Jimmy Rattlesnake | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jimmy Rattlesnake

Jimmy Rattlesnake, baseball player (born 1909 in Hobbema [now Maskwacis], Alberta; died 17 April 1972 in Hobbema). A crafty and durable left-handed pitcher, Jimmy Rattlesnake was one of Canada’s first Indigenous baseball stars. He dominated prize money tournaments in Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 1930s and 1940s. Some reports indicate that he also briefly pitched professionally in the United States. Often compared to African American pitcher Satchel Paige, Rattlesnake was inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2021.

Jimmy Rattlesnake

Early Years

Jimmy Rattlesnake was born in 1909 to parents Peter Dummy Rattlesnake and Marguerite Moignon Rattlesnake. Jimmy was raised on the Ermineskin Cree Nation reserve, about 100 km south of Edmonton. (See also Cree; First Nations in Alberta; Reserves in Alberta.) Rattlesnake’s father’s worked as a horse trainer, while his mother sometimes worked as a housekeeper. Jimmy had a brother and a sister who both later died of tuberculosis. Little else is known about Rattlesnake’s early years. During his youth, he emerged as a talented athlete, playing soccer, curling and baseball. Baseball was often introduced to Indigenous communities through residential schools, and Rattlesnake developed into a standout pitcher.

Baseball Career

Jimmy Rattlesnake was just over six feet tall with a lanky build. He had a powerful, resilient left arm that made him an elite pitcher in Western Canada. He threw his trademark “sawdust pitch” (similar to a knuckleball), a deceptive curveball and a lively fastball. Rattlesnake was one of the most successful pitchers at prize money tournaments in Alberta and Saskatchewan for close to two decades. Nicknamed “the Smilin’ Rattler,” he was sometimes compared to legendary African American pitcher Satchel Paige for his craftiness and durability on the mound.

Rattlesnake was an inspiration for Indigenous athletes. He played many games against barnstorming teams of MLB payers, but he also enjoyed extended tenures with local Alberta teams. He joined the Edmonton Royals of the Edmonton Senior Amateur Baseball League in 1932. In his first start with them, on 12 June 1932, he struck out 10 batters and pitched a complete game in an 8–4 victory.

The term barnstorming was originally used to describe travelling theatrical productions that performed in rural communities, often in barns. The term also came to describe sports teams that were not affiliated with a league and would instead travel from town to town playing exhibition games against local athletes.

That was a sign of things to come for Rattlesnake, who regularly reached double digits in strikeouts in his time with the Royals. Rattlesnake, who was 22 or 23 at the time, also quickly became one of the Royals’ most popular players. In a start in early July 1932, he struck out 11 batters in a 5–3 Royals’ win that was “enjoyed by the thousands of rabid fans who taxed the seating capacity of the stands to the limit,” according to the Edmonton Bulletin.

Rattlesnake returned to the Royals in 1933, but he also started pitching for a Central Alberta Baseball League team in Wetaskiwin. By 1934, he was widely considered one of the best pitchers in the province. He affirmed that status by hurling a no-hitter for Wetaskiwin against Fredericksheim on 9 July 1934. At the end of that month, Rattlesnake pitched two complete games for Wetaskiwin in a tournament in Camrose, Alberta, to help his club secure the top prize money. “Batters all felt Rattlesnake was dangerous,” said Laurel Harney, a well-known player and coach on the Western Canadian baseball scene. “He made mortals out of heroes.”

A testament to how highly regarded Rattlesnake was came when he was selected to start the first game of an exhibition series for the local squad against a team of barnstorming American League pros on 11 October 1934 at Renfrew Park in Edmonton. The left-hander fared well early in the contest, but the American Leaguers eventually got to him for eight hits — including a home run by future hall-of-famer Heinie Manush — in a 9–2 win.

Rattlesnake returned to Wetaskiwin in 1935 and helped lead the squad to the provincial finals against Ponoka. In the championship series, Rattlesnake pitched a complete game shutout to propel his club to within one victory of the title. However, the Alberta Baseball Association discovered an ineligible player on Wetaskiwin and handed the championship to Ponoka.

Over the next decade, Rattlesnake continued to be a successful pitcher. He served as the ace of Central Alberta Baseball League teams in Wetaskiwin, Ponoka and Red Deer. In 1942, he was signed by the Victoria Machinery Depot (VMD) Shipbuilders and briefly moved to Victoria, British Columbia. VMD was a formidable team that defeated strong squads from the army, navy and air force during the Second World War. Rattlesnake was one of VMD’s top pitchers and his starts drew large crowds. However, he didn’t enjoy working in the shipyard when he was not on the mound, so he returned to Alberta. The team convinced him to return for the playoffs, where he registered two wins and helped them capture the city championship. Rattlesnake reportedly retired from baseball at age 40.

Jimmy Rattlesnake

Professional Baseball Career

Though major league scouts rarely visited Western Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, Jimmy Rattlesnake had opportunities to turn pro. There is a report in the 26 May 1936 issue of the Edmonton Journal that he was joining the Pacific Coast League’s Seattle Indians. However, there is no evidence he ever went to Seattle. In August 1936, he was still pitching in Alberta.

There is another report that Rattlesnake attended spring training with the New York Yankees and pitched a couple of games for the club before returning to Alberta. Rattlesnake’s oldest son, Lawrence, has said that his father told him he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers and pitched a few innings for them before coming home.

Personal Life and Legacy

In 1949, Jimmy Rattlesnake married Isabelle Morin, who was more than 20 years younger than him. The couple had 10 children together. Rattlesnake’s oldest son, Lawrence, spoke candidly about his father’s drinking problem to author Brenda Zeman for a chapter in To Run with Longboat: Twelve Stories of Indian Athletes in Canada (1988). Lawrence also shared that his father died on 17 April 1972 after accidentally drinking antifreeze.

Rattlesnake’s daughter Phyllis, who spoke on the family’s behalf at Rattlesnake’s posthumous induction into the Wetaskiwin and County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, said her father rarely spoke about his playing days. She said he was “a kind and humble man filled with laughter.” In an Alberta Dugout Stories podcast interview, Phyllis recalled her family living on the edge of the Ermineskin Cree Nation reserve and her father working at neighbouring farms in return for essentials like flour and eggs. “My dad was my hero,” she said.

Between 1985 and 2018, Baseball Canada presented the annual Jimmy Rattlesnake Award to “the Canadian baseball player that represents both talent and sportsmanship.” Ermineskin School in Maskwacis (renamed from Hobbema in 2014), also presents an annual award in Rattlesnake’s honour.

(See also Canadian Sports History; First Nations in Alberta.)


  • Lifetime Member, Alberta Baseball Association Honour Roll (1974)
  • Inductee, Indigenous Sports Hall of Fame (1996)
  • Inductee, Wetaskiwin and County Sports Hall of Fame (2011)
  • Inductee, Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (2021)

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