By Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
A month ago I wrote a column describing in lurid detail the Neill-inflicted deaths of several young hog-nosed snakes, commonly known Down Heah as “spreading adders.” This weekly column is syndicated in several papers and to readers throughout the South. I generally write a week in advance and send them out e-mail, but some papers publish on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, so when those editors come in Monday morning, mine goes straight to typeset. That can turn into a Blessing, as this past month, when a mid-week editor quickly e-mailed me back with an urgent warning. “Uncle Bob, a retired game warden told my husband that those spreading adders are a Protected Species; are you sure you don’t want to check that out before we run this, exposing even more of your hardened criminal background?”
As you can imagine, that kind of knocked me back on my heels, but there’s sometimes a saving grace built into the work of a writer as long in the tooth as me. “Is this Neill guy writing about something that happened yesterday, or twenty years ago?” It’s a natural question, and it happens a lot, I confess. I indeed had accidentally run over a baby adder while mowing the pasture; that brought back memories of other times it might have happened, even on purpose, including when my neighbor ran over a whole litter of baby copperheads with his mower. Perhaps I had written that column in remembrance of something that happened ten or twenty years ago. What’s the Statute of Limitations on spreading adder murder?
Well, if only one paper had caught the confession, it was probably best to go straight to the source: I drove over to the building at Stoneville where I recalled the last game warden office being.
It was no longer there, but a guy who works in that office now found me an old pamphlet that had a Jackson number on it. “I think the closest office might be over around Greenwood,” he opined, “if you want to drive that far.” I replied that I didn’t actually want to be in the physical vicinity of a game warden when I asked my self-incriminating question. I dialed the Jackson number from the parking lot.
A young man sounding about the same age as my Adam answered, named Adam Butler, who is obviously the State Expert on Adder Law. My first tentative statement was that I had possibly done away with a member of a Protected Species, and I wanted to know what the penalty might be, because I had to make up my mind if the deed I was confessing to happened last week, or twenty years ago, if that would be beyond the reach of said Statute of Limitations. He recognized my name and chuckled that he had read some of my books, surmising that many of my stories might have to do with olden days, even before they HAD game laws.
Then he went into the history of the hog-nosed snake, spreading adder, puff adder, and several Latin or Greek nomenclatures for the same critter. To ease my mind, he jumped right in with, “They are not protected, but they are classed as creatures of “Conservation Concern,” and that my method of execution sounded too much like an accident that could happen to any country homeowner. The boy knew a heap of stuff about spreading adders, and in my judgment he will go far in his chosen field of game law enforcement. I wish him well, and will ask for him by name the next time I need to call or visit the game & fish folks in Jackson.
When we finished on the subject of puff adders, I was very tempted to go the next step and ask him about the game-department status of panthers in Mississippi, since several times over the years I have crossed swords with various game officials over personal sightings of that predator — six over the years, one black, three within a couple of miles of my house here at Brownspur. Those non-Adams unanimously declared me to be a drunken fool who cannot tell a lion from a Puddy Tat. I was seriously tempted to shoot one (panther) and bring it for identification.
But that was a long time ago, back before the Statute of Limitations, Adam.