Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Rattlesnakes’

The Washington Post reports on the death of West Virginian snake handling preacher Mark Randall “Mack” Wolford, who was bitten by a timber rattlesnake and died the day after his 44th birthday. Wolford, the subject of a Washington Post Magazine feature published last November, was an unusual sort of snake handler: open and mediagenic, he’d announce events on Facebook. Less unusual, believe it or not, is the fact that his father, also a preacher, died by rattlesnake at the age of 39.

Snake-handling churches are an interest of mine, though it’s a bit hard for me to penetrate Appalachian culture. I’ve picked up a few books on the subject: Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington, Serpent-Handling Believers by Thomas Burton, and The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald. I haven’t seen David Kimbrough’s Taking Up Serpents, and there a few books out there whose approach seems to be more theological than sociological. Manny Rubio’s lavishly illustrated Rattlesnake: Portrait of a Predator has a good chapter on the subject as well.

There’s also a 1967 documentary about snake handlers, Holy Ghost People, which can be viewed online at the Internet Archive.