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HISTORICAL – Rattlesnakes, Indians and a Pioneer Preacher

Heed the warning of the rattlesnake! (Photo - Jean Beaufort)

Heed the warning of the rattlesnake! (Photo – Jean Beaufort)

One of the most colorful preachers in the Texas Republic was Z. N. Morrell. In 1844, he wrote: “My mind was impressed strongly that my labors were in demand in the county of Montgomery.” Though his mark on our county was significant, his most memorable adventure stemmed from an earlier encounter with rattlesnakes when he was, as he put it, “west of Brazos.”

In 1838, with a group of surveyors, Morrell ventured on horseback to the coast area near Corpus Christi. On an occasion, he and a companion named Matthew Burnett broke off from the group for a little private reconnoitering of the area. Soon they saw in the distance a fine-looking wild cow. Their appetites thus whetted for beef, the men prepared their guns to fell the beast.

Just as Burnett was about to fire, Morrell spotted a horse striding slowly toward the cow. Then just ahead of the horse, he spotted an Indian youth crawling in high weeds with bow and arrow poised to strike the cow. Burnett, also spotting the Indian, turned his weapon to fire at him.

Quickly, Morrell commanded Burnett not to fire. The reason: Morrell remembered the lesson he had recently learned from rattlesnakes. Upon meandering through a brush pile, Morrell and others had disturbed two huge and beautiful snakes. Instead of immediately striking the men, the serpents reared their noble heads and with their rattlers sounded a warning. This allowed the men time to plan an attack and prevail in the ensuring battle. Still it impressed Morrell that the snakes had fought only in self defense.

It was remembrance of this scene which gave Morrell pause in the case of the Indian youth. The preacher explained that the Indian was doing them no harm, hence there was no need to engage a battle of self defense. Therefore, the men left the potentially tasty spot of beef to the Indian.

Hungry, yet satisfied that they had done the right thing, they returned to their companions. Suddenly, a band of Karankawa Indians appeared, prompting the men to go for their weapons. But, to their great surprise, the Karankawa leader gave a sign of peace.

Puzzled that a group of Indians known for their prowess at tying victims to a stake and eating their flesh right before their eyes would seek a peaceful meeting, Morrell and company sought an answer. It turned out to be very simple: the youth that Morrell had refused to shoot was the chief’s son. On the spot, Morrell and company made a treaty of peace with the Karankawa that received official sanction from President Sam Houston.

Ever afterwards, Morrell would intersperse many sermons with the lesson of the rattlesnake.

Author Robin Navarro Montgomery, Ph.D., is a member of the Montgomery and Walker County Historical Commissions, chair of the latter and author of numerous books and articles.
Contact him at zippoboo@aol.com.





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