Danger on the Las Cruces Trail

“Danger on the Las Cruces Trail,” Ensign, Oct. 1998, 62

Danger on the Las Cruces Trail

When we first arrived in Panama some years ago, I felt I was living in a tropical paradise with year-round warm weather, exotic fruit, the nearby Panama Canal, and a rich variety of unusual plants and animals. But with all the beauty came poisonous spiders and deadly snakes. I was a little afraid of finding snakes in the yard or house and was on constant watch for them.

My 11-year-old son, Matthew, was a new Scout, and his Scout troop planned a hike along the Las Cruces Trail, the 400-year-old trail used to carry heavy loads by mule before a railroad was built connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific Ocean. The trail had long since become overgrown with vegetation.

Leaving early in the morning, my husband, Dave, and two other leaders accompanied my son and five other Boy Scouts on the hike. After they traveled about two and a half miles, the trail became hard to follow. Dave began leading the way single file through the undergrowth by going ahead a little way and then calling for the others to follow. Matthew, second in line, was hiking toward his father when suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his calf. He assumed he had been pricked by a thorn bush until, behind him, one of the Scouts yelled, “Snake!” There in the middle of the overgrown trail was a fer-de-lance, one of Panama’s most common and deadly poisonous snakes, known locally as an “x” for the x-shaped pattern on its skin. My husband quickly checked Matthew’s leg and discovered puncture marks on his calf. The Scoutmaster killed the snake so he could take it back for positive identification.

The boys gathered around. They had been hiking nearly three hours over a sometimes steep trail and wondered how they could get Matthew back to a doctor in time. Before leaving, the men gave Matthew a priesthood blessing. In the blessing my husband felt impressed to say that the snake had not been permitted to inject much poison into the leg, which helped everyone feel more calm and peaceful. To keep Matthew from walking and spreading poison through his blood, the leaders took turns carrying Matthew on their backs, and it was 12:30 P.M. when they finally arrived at the hospital—three hours after the bite.

Doctors examining the leg were astonished to find Matthew had no symptoms of poisoning—no swelling, no sickness, no fever, and no sign of venom in his blood. This was unusual since victims often die within an hour or, if they live, at least lose a limb. The doctors kept Matthew for observation for 24 hours, but no sign of illness appeared, and they sent him home.

In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord revealed to Oliver Cowdery that he should “require not miracles, except I shall command you, … and [except] against poisonous serpents” (D&C 24:13). The Scouts learned a great lesson that day about the power of the priesthood to preserve life. And when Matthew was ordained a deacon a few months later, he deeply respected the privilege he was given to be one of those who hold the priesthood.