Chasing Ole Rattler: the True Story of a Racepond Boy and His Dog

To most folks, Rattler appeared to be a run-of-the-mill dog. But to a six-year-old Harvin, Rattler was anything but ordinary. 

“There was nothing Ole Rattler wouldn’t chase, except a bear,” Harvin recalls. 

“ He would run a deer, tree a coon, even catch a wild hog or an armadillo – anything, but a bear.”

Thinking of Rattler always brings a smile to Harvin’s face as he reminisces.  

“Zeke Layton’s red tick hound had a large litter of puppies. One Saturday afternoon, Zeke stopped by the house and offered a puppy to me-if I wanted him.”

Did he ever! 

“In just a few minutes, Daddy and I were in the truck on our way to Zeke’s house.” 

Pretty soon, they pulled up out front, then got out to take a look. 

“The mama dog and the puppies were in a make-shift bed under the old wooden porch of the house,” he recalls. 

There were about six or seven squirming little puppies left in the litter. 

“I had to crawl in a little ways and quickly spotted the one I wanted.”

 He was the runt. 

Daddy said, ‘Son, you’ve picked the ugliest dog in the litter, but if that’s the one you want, get him.’  From then on, it was me and Ole Rattler.” 

One look at Rattler confirmed that, in fact, he was ugly.  The short hard coat of white hair, speckled with red, and long legs accompanied the sad, soulful look on his freckled face.  As he grew, Rattler’s muscular frame, long tapered tail, and his low hanging ears did nothing to improve his looks.  

Fortunately, love sees beyond the physical appearance and captures the essence of the heart and soul.  When you’re six, it is quite simple. The boy loved the dog and the dog loved the boy.  

Theirs was a friendship that lasted for more than 12 human years, or 84 years in dog years.   

Every afternoon, without fail, Rattler was standing at the roadside, waiting for the school bus to make its appointed stop.  As Harvin stepped from the bus, Rattler was there barking and jumping in excitement that he was home at last. 

“It was always such a good feeling that Rattler was so happy to see me.”

Red Ticks are known to be loving and loyal pets.  While Rattler was gentle, he also had a good nose for danger and was extremely protective.  Rattler never hesitated to jump from the back of the truck or bound from his resting place beneath the oak tree,  barking and growling, if anyone dared approach Harvin.

Young Harvin, the namesake of his uncle, Harvin Cason, grew up in Racepond, on the edge of the Little Okefenokee Swamp. Harvin was the youngest of eight children and was the center of his father’s world.   

The dark, ominous backdrop of the Little Okefenokee was created by plentiful overhanging trees growing in and around the marshy, brackish-like waters of slow running creeks  and thick woodlands. This slice of wilderness  provided excellent hunting for Racepond locals, including Harvin and his father.  In those days hunting clubs were non-existent, much less their possessive, posted claims of TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED.    

It was here, in the Little Okefenokee, that Harvin and his father, Allen Carter spent countless days, walking the woodlands with Ole Rattler in tow.  Rattler loved to roam, exploring and tracking the scent of other animals. Rattler was rugged and he was fast. Harvin enjoyed watching his exploits more than the hunting. 

Under the guise of hunting, their ramblings became more about the treasured times that Harvin, his dad and Rattler spent together.  More often than not, a shot was never fired. Instead they would spend an entire day tromping through the thick woods, dead leaves cracking under the weight of each footstep.      

Sometimes,  Ole Rattler’s tracking led him deeper into the woods than Harvin or his dad dared to venture. It wasn’t unusual for them to head back to the house without Rattler, knowing he would find the way back home.  

Other days, the trio would make the short trip to their favorite fishing spot in Gum Slough, an area just north of Racepond near Fort Mudge.  

Excited, they would “get up before daylight, get our fishing poles and bait together, and pack a lunch of whatever was left over from supper,” Harvin remembers. “Then, as we would head towards Gum Slough, daylight would break. There was nothing any prettier than the morning sunrise.”

There was always the momentary thrill with the fishing line would bob in the water, signaling there would be fried fish for supper that evening.   

“I guess we were naturalists, when we didn’t even know the meaning of the word.”  

 The solitude, the stillness and essence of nature strengthened the bond between a loving father, his younger son, and a homely dog. 

In later years, Harvin did more than his fair share of fishing.   Those times paled in comparison to the fishing days of his youth. Nothing could be better than Gum Slough with his father, an old cane pole and a box of freshly dug worms, with Rattler sleeping at his side, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun. 

 “I’ve always tried to find another dog like Ole’ Rattler.  But I never have.”   

Like Ole Rattler, some things can never be replaced.  Poor Rattler survived  snake bites, multiple injuries when hit by a car, and encounters with wild animals, except a bear.  His sole purpose in life was to bring happiness to a young boy in Racepond, Georgia. Rattler’s job was done when he died of old age of 12. 

Like Ole Rattler, in your heart you know where home lies. 

Whether it’s the bond between a boy and his dog or the cherished memories of walking through the woods with your father, returning home as the sun is setting. Or it’s the aroma of  fatback in a cast iron skillet, grits with stewed tomatoes, and the scent of biscuits cooking that reaches you as the back door opens. In that place, you hear the muffled voice of your mother coming from the kitchen, realizing that in that brief moment you are loved.  

The sweet memories of home will always linger within the heart.  Just like Ole Rattler and his boy.