Myths and legends from the State of Tamaulipas: The Snake
Folk story from Padilla, Tamaulipas
One cool evening, we were sitting on the porch at don Evaristo’s in the moonlight. We had been talking about Quetzalcoatl, the ‘Plumed Serpent,’ the Mayan counterpart, Kukulkan, and the very similar figure of Viracocha, among the Incas. After a long, pensive silence, don Evaristo said:
“Yes, the snake has traditionally been a very strong motif in most cultures of the world. It’s a symbol of wisdom, but at the same time, it’s often also a symbol of death or trickery.”
“Do you know any modern stories about snakes?”, asked Emily.
“Oh, sure! Here’s one from the state of Tamaulipas – from the reservoir that swallowed up the town of Padilla. Padilla, incidentally, was once a prosperous city, which played an important role in Mexico’s imperial past. At the time, Padilla was the capital of Tamaulipas, believe it or not! Folk tale written by Homero Adame.
“On July 19th, 1824, Agustin de Iturbide, ex-president and emperor of Mexico, was executed there, by a Federal Government firing squad. It was, in fact, just after Iturbide’s return from exile. Then, 171 years later, this town wrote its last page in history: it disappeared under the waters of the Vicente Guerrero reservoir. Nowadays, when the reservoir waters are at their lowest point, you can just see the remains of Padilla – a ghost town, no more than the ruins of the former church and the schoolhouse. Nothing else is left of its illustrious past.
“Anyway, back to the snake story – a fisherman who works on the Vicente Guerrero reservoir said to me one day:
‘You know what, Evaristo, all those things they say about the snake in the middle of the reservoir are true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes!
‘One weekend, we all went out fishing as usual, and we were taking the boat out to the middle of the reservoir because that’s where the biggest fish are. So, there we were, cruising gently along, when one of my friends said: “Look! Over there! There’s a rattlesnake in the water!” Now, that was a very strange sight to see, because any child knows that rattlesnakes only live on land, right?
‘But we hadn’t seen anything yet! We stopped the engine, to stare at the snake, and imagine our surprise! Before our very eyes, the snake rose up in the water, up and up till it was standing up, as straight as a rod, on its tail! We were all struck dumb with amazement! Then the snake bent its head back down towards the water, dived in, and disappeared from sight! We just didn’t know what to think! If anyone else had told me the same story, I would have thought he was inventing it. But I swear to you, I saw the whole thing with my own eyes, and it’s as true as I am standing here today!
‘None of us could stop talking about that rattlesnake, not that day, nor for many days to come. Most people thought it was just a typical fisherman’s tale, and that we were making it all up, but then another fisherman confessed that he had once seen the snake too. It was in the very same spot, and he saw it standing up on its rattle, too!’ Folk story from Padilla, Tamaulipas.
“And that was it!” said don Evaristo. “To be honest, I don’t know what to think, either. There are many tales of sticks and staffs turning into snakes, but I have never heard of a real, live rattlesnake standing up on its rattle before! And even less, in the middle of a lake!” Folk story found in Homero Adame’s blog at: https://adameleyendas.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/myths-and-legends-from-the-state-of-tamaulipas-the-snake/
Written by Homero Adame and translated by Pat Grounds. Originally published in the English textbook Orbit 3. By Homero Adame, Pat Grounds and Carol Lethaby. Ediciones Castillo, S.A. de C.V. Monterrey, Mexico. 2000. Pp. 178-179.
You can find more Mexican myths and legends on this link: Mexican folk stories.