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  EIGHT AIN'T ENOUGH FOR THE RATTLESNAKE KING.  
   
   
  Springtime in central Texas is the season of rattlesnake roundups. These are typical small-town fairs, save for the glassed-off pit full of rattlers on which everyone focuses their attention. Good ol' boys and girls munch on corndogs and barbecue, and the dull hum of  
 

hundreds of rattles fills the air. There's usually a carnival ride or two, but no one seems to care.

It all started about 50 years ago, when a few cowboy showmen decided to take an annual practice -- the removal of rattlesnakes from their land -- and make it into a spectacle. All the snakes were brought into town and placed in a communal pit; prizes were awarded to whoever captured the longest, the fattest, the most.

And that's when things got freaky. Put a country boy in front of a snake pit, and it's only a matter of time before he jumps in and starts playing with the serpents. A new breed of daredevil was born, a class of men and women known as snake handlers. Tricks were

     
 

thought up and records were set.

Jackie Bibby is a superstar in this world. He holds Guinness records for sacking ten rattlesnakes the fastest (17.11 seconds), sitting in a bathtub with the most rattlesnakes (81), lying in a sleeping bag with the most rattlesnakes (109), and holding the most rattlesnakes in his mouth (9). That last record earned him sixth place in Guinness' list of top ten feats of the last 50 years.

There once were over two dozen roundups scattered across the state, but that number has dwindled to five. Apparently people don't come out and stare at snakes like they used to. (Even rednecks have TiVo.) But Bibby's popularity only seems to be rising, thanks to the 54-year-old's toothy grin and hunger for the spotlight.

"I was recognized on the streets of New York City," he brags. "I

 
 

thought that was pretty damn good for an ol' country boy from Rising Star, Texas."

Bibby has always been an adrenaline junkie. He started out with dirt bikes as a kid, and then moved into drugs. Up next was bull riding, and more drugs. He joined the Army, on drugs, where he skydived, on drugs.

"I drank a lot and I did a lot of drugs and I was about as macho as they come," he says.

Bibby got caught dealing in the '70s and landed in Huntsville prison, now known as the execution capital of the nation. There he sat, he says, for "two years, two months and too damn long." He continued shooting up after getting out, only going completely clean in the fall of 1988. It was around that time that he started calling himself the Texas Snake Man.

He had been to plenty of rattlesnake roundups before (his first when he was 17), but sobriety brought with it a newfound sense of ambition, a drive to push the boundaries of the sport. Next thing you know, he's on the The Chevy Chase Show, sitting in the green room with Jamie Lee Curtis and teaching the host how to milk a rattler on national television.

"Jackie loves the spotlight and he will admit it," says Chris Hamilton, a photojournalist who calls Bibby a friend. "But it's great, because he's not arrogant. He's not an ass about being so known and recognized for the things he does."

Bibby's now been on TV plenty of times, including appearances on Walker Texas Ranger, The Tonight Show, Ripley's Believe It or Not and, of course, Guinness Prime Time, most recently when he broke his own record for sitting in a bathtub with rattlesnakes. He bought the tub

         
     
How to Sack a Rattlesnake

You wanna be xtreme? Ditch the Mountain Dew and the Oakleys and try your hand at sacking ten rattlesnakes. Here are some tips:

1) Arrangement is key. Before you start sacking, make sure the rattlers are grouped together, but not tangled up. "If you have to move a snake, you're wasting time," says Jackie Bibby.

2) Try not to get bit. It hurts like hell.

3) Pin the sucker down. Use a metal rod, or pinner, to isolate one snake and hold him in place. But don't crush the herp. He didn't do anything to you.

4) Try not to get bit. It hurts like hell, plus the judges will add five seconds to your total time.

5) Put your hand on the snake. Yeah, you heard us right. Grab him right behind the head. "You have to immobilize the head in such a way that he can't turn," says Bibby.

6) Try not to get bit. "Forty percent of wounds are dry bites," says Bibby, but that's coming from a man who got a wet one and lost half a thumb.

7) Toss the hisser. "Then you just pick him up and chuck him in the sack," he says, making it sound all too easy. It's the bagger's job to keep the snake from getting back out.

8) Repeat nine times. Be sure to swagger about like a pro wrestler when you're done. The crowd expects it.

   
           
 

after the show. "It's in my bedroom with quilts in it," he says.

The Texas Snake Man also claims appearances in Michael (as an Iowa farmer), Any Given Sunday (enthusiastic fan) and Serving Sara (monster truck rally spectator), although IMDb.com hasn't deemed him fit to list. And he's the subject of a question in the Trivial Pursuit

 
         

Twentieth Anniversary Edition: How many snakes were in the sleeping bag with Jackie Bibby, Texas Snake Man, when he set his world record? (The answer's 109, but you already knew that if you were paying attention.)

All of this glory hasn't come without a price. He's been bit eight times, at least by his own logic that "if you don't go to the hospital, it doesn't really count." While he was under care, the doctors and the nurses gave him plenty of the attention he loves.

"I've been laid up in the hospital swelled up with an IV going and all kinds of stuff and had nurses and doctors ask me for autographs," he says. "I've had other ones come in and be so pissy and so hateful, saying, 'You did this to yourself. It's your fault. You don't deserve treatment.' "

Then there are the close calls: "Doing this gig one time in the bathtub," he says, "I had two rattlesnakes in my lap get in a fight. They were biting each other in my lap."

When Bibby has been bit, it's usually happened while he was sacking rattlesnakes. "Rapid movement and rattlesnakes is not a good mix," he says, touching nothingness where half of his thumb used to be.

In the sport of sacking, one person holds a burlap sack, while another starts picking up snakes, trying to get all ten of the slithery suckers gathered up faster than his opponents did. Last month at the National (read: only) Rattlesnake Sacking Championships in Taylor, Bibby and a partner took home top honors with Bibby holding the sack and his partner grabbing the snakes, and then they switched places and got the second best time.

No one's even come close to busting Bibby's records. Call him the champion, the greatest there ever was. But don't accuse him of harming the snakes, like many a PETA sympathizer has before.

"I'm not ever cruel to any animal," he says. "I'm probably one of the most soft-hearted men to ever draw breath." And there's no doubt it takes a true animal lover to stick nine rattlesnakes in his mouth.

 
   

Watch It Happen!

Through the magic of modern technology, now you can see Bibby bag a rattler in the privacy of your own home! Open up your browser so all five photos are showing, squinch up your eyes real good and then shake your head up and down very fast. It's so real, it's almost like you're there!

     
           
 

 

Keith Plocek is a writer living in Houston. He doesn't have a Southern accent, but not on purpose.