A vintage photograph of a man in a white shirt holding a large snake

Robert Runyon Photograph Collection, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin

Nobody knows what compelled Joe Guerrero to make his living handling rattlesnakes. But as this circa 1908 photo shows, that’s exactly what he did while working for Frank B. Armstrong’s snake farm near Brownsville. Armstrong was a well-known taxidermist in the 1890s before opening the snake farm on a roughly 12-acre site near a cemetery just outside Brownsville city limits. The widely visited snake farm attracted locals and tourists alike. “Brownsville is a town with a glowing future,” read a Nov. 16, 1906, article in the Brownsville Herald. “But its present and past fame is due to the Armstrong snake farm.” The business had on display all manner of snakes as well as javelinas, coyotes, ocelots, bobcats, and other native border wildlife. Armstrong sold exotic animals to zoos and museums, and rattlesnake poison to a doctor in New York who was researching antidotes for rattlesnake bites. Armstrong’s snake farm wasn’t the only one to profit off the natural showmanship of the slithering creatures—at least two others operated in Brownsville during the same period.

Know of any fascinating vintage Texas photographs? Send copies or ideas to [email protected].

From the April 2023 issue

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