The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Wild Man of Borneo

By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012

Issue: November, 1983

(A fictional accounting of a supposedly true tale.)

Near as I can remember, it must have been 20 years ago when Clovis Smart brought a little excitement to the county fair. Clovis had been once already and in one side show, he’d seen “The Wild Man of Borneo.” Now wild men from Borneo were a curiosity to Clovis and he paid his 25 cents and went in. The hawker was loudly giving his spiel of the many amazing traits of this semi-tame, human being. He proclaimed loudly, “Step right up folks and see a wild man! A man that lives and sleeps with the most deadly reptiles on earth! See the amazing wild man of Borneo. Don’t worry folks; he’s chained in a pit for your protection! Don’t miss this once in a lifetime chance to see a savage captured in the wilds of Borneo; a being so mean and fierce that deadly snakes are his only pets and companions!”

Well, Clovis walked cautiously over to the edge of the seven foot deep pit and peered down at the “wild man.” There in the bottom of the four foot square pit sat a normal looking fellow with a huge chain around his ankle and the other end around a stake drove into the bottom of the pit. Occasionally he would look up at the curious onlookers and give his imitation of a wild man growl. The ladies would draw back and shiver and the men folk would act with the necessary bravery from a distance. Clovis was one to notice details and the details that caught his eye the most were the gold caps of the “wild man’s” teeth and the fact that none of the snakes were poisonous. There were probably 10 or 15 small reptiles in the pit with the “wild man” but they were green snakes, black snakes and garter snakes. None of them were poisonous, as the hawker had claimed. Well, Clovis took all this in and decided he’d liven things up the next night.

Sure enough, the next night, Clovis was standing on the edge of the pit, looking down at the “wild man” with the other spectators. Clovis looked over at the hawker and said, “Does he really like snakes?” “Why Mister,” the hawker said, “He likes snakes so much that he eats them just like me and you would eat an apple. He don’t like snakes, he loves ‘em and the more deadly poisonous they are, the more he likes ‘em.” Clovis stood there as solemn as could be for a moment then he said, “Well, I brought him something he’s gonna love.”

The “wild man” who had been keeping an eye on Clovis and an ear on the conversation suddenly took on a look of terror. Clovis had a brown paper bag in his hand and he proceeded to open it up and dump the contents into the pit. As he was in the process of doing this, he explained to the hawker that he’d brought the “wild man” an old timber rattler that he’d caught. The “wild man” had been doing alright with the innocent and harmless snakes in the pit but when he heard the timber rattler and saw the contents of Clovis’ bag dropping into his pit, he became a dynamo of human activity. In one continuous motion, he ripped the stake, holding his leg irons, jumped up out of the floor of the pit and he passed that old rattler in mid air with the rattler going in and the “wild man” coming out!

Clovis Smart brought an end to the “Wild Man of Borneo” act and nearly to himself. The “Wild Man” came up the walls of that pit with murder on his mind but Clovis was into the crowd and gone before he was caught.

Somebody said that they had seen the “wild man” down at the Mount Airy Fair a little later on but he’d given up being wild and had settled instead on running the cotton candy machine.

The hawker who had convinced the wild man that this was a “perfectly safe act” wasn’t quite so lucky. It took three roustabouts to keep the “wild man” from throwing him in the pit with the rattlesnake!