Blog Archives for April 2013

“Mysteries and Monsters”

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 24, 2013

On April 21, the popular MSNBC-TV show Caught on Camera aired an episode titled “Mysteries and Monsters.” I assisted in the research for the six segments and appeared on camera in three of them. Here is a brief synopsis of the entertaining show, together with some additional comments. (The segments are given in order, with an * indicating the ones in which I appeared.)

The Story of “Rattlesnake Pete”

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
April 15, 2013

Among the old-time snake hunters and peddlers of rattlesnake oil was Peter “Rattlesnake Pete” Gruber (1858–1932) (see first photo). As related in Arch Merrill’s Shadows on the Wall (1952), Pete was born in Oil City, Pennsylvania, the eldest of a pioneer oil refiner’s nine children. He would later claim, that, while a boy hiking in the local hills, he had come upon an old Indian woman from the Seneca reservation. Dragging behind her on a rope a big dead rattlesnake, she explained to Pete how she would extract the fatty oil, which was used to treat rheumatism, stiff joints, even earache—among other afflictions. Impressed by the boy’s interest, she even gave him the snake’s skin. Pete later learned from the Indians how to capture the rattlers, and from the medicine men how to use them for various folk remedies.