Lost El Paso Legend: Rattlesnake Kate Killed 140 Rattlesnakes Single-handedly
It sounds like a tall tale from the American frontier, like Paul Bunyon or Pecos Bill.
But, “Rattlesnake” Kate Slaughterback was a real woman AND she briefly lived in El Paso.
However, Kate’s story starts in her home state of Colorado. Katherine McHale Slaughterback was born in 1893 or ’94 in a log cabin near Boulder. Kate was very different from most young ladies of the early 1900s.
She went to college, was a skilled taxidermist, and was married and divorced SIX times. That was VERY unusual for those days. Also, Rattlesnake Kate preferred pants to dresses, nearly unheard of for a woman of those times.
Kate wouldn’t become Rattlesnake Kate until 1925.
That was the year she single-handedly killed 140 rattlesnakes that had surrounded her, her horse, and her young son Ernie. They were riding near a lake close to their farm when Katherine and Ernie found themselves surrounded by hundreds of migrating rattlesnakes.
Before I recount how she got out of that scrape, let’s talk about how we know Kate wasn’t just spinning a tall tale. We know that because a newspaper photographer went all the way out to Kate’s farm. There are two famous photos. One showed all of the deceased snakes strung together on a rope.
The other photo (actually there are many) showed Kate wearing the dress she had made…from the skins of over 50 of the rattlers she had killed. In fact, that dress is on display to this very day at the Greely Municipal Museum.
Now back to the story of Kate Slaughterback and her life-or-death battle against scores of venomous serpents.
Kate didn’t go unarmed that day. She had her .22 rifle, which she used to blast as many of the snakes as she could before running out of ammo. Once she was out of shells, Kate took part in a nearby sign (legend has it that it was a “No Hunting” sign), which she used to wage holy hell against the snakes. For TWO hours, Kate told the reporter, she used the sign while, “whirling constantly before I could kill my way out of them and get back to my faithful horse and Ernie.”
Rattlesnake Kate’s thrilling tale was picked up by the New York papers and spread around the world.
Now for the El Paso connection. Kate Slaughterback lived for many more decades, marrying and divorcing multiple partners over the years. One of her husbands was a man named Garner who Kate married in Mexico.
They made their home in El Paso, Texas for some unspecified number of years in years following World War II (which Ernie served in and Kate was a volunteer nurse). It is not reported if Kate continued her war on snakes while in Texas or if all the El Paso rattlesnakes knew of her and refused to live anywhere in the county while she resided therein.
Rattlesnake Kate Slaughterback (a fitting name if ever there were one) died in 1969 and is buried at the cemetery in Platteville, Colorado.
Her tombstone reads only, “Rattlesnake Kate” as were her wishes.