February 8, 2021

Robert Hurst Shot a Texas Rattlesnake

HE COULDN’T DEFEAT TUBERCULOSIS

There are always deadly diseases—cures and vaccines eliminate them—and new ones emerge.  This past year we’ve been living through the emergence of COVID-19 and several vaccines are available as the struggle continues.  When I was a child, polio was prevalent and diseases like scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough and measles posed other dangers. 

My family story includes deaths and serious illness from two diseases in particular—tuberculosis and typhoid fever.  The Spanish flu pandemic around 1918 was seldom mentioned.  Mother’s brother Clifford served briefly in the Army during World War I and was on a military base stateside where there was a major outbreak.  I’m not certain that he had the flu and don’t know of family members who died from it

Harriett and Robert Hurst were married in late 1918, and their son Glenn was born in October, 1919.  Robert had also been a serviceman during the war and I don’t think he went overseas.  Some time after Glenn was born, he began experiencing symptoms of tuberculosis.  

There were no known cures—and the preferred treatment was a “rest cure.” Patients often were sent to a sanitarium in the mountains for a regimen of isolation, fresh air, exercise and good nutrition.  As his illness worsened, Robert went to a military sanitarium in the Texas hill country, Kerrville. It must have been heartbreaking to leave his young wife and toddler son and go so far away. 

The patients often slept in tents, hiked and shot rattlesnakes. This photo shows Robert holding a pistol with which he shot this snake. On the back, he wrote: R.W. Hurst. Kills rattlesnake on mountain near Kerrville, Tex. on Sept. 16, 1921. Snake measured 4 1/2 ft.  This was the day before his 28th birthday—and eight months later, he died there in Texas.  

When the family was notified he was dying, Harriett decided she needed to stay home with their little son and his mother made the sad long train journey to Texas.  She was with him when he died on May 15, 1922, and brought his body home for burial in Tennessee.

The second photo is my favorite—and I feel like it was taken earlier.  He doesn’t look as gaunt as in the one with the rattlesnake.  On the back, Robert wrote: This is the best picture of myself. This was made up in a tree on the bank of the Guadalupe River in Center Point, Texas. 

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