Oil Field Snake Bite Kit

Roughnecks and rattlesnakes in the oil fields of Texas.

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by Jenny Cobb, Exhibit Assistant

Imagine a small, rural town suddenly swarmed by wildcatters, drillers, speculators, prostitutes, and roughnecks. This was the scene across Texas in the early twentieth century.

From 1900 to 1930, oil was discovered first at Spindletop and other locations in southeast Texas, then north-central Texas, the Panhandle in north Texas, the Permian Basin in west Texas, and finally in east Texas. As new oilfields were discovered, people from around the world rushed in seeking jobs, money, and any opportunity to profit from the boom. New communities appeared overnight and workers, both experienced and inexperienced, sought new job opportunities.

Snakes, heat, and highly combustible materials were some of the hazards workers faced while on the job in an oil field. Snake bite kits, like the one seen here from the 1940s, were issued to workers of the Newmont Oil Company in its oil fields in Nolan, Fisher, and Scurry counties. Many similar kits were issued to oil field workers throughout the state where the rural nature of the oil fields and lack of access to medical attention could be a deadly combination. Produced by the E.D. Bullard Company of San Francisco, California, this snake bite kit contains a syringe, lancet, tourniquet, adhesive compresses, iodine swabs, rubber adapter, ammonia inhalants, petrolatum (petroleum jelly), and directions for treatment and after-treatment.

The directions read as follows:

  1. Keep cool. Do not become excited.
  2. Apply tourniquet just above the wound (between the wound and the heart) tight enough to stop blood flow in veins. Loosen tourniquet every 20 minutes for five seconds; then retighten.
  3. Break antiseptic swab and paint bitten area.
  4. With scalpel, open holes made by snake fangs, cutting lengthwise on limb approximately ¼ inch deep and ¼ to ½ inch long.
  5. Place mouth of syringe over cuts, holding tight against skin. Pull plunger back but NOT out of barrel. This sucks out poison and blood. Empty and repeat. If you are not getting blood in syringe, loosen tourniquet for 5 seconds; then retighten. Continue using syringe. During the first hour very little fluid will be drawn out. Swelling will show in 3 to 4 hours and a larger quantity of fluid will then be drawn out. Remember, three drops of venom will kill. If only ONE drop is extracted during the first hour, a life may be saved.
  6. If pulse is weak, pour Ammonia into a paper cup. Fill cup with water and allow patient to sip.
  7. Get patient to doctor as soon as possible. Do not allow patient to exert himself or walk unless absolutely necessary.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

Oil Field Snake Bite Kit Artifact from Snyder, Texas
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