by Tom Baker 8 months ago in urban legend

An Urban Legend of a Cowpoke's Curse


Bub Rattleborough stood out on his porch one fine Spring day, aimed his six-shooter, and blew the head off of a poisonous snake that had crawled out from behind an old log in the yard.

He stepped off the porch eagerly to inspect his kill, patting himself on the back that he was still such a fantastic shot he could blow the head off of a snake at twenty paces. The day was bright and hot. The year, we're tempted to say, was 1865.

He approached the bloody mess of a serpent carefully, mindful that, perhaps, the shot hadn't entirely done it in. Sure enough, as he approached it, he could see there was still some wiggle left in it.

In a panic, he brought down the heel of his boot upon its head, crushing its brain once and for all in a gooey splat, and backing up again to view the resultant carcass. Hooey, he thought to himself. He then went to fetch a shovel with which to pick up the body of the lethal varmint (which he had already identified as a deadly diamondback, due to its peculiar coloration).

It was not long after that Bub, while working out on a perfectly pleasant day, clearing the brush from the front yard of his property, suddenly turned a mysterious shade of blue. Keeling over, he gave up the ghost, as his befuddled young boy raced forward to see what in the world could have been the matter with Pa. Tragically, by the time the boy reached his side, he found that Pa had already died.

The funeral was held, as was customary in those days, in the parlor of the old farmhouse. Bub's best friend Titus had taken care of all the arrangements for the grieving Widow Rattleborough, making sure to have Bub laid out in his Sunday best. He was careful, though, to hold back the expensive leather boots with the fancy embroidery that made Bub look as if he were walking about with flowers growing out of his ankles. He didn't think Bub would want to be buried in those, but, instead, would want to have them passed on as an heirloom for his boy to wear when he was big enough to fit into them.

Of course, Titus oiled and polished the cracked leather--Bub had worn those boots everywhere; had, in fact, been wearing them when he pitched over dead. Curious.

Well, the years passed, and Bub Rattleborough Jr. finally attained manhood and a fairly impressive size, so it was determined, on his eighteenth birthday, that it might conceivably be the proper time to hand the boots his father had so highly prized over to his surviving son.

"Bub Junior, you know how much your father, God rest his soul, loved these here old boots. He died in 'em, matter of fact. I'm sure you remember him wearing them everywhere, all the time. Well, he would have wanted you to have them. Here—"

And Ma, wiping a tear from her seamed old cheek, handed the pair of boots over to Bub Junior, who just as eagerly put them on.

"Whoopee!" he exclaimed. "Ma, they sure as shootin' are a perfect fit!"

Ma beamed. The sun went behind a cloud. The minutes turned to hours, days, weeks, months... on and on.

It was not long after that the somewhat irresolute Bub Junior, while playing pinochle in one of his favorite drinking establishments, suddenly turned a mysterious shade of blue. His compatriots, who found themselves befuddled by this sudden turn of events, began to pound him on the back, thinking he had swallowed a particularly pesky olive.

"Aw, come on, Bub, the food in this joint ain't that bad!"

Bub Junior, in way of a reply, pitched forward on the table, upsetting the cards, spilling the beer, overturning the plates, creating all manner of havoc. He never raised his pinochle-playing head again.

There followed the inquest ("Death due to undetermined causes," was the final, befuddled finding), the funeral, the weeping widow going about in her mourning attire, veiled in black... someone thought to keep those famous leather boots that two generations of Rattleborough men had died in for the sake of Bub Junior's infant son. Although, at this point, they might have wondered at the wisdom of handing down such a seemingly unlucky heirloom to yet another up and coming young Rattleborough.

The year was, we recollect, 1890 or 91. Bub Rattelborough the Third was a stout young whippersnapper who liked to range across the width and breadth of his acres of inherited property, pulling weeds and kicking dust and rocks, and digging up bugs and whatnot. But he was a good, hard worker. And he chose to do his work in those same damn boots.

Well, one day, he and some cowpokes were out on the Arroyo, rounding up them doggies, when, all of a sudden and sure enough, Bub the Third turns as black as a moonless night, and keels over in the dust, stone dead.

The other cowpokes tried as best they could to revive him, but it was to no avail. Finally, they threw him over the back of a horse and carried his body home, not terribly anxious to break the news to his brand new widow.

Well, the woman was disconsolate, as can be expected. So was Bub the Third's Ma, but, she being used to grief in a big way at this point, kept her head about her. Curious, she saw that the left heel of the boots her dead son was wearing seemed loose or crooked. Damn things were so old they were cracking apart at the seams, she surmised, and before she knew what she was doing, she had reached up and pulled it off.

Something fell out of the heel of that boot then, something that rattled against the floor. One of the cowpokes, recognizing what it was immediately, yelled out, "Don't touch it! It's full of deadly venom!"

In fact, when the object had been carefully picked up and examined with tweezers, it was found to be, in point of fact, one poisonous snake tooth. Which had, they finally decided, been lodged in the fatal boot for over twenty years.

"And undoubtedly, that's what killed three generations of Rattleboroughs, each of which wore those boots. And I reckon, as Old Man Rattleborough told the story, it must have been that snake whose head he smashed beneath his foot... so this, in a strange way, was the 'Serpent's Revenge!' My what a strange, horrible coincidence!"

No one ever wore those boots again.

urban legend
Tom Baker
Tom Baker
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Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis , Indiana Ghost Folklore, Scary Urban Legends, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest : 

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