By U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas
Some might say that Jackie Bibby has an unusual hobby. It has cost him a finger and a leg, but that hasn’t stopped him from performing with venomous rattlesnakes. And don’t let his injuries fool you into thinking he’s not one of the best in the business. In more than 50 years of performing with hundreds of thousands of rattlesnakes, he’s only been bitten about a dozen times.
Jackie holds no less than five Guinness World Records, and he didn’t come by them easily. For example, he’s held the most rattlesnakes in his mouth ever recorded: thirteen at once. He’s laid in a bathtub with 195 live rattlesnakes. And he’s crawled headfirst inside a sleeping bag alongside 24 of them.
Although his talent is uncommon, it’s in such high demand in Texas that he’s able to perform every weekend. Springtime is when his dance card becomes especially full.
In early March, winter hibernation ends and rattlesnakes awaken from their months-long slumber. As they come out from their underground dens, rattlesnake handlers are at the ready to capture the stars of their roundups. March also brings the celebration of St. Patrick, who according to legend banished all snakes from Ireland. At least one Texas festival, San Patricio’s Rattlesnake Races, purposefully coincides with St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate his famous defeat of the reptile.
Rattlesnake festivals in Texas first rose in popularity about 60 years ago. Snakebites had taken too many Texans, and cattle too were suffocating from swollen noses following rattlesnake bites. The roundups began as a way to control the population, and have since turned into fairs to celebrate spring, raise funds for local charitable causes, and educate Texans about benefits and dangers of the snakes that share our habitat.
Festivals and roundups all across the state showcase daredevil handlers performing bold and dangerous acts, demonstrations of milking the venomous snakes to produce the antidote, and fryers filled with fresh rattlesnake meat, seasoned with garlic and lemon for taste. And of course, each roundup hums with the distinct sound of thousands of rattlers shaking in unison.
Jackie Bibby got his start at Brownwood’s annual Lone Star Expo and Rattlesnake Roundup, and now he headlines festivals every weekend. There’s the Big Spring Rattlesnake Roundup, the Freer Rattlesnake Roundup in the Eagle Ford Shale, and the National Rattlesnake Sacking Championship in Taylor, Texas (by the way, Jackie holds that world record too: he sacked 10 rattlesnakes in 17.11 seconds). The Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, which typically kicks off the spring season, boasts that it’s the oldest and the world’s largest.
You’re likely to see Jackie Bibby at most of these – if not all of them. After all, he didn’t earn the “Texas Snake Man” title sitting at home. Jackie certainly makes charming snakes look easy, but take his amputated leg as a queue – this hobby is not for the faint of heart.
This article originally appeared in the East Texas Review.