Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith

Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith

by Fred W. Brown, Jeanne McDonald


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Church members who take Mark 16: 17-18 as a central tenet of their faith call themselves Signs Followers. Previous accounts of the Signs Followers focused on the sensational aspects of the religion: picking up poisonous snakes, drinking strychnine, speaking in tongues.

Within these churches are several families whose history in the tradition stretches back as far as the religion itself, which dates only to 1910. In The Serpent Handlers, the authors use extensive interviews with the participants to tell the stories of three of the most prominent snake-handling families—the Brown family of Cocke County, Tennessee, the Elkins family of Jolo, West Virginia, and the Coots family of Middlesboro, Kentucky.

Fred Brown, a feature writer with the Knoxville News-Sentinel, is a member of the Scripps Howard Hall of Fame. Jeanne McDonald is a recipient of the Tennessee Arts Commission/Alex Haley Fiction Fellowship and a Washington Prize for Fiction. They live in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780895873521
Publisher: John F Blair, Publisher
Publication date: 09/28/2007
Pages: 356
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Barbara Elkins always fretted about her son Dewey Chafin, child of her first marriage, one of the best-known handlers among the Signs Followers. Dewey, who is in his sixties, has a penchant for fearlessly handling exotic snakes, and he has been bitten 132 times. A couple of years ago at the Kingston, Georgia, homecoming, before Barbara took to a wheelchair, Dewey picked up four large rattlers, two in each hand, which is his signature move. The atmosphere in the church was already thick with tension. Earlier that day, a young woman had been bitten when she was handed a snake by her husband. Barbara Elkins felt ill at ease. Somehow, the air seemed different. By late afternoon, the sky outside was black with an approaching storm. The barometer was falling, the church lights ocasionally blinked off and then on again. Suddenly, a vicious thunderstorm flashed across the Georgia Piedmont, and the lights flickered and went out, leaving the tiny church in near darkness. The congregation, which had been singing, fell silent. After each crash of thunder, the buzzing of rattlesnakes could be heard above the rain.

Dewey Chafin was a victim of the elements. He could not see to put the snakes into the boxes, and putting them down would have placed the congregation at risk. He stood in the dark holding four venomous snakes, and when the lightning flashed again, Barbara Elkins could be seen at his side, her hand on his shoulder. It was a ghostlike negative image. For fifteen minutes Dewey held the writhing snakes in the darkened church, and for fifteen minutes Barbara Elkins remained by his side, keeping her hand on his arm. When the lightning and thunder receded into the distance and the lights of the church came on, Dewey stood before the pulpit with glassy eyes. He seemed disoriented, but there was no mistaking the emotion of Barbara Elkins. She was angry. She was angry at Dewey for having held the snakes throughout the storm and angry at the other men for not coming forward to help him. Most of all, she feared that Dewey had not been fully anointed when he took up those serpents, that he was handling on faith. Barbara always warned her children not to handle unless they were anointed, because that is the time when God gives his permission for the Sign Followers to handle serpents.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Dr. Ralph W. Hood, Jrix
The Brown Family
Brown Family Tree1
Cocke County, Tennessee3
Manner of Death, Accident: John Wayne "Punkin" Brown8
A Tongues-Talking, Serpent-Handling Holiness Woman:
Melinda Duvall Brown23
To Speak in Tongues: Peggy Moore Brown36
Avoiding the Lake of Fire: John Brown54
The Lord Just Shouted Me: Rachelle "Shell" Martinez Brown72
My Heart's Desire: Mark Brown83
From Violence to Victory: Richard Cameron Short104
The House of Prayer in the Name of Jesus Christ120
The Coots Family
Coots Family Tree127
Middlesboro, Kentucky129
The Serpent Died: Louvernia Christine Owens Coots133
God-Given Songs Sung by Tommy Coots144
A Little Yeller Rattler: Gregory James "Jamie" Coots147
Getting God's Attention: Linda Smith Coots171
Living by Faith: Gregory Coots200
Streets of Gold, Gates of Pearl, Walls of Jasper: Linda
The Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name222
The Elkins Family
Elkins Family Tree231
Jolo, West Virginia233
A Soldier of God: Barbara Robinson Elkins237
Pray without Ceasing: Joe Robert Elkins253
Nobody Can Stop Me Now: Barbara Jeanean Church Coleman266
Straight from the Bible: Dewey Chafin282
Getting Your Heart Repented: Lydia Elkins Hollins295
Waiting to See the Lord: Melissa "Missy" Gay Hamilton
Living the Hard Life: Charles "Junior" Church315
The Right Time, the Right Place: Lucille Chafin Church323
Coming Home to God: Cynthia Church335
The Church of the Lord Jesus341

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Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book a few years ago.I have read other things and have watched documentries on this subject.This to me is the best book that i have read on this subject because it takes no side and lets the saints tell there story and there beleifs .The authors of this book should be credited for stepping out of the way and letting the saints tell there beleifs.If there is one thing you could read concerning serpent handling churches and beleivers i beleive this is the book.great book
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very pleased with this book. The authors, by frequently using their subjects own words, created a touching glimpse into the personal lives of three families from three different states. I found myself really identifying with the subjects.