By Jack Cawthon|
Each spring I look forward to attending the Religious Redemption
Revival and Ramp Festival held in Big Puf at the Holy Rattlers Church.
The Festival goes back many years to the beginning days of the
Rattlers congregation. Although there are reports from time to time
of serpent handling services in the hills, the Holy Rattlers are
unique in their beliefs. The church was founded by a charismatic
character named Rattlesnake Bill who lived high up on Big Puf
Mountain. Bill was a loner who had forsaken the coil of society for
the coils of his favorite pets, his timber rattlers.
Bill loved his snakes. Often he would be seen in the early evenings
walking the serpentine path along Big Puf Crick with a couple of his
twisted companions around each arm and he would be singing to them
some of the old mountain hymns he had learned as a boy. The snakes
seemed charmed by his voice.
One evening as Bill happened to look back he spied a band of people
following him along the crick. They seemed enthralled by his voice
and his pets and like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, Lincoln County, who we
learned about in our West Virginia history classes he had followers
who were determined to go wherever he led them.
It wasn't long until Bill settled into an old abandoned coal company
scale house where one thing led to another and soon he had a lively
congregation that delighted in showing its faith by joining him in
singing hymns and entwining with his serpents.
Bill had discovered a passage in the Good Book that mentioned picking
up serpents, evidently one that we Methodists had worked around some
way or other, and before one could say cultic proclivities he had
himself proclaimed ordained.
As so happens with charismatic males, especially, Bill was soon drawn
not only to the entanglements of his snakes but to a similar
configuration of the apple of the Serpent's eye in the original
Garden, and he soon became smitten, and bitten, as much with his
female flock as with his other pets.
But one fateful night Bill had stayed late with his choir director,
working over some high notes and making beautiful music together, when
her husband returned unexpectedly. Bill's system, which had withstood
139 bites from his timber rattlers with no apparent harm, wasn't up to
the high velocity bite of a .38 slug striking a vital organ.
As he was laid to rest, many said with redundancy, and with a smile on
his face indicative of his many happy climatic moments, his
congregation was determined to carry on, but perhaps not quite as much
as Bill had.
The Holy Rattlers had always been a warm weather religion and best
experienced lukewarm. With the coming of cold weather the snakes grew
lethargic, then comatose. They were carefully uncoiled and inserted
into mailing tubes for the long winter storage. Services were then
over until the first signs of spring brought forth the faint rattle of
Unfortunately, there isn't much to occupy one's mind in Big Puf in the
wintertime. A few devout souls would partake of a little strychnine
from time to time to keep the faith in memory of Bill, but it didn't
produce the buzz of the rattlers. Many fell from the righteous path
with the steady guidance of a faithful leader and sins of the flesh
were numerous without regard for religious affiliations.
One day Eph Hanshaw was inserting the dipstick oil heater into the
engine of his big diesel logging truck when an idea struck him. He
decided to experiment. He removed one of the rattlers from its
mailing tube container and very carefully inserted the dipstick heater
from its head to its bustle. He then plugged it into an electrical
outlet. Lo, where once the snake came alive with a higher power it
now surged to life with Allegheny Power! From that time on winter was
no hindrance as there was always a rattler plugged in ready to go. In
case of emergency such as unscheduled services for weddings and
funerals, a portable jump-start unit was hooked up with only the
positive cable needed, as the snakes were well grounded in faith.
Before the days of such modern conveniences, however, there was a
great revival timed with the ramp harvest in the springtime when the
snakes awoke and became energized through nature, not nurture,
striking out on another season.
This year's revival featured the Rev. Les Pedeza with his Gospel
Sounds for all Occasions, accompanied by the Backsliders Quartet.
Pedeza had made the national news sometime back with his sowing of
wild oats. Postal inspectors, the FBI, the IRS, and the AFL-CIO had
swarmed into his headquarters and scooped up incriminating documents
related to stock scams, defrauding of the elderly, corruption of
minors, violations of the child labor laws and the running of arms to
After a jail term, a recent book, a Hollywood contract for a movie and
a quick weight loss diet plan he was back in high demand on the
Reportedly, Pedeza had converted several women in the back of his
conversion van, although I was informed by some that serpents that
crawled on their bellies were preferable more than Les.
There was great joy that ex-coal baron Lester T. Archabald IV attended
the revival and seemed determined to forsake his sinful ways with
women and whisky in the same manner he had forsaken environmental
I enjoyed the good food served by the ladies of the church. In
addition to the ramps, they always feature the Surprise Sandwich,
which tastes a lot like chicken. When I ask what is in it, they
always just smile and tell me to have faith.