• July 28, 2014

‘Rattlesnake Lady’ has handled rattlers for nearly 90 years

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Posted: Monday, September 9, 2013 4:30 am

EVANT — Edna McDonald is a charmer — of snakes and people.

“There are good snakes and bad snakes,” McDonald said. “Good people and bad people.”

After 97 years with people and 88 years with snakes, McDonald can tell the good from the bad.

“I am not afraid of snakes but I respect them. I know how to treat them,” she said. “I’ve been handling snakes for 88 years and I’ve never been bitten.”

Known for years as the “Rattlesnake Lady,” McDonald has put on snake shows for children, is a regular at the Oglesby Rattlesnake Roundup and has appeared several times on “Animal Planet.”

On Tuesday at 8 p.m., she will be featured on “Snake Salvation” on the National Geographic Channel. The program focuses on a Kentucky preacher who sought out McDonald to help supply his church with rattlesnakes for worship.

“These preachers say to put your hand in a box of snakes and, if you are God’s chosen, you won’t die,” McDonald said with a shake of her head.

“God never told me to stick my hand in a box of snakes,” she said.

The early days

She was born Edna Hodo in a house not far from where she lives today on rugged ranchland known as Hodo Valley. She was the eighth of nine children.

Her daddy took Edna along to clear out a den of rattlers on the family ranch when she was 8, she said. Back then, snake tactics involved more dynamite than charm.

“I was supposed to stay down and keep my head covered, but I looked up when the dynamite went off,” she said. “There were snakes and rocks and dirt flying everywhere.”

She never lost her fascination with rattlers and accompanied one of her brothers on frequent snake-catching expeditions.

“He’d say, ‘Sister, let’s go get some snakes,’” McDonald said. “We never went out that we didn’t get some.”

She said she “ran off to Dallas to get married” in 1932. She was 16; her husband was 17. The couple had $4 between them.

“I told my mother we were going to live on love,” she said.

They both found work. She was hired by the telephone company and worked her way up to communications director. She later taught communications at El Centro College.

On weekends, she returned to Hodo Valley, working, tending a garden and patrolling for rattlesnakes.

When she retired in 1972, she moved back to Hodo Valley to country living and rattlesnake wrangling.

“I love every minute of it,” she said.

Senior living

McDonald said she likes to stay “busy, busy, busy,” but her pace has slowed a bit since she fell and broke her hip in July when a friend at the Methodist Church gave her an enthusiastic hug.

“My mistake was going to church,” she said with a grin.

The hip surgery was successful, she said, “I don’t feel a bit of pain.”

She moves around her ranch without the help of a walker or a cane but she is not yet up to confronting a snake den.

Her inventory is down to three small Western diamondbacks, a far cry from the days when she was winning competitions with rattlers measuring 60 inches and weighing in at 9 pounds.

“When I get to where I can get around good, I’ll be after the big snakes,” she said.

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