With urban sprawl spreading across the county, it is easy to forget there was a time when Lancaster represented the frontier. Wild and dangerous creatures such as wolves and snakes roamed the untamed countryside attempting to feast on the unexpecting.
In the summer of 1869, giant snakes, some rumored to be as large as 8 inches in diameter and 25 feet in length, attacked residents in the River Hills of Southern Lancaster on at least three occasions. Sightings like these were not new. Residents reported seeing large black snakes like this for the past 25 years in the Pequea Creek hills between Conestoga and Marticville.
In the third attack, a sleeping boy was nearly crushed to death by such a beast. Here’s the account of the attack as reported by the Lancaster Intelligencer on August 11, 1869.
An Enormous Snake—It Attacks a Child.
A large black snake, over six feet long, made an attack on Tuesday last, the third instance, on a little boy between 7 and 8 years of age, son of Mr. U. Strickler, of Conestoga.
Normally, the biggest danger of berry picking is eating more than you take home; however, that was not the case for Ulrich Strickler’s seven-year-old son.
Strickler and his son had gone blackberry picking on the forge hills near Colemanville. By afternoon Strickler’s son was tired and lay down under a tree, where the basket had been placed. A short distance away, Strickler continued picking when he came upon some May apples. Calling to the boy, he tossed them to his son, who placed them in the basket. It was around this time that the young boy fell asleep.
After a few minutes, the boy uttered a piercing scream, jumped up, and cried out that he was attacked by a big snake. His father ran to his assistance and soon dispatched the snake, which made no attempt to escape. The boy says he was awakened by feeling something moving at his arm and side and looking to see what it was, he saw the snake and jumped up.
Locals acquainted with the habits of this species believe the snake had dropped down from some low branches of the tree, intending to coil around the child to crush or choke him. The snake was prevented from accomplishing this since the child was lying flat on the ground and suddenly jumping up.
From the short time which had elapsed after the child lay down, it is supposed that he could not have been very soundly asleep. If the child had been sleeping soundly, the consequences might have been more serious. As it was, the child was not hurt.
Strickler had no way to measure the snake’s length accurately but believed it to be between 6 and 7 feet in length.
This was not the first sighting of a giant black snake. Residents have reported seeing one at various times—some years frequently, and other years not at all—for the last 25 years, on the hills along the Pequea in the vicinity of Conestoga Centre and Marticville.
According to the accounts of the persons, who say they have seen the snake, it is not less than 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 20 to 25 feet in length. It is said that this snake was seen again about a week ago, near the Pequea, a short distance back of Conestoga Centre, by some boys. No one, as yet who has seen this snake, has been bold enough to make an attack upon it.