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My name is Bill Roberts and I will be 81 years old by the time you read this story. Back when I was 17 years old, the world was a different place.
I was living on Lake Okeechobee and it was a week before Christmas in 1949. Two of my hunting and fishing buddies, Olis Weaver and Gene Williams, myself, and Gene’s father, called Doc, were putting together a camping trip to an area called Hungryland Slough. It was located west of Palm Beach and north of a little settlement called Loxahatchee. We planned to camp on a little hammock called Rattlesnake Island.
We had talked my father into taking us to this place that was a good 20 miles straight into the flatwoods. He was to return the day after Christmas – one week later. We had rations enough and, hopefully, could live off the game in the area and be fat and happy when he came to get us.
My dad has a four-wheel drive Jeep pickup truck we had loaded to the brim with provisions.
Gene Williams father, Doc, was an excellent camp cook and had a Dutch oven and a little Coleman stove that worked well off of white gas. We also had an old five-man Army squad tent to stay in at night. We made the trip to Rattlesnake Island without any bad mishaps.
The Jeep crossed the many creeks and bog holes which only had a little water in them/ We got to the island about sundown. Well, we were having a marvelous time. Big campfire at night, plenty of groceries and on the second day at about sundown I had found some ducks coming in to roost in a little pond and I shot a half-dozen of them. We cleaned and cut them up and cooked them in Doc’s Dutch oven. About 10 o’clock that night we were feasting on them.A couple of days went by without any more game, but we had eggs and milk in a cooler. The ice was gone but the stuff was still cool enough and we had plenty of grits and flour, but we needed meat. The salt bacon was still plentiful, but we were getting a little tired of that. We still figured we could make it to the day after Christmas when my dad was to get us.
On Christmas Eve it began to rain. I mean a “toad frog strangler” and an old time “lighter knot floater.” It rained all day Christmas and turned cold! The whole country was flooded and our tent had a foot of water in it. We managed to make a little dike around the tent and with everybody dipping with a cooking pot we got most of the water out. We piled palmetto fans as high as we could and bedded down on them and tried to sleep. During the night, a couple of hours before daylight, we heard Doc say in a low voice, “Somebody get a flashlight and be real quiet, I have a pardner in bed with me. Bring a rifle, not a shotgun.”
I eased over to him with my rifle and flashlight and saw a big rattler snugged up next to him. The snake was warm and cozy. I pushed the end of the barrel tight against the snake’s head and pulled the trigger.
Well, what happened next was a sight to behold.
Although the snake’s head was blown off, the snake came up and wrapped around Doc! The snake was dead, but Doc didn’t know it and he proceeded to knock the tent down trying to find the door out.
A couple of days later the food situation was getting serious. We had the stuff to cook with, but had run out of stuff to cook. On the morning of the fifth day after Christmas, we heard some sandhill cranes whooping in the direction of the marsh that laid to the south of us. I decided to try and slip up on them. The sandhill crane has almost as much meat as a turkey. I was carrying my dad’s 300 Savage rifle and when I got on the edge of the marsh, I could see five or six whooping cranes a couple of hundred yards away. There was just enough cover for me to crawl into gunshot range. I picked one out and knocked him down. I tried a second shot but they were in the air and I missed. Well, we were happy campers and had a major feed time that night.
The next morning abut 10 o’clock we heard the Jeep coming through the flatwoods. The water had gone down enough that my dad could work his way to us. He told us he had tried to get to us a couple of days after the storm. He had bogged down about halfway and had to walk out to the Palm Beach Highway and catch a ride back to the farm.
He was finally able to get a tractor to the Jeep and pull it out of the bog he had got in nearly a week before. He told the tractor driver to wait and follow us to the highway.
We loaded our gear in record time and said “good-bye” to Rattlesnake Island!