SNAKEHANDLERS-EKY-WVA-L ArchivesArchiver > SNAKEHANDLERS-EKY-WVA > 2002-10 > 1035400049
From: "Gohr, Glenn" <>
Subject: [The SnakeHandlersofEKY-WVA] St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 6 Oct. 1998
Date: Wed, 23 Oct 2002 14:12:12 -0500
Originally posted at:
ST LOUIS (MO) POST-DISPATCH, 6 October 1998
'Punkin' Brown Succumbs To Snake Bite
Knoxville, Tenn.: Practicing a deadly balance between religious fervor and
the laws of chance, John Wayne "Punkin" Brown Jr. was struck down by the
bite of a rattlesnake Saturday night in a snake-handling worship service on
Sand Mountain in Alabama.
In the end, the East Tennessee minister died the way he preached, flat out
and flying for the biblical words in the Book of Mark he believed so
"Punkin was the man," said Dr. David Kimbrough, a biblical scholar and
author on snake-handling religions. "Brown was solid in the faith. Lots of
people say they believe, but Punkin said it, he believed it and he practiced
The snake-handling faith, born in Southern and Central Appalachia around
1910, is based primarily on a passage in Mark that says believers "shall
take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt
Brown, 34, one of the leading evangelists in snake-handling churches across
the Southeast, died shortly after being bitten at the Rock House Holiness
Church in rural northeastern Alabama 10 miles from Scottsboro. Brown, father
of five children, was bitten while preaching a revival service for the Rev.
Billy Summerford's congregation in the Macedonia church.
Eyewitnesses said Brown, of Parrottsville, Tenn., died about 10 minutes
after he was bitten on the left middle finger between the knuckle and first
joint by a 3-foot-long yellow timber rattler.
He was taken to Jackson County Hospital in Scottsboro where he was
pronounced dead at 11:12 p.m. CDT, according to Jackson County Coroner Jim
Brown's wife, Melinda, died three years ago when she was bitten by a timber
rattlesnake during services at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name
Church in Middlesboro, Ky.
Punkin, who grew up in the church and began handling snakes at age 17, had
been bitten some 22 times before the fatal bite.
After the death of his wife, he went through a fierce custody battle for the
children with his wife's family. A juvenile court in Newport awarded the
children to Brown. The children range in age from 14 to 3 years old and are
with their grandmother and grandfather, John and Peggy Brown in
Parrottsville. Brown's father is a snake-handling minister of his own church
in Marshall, N.C.
In his best-selling book "Salvation on Sand Mountain," author Dennis
Covington called Brown the "mad monk," of the snake-handling preachers.
"Of all the handlers I'd run into, Punkin Brown seemed to be the one most
mired in the Old Testament, in the enumerated laws and the blood lust of the
patriarchs. His sermons (were) preached in guttural monotone while he
stalked in front of the congregation with a rattlesnake draped over one
Witnesses said Brown was handling his own timber rattler, one he had handled
numerous times since the summer.
He had been preaching in his usual robust, roundabout style with the
familiar rattler when it sunk only one fang into the finger.
Brown, witnesses said, emerged from behind the pulpit, stepped down onto the
church floor and toppled over.
In a written statement to Grigg, Summerford said Brown had been preaching
for about 30 minutes when he opened his own snake box and took out the long,
"He walked around with it in his hand. I didn't see when it bit him. (After
Brown was bitten) we prayed for 20 to 30 minutes. He was asked if he wanted
to go to the doctor and he said no. I went outside and called 911,"
Summerford said in the written statement.
The Rev. Jamie Coots, minister of the Middlesboro, Ky., church where Melinda
Brown was bitten Aug. 6, 1995, is Punkin Brown's lifelong friend and was at
the fatal worship service. Coots, also a rising name in the snake-handling
religion, said in a statement to the coroner that he did not see the snake
"I only saw him flinch. Another man put the snake up. He was down on the
floor about three minutes. After he was unconscious I told the pastor to
Grigg said the 911 emergency number was dialed at 10:07 p.m. (CDT). He said
he thinks Brown was bitten about an hour earlier.
"He was DOA at the hospital," Grigg said. "Because of the unusual
circumstances, I have ordered an autopsy.
"If you have been bitten 22 times by venomous snakes, you should be fairly
immune. We heard that he died within 10 to 15 minutes of the bite and that
is why we ordered the autopsy. I have been a coroner for 16 years and this
is the first death (in these circumstances) since I became coroner."
The autopsy was performed Monday. Chuck Phillips, Jackson County Sheriff's
Department chief investigator, said no charges will be filed.
"The only thing we did was write this up as a matter of record. It is not
against the law in Alabama to handle snakes in church," he said.
It is a misdemeanor in Tennessee and Kentucky to endanger others with a
deadly animal in church services.
Phillips said the sheriff"s department confiscated a video of the event that
had been taped by a church member. He said the video will be returned to the
owner and will not be released to the public.
"I saw the video this morning. He (Brown) went down on the floor and never
got back up. He was really up there preaching and handling the snake. I'm
sure his heart was racing pretty good and that may have had something to do
with (the fact he died so quickly)," said Phillips.
Brown's family members said they are not sure it was the snake bite that
killed him. Some of his family think his death could have been the result of
a heart attack.
|[The SnakeHandlersofEKY-WVA] St. Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 6 Oct. 1998 by "Gohr, Glenn" <>|