By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Before taking ill recently, Eugene Delano “Ed” Christian had been creating walking sticks inspired by a rattlesnake.
“It’s the canebrake rattlesnake. Some call it a timber rattlesnake or a pine rattler,” the 74-year-old Tupelo resident said. “These are the type of rattlesnakes I have around here.”
He lives on Briar Ridge Road, and he’s spotted a few of those rattlers in the brush bordering his property.
“They don’t last long,” he said. “I shoot them. What can I do? I don’t want to get snake bit.”
And Christian knows a thing or two about snake bites.
During a walk in the woods several years ago, he was lifting a limb when a copperhead bit him on the forehead. On the way to the hospital, his car approached 100 mph before a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer pulled him over.
“He was mad, too,” Christian said. “I showed him that snake, pointed to my head and said, ‘Let’s go.’”
The officer radioed ahead and the antivenin was ready when he arrived.
“I got to the hospital, the snake was dead, and my head swelled up from my shoulder to my ear,” Christian said. “When I grabbed that snake, I wouldn’t let go of him. I reckon I choked him to death. I’m lucky I grabbed him up close to the head, too.”
Even a dead snake requires respect, Christian said.
“If you ever kill a rattlesnake and cut off his head, beware,” he said. “That snake can still bite you and still kill you. Just bury the head, then take the hide, but I never really wanted to skin a snake.”
Even before he was bitten, Christian had great respect for snakes. He’s a Cherokee Indian, and the natural world is sacred.
“The snake was a very important totem for woodland Indians,” he said.
Christian made his own spirit box, where he keeps his Native American regalia. When the time comes, he’ll be cremated then buried in the box, which features a snake and an Indian Wheel of Life on the front, as well as a pair of loons and a Cherokee rose on the top.
“I reckon I’ve always carved, as far as I know,” he said. “I can’t remember the date that I started.”
He made his wooden timber rattlers out of pieces of oak that were laminated together then carved.
“I don’t want anyone to be misled. I don’t do all the work with knives alone,” he said. “I used a Dremel tool, bandsaw and drill press.”
He paints or stains the finished products. They’re fearsome-looking creatures, except for one that resembles a puppet.
“My grandson asked me to make it,” he said.
He’s been offered up to $500 a piece, but he’s not interested in selling.
“They’re just for me. Sorry. I just do it for my own enjoyment, as much as anything,” he said. “I should say, I used to do it for my own enjoyment.”
The work is on hold these days. Christian has congestive heart failure. Not quite two weeks ago, he had to go to the hospital because his lungs were filling up with fluid.
“The doctor pretty much cut me down from doing everything,” said Christian, who’s on oxygen full time.
He’s aware of the spirit box, its symbolism and its purpose. But there’s no rush. He’s got a great-grandchild on the way, and maybe he’ll feel up to carving another snake one of these days.
“I am not concerned about dying, in that when God gets ready for me to go, I’ll go,” Christian said. “I’m not worried about all that. I’ll leave it up to him.
“I don’t think anyone’s in a hurry, though,” he continued with a smile.
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or email@example.com.
A love for history
A former freelance writer for the Daily Journal, Eugene Delano “Ed” Christian has authored three books about American Indian history.
“As Long as Grass Grows and Water Flows,” “To the Victor Belong the Spoils, or How to Steal a Country” and “An American Story” are available at the Lee County Library.
“I can’t just sit down and write. It can take several years until I’m ready,” he said. “I’m not John Grisham. I can’t put out a book every two weeks.”
In addition to his books, you’re welcome to see Christian’s collection of arrowheads and other artifacts. They’re on temporary display at Tombigbee State Park.
You can see a 400-year-old ax and a pipe made by Crazy Horse’s grandson.
“I heard Crazy Horse’s grandson made the pipe, so I traded for it,” he said. “I found out who had it. He needed some money, and I wanted that pipe.”