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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Rattlesnake Scare - Gary Newton - 1964

Rattlesnake Scare - Gary Newton - 1964

In 1960 the population of the Town of Gig Harbor was 1,094.  

In 1964 the things that were showing up in headlines throughout the US were the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Bill, The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, Cassius Clay  winning the Boxing World Championship from Sonny Liston, changing his name  and refusing to to fight in Vietnam.  Martin Luther King Jr. won the Noble Prize, The Warren Commission was investigating the J. F. Kennedy assassination.  Gig Harbor was not in the national or international eye.  

But on July 2, 1964, The Bridgeport Telegram reported the following from Bridgeport, Connecticut :  Rattlers Scare Gig Harbor, Wash GIG HARBOR. Wash. -. (AP) People ‘In this Puget Sound town across from Tacoma walked softly and carried big sticks yesterday, me reason.' Rattlesnakes. Rattlers are unknown here but abound tn the sagebrush country east or in Palouse. : 

That’s where Gary Newton, 31,(note:  actually 21) of Gig -Harbor, a ' snake-lover. acquired 21 snakes while attending Central Washington State college in Ellensburg. He said he brought them home and let them loose on the theory they couldn't survive. He was wrong, and the big snake hunt was on. Nineteen have been killed in the past week, and Newton has offered a reward of $13 for each of the seven left. He's also In trouble with the law: The county prosecutor charged him Tuesday with allowing a vicious animal to run at large— a misdemeanor With a pns-Bible penalty of 91 days In jail Iand S250 fine. The case is being delayed for developments. No one has been bitten yet. But Newton has been warned by prosecutor's office he's liable for any accidents.

In 1964, Gary Newton was 21 years old and a student at Central Washington State College in Ellensburg, Washington, where he was studying for a Bachelor of Science degree.  Or, more specifically, Herpetology (from Greek "herpein" meaning "to creep") is the branch of zoology concerned with the study of amphibians (including frogs, toads, salamanders, newts, and caecilians (gymnophiona)) and reptiles (including snakes, lizards, amphisbaenids, turtles, terrapins, tortoises, crocodilians, and the tuataras).  According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (wdfw) “of a dozen or so species of snakes found in Washington only the Western rattlesnake is capable of inflecting a venomous bite, which it seldom does.”  “Rattlesnakes do not view humans as prey, and will not bite unless threatened.  A rattlesnake seldom delivers enough venom to kill a human, although painful swelling and discoloration may occur.”  I also found it interesting that the number of segments of the rattle have nothing to do with it’s age as well as its fangs are hollow in order to inject venom into its prey and they cannot spit venom.

As mentioned above, part of his studies were rattlesnakes which he had borrowed from from an Ellensburg couple who owned a collection of approximately 300 snakes.

Nevertheless, on June 22, 1964 when Mrs. P. E. Camerer was taken to the hospital in Tacoma after being bitten by a 2 foot rattlesnake, I don’t think any of the WDFW information would have calmed her even if it was known.  Mrs. Camerer had been meeting with her architect and contractor to discuss the house she and her husband were building on a bluff overlooking Western Passage.  Like anyone else, when she saw a snake she attempted to get away from it.  Unfortunately she was standing on a log, and when she jumped she injured herself and thought she had been bitten.

Mrs. Camerer was the first person to be bitten, and I believe the only one.  Everyone was concerned about the rattlers because as the old-timers said “this is the first rattlesnake ever found here”, and it was thought “it might have been brought in a load of hay from eastern Washington”.

However, Mrs. Camerer’s injury was enough of a scare that a search of the surrounding area took place.  By Saturday, the 27th, a nest of five rattlers ranging from 2 feet to 4 feet were found.  As the community hunted snakes, there was still the question lingering — how did the snakes get to Gig Harbor?  Was it a prank?  A practical joker with a venomous sense of humor?
News Tribune Staff Photo 
“Because of the age of the snakes and the fact that the problem has never been brought to our attention previously, we believe someone recently set them loose in Gig Harbor — possibly bringing them from eastern Washington” George Janovich, chief criminal deputy for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office said on Monday June 29th.    

By the end of the day on Monday, the mystery of how rattlesnakes traveled to Gig Harbor was solved.  Ed Perdue, Local news reporter wrote an article entitled Snake Mystery Unraveled, Student Admits Loosing Retiles.  Unfortunately the newspaper and date are missing on the article I have, but I believe it might have been the Bremerton Sun or Kitsap Sun.  By the time Ed Perdue wrote his article, the sheriff deputies had found 18 snakes and were still searching for an additional eight.  “The mystery of how the rattlers got into the area was solved Monday evening when a 21-year old Central Washington State College student admitted to deputies that he had released 26 snakes on June 12.”   Gary went on to explain to the deputies that “he had borrowed the snakes from a fellow student for study in one of his courses.  When he attempted to return the snakes, the original owner had left on summer vacation…  He claimed he had tried to return the snakes on several occasions but had not been able to locate the owner.  Rather than kill the snakes, the student released them in the Sea Cliff area thinking they would not survive.”  “A retile authority at the University of Puget Sound said that the rattlers could survive in western Washington although not native to the area.  He said they would have to hibernate longer in this area but the wetter, cooler climate would not necessarily prove fatal to the snakes.”  

Picture which accompanied Don Tewkesbury article-Bremerton or Kitsap Sun (unknown )
Don Tewkesbury wrote a similar article entitled Student, 21, Admits He Released Rattlesnakes.  Again undated and newspaper name missing.

By the end of the search on the following Friday all the snakes had been captured, and none had been found to stray more than 600 feet from the point of release.

Finally, all the residents were able to sleep through the night without fear of snakes.  But the remaining question:  did Gary Newton graduate and go on continue working with retiles, or did he too give them up for good?  I couldn’t find the answer to that question, perhaps some of you know the final answer.

Notes:
  • Several unidentified dated newspaper articles presumedly from The Peninsula Gateway, Bremerton Sun or Kitsap Sun and Tacoma News Tribune.
  • Bridgeport Telegram, Bridgeport, CT
  • WA Department of Fish & Wildlife





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