Please Pass the Rattlesnake

The diamondback rattlesnake doesn’t exactly enjoy the best reputation among Florida’s wildlife. Generations of Floridians and visitors have been warned of the potentially deadly consequences of its bite, and as a result this venomous reptile is seldom a welcome sight when spotted.

A diamondback rattlesnake in Cedar Key, Florida (2001).

A diamondback rattlesnake in Cedar Key, Florida (2001).

That being said, rattlesnakes have also been a subject of great curiosity, when viewed from a safe distance at least. Eager entrepreneurs have tried in a number of ways to tap into this cautious enthusiasm over the years, including reptile shows, theme parks, reptile-skin gifts and clothing, and even by offering reptile meat as a food item.

George Kenneth End of Arcadia, who founded the Floridian Products Corporation (circa 1930s).

George Kenneth End of Arcadia, who founded the Floridian Products Corporation (circa 1930s).

George Kenneth End of Arcadia, Florida was one such businessman who made a living selling rattlesnakes in any way he could. Around 1930, he was helping his two young sons skin a rattlesnake they had just killed when the idea suddenly struck him to try cooking the meat to see what it would taste like. End found the meat tender and the flavor good, and he began experimenting with it to see how it could best be prepared as a marketable product.

An advertisement for the Floridian Products Corporation, showing a list of prices for its various products (1933).

An advertisement for the Floridian Products Corporation, showing a list of its various products (1933).

The result was the Floridian Products Corporation, Rattlesnake Division. End began selling every part of the snake that might capture the whimsy of a customer, from the skin to the rattles, the fangs, oil made from snake fat, and even live snakes themselves. Among the most popular products was End’s “Genuine Diamondback Rattlesnake with Supreme Sauce,” a canned portion of rattlesnake meat prepared with a sauce of meat stock, mushrooms, and heavy cream. Advertisements recommended serving the meat in pastry shells or on thin slices of toast as an appetizer for cocktails. End and his associates promoted the meat as a delicacy, and encouraged customers to “be the first in your neighborhood to give a rattlesnake dinner.”

A can of George End's famous rattlesnake in supreme sauce (circa 1930s).

A can of George End’s famous rattlesnake in supreme sauce (circa 1930s).

End’s bid for greatness as Florida’s main purveyor of rattlesnake products was successful. He first set up a factory for processing the rattlesnakes in Arcadia, not far from Florida’s Gulf Coast near Port Charlotte and Sarasota. The surrounding territory was largely undeveloped and full of scrub palmetto and other heavy growth, which made it ideal hunting grounds for the snake hunters who captured rattlesnakes to bring to End for processing. Later, as business picked up, End moved his main operation to Tampa, where he established his own “Rattlesnake Cannery and Emporium” in a two-story building at the corner of Bridge Street and Gandy Boulevard. In addition to processing the snakes, he also put on shows for visitors, who gasped in amazement as he and his associates handled the live rattlers and “milked” them to obtain the venom for medical purposes. End even managed to obtain permission to operate a post office at the site, naturally called “Rattlesnake.” Tourists were only too happy to send mail from this location, since it bore the unique “Rattlesnake, Fla.” postmark.

The original headquarters of the Floridian Products Corporation in Arcadia. Pictured out front are representatives of Elks Magazine, who were on their annual goodwill tour around the United States (circa 1933).

The original headquarters of the Floridian Products Corporation in Arcadia. Pictured out front are representatives of Elks Magazine, who were on their annual goodwill tour around the United States (circa 1933).

End’s success stemmed in part from the novelty and allure of his product, but his skills as a promoter were none too shabby. In addition to his “Rattlesnake” post office and attractive stop-over for tourists, he also at times took to the road to promote his products. Anyone who partook of a rattlesnake meal was furthermore entitled to membership in one of End’s reptile-related “clubs,” and would receive a membership card with their order. No doubt many a tourist left Florida proudly credentialed as a member of the “Reptile Science League,” the “Ancient Epicurean Order of Rattling Reptile Revelers,” or the “Subtle Society of Snake Snackers.”

A membership card for George K. End's "Rattling Reptile Revelers," obtainable with the purchase of a can of End's rattlesnake with supreme sauce. This card was found in the collection of longtime Florida folklorist Stetson Kennedy at the State Archives of Florida (circa 1933).

A membership card for George K. End’s “Rattling Reptile Revelers,” obtainable with the purchase of a can of End’s rattlesnake with supreme sauce. This card was found in the collection of longtime Florida folklorist Stetson Kennedy at the State Archives of Florida (circa 1933).

As the shadow of World War II emerged on the horizon at the start of the 1940s, George End was threatened with the loss of his most vital helpers in the rattlesnake industry, the young men of soldiering age who went out and actually caught the snakes. Unfazed, he reputedly claimed that Rattlesnake, Florida would “go on to bigger things and better things, in spite of hell, Hitler, and high water.”

He was almost right. On July 27, 1944, End was working with a six-foot rattler that had just arrived at his headquarters when the snake struck at his right hand between his thumb and forefinger. For all the time George End had spent working with deadly rattlesnakes, he had never in his life been snakebitten before, but once was enough. He administered anti-venom to himself, but it was ineffective. He died in a matter of hours.

The Rattlesnake, Fla. post office and the emporium at Bridge Street and Gandy Boulevard closed down eventually, and End’s rattlesnake empire began to fade into memory. Mrs. End sold the cannery equipment along with its patents and formulas to herpetologist Ross Allen, whose Reptile Institute at Silver Springs, Florida served as both a tourist attraction and a site for anti-venom research.

Ross Allen milking a rattlesnake for its venom, which could then be used to create anti-venom and conduct research (circa 1940s).

Ross Allen milking a rattlesnake for its venom, which could then be used to create anti-venom and conduct research (circa 1940s).

George End’s rattlesnake attraction was one of a multitude of Florida tourist spots whose peculiar nature and humble origins make them treasures of the history of the Sunshine State. What kinds of tourist attractions do you remember from Florida’s past? Did any of them have to do with snakes or other reptiles? Post a comment below and share your story!

The Aucilla River Hideaway of Florida’s “Pork Chop Gang”

It may not look like much, but the fish camp pictured below was once the place where many a decision was made about the fate of legislation passing its way through the Florida Senate. The fish camp belonged to Raeburn C. Horne, a three-time state legislator from Madison County and an ardent lobbyist in favor of the small loans industry. The camp was located at Nutall Rise on the Aucilla River in western Taylor County.

View of the Raeburn C. Horne fish camp at Nutall Rise in western Taylor County (circa 1960s).

View of the Raeburn C. Horne fish camp at Nutall Rise in western Taylor County (circa 1960s).

 

Map showing Nutall Rise and surrounding area.

Map showing Nutall Rise and surrounding area. Nutall Rise is named for William B. Nuttall (the second T has been dropped over the years), a Jefferson County planter who was one of several men to buy up a large amount of acreage near the Aucilla River in western Taylor County with the intent to establish a sugar cane plantation. This plan never came to fruition, but the name Nuttall stayed.

Raeburn C. Horne when he was serving as a state senator from Madison County (circa 1941).

Raeburn C. Horne when he was serving as a state senator from Madison County (circa 1941).

Horne was associated with the infamous bloc of state senators known as the “Pork Chop Gang.” The Pork Choppers, as they were frequently called, were mostly from rural northern counties, which had become unusually powerful in the 1950s because the legislative districts of the state had not been redrawn to account for the massive growth of urban areas in earlier years. As a result, the representatives of a small portion of the state’s population were able to dominate the lawmaking process at the Capitol.

A group portrait of the Pork Chop Gang during the 1956 special session of the Florida Senate. Click on the image to see a full list of the senators.

A group portrait of the Pork Chop Gang during the 1956 special session of the Florida Senate. Click on the image to see a full list of the senators.

With so much influence concentrated in the hands of so few legislators, the Pork Chop Gang became a prime target for lobbyists like Horne. Some of Horne’s methods were none too subtle; he was once called out, for example, for sending hand signals to the floor of the Florida House of Representatives from his seat in the gallery. More often, however, he engaged in what was called the “social lobby.” This was the practice of treating legislators to meals, parties, and other favors to create opportunities to promote a political position. While some lobbyists kept their activities centered in Tallahassee, Horne preferred to invite legislators to his comparatively quiet and private fish camp on the Aucilla, where they could fish, play poker, and discuss strategy out from under the intense gaze of the public eye.

Looking up the Aucilla River near Nutall Rise. The Horne fish camp and other houses are located on the east bank at right (circa 1950s).

Looking up the Aucilla River near Nutall Rise. The Horne fish camp and other houses are located on the east bank at right (circa 1950s).

Horne’s fish camp became famous for its gatherings of Pork Choppers just before important decisions had to be made in the Florida Legislature. The group reportedly assembled there in September 1957 ahead of a vote to determine how the public would vote on a bill to redraw the legislative districts of the state. Malcolm B. Johnson, executive editor of the Tallahassee Democrat half-seriously suggested that the people of Florida might soon be expected to pay for the legislators to have their own tax-supported hunting and fishing lodge so they would not have need to hold caucuses on property owned by lobbyists.

A political cartoon from the Tampa Tribune illustrating the reapportionment issue (1955).

A political cartoon from the Tampa Tribune illustrating the reapportionment issue (1955).

The Nutall Rise retreat of the Pork Chop Gang faded away in the 1960s, owing to several events. In 1962, the United States Supreme Court found in the case of Baker v. Carr that misrepresentation in state legislatures due to outdated district boundaries was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. Like it or not, the Pork Choppers would have to consent to reapportionment, or else the federal government would do it for them. Over the next decade, Florida’s legislative districts were rearranged several times, breaking the Pork Chop Gang’s power. As for Raeburn Horne, he passed away in 1962, just after the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Baker v. Carr.

A lot of water has flowed down the Aucilla past the old Horne property since those days when legislators would gather there for poker and politics. The old place might lack the political clout it once had, but locals tell us you can still catch a good-sized catfish just about anytime.