Volume 45

The Building of History II: Rattlesnake Island

The Island of Mystery


  • RattlesnakeIsland

This small island with the ominous name is just a mile or so northwest of Put-in-Bay. Historians think the island may have gotten its name from the Chippewa, because to them, part of the island looked like the head and fangs of a rattlesnake. Or perhaps it was named for the rattlesnakes that were quite abundant on the islands and in the impregnable Black Swamp of the mainland. The most common snake found there today is the Lake Erie water snake, a fairly large but harmless snake.


Most of us will never see the snakes, walk along the shore of the 85 acre island, or hang out at a bar or restaurant because the island is privately owned. You can visit it by invitation only.


The mystery of the place can be intriguing, to be sure. Stories about rum runners from Canada during Prohibition, a hangout for the mob, a getaway for the rich, beautiful women from eastern Europe who somehow ended up working there as bartenders, etc…


Ah, the stories that make for good reading.


  • RattlesnakeIsland2

Well, I suppose the good thing is, you can circle around the island with your boat on your way to Put-in-Bay, take pictures of the limestone outcroppings, and let your imagination ponder the mystery of what may have happened on Rattlesnake Island through the years.


There is one historical aspect of the island, which may be true, or just a good yarn about Confederate prisoners during the Civil War between the North and the South.


The prisoners were officers from Tennessee, held on Johnson Island in Sandusky Bay, which by the flight of a seagull isn’t that far from Rattlesnake Island. Story has it that the really ornery prisoners were sent to Rattlesnake Island for an attitude adjustment.


It’s really interesting that merely 50 years or so earlier in the War of 1812, men from Kentucky were on board Commodore Perry’s ships, fighting for America against the British just west of Rattlesnake Island. Kentucky militias made up a large share of the army in the Northwest Territories.


It’s ironic that soldiers from Tennessee, fighting together with Kentucky in the war between the North and the South, were imprisoned in the same area where the Kentucky militias fought for America in the War of 1812.


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