— — EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in the Aug. 30, 1983, edition of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. It details the death of Mack Wolford, who died from a rattlesnake bite during a church service. Mack Wolford was the father of Mack Randall Wolford, who died Monday, May 28, after being bitten by a rattlesnake during a church service the day before.
Headline: Man Dies From Snake-Handling Ritual Near Iaeger
From Staff and Wire Reports
IAEGER — A Kentucky man died from a rattlesnake bite after a religious snake-handling ceremony at a McDowell County church, authorities said Monday.
Mack Wolford, 39, of Phelps, Ky., died at about 9:50 Sunday night, eight hours after being bitten by a yellow rattler during services at the Lord Jesus Temple in Mile Branch, near Iaeger, said Sue Walker, a dispatcher at the Welch state police detachment.
Ms. Walker said Wolford was bitten around 2 p.m. at the church in this rural community about four miles south of Iaeger on Rt. 80. However, an ambulance wasn’t summoned until 10:40 p.m. and Wolford was dead on arrival at Stevens Clinic in Welch, she said.
Snake handling is a ritual employed in some predominantly rural Christian churches as a demonstration of faith. It is based on a Biblical passage in which the faithful are said to “take up serpents” yet not be harmed.
The Rev. Bob Elkins, who operates a similar church in [the] county and says he has been bitten at least seven times, said Monday he did not believe the incident was the result of a lack of faith on Wolford’s part.
“I wasn’t there when it happened, but in my opinion he died fulfilling the faith,” said Elkins. “If they die they’ve got nothing to worry about if they died in the faith.”
Michael Steele of the Little Huff Rescue Squad said that when he arrived at the church Sunday night, Wolford’s family was praying around his body.
“They had him in the bed and his family was around him,” said Steele. “The way they talked, they were handling snakes earlier that evening.”
Steele said Wolford suffered the snake bite hours before rescue crews were summoned.
“It’s the religion,” Steele said. “They don’t believe in going to the hospital when they get bit because they don’t believe they’re going to die.”
The Rev. Brady Dawson, pastor of the Lord Jesus Temple, was conducting regular church services Monday night and could not be reached for comment.
In August, 1982, the Rev. John Holbrook died from a rattlesnake bite he received during a church service in Oceana. Holbrook did not receive medical assistance at the time because his religion did not permit it, officials said.
Wolford was born in Phelps, and was the son of Elizabeth Hurley Wolford of Logan and the late Billy Wolford. He was employed as buggy operator at Chisolm Mine, Phelps.
Survivors in addition to his mother are his wife, Vickie Hicks Wolford; three sons, Randy Wolford, Kevin Wolford and Chris Wolford, all of the home; two daughters, Robin Wolford and Shauna Wolford, both of the home; one stepdaughter, Lesha Hicks, of Morehead, Ky.; five brothers, Nick Wolford, Ervin Wolford, Gene Wolford ad Tracy Wolford, all of Phelps, and Melvin Wolford of Delbarton; four sisters, Reba Lewis of Michigan, Helen Blankenship of Delbarton, and Lassie Wolford and Irene Wolford, addresses unknown.
Wolford’s funeral will be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the church, with Dawson and the Rev. Bobby Ayers officiating. Burial will be in Hicks Family Cemetery near Phelps.
Members of the church will serve as pallbearers.
Fanning Funeral Home, Iaeger, is in charge of arrangements.