A n article in the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's 1906 Zoological Bulletin leaves no doubt about the Commonwealth's official stance on the hoop snake:
[the hoop snake] is entirely without foundation of truth.So confident was the department that it issued a $500 reward for a specimen, living or dead.
No one came forward to claim the reward, but does that mean the hoop snake never existed - or that it had become rare (or even extinct) by the time of the offer?
The hoop snake, as might be guessed, propelled itself by grabbing its venomous, horned tail in its own mouth and rolling rapidly toward its prey, like a wheel racing down hill. Once it trapped its target, the hoop snake shot the poisonous, barbed tip of its tail into the victim, killing it nearly instantly. And while scientists dismiss such tactics as physically impossible, many Pennsylvanians swore on the reptile's existence.
The Sunbury American reported in August of 1875 that a hoop snake, "very rare in this section, was killed in Westmoreland County."
Eight years later The Huntingdon Journal reported that a horned-tailed hoop snake of three feet, five inches in length was killed in Bedford County by a group of men who had the misfortune of meeting it on their leisurely walk to Sunday prayer meeting.
In 1888, conductor Addy Kirk of the Pittsburgh Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad shared the story of his encounter with a hoop snake, a frightening event that occurred while he worked as a farm hand in Warren County, Illinois. One day, while picking blackberries in the woods, Kirk saw a snake rolling rapidly toward him. He quickly side-stepped the predator which instead drove its horned tail into the two-foot trunk of a white oak tree.
Kirk watched in horror as the snake, while trying to extract its tail from the tree trunk, lashed so violently that it killed itself. Satisfied that the reptile was no longer a threat, he ran to his employer's home, retrieved an axe and returned to cut the snake's tail from the thick bark. Upon closer inspection he realized just how lucky he had been: the barb was hard, nearly two inches in length, and filled with a liquid he could only assume was poison.
Just six years before the Zoological Bulletin dismissed hoop snakes as mere myth, Captain George W. Crede Jr. also killed what he believed to be a hoop snake - this one on his company's rifle range near Blairsville, Pennsylvania. He described it as three feet long with a horned tip on its tail about one-and-a-half inches in length. A farmer passing by agreed with the identification.
If the hoop snake, as the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture insisted, was just a legend - what were these men looking at...?
And, if the hoop snake is real, is it possible that there are still a small number alive today, rolling through the state's fields and orchards and forests? Hauntingly PENNSYLVANIA™ can't say for sure - but we'd like to hear from anyone who thinks they might know. 💀