The Lone Star State is home to annual festivals of all kinds. There’s the annual goat barbecue in Electra every April, the Luling Watermelon Thump in June, and of course, the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup.

If you are unfamiliar with the event, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Thousands of unlucky rattlers get snatched up and thrown in a pit in the Nolan County Coliseum. It’s an enduring tradition and one that tells us about the history of the place.

Rob McCann is the public relations director for the group that puts on the festival, the Sweetwater Jaycees. They’re holding the 60th annual Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup this weekend.

The Rattlesnake Roundup started back in 1957 when a group of farmers and ranchers got together to help local law enforcement with Sweetwater’s rattlesnake population. The police department was overwhelmed with nuisance calls related to the reptile – so much so that they were having a hard time keeping up with their other duties.

“They just rounded the snakes up and they killed them and buried them in a pit,” McCann says. “That was the humble beginnings of the roundup.”

The next year, the Jaycees took over the Rattlesnake Roundup and molded it into the citywide event it is today.

“It takes 11,000 people to put this roundup on, which is roughly the population of our town,” McCann says. “That’s what’s made our roundup last 60 years.”

Two years ago the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce did an economic impact study and found the event brings in about $8.4 million for the local economy over the course of one weekend. The events include a scholarship pageant, which replaced the beauty pageant, and a huge cookoff. Cooks compete with brisket, chili, beans and the tie breaking category – which is snake.

“It has a very unique taste, especially the way our cooks dredge it and soak it and fry it,” McCann says. “It tastes good to me. The texture is a whole lot like calamari.”

So far, the biggest year for the roundup was 1982 when the event brought in 18,000 pounds of rattlesnake. A rattlesnake averages around three pounds. This means around 6,000 snakes were caught within one month of the event.

When the snakes are caught they first go to the research pit where they’re individually measured, sexed and weighed. This data is shared with various departments on the state and national level. Once a snake is measured it then goes to the milking pit where the venom is extracted. The final stop is the killing pit. The snakes’ heads are cut off, they’re gutted, they’re skinned and the meat is cooked.

The venom that is extracted is usually freeze dried and is sold to various pharmaceutical companies. The Jaycees, a nonprofit organization, takes all the money they raise over the  weekend and put it back into the community.

Recently the roundup has had to compete with the growing entertainment options available to young people. McCann isn’t too concerned about these digital distractions.

“We’ve been very, very blessed with some awesome parents and an awesome community,” he says. “What we have is called a Jay-teen organization. We have over 60 kids who basically are the teenage version of our organization. They want to make a difference in their community and they’re doing it here.”

McCann is confident the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup is in good hands for the foreseeable future.


Written by Jeremy Steen.

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  • Phil March 15, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    First, I am sad to see that you covered this “event” in the first place. Secondly, you failed to cover the other side of the story and I thought that’s what journalists were supposed to do? Third, aren’t we at a point were these barbaric roundups shouldn’t exist any longer?Haven’t we moved passed this? They don’t benefit anyone, especially not the snakes and other animals that are exterminated in the process of collecting the rattlesnakes from their burrows.
    If it does actually pump $8.4 million into the local economy as advertised, then wouldn’t you want to protect your investment by doing a catch and release type event instead? If you hunt these animals to extinction (they kill them as stated in your story) then you have no event and you have no surge of money into your local economy. We have to learn from past mistakes and stop being so short sighted. Just because there are still rattlesnakes that are captured for this event, doesn’t mean that there are sustainable populations of snakes into the future.
    Finally, there is nothing purposeful about this event in it’s current form, other than to make money and kill a valuable piece of the environmental puzzle (yes, I mean snakes… them or hate them they are extremely important to the environment.

  • Erik Corredor March 10, 2018 at 8:41 am

    This is a horrible event. It deserves ZERO coverage. This has NO environmental benefit at all. There are NO species of rattlesnake in the state of Texas that are experiencing overpopulation departments. There is NO scientific basis for any of the declarations that this event “helps the population” in any way. There is also NO American pharmaceutical company that can legally use ANY of the venom from any of the rattlesnakes that are tortured at this event. As an NPR station, you are supposed to be promoting life and ethical values; killing a key part of a healthy ecosystem FOR FUN or PURELY economic gain is in no way ethical,. It is disgusting that you covered this tragic evet. This sweetwater roundup does nothing more than further the ignorance of the natural world that is prevalent in the United States as well as fostering an attitude that wanton destruction of living beings is OK. That is NOT OK in my book. Until this article and podcast are removed from your website and replaced with an in depth article that highlights the key role any rattlesnake plays in a healthy ecosystem and that encourages respect and empathy for them I will gladly let all of my social contacts know how ignorant KUT Austin is. And I won’t stop until KUT prints an official public apology for promotinig the slaughter of wildlife and further ruining our environment.

  • Kristin Moro Coleman March 9, 2018 at 5:41 pm

    Your story on 2018 Rattlesnake Roundup was both shocking and appalling. It shows an utter lack of understanding and journalistic commitment to the subject. By only giving us the roundup sponsors thoughts on the topic you are not representing the truth about these roundups. Rattlesnake roundups are cruel, unnecessary, uneducated, and absolutely ancient practices. Animal cruelty methods are used to extract snakes from their burrows which not only harm the snake but other harmless wildlife that also use burrows. Not only is their method of extraction cruel, but handling of the snakes at the roundup events is often further cruelty inflicted on the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are an integral part of the Texas ecosystem and as a radio program supposedly supporting Texas “standards “ I just find it unbelievable that you would promote such cruel practices. I’m not sure I can ever listen to your program again.