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Rattlesnake festival is big event for Apache

Snake-handling family that has led Apache Rattlesnake Festival for three decades ready to rest.
BY DAVID ZIZZO Published: April 16, 2011

— Sometimes Ron Orf will find one on the road and toss it in his toolbox. Nobody in Apache bothers Orf's toolbox.

“They know me,” Orf said.

They also know Orf likes to catch rattlesnakes.

This weekend, as he has done at this time of year for almost three decades, Orf will lead rattlesnake demonstrations and hunts. More than 50,000 visitors are expected to stream into this town of about 1,400 during what almost became the last annual Apache Rattlesnake Festival.

It began almost 29 years ago when a friend who knew of Orf's knack for wrangling poisonous reptiles suggested a festival. Today, Orf, 68, is the last surviving member of the original board of directors of the festival, none of whom, Orf assures, died of snakebite.

Speaking of bites, Orf has been bitten five times, all during demonstrations at local schools.

“When you pick up dynamite and the fuse is burning, sometimes it goes off,” he said.

None of the bites required medical care, he said, but his youngest son got a $50,000 hospital bill after a bite last year. Still, in all the years of the public hunts and festivals, not a single participant or visitor has been bitten, Orf said.

All the Orfs, including Ron's three sons, his daughter and even his wife, join in. “They've all caught snakes,” he said.

But after this year, the family decided they would step back from the demanding leadership role of the festival.

When no one stepped forward to take over, the board figured they had little choice and voted to disband after this year, Orf said.

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Oklahoma snake events

Waurika Rattlesnake Hunt: Was held April 8-10

Apache Rattlesnake Festival: Started Thursday; continues today and Sunday

Mangum Rattlesnake Derby: April 29-May 1

Waynoka Rattlesnake Hunt: April 29-May 1

Okeene Rattlesnake Round-Up: May 6-8


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