Victorian Wonder Woman-Rattlesnake Kate!

Photo credit: 1987.32.0022D, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection. Katherine Slaughterback driving a tractor, ca 1950. Photographer unknown.

It’s a nice, warm summer day and you are enjoying a jog along the open spaces near your home, when lo and behold, your normally safe trail is very surprisingly obstructed by a rattlesnake along your path. Perhaps you squeal realizing you’re a mere 10 feet away from the rattler that obviously saw you first and is head up, tongue out and rattle poised. One response would be to retreat and go back the way you came.  Another is that of Katherine McHale Slaughterback who on October 28, 1925, singlehandedly killed 140 rattlesnakes just outside Hudson (in Weld County), earning her the nickname “Rattlesnake Kate.”

Kate McHale Slaughterback is a Weld County legend. Born in a log cabin near Longmont in 1894, she attended nursing school and moved to Hudson where she resided for about fifty years. Even prior to her incredible rampage against a hundred plus snakes, Kate was a fiercely independent, strong woman who was known to wear pants,  an unusual choice for a woman during that time. She was married and divorced multiple times and owned her own farm. She was very adept at using a gun, knew a thing or two about taxidermy and even dabbled in brewing moonshine. Therefore, it was really no wonder, given Kate’s background, that a plethora of snakes were no match against her.

Photo credit: 1987.32.0013A, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection. Katherine Slaughterback with two strings of rattlesnakes, 1925. Photographer unknown.

The story goes, that on that fateful day in October 1925, Kate and her 3-year old son were coming back on horseback from a nearby pond where duck hunters had been earlier that day. The hope was that there may be a wounded duck or two she could ensnare for that night’s dinner. First, Kate spied just one rattlesnake,1 which she shot with her .22 Remington Rifle.2 Then she saw another and another and another. She kept shooting until she was out of ammo. Then, still surrounded by plenty of rattlers, she proceeded to snag a sign (supposedly it read “No Hunting”) and used its wooden stake to pummel the rest of the snakes to death.

I fought them with a club not more than 3 feet long, whirling constantly for over two hours before I could kill my way out of them and get back to my faithful horse and Ernie [her son], who were staring at me during my terrible battle not more than 60 feet away.” -Kate McHale Slaughterback, “Rattlesnake Kate”

Photo credit: 1987.32.0014B, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection. Rattlesnake Kate in rattlesnake dress, 1926. Photographer unknown.

Upon returning home, her neighbor noticed her haggard appearance and once the story was relayed, both he and Kate returned to the site of the incident and rounded up all the dead snakes. Her neighbor was so impressed, he spread the word and reporters caught wind of the incredible feat. Kate was now infamous and her picture was taken with all of the snakes strewn upon a rope in front of her. Kate capitalized on this sudden opportunity and proceeded to use her taxidermy skills to first make herself a dress out of the rattlesnake skins3 and then made shoes and belts as souvenirs. Interestingly, only a couple years later, snakeskin started making its way into fashion, primarily as accessories and shoes.4 Ironically, Kate later raised rattlesnakes and would milk them of their venom, selling the venom to scientists in California.5 Eventually, she found this work tedious and after being told just sending the heads unmilked would not be permitted, she quit the practice.

A few weeks before she passed away in October 1969, at the age of seventy-five, Kate donated her rattlesnake dress to the Greeley History Museum, where it still resides today!

Arian Osborne
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