Punkin and Melinda: A Love Story

We in The Victor Mourning always appreciate a good tale of eternal love. Whether it be Adam & Eve, Johnny & June, or Lux & Ivy, nothing warms the heart more than a story about two people who seem made for each other finding one another against all odds—especially when those two people are relatively unique sorts.

Recently in our reading we came across the story of John Wayne “Punkin” Brown of Parottsville, Tennessee. Punkin was a devout fellow. He believed in following the “five signs” as outlined in Mark 16:17-18: casting out devils, speaking in tongues, laying hands on the sick, drinking poison (usually strychnine or lye), and taking up serpents. Punkin was well known amongst the followers of the five signs, and he preached at little churches all over the southeast.

Punkin Brown

Punkin Brown

Sometime around 1981, when Punkin was in his late teens, he attended a “homecoming” for serpent handlers at a church in Kingston, Georgia. During the service, he spotted 14 year-old Melinda Duvall in the crowd. His brother Mark tells us, “Punkin had seen her down there handling big rattlesnakes, speaking in tongues, and shouting. He seen all that and that just hooked him right there. He found a woman who liked to do the things that he liked to do.” After Punkin got back home to Parrotsville, he told his brother, “I’ve met me a tongues-talking, serpent-handling Holiness woman and I’m going to marry her!” Punkin and Melinda were married a year later.

Like all the best stories of true love, this one lasted till the very end. On August 6, 1995, during a service at the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Kentucky, Melinda was bitten by a black timber rattler she was handling. Within two days, the 28 year-old mother of five was dead.

Three years later on October 3, 1998, Punkin Brown was preaching a service at the Rock House Holiness Church of God in rural Jackson County, Alabama. During his sermon he was bitten by a yellow timber rattler. Punkin looked at the bite and said, “God don’t ever change. It’s gonna be all right.” Soon after, he uttered what may have been his last words, “No matter what comes, God’s still God.” He was dead within minutes.

Rock House Holiness Church of God

Rock House Holiness Church of God

Punkin and Melinda died as they lived. And most all the folks who knew them are certain that they’re together again, no longer following the five signs. For as all good Holiness people know, there are no serpents in heaven.

—Stephen Canner

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

—William Shakespeare



  1. Ross Warren said,

    April 2, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    This is a great story of Punkin and his wife Melinda. Do you happen to have more photos of either of them? I’m researching them for a National Geographic documentary about snake handlers and would really appreciate any resources you have.

    • thevictormourning said,

      April 2, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      Hi, Ross,

      Thanks for the note, glad you enjoyed the blog. I don’t have any photos other than what I harvested off the web for the blog post. You might contact Thomas Burton, author of “Serpent Handling Believers”. His e-mail is tgburton@embarqmail.com. I’m not sure what he has but contacting him would be a good place to start. He’s also done a couple of documentaries of his own that you might want to check out as points of reference for your own. Good luck, and do let us know when your film is done. we’d love to see it! -Steve

  2. google said,

    July 3, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Thanks for finally writing about >Punkin and Melinda: A Love Story | The Victor Mourning Blog
    <Liked it!

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