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Mrs. Frank Fritsch

December 1965

Rattlesnakes and windstorms! Mrs. Frank Fritsch, a native of Illinois, with her husband joined the homesteaders Montana-bound in 1910. She immediately took a liking to her adopted state, but the snakes and the windstorms she would have gladly omitted.

Even before her first encounter with a rattler, she had a dread of the creatures, especially that she would sometime meet one and not recognize its warning rattle until it was too late. Her husband assured her, "If you hear that rattle you'll know what it is," but she just didn't see how she could be sure. When she'd hear the buzz of a grasshopper (and there were many grasshoppers in Montana that first year she was here) she'd flee to the house, fearing the worst. Mr. Fritsch tried to give her a better idea of what to expect by shaking a handful of flax seed as about the closest imitation but still she worried. And then one day she heard it - and she recognized it.

She had started out on horseback for her brother's place about four or five miles from her home and had to dismount to open a gate. As she started for the gate a sudden rattle stopped her in her tracks. It was no grasshopper and no flax seed and she didn't need her husband to tell her so. A quick look in the direction of that menacing buzz revealed a rattler coiled just a few feet from her. She was terrified at the sound and sight, yet she felt she must try to kill the snake. She was wearing an apron with a full skirt so she hurried to the plowed field nearby, filled her apron with clods of dirt, then came back and began firing them at the snake. Maybe her aim would have been more accurate if she hadn't been so scared but, as it was, she "didn't come within a mile of it," to quote Mrs. Fritsch.

A series of futile attempts to put a clod where the snake was convinced her she would do better to go on to her brother's place and get some help. By that time she was so weak and shaky she found she couldn't get on her horse (no doubt some more of you would testify to a 'shaky feeling' after an encounter with a rattler!) so she walked and led her horse the rest of the way. The hired man came along back with her and they found the snake in the same spot. He thought she ought to try to kill it with the long stick he had brought but that idea was not at all to her liking. At his urging she finally took the stick, howbeit with great reluctance, and took a mighty whack at the snake. Had she connected, it surely would have been the death of him because she hit so hard she broke the stick in two, but she missed the snake entirely. That left only a short piece of stick for the hired man to use but with it he quickly put an end to the rattler. Mrs. Fritsch was astonished to see that such a light blow would stun the snake.

Not until many years later did she see another rattlesnake. They were living in West Glendive by then and she had gone to the garden to get an armful of Swiss chard for their rabbits when, again, she heard that unmistakable warning. She dropped her Swiss chard, grabbed the hoe and finished off that snake without any assistance this time. Then she draped the dead remains over the garden fence to prove to her family that she actually had done the deed.

As for windstorms, she had reason for prejudice. The second summer they were in Montana, the wind gave them a frightening experience. They had a well on their place but the water was alkaline and not fit for drinking - nor for much else either. They had to haul their drinking water the five miles from her brother's home. One hot summer afternoon as they were going home with the water they noticed big, black, threatening clouds rolling up from the west. They hurried on home and Mr. Fritsch quickly stabled the horses while the others of the party (Mrs. Fritsch's parents were with them) dashed to the house. Mr. Fritsch himself just had time to get inside the door when the storm broke in all its fury. As the wind tore at the little one-and-a-half story house the occupants suddenly felt a shift and the house was no longer on its foundation. After a time (it seemed a long time!) the storm subsided and the Fritsches were much relieved that their house was still intact if not where it was supposed to be. Later Mr. Fritsch obtained some big telephone poles and pushed it back onto the foundation. But from then on Mrs. Fritsch had a dread of storms. Soon after that they dug a root cellar and she "waited out the storms" down there.


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