Ken Lorton

Ken Lorton

Itch though they might, I’ll never again bellyache about chigger bites — not after the tale I heard a Sooner poet tell.

Opening the rounds of storytelling, music and poetry at the Sept. 22 Missouri Cowboy Poets Association gathering at Dunlap’s “Turtle Ranch” outside Louisburg, Ken Lorton of Vinita, Okla., shared a saga void of rhyme or meter — a tale macabre and true of a serpent intent on deadly deeds.

It was just this past Labor Day when Lorton went outside to check a noise in his yard, clad in summer gear of shorts and sandals. Unaware of the looming threat while investigating around his pickup truck, he suddenly felt pain like a box of dynamite had just exploded in his leg.

“I thought I knew pain, but I’d never felt anything like it,” he said. 

The tall Okie said he remembers neither opening nor closing his truck door, but guessed he must have opened it because he braced himself against it while frantically swinging his inflamed leg to and fro. The whole experience, though, remains a blur, as if the image of the snake on his leg has been altered like an inappropriate scene in a television show.

“My mind just won’t let me go there,” he said.

As soon as he freed himself from the snake, he saw the bleeding fang marks, realized he’d been bitten and began looking for the culprit, still suffering excruciating pain. When he opened the truck door (which he didn’t remember first opening or closing), he espied curled on the floorboard a large copperhead. Finding a broom, he managed to sweep the viper out of the truck, then ultimately beat it to death with the broom handle.

All but crippled by the pain, he managed to get the dead snake into a plastic bag (a necessary step if anti-venom is required) and raced for the small hospital in Vinita.

Once in the hospital, he found the first hall devoid of any medical help, but finally in another hall was able to hail someone to help him — after yelling louder than he ever had down the hospital halls, “I’ve been snake-bit!”

Soon on a gurney, he was rushed into a room and given an anti-venom, but the doctors cautioned him, “If this doesn’t work, we’re taking you to Tulsa.”

It didn’t.

The next thing he remembers is sitting up and looking out the back of an ambulance.

“I know fast driving; we were flying posthaste.”

Once at the hospital, he asked the EMT to compliment the young woman at the wheel on her driving. “What was she doing, 80?”

“Way more than that,” he responded.

Lorton said the doctors in Vinita had marked the extent of swelling on his leg, but by the time they got to Tulsa, it was twice as far up. Additionally, he was experiencing atrial fibrillation — but he was where he needed to be.

I don’t recall how long Lorton was in the hospital — a couple days, I think. Thanks to medication “stronger than morphine,” doctors were able to alleviate the pain, but it took a shock treatment to get his heart back in rhythm.

Now, I’m sure I’ve left out a few details, and I might have gotten some a little mixed up, but the gist of the tale is that the master storyteller was back on his feet and sharing his copperhead saga that Saturday night.

His memory of the serpent hanging on his leg remains a blur, but for reasons he can’t explain, Lorton said he woke up in the middle of the night a few days later, thanking God for that snake bite.

I don’t know that I would go that far, but I can attest a couple dozen of his compadres were thanking the Lord he could simply be there to share his story.

And it occurred to me I should never again complain about a few measly chigger bites.

Copyright James E. Hamilton 2018. Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer in Buffalo. Contact him at

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