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Rain doesn’t wash snakes away from Apache festival

“You don’t have to see snakes if you don’t want to.You can enjoy the festival and not ever look at a snake. It gets the better of some people, though.”
RON ORF
FANGMASTER OF APACHE RATTLESNAKE FESTIVAL

APACHE - Rain might have cleaned the streets, but it couldn't wash away the rattlesnakes from the annual Apache Rattlesnake Festival.

The first day was what fangmaster Ron Orf called "a wash." Foul weather moved in Thursday morning and did not stop until after midnight. The carnival was forced to close and cancel its arm band evening. Vendors began setting up their booths, only to close them up and retreat indoors. The Snake Pit and Butcher Shop closed for the evening. Grisslehead Band's outdoor performance was moved inside to the community center. Everyone could just look out from inside and watch the streets of downtown Apache turn into little rivers.

"I think we maybe had 20 people in there listening to the music," Orf said. "It was pretty bad. No one was going to get out into that mess."

Friday morning, it was all but a not-so-distant memory. The thick clouds had parted, warming Apache in the sun's embrace. The roads were not only clear, but cleaned of dirt and mud. All of the dust in the air was gone  replaced with a nice spring morning smell. Vendors started returning and opening their booths as the crowd began to grow as the morning went on. But most important, the thousands of snakes ready for the Snake Pit and Butcher Shop were safe and ready to strut for the thousands that were about to arrive.

"Everyone has done this so long, it's like a routine for us," Orf said. "A little rain wasn't going to stop us today."

By the noon hour, hundreds had already made their way through the Snake Pit and hundreds more were lining up behind them. Inside the pit, Orf's younger brother, Mike Orf, showed off the deadly snakes to onlookers. Some gazed in wonder as the snakes extended their fangs and occasionally made a strike at his boots. Others covered their eyes when the snakes were brought closer for examination. No one left. There was one noticeable absence, the elder Orf, who sat back in the corner of the room, watching the show from a distance.

"I'll get in the snake pit later," he said. "I can't stay in there and talk as much as I used to because I'll lose my voice. I have to have it to preach on Sunday, you know."

As the people filed out from the Snake Pit, many were led into the nearby Butcher Shop, where they were treated to another informational show about what happens to the thousands of rattlesnakes that are caught and brought to Apache for the festival. Melissa Scifres and husband Justin Scifres were among those watching. She jumped a few times during the show  especially at the familiar part where the head of the snake is cut off, but still plenty active.

"I don't like snakes," she said. "I don't do snakes. Not one bit."

Why would someone who doesn't "do snakes" come to a rattlesnake festival? Orf had the answer.

"You don't have to see snakes if you don't want to," he said. "You can enjoy the festival and not ever look at a snake. It gets the better of some people, though."

The Scifres were in Caddo County during a visit from Dallas. Justin Scifres' mother is buried in Duncan and they were in the region visiting when they heard about the rattlesnake festival. Having never been to one, and never even heard of one outside of West Texas, they decided to make the short journey from Duncan to Apache to see what all the talk was about. 

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