so far however as to claim its form was circular; if anything it was a constricting contracting ever flexing letter S but with every leaping looping lunge for lunch coiling and uncoiling while blasting like a lightning flash it kept creating an opening/closing O and that’s how this myth came to exist in Arkansas and everywhere where Eve’s apple is still an issue with few inclined to set the record straight.
Mark Spitzer, novelist, poet, essayist, and literary translator, grew up in Minneapolis where he earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Minnesota in 1990. He then earned his master’s in creative writing from the University of Colorado. After living on the road for some time, he found himself in Paris as writer in residence for three years at the bohemian bookstore Shakespeare and company. In 1997 he moved to Louisiana, became assistant editor of the legendary literature journal Exquisite Corpse, and earned an MFA from Louisiana State University. He taught creative writing and literature for five years at Truman State University and is now an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas. Author of more than 25 books, he has published nonfiction fish books, memoirs, novels, poetry collections, plays, articles on creative writing pedagogy, and books of literary translation. Spitzer has also been the official Nebraska state record holder for the yellow bullhead.