Appalachia Through My Eyes – Hoop Snakes

King Snake in Appalachia

Last weekend Miss Cindy got to visit-we always enjoy her visits! As she was leaving on Sunday afternoon, she found a snake on our front porch. We all ran out to see it-by then it had wedged itself between the stair runner and the wall. I said I bet it’s after the baby birds. The Deer Hunter said it’s just a King Snake leave it alone. Miss Cindy went on her way and we all went back the house.

A few hours later Chitter discovered the snake was indeed after the baby birds. A few sprays from the water hose sent the snake off the porch into the yard.

I couldn’t resist telling the girls- “You better watch it-it might be a hoop snake or a black racer.”

As long as I can remember I’ve heard stories about hoop snakes. The gist of every story is a black snake loops itself into a hoop and then goes rolling after whoever disturbed it. Some versions claim hoop snakes have stingers on their tails to sting you.

Stories about joint snakes are not as common, but supposedly a joint snake can break itself into pieces and then put itself back together again.

Stories about black racers always made me think of a field of tall lush green grass with a jet black snake slithering through it at break neck speed.


p.s. Break neck speed: is that a phrase you ever use?

Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.

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  • Reply
    Chuck Howell
    May 13, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    You lyin like a “Snake in the Grass.” Ain’t no sech-a-thing as a “Hoop Snake” Nohow. Sometimes a great story stretches the truth a smidgen.

  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 23, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Our mom use to yell, “Where’s the fire???” if we ran through the house, and if we ran down the stairs, she made us go up and down and up and down again until we came down them slow enough to suit her. LOL
    I’ve heard of Hoop Snakes, never seen one though; never heard of Joint Snakes but they sure would give a kid nightmares, wouldn’t they. However, when I served in the military (USMC 1969-72, SEMPER FI!!!), there was talk of a highly venomous snake in Vietnam that would chase people down if they disturbed it or its young, and wouldn’t let up until it caught up with you and stung you. Can’t remember what it was called (or even if it was true or was just another nightmare to add to serving in Vietnam). Only thing close to a snake I remember seeing in the military was Slim Jims, lots and lots of Slim Jims which we ate with abundance – and with a lot of other things too. LOL
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    May 23, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Mitchell just about put his hand on a copperhead at our woodpile this afternoon. So, yes, Tipper, breakneck speed is a phrase we’re very familiar with today!!

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    May 23, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    Chicken snakes and Black racers are common here, as matter a fact when I pulled into our driveway this afternoon I noticed a chicken snake in our yard, we usually see a few black snakes in our yard every year, as long as they don’t get on the porch I’m ok with them, they eat a lot of mice and they love a desert of baby birds occasionally, not to fond of them eating our birds.. Years ago I use to hear of hoop snakes (never seen one) and coach wipe snakes ( never actually seen one of these either).. Joint snakes is a new one on me…

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve used “breakneck speed” all my life and I guess I’ve always associated it with riding horses – go fast enough and when you come off, you’ll likely break your neck!

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    As a kid one of my greatest fears
    was that ole hook snake. Daddy had
    told us stories about him, so when
    I was walking those ole liquor
    trails above the house, I’d keep
    my eyes peeled above me. And when
    I needed to rest, I’d always keep
    a big tree above me. I didn’t want
    that ole hook snake to come rollin’ through the buckberries
    and split me open. We ballhooted
    our winter’s wood down off the
    mountain this way, so it seemed
    fair to me.
    And I was raised with fiest dogs
    as my closest friends. They found
    lots of joint snakes in the corn-
    field and when they’d be slinging
    the stuffings out of ’em, sections
    of the snake would go in all
    directions. Daddy told us that
    all the pieces would re-align by
    sunset, so after supper me and my
    brother went back to check it out.
    Sure enough, there it was, almost
    back together. But it didn’t have
    no head, daddy made sure of that.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 23, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    In the vernacular of my youth snakes were “quiled up” not coiled up.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    We had a large black snake, aka black racer, King snake, on top of one of the raised beds this week. The better half chased it and it went under the railroad tie part of the garden. We have a lot of chipmonks, voles and moles around as well as baby birds at this time. So, I am sure it was waiting on prey. We like our black snakes, etc. as long as they don’t encroch on our space too much. Fluffy our IT cat is a stealth walker in the Spring, Summer and Fall, always checking for snakes…He moves his head so much back and forth that he looks like a bobble-head cat when walking. My favorite thing to do is catch him walking past the garden hose, after he has assured himself that it is not harmful, just as I pull with a jerk on the other end. I never knew he could jump so high. When he hears me laugh, he gives me a dirty look, and goes on staring like he is piling up my tricks waiting to get revenge on me. And, he will!
    He is a small old fluffy cat!
    Dad talked of hoop snakes in Madison County. His sister swears she saw one rolling down the hill. She knew little ears were listening, so I think it was one of the old maids tall tales…I’ve heard of racers and joint snakes and snakes with stinger tails…Dad said that snakes would swallow their own tail and he thought that is what caused the hoop snake rumor…plus he sais some of the comics he read in the day had stories of hoop snakes…
    I am surprised that you are’nt missin’ eggs occasionally, unless your chicken run screen if fine to keep them out.
    We like our predatory black snakes to keep the Copperheads at bay…at break neck speed!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 23, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    One time when I was a teenager I was riding up Needmore Road with my cousin J T in his old Ford pickup. A rattlesnake was crawling across the road out in front of us. J T tried to run over it to kill it. We looked back and it was still crawling, so he backed up over it. We looked forward and lo and behold it is still going. Now this calls for drastic measures, so he backed up further, go going again pretty fast, locked her down and slid over the snake. That did the job. Cut that snake right in two. Well, J T won’t settle for just the kill. He wants a trophy. He’s going to get the rattles. So he backs up alongside the snake and gets out of the truck. But not for long though. You see the head end of the snake didn’t know it was dead, made him do some high stepping and put him right back in the truck. Needless to say he went home without his prize.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    May 23, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Another reason I live in Hawaii. No snakes!

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    May 23, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Ima’s question about snakes having hips reminds me of a term I have not thought about in a long time. The older generation of African-Americans I grew up with on the farm in South Carolina referred to a snake, any snake, as a “no-shoulder”. When we were moving a stack of lumber, you might hear, “Be careful, there might be an old no-shoulder under there!”

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    May 23, 2013 at 10:05 am

    I have a black snake living in my yard — and given the lizard population explosion in FL he has plenty of snacks! My neighbor shudders 🙂

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Break neck speed for sure! We don’t have bad snakes here in the PNW but I wonder if our garter snakes eat baby birds or eggs. A clutch of song sparrow eggs went missing and the nest wasn’t disturbed at all.

    • Reply
      Kevin Knight
      October 9, 2021 at 1:41 pm

      Lanny, if the garter snake is big enough to swallow the eggs, then yes they will eat bird eggs. However, most likely it was starlings or grackles. I have watched grackles raid other bird nests. We used to call grackles “bowanna devils” Racoons love eggs of any kind, and they have very human like hands (front paws) that are capable of taking eggs from nests without disturbing the nest. Hope this helped.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I have heard of black racers all my life, but never heard of hoop snakes. A snake was at my back steps as I left to take a package to the Post Office last week. I threw the box at it without thinking it’s contents were fragile. My brother-in-law killed a snake in the same spot yesterday. It was probably just a black snake that was headed for my cellar/basement. But, a snake is a snake! I normally won’t go down in the cellar during a tornado warning, as the cellar and it’s inhabitants scare me more.

  • Reply
    Kimberly Burnette
    May 23, 2013 at 9:43 am

    My grandpa used to tease me about those hoop snakes getting after me if I did not behave! I remember that my mom told me that there was no such thing as a hoop snake, but I didn’t really believe her. If grandpa told me something, it must be gospel!

  • Reply
    Gina S
    May 23, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I knew a man who told of his mother refusing to run over a snake in their dirt road. She commented, Knowing my luck, it would wrap around my axle and follow me home. That’s pretty much how I feel about snakes even though I know they are one of God’s creatures. Once heard a coworker tell of being chased by a hoop snake. I’ve heard break neck speed, but don’t think I’ve ever used it. Laundry awaits; so maybe I need to get at that with break neck speed.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 8:31 am

    Hoop Snakes, Milk Snakes, Blue Racers.I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten.

  • Reply
    Patti Tappel
    May 23, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Good bye Mr. Snake! LOL

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 8:12 am

    Haven’t heard of Hoop or jointed snakes, but then again, snakes are not favorite slithery things. I usually avoid them and hope that when working in my gardens they aren’t there, but I keep looking. No wonder I get tired so quickly when working in the gardens – high energy use looking for snakes.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 8:05 am

    The Hoop snake is a particularly interesting subject for me. Ever since I can remember my Mother has talked about seeing a Hoop snake roll across the dirt road in front of her. She never gave a specific color for the snake. She always spoke of it in a puzzled manner, as nobody else she knew had seen one.
    The only other peculiar thing she mentioned was there was a lady in the area with reputation of being a “witch.” As she and others walked home from their one-room school, they spied the old lady lying in a ditch in a cornfield. Frightened, the children ran all the way home with wild descriptions of the witch. I can actually remember meeting the lady as a child, but had no fear of her. She had the sweetest husband who taught me to tie oats.
    My Mother was not given to exaggerations, so I believe she saw the snake. The witch sighting was possibly an attempt by a mean-spirited lady to frighten impressionable children.
    I was always taught that black racers would chase you, and if you stepped sideways they would miss you. I have seen many black snakes over the years, but never saw one chase anybody.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 23, 2013 at 7:59 am

    My scariest childhood memory of a snake was the one “coiled up” on the steps in my Aunt Northa and Uncle Harve’s steps going upstairs in their house. My Aunt Northa had asked me to go up the steps and “fetch” something from the one big, unpartitioned room, as that part of their house was just a large open space, mainly where they stored many items, including the one I had been sent to bring to her. About half-way up, there, lying against the step, was a black snake. Now to me at that age (I was probably six or seven), a snake was a snake was a snake, and I didn’t like them, regardless of whether it was black, brown or copper-colored. I let out a yell that could have been heard over our whole section of Choestoe, scared to death of the snake that raised its sleeping head at me. And at break-neck speed I got down those steps to the main floor. Aunt Northa knew it was a “good” snake, probably one that kept mice and rats under control. But to please me and quell my fears, Uncle Harve managed to get the snake off the stairsteps and outside, freed. It was probably better-off after it was dislodged and put outside. But I never climbed those steps again without remembering that rolled-up snake that lifted its head at me as I climbed the steps.

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Don’t remember ever hearing of a hoop snake. We do have black racers also called coachwhips and they do go at break neck speed. Tried to run over one with the car without luck, so when i stopped to see if i’d hit it, it stood up on it’s tail and looked in the car window at us. We screamed and the thing took off like greased lightening.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 23, 2013 at 7:53 am

    Yep, I’ve heard of break neck speed. That’s one I’ve heard all my life.
    A King snake is pretty tame compared to the Copper Heads you usually have.
    The Deer Hunter has a very low tolerance for snakes. LOL!

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    May 23, 2013 at 7:44 am

    When I was growing up we always had
    snakes around and in the corn crib
    and barn.Although I was always afraid
    of all snakes we were not allowed to
    kill only the poison snakes like copper
    heads and rattle snakes.The snakes
    caught the rats but occasionally eat the
    birds, small chickens and even the eggs.
    Only afraid of two snakes. The little
    and the big ones.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    May 23, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Tipper, my grandmother was firmly convinced that she had been chased by both a black racer and a hoop snake (at different times). I was fascinated by her stories of these strange snakes and spent lots of time in my childhood watching out for them!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 23, 2013 at 7:24 am

    I have heard of hoop snakes, seems like I saw a picture once. Break neck speed is another one of my mothers sayings. So appropriate too.

  • Reply
    Jane Bolden
    May 23, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Haven’t heard of hoop snakes or joint snakes. I have heard of King Snakes. My daddy said,”Never kill a King Snake”. They eliminate other creatures that need to be eliminated. They are not poisonous. Our next door neighbors killed a King Snake. He was really upset.

  • Reply
    Ima B Lever
    May 23, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Somebody told me one time that they had snakes in Hawaii called Hula Hoop snakes. He said they would put little grass skirts around their waists and wiggle their hips. I didn’t fall for it though ’cause snakes don’t have hips! Do they?

  • Reply
    May 23, 2013 at 7:08 am

    I’ll bet many of your readers will today will have stories about snakes. Now, I’ve never seen a hoop snake and I always thought they didn’t exist. However, there is a snake called a coachwhip and I’ve had experience with them.
    When I was a little boy there was a place down in the bottoms at my Granny’s farm along side of a creek bank where only broom straw grass grew. In that area where there wasn’t much vegetation we could find arrow heads and (what I liked ) shards of Indian pottery. I loved to go there. One day no one would go with me so I went alone; I was only eight years old. As I walked picking up pieces of those Indian relics I kept hearing this rustling sound in the broom straw grass. I finally turned and there was a coachwhip snake. I started to run an the snake took out after me. When I would stop it would also stop and raise up like a Cobra and glare at me. I was eight, alone and scared. Every time I would start to run so would the snake. He amazed me how fast he could go. When I tired and looked around he would stop and raise up like a Cobra again. Finally I realized that as long as I was facing it, it would stop. So I started looking at it and backing up. It worked; I bet I backed up for yards and yards until I could barely see him in the distance. Then I ran like the coward I was and didn’t stop until I got back to Granny’s house. The old folks used to say that a coachwhip would really give you a spanking if they caught you. I think that is just an old folk tale but, I didn’t want to find out first hand. And sibling rivalry being what it was then, I figured my big brother would laugh if his little brother was swallowed up by an old scaly snake with orange eyes!

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