Born in Oregon City, OR, and raised in the San Bernardino Mountains of Big Bear, CA, Blaine Eaton spent his formative years in an idyllic paradise before the family moved to Anaheim where he spent his high school years. The move was hard on a kid, but at least two good things came from it: he met Terry, his wife of 49 years, and he often visited the San Diego Zoo where he studied herpetology under the caretakers at the reptile house.
Blaine’s interest in snakes became a passion, one that subsequently benefited his naval career. Blaine joined the Navy right out of high school and went to boot camp and Hospital Corps School in San Diego. Thus, he served the Navy as a corpsman – the Navy’s counterpart to the Army’s medic – working in hospitals, in the fields, and on ships, serving in place of a doctor on the smaller ships that didn’t have a doctor assigned to them. Destroyers had one–three corpsmen assigned, and Blaine also served on aircraft carriers where there were up to six doctors and 40 corpsmen. The Marines, a part of the Navy, have corpsmen who accompany the units when they go into battle. Consequently, corpsmen that are assigned to a unit, including SEALS, have to participate in the same rigorous training to be fit for battle.
Every area where he was stationed gave Blaine an opportunity to continue his study of snakes. Ultimately, he began to give talks to the corpsmen, nurses, and doctors on the venomous snakes in each area. His notoriety grew, and he became well known when stationed at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia when a friend in the preventative medicine unit called him when they found a snake aboard a ship. It wasn’t venomous, but a story went around about Blaine and his expertise. Blaine then started volunteering with a civilian doctor to treat snake bites.
At Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, VA, a popular place for family outings, Blaine began to volunteer, finding large snakes to capture and then release in a nearby river. He started giving talks at the park on venomous and non-venomous snakes. His purpose was, and still is, to educate on the benefits of snakes. He feels that people should learn of the importance they play ecology, such as the control of rodents – the food of Rattlesnakes – bugs, frogs, and cicadas – the food of Copperheads – and little snakes – the food of Coral snakes. Blaine hopes to assuage people’s fear of snakes. He remarks that once when a rancher said to him, “A only good snake is a dead snake,” Blaine was able to convince him of the beneficial role snakes played on his ranch, adding that with over 7000 venomous snake bites a year in the US, only about five deaths occur.
Alongside his service to society in the field of herpetology, Blaine also served our country in his military contribution. During his long tenure in the Navy, Blaine served in numerous duty stations. Following boot camp and Hospital Corps School in San Diego in 1968, his duties included Philadelphia Naval Hospital; Sub Base Groton, CT; USS America CVA-66 (one of three Kitty Hawk-class supercarriers built for the US Navy in the 60s); three tours in Vietnam as a Navy Hospital Corpsman; Pensacola Naval Air Station; Naval Base, Panama City, FL; Bethesda Naval Hospital, MD, Navy Experimental Diving Unit, Panama City, FL; USS Nassau (LHA-4); Portsmouth Naval Hospital, VA; and finally, Bethesda Naval Hospital, MD.
At his last duty station at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, Blaine volunteered at a reptile house at the National Zoo – a part of the Smithsonian Institute. But, prior to his retirement, in 1985, he had moved his family to Devine. (Blaine and Terry’s oldest son, Derrick Eaton, graduated from DHS in ’88 and works today as a cardiovascular technician for the River City Cardiovascular Institute in San Antonio. Their youngest son, Clifford Eaton, lives in Buda, TX. Their daughter, Kimberly Kuykendall, lives in Devine.) When Blaine retired from the Navy in 1988, he wanted to continue giving talks to further educate folks about reptiles and their role in ecology; thus, he continued to share his passion locally.
Subsequently, Blaine began giving two-three lectures a week at such places as schools, 4H groups, garden clubs, the Border Patrol, TxDOT, and HEB at their foundation camp in Leakey. There, Blaine has given some 10-12 lectures a year. In addition, for over 20 years, Blaine has set up a display at the Devine Fall Festival, and for the last five or so years at the Devine Acres.
In addition to educational talks and lectures, Blaine is well-known for snake removals. The venomous ones – Texas’ venomous snakes include Copperheads, Cottonmouth water moccasins, Coral snakes, and Rattlesnakes – are transported to venomous labs for studies to benefit medicine. For example, there are ongoing studies to discover the value of Copperhead protein for treating breast cancer.
Last year, while en route from a lecture, Blaine experienced a rollover accident caused by a blowout. Fortunately, he had with him his ten-year-old grandson, Curtis Kuykendall, who has been assisting at lectures and snake removals for the past five years. Curtis’ knowledge was critical in directing the first responders at the accident on how to catch the snakes which had escaped and which ones could be kept together. “Because of his knowledge,” Brian proudly shares, “the Somerset Fire Dept. gave Curtis a Hero Award.”
Blaine’s devotion to herpetology has not waned over his lifetime, and he remains devoted to the cause of education; however, he is experiencing residual problems as a result of the accident, one of which is a compromised lung due to multiple broken ribs. And now, unfortunately, he is suffering from heart disease. So, reluctantly, Blaine is retiring as “The Snake Man”. As his retirement had not yet been announced, it was with regret that he had to recently turn down the yearly invitation to provide a talk at Devine Acres.
Through his membership in the South Texas Amphibian and Reptile Society, Blaine is looking for someone to take his place. If a worthy candidate is found, Blaine will provide them with some of his 25 reptiles and two alligators. If not, he will donate some and sell the others. But, “The Snake Man” will continue doing removals, relocating non-venomous snakes, and sending venomous ones to labs.
And now, for the first time he can remember, Blaine plans to avail himself of the time to travel. He and Terry, who often helped him in his lectures, will “grab the puppy” and go east, go to area festivals (without working them), go fly fishing in area lakes and rivers. In short, Blaine and Terry will be free to travel at will. But, not only will he miss the lecture circuit, he will be sorely missed.