My review of Sam Hurst’s “Rattlesnake Under His Hat”:
Sam Hurst has successfully confronted a legend with his biography of Earl Brockelsby, Rattlesnake Under His Hat. Hurst’s story of how Brockelsby built one of America’s most unique and successful attractions, the world-renowned Reptile Gardens in the Black Hills of South Dakota, is more than a standard recitation of fascinating facts and anecdotes meant to reveal the inner complexities that formed his subject. It’s about a lifespan that took Brockelsby from a hard-scrabble boyhood in a remote prairie town suffering through the double calamities of the Depression and the Dust Bowl to a conclusion that ended triumphantly. In Hurst’s well-paced and steadily advancing narrative, Earl Brockelsby emerges as one of the heroes of a great American tradition — the saga of the self-made entrepreneur. The young man who was scratching around for a way to make a buck off the steadily growing tourism industry in the Black Hills — driven by the development of Mt. Rushmore — fell on to the commercial possibilities of satisfying a universal human fascination with snakes. That account alone makes the book an engaging and enjoyable read. Much to our good fortune, though, Hurst takes this endeavor to another level: His fondness for the natural beauty and the grand scheme of history embedded in the development of the American prairie comes across with the kind of insight and affection that would draw approving nods from the likes of Willa Cather and Wallace Stegner. Sam Hurst shows himself to be a fine writer, likely of some consequence, as Rattlesnake Under His Hat repeatedly affirms, page after page.
- John Tsitrian, writer & publisher, The Constant Commoner