Katherine (McHale) Slaughterback was born near Longmont, Colorado on July 25, 1894. She was a nurse during World War II, and after the war she made her living farming on the eastern plains of Colorado. She also held a variety of odd jobs over the years, including taxidermist, midwife, and bootlegger. Kate Slaughterback was married and divorced six times and had one child, a son named Ernie Adamson.

 

1991.42.0649O, City of Greeley Museums, Hazel E. Johnson Collection.

Rattlesnake Kate Slaughterback kneeling in sand,

Date unknown. Photographer unknown.

Katherine earned the nickname “Rattlesnake Kate,” on October 28, 1925 when she and Ernie went out looking for ducks that were left the evening before by hunters. As Kate dismounted her horse to open a gate, she spotted a large rattlesnake coiled up by the fence, ready to strike. She shot the snake with her .22 shotgun. The sound of the gun upset an entire den of rattlesnakes. Soon several more snakes appeared and Kate continued to shoot each one until she ran out of ammunition. She noticed a “No Hunting” sign on a post a few feet away, so she ripped the sign out of the ground and beat the rattlers dead with the sign for over two hours with her son on her horse just sixty feet away.

When Kate returned home she told a neighbor about the ordeal. The word of the snake-slaying spread and newspaper reporters were showing up at Kate’s farm.

 

1991.42.0849P, City of Greeley Museums, Hazel E. Johnson Collection.

Kate Slaughterback and 140 Rattlesnakes,

Date unknown. Photographer unknown.

One newspaperman had her string up 140 dead rattlesnakes on a wire to pose for a photograph. This became one of the most famous pictures ever taken of Rattlesnake Kate. Kate used the skins and rattles to make a dress, headband, necklace, and pair of shoes.

Kate capitalized on her rattlesnake encounter. She actively began to hunt rattlesnakes, which she would make into a variety of souvenirs. She used her taxidermy skills to sell stuffed snakes and even turned some into ashtrays. For a period of time Kate kept rattlesnakes in a pen behind her home. She would milk them weekly and send the venom to a research laboratory in Los Angeles.

Kate died of a sudden illness on October 6, 1969 at the Weld County General Hospital in Greeley.

 

Information provided by Greeley History Museum

Kate Slaughterback Collection - 1987.32

greeleymuseums.com

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