Sinister Swamp Personalities

A fictional but fascinating description of the snake-laden, dark forests of the Okefenokee Swamp from Cecil Hulse Matchat’s 1938 novel, Strange Green Land:

Brown Water Snake, Nerodia taxispilota, coiled on a Cypress Tree branch in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. A large non-venomous snake with keeled scales. The Suwannee River Sill Recreation Area canoe and kayak trail. January 21, 2021. ©

“Seeing this malformed forest in the strange green light, one might expect it to be the home of gnomes, with beards and humps.  As a matter of fact, it is inhabited by much more sinister personalities. The bays are the favorite haunts of the cottonmouths and other water snakes, which lie coiled contentedly on the cypress knees, or crawl into the bushes along the runs to sun themselves. Often they drop into the boats of the swamp folk as they pole beneath them. While the terrified boatman looks on in horror, the snake raises its menacing head, hisses angrily, and then – if this is the boatman’s lucky day – glides slowly over the side into the water. Full-grown cottonmouths are four or five, and rarely six, feet long, a dull olive brown in color and not more than nine inches in circumference. Sometimes great masses of snakes, the harmless, brightly colored ones looped with the poisonous moccasins, are twined around dead limbs overhanging the runs.”

Cecile Matschat’s works published in 1930’s are full of colorful stories of the Swampers that lived in the Okefenokee, exciting folklore encounters with bear, boar and cannibal alligators, as well as scientific descriptions of the flora and fauna of the great swamp. They are a worthwhile purchase if you come across used copies of these collectible out-of-print treasures of Okefenokee literature.

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