GLEN — When Bill Childrey woke up last Saturday morning, he saw that skies were overcast over his place on the Big Hole near Notch Bottom — perfect for summer dry-fly fishing.
He was right — the fishing was great. He just didn’t know yet about the rest of his day: The suspected car theft and kidnapping. The helicopter life flight.
And the snake.
As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.
Childrey, 75, and his wife Elizabeth have lived 6 months out of the year at their place on the Big Hole for 21 years. So he knows when a fishing day looks promising.
On July 25, Childrey didn’t bother donning his usual fishing pants. He didn’t bother with his cellphone. He just pulled on a pair of jeans and wading boots and hit the stream.
“I was pretty excited,” he told The Montana Standard. “It just looked real good.”
Sure enough, he found browns and rainbows were enthusiastically chowing down on hoppers, and he caught several very nice fish.
Fishing his home water, he knew all the good spots. So he headed to the next one, saw a fish rising, and stepped toward the river to make his cast.
Whack. He was bitten on the leg by a rattlesnake.
“I know better,” he said. “I’m always careful about watching where I walk. But I was just excited about the fishing.”
He must have startled the snake, “a four- or five-footer,” he said, because it didn’t even let out a rattle. It just attacked.
“I didn’t step on it, but I stepped really near it,” Childrey said. “I knew right away what happened.”
“I was pretty panicked,” he said. “Later I found out I probably had three hours to get to the hospital, but I didn’t know that then.”
He started walking back toward his house. He had seen the neighboring ranch’s caretaker drive by, so he started calling out.
“Calling, heck, I was yelling,” he said. “Then I saw the caretaker’s truck. I looked inside it, and the keys were in it.”
So Childrey jumped in the truck and headed for another nearby ranch.
What he didn’t know was that the caretaker had seen him take the truck, but didn’t recognize him and assumed his truck had just been stolen. So he called the sheriff.
Our snakebitten protagonist, by now a car-theft suspect, pulled up in the yard of the Garrison place. “Floydena and Billy Garrison are good friends,” Childrey said. “Floydena was mowing her lawn. So I yelled at her.”
“I just put him in the truck and took him to town,” Floydena said. “I didn’t even grab my cellphone.”
When they arrived at Barrett Community Hospital in Dillon, the emergency room was pretty full and doctors there had only one vial of antivenin. So doctors decided to life-flight Childrey to St. James Healthcare in Butte.
“Everybody was so great at both hospitals,” Childrey said. “The nurses were awesome, the doctors were great.”
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (oh, the joy at being able to use that line!) Childrey was overdue at home. He and Elizabeth had an online social appointment with friends.
“That darn guy has gotten excited about fishing and has forgotten all about this,” Elizabeth Childrey said to herself. “I’d better go get him.”
About then, she got a call from Floydena Garrison, who by then had retrieved her phone.
“She told me, ‘Don’t panic but Bill was bitten by a rattlesnake.’” Elizabeth, of course, panicked.
Floydena came over and drove Elizabeth to Butte to see Bill.
“The kindness of our neighbors is incredible,” Elizabeth Childrey said. “Here she just took Bill to Dillon and she comes right back and takes me to Butte.”
Meanwhile, back at the other ranch, the caretaker’s pickup truck had been located at the Garrison place.
Trouble was, Floydena and her truck were missing. People began to worry that whoever stole the first truck decided Floydena’s new truck was better and abducted it, along with her.
When she came back home, she found a crowd of worried family members in her yard. “Here they found that missing truck in our driveway, and I was gone,” she said. “I told them what happened. I didn’t do anything special. I was just available to help out.”
So finally, everything got straightened out, and people realized that Bill Childrey, aka the mystery man from the river, was not actually a car thief, but a snakebite victim.
And at the hospital, Childrey got good news.
Wearing his jeans turned out to be a great idea. One of the snake’s fangs had struck the seam on his jeans, and so did not penetrate to the skin. So he was officially a one-fang snakebite victim.
Doctors kept him overnight at St. James Healthcare, while he was receiving antivenin, so they could keep an eye on him. On Sunday, they let him go home.
“We were so lucky,” Elizabeth says. “The doctors say there’s no reason he shouldn’t make a full recovery.
“He’s keeping his leg elevated.”
Childrey is also taking a great deal of ribbing from friends from across the country.
“They wanted to know why I didn’t stay and fish longer,” he said.
“If I’d known I had three hours to get to the doctor. I might have,” he said. “The fishing was really good.”
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