The Bell Witch Red Book (1880)

PREFACE

It is not the purpose of the writer to present a romance for the
entertainment of lovers of fiction, nor to establish a theory to
please the fancy of adherents of so-called theosophy, but simply
to record events of historical fact, sustained by a powerful array
of incontrovertible evidence, as it comes to hand, testifying to
the most wonderful phenomenon the world has any account of a visitation
known as the “Bell Witch,” believed at the time by many to have
been of supernatural origin; which appeared in Robertson County,
Tennessee, some seventy-five years ago, inflicting unendurable suffering
on John Bell, the head of the family, and was said to have ended
his life and which also awakened a sensation that has lived through
a generation. The writer is aware of the fact that the average person
of today eschews the belief in the existence of witches, ghosts,
and apparitions, as a relic of past superstition, and as a subject
for ridicule; nevertheless, spectres stalk the earth today just
as they did hundreds of years ago, the only difference being that
we now place a different interpretation upon them, calling them
spirits, fantasies, psychic manifestations, etc., instead of ghosts
and witches, and people who laugh at the superstition of our fathers
only need be put to the test to prove this fact. However, this is
not the place for moralizing, nor will the writer find any occasion
for drawing on his imagination for a vivid description of goblins
and devils incarnate, or for painting the revelry of unknown demons
on a mission of torment, to, make the hair Stand on one’s head,
or cause the unregenerated to shun neglected grave yards. This part
of the story is told by others who mingled with the familiar spirits,
held conversation with the invisible, took part in their worship,
participated in the ghost dances and midnight revelries, held councils
with the spooks, witnessed the jack-a-lantern performances, saw
unshapely sights and horrifying transformations, and felt the warm
blood curdle in their veins.

The author only assumes to compile the data, formally presenting
the history of this greatest of all mysteries, just as the matter
is furnished to hand, written by Williams Bell, a member of the
family, some fifty-six years ago, together with other corroborative
testimony by men and women of irreproachable character and unquestionable
veracity.

It may be a strange story, never theirs it is authentic, not only
as recorded by Williams Bell, but transmitted to the present generation
of the surrounding country through family reminiscences of that
most eventful and exciting period of the century which set hundreds
of people to investigating, including Gen. Andrew Jackson, and is
recognized in every household as a historical truth.

No one denies or doubts the existence of witchcraft, etc., during
the dark ages, and it may be accepted as equally true, that just
as enlightened Christianity has progressed, the deviltry of the
past decades has kept pace with the advancement, in transformations,
assuming other forms and new channels for mystifying people; such
as spiritual séances, mind reading, hypochondria, hypnotism, electrical
phenomena, etc.; to satisfy that innate theosophy of the human family,
or idle desire to comprehend unrevealed mysteries of God and nature.
However this may be, there is not one person in a thousand who does
not hold to some kind of superstition, and those most given to ridiculing
the belief in witchcraft of past ages, believe in omens, prognostics,
dreams and revelations. They carry a rabbit’s foot or buckeye, keep
a horse shoe over or under the door, see spectres stalking around
a table of thirteen, or could not be induced to start a journey
or begin any work on Friday, and since people of the present day
cannot explain the phenomena in spiritual manifestations, mind reading,
electric wonders, etc., their ancestors may be excused for believing
in witchcraft, inasmuch as they accepted the. Bible for the guidance
of their faith and believed all it says on this subject, as they
did that pertaining to the soul’s salvation, and sought to put away
witchcraft, that Christianity might prevail.

M. V. INGRAM

Introduction

Before entering upon an investigation or going into details of the
acts and demonstrations of the Bell Witch, it is proper that the
reader should know something of the Bell family and citizens of
the community who witnessed the manifestations, expended their energies
in trying to discover the origin and force of the phenomena, and
who in connection with the Bell family, give credence to the truth
of these statements. The story will not be altogether new to thousands
who have heard graphic accounts from the lips of the old people
who witnessed the excitement and have, perhaps, also read short
newspaper sketches. No full or authentic account, however, has ever
been published. Newspapers were few and far between at the time
these events transpired, and there were no enterprising reporters
or novelists abroad in the land. Several writers in later years
undertook to compile the story, but could not obtain the authentic
details. Williams Bell, it seems, was the only one who kept a diary
of what transpired, which he put in shape in 1846, twenty-six years
after the culmination of the tragic events in the death of John
Bell, Sr. It appears also that he was inspired to write the sketch
by the intensity of the living sensation that sent a tremor through
every nerve of his body, as it kept fresh in the memory of every
one, the astounding manifestations that continued to be rehearsed
at every fireside and in every social gathering, taking on new phases
and versions far from the truth. Some enterprising person, wise
in his own conceit, undertook to solve the mystery, and failing
to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion, gave currency to a suspicion
that the young daughter, Betsy Bell, actuated by her brothers, John
and Drewry, was the author of the demonstration, and that the purpose
was to make money by the exhibitions. This version found lodgment
in many minds not acquainted with the facts, and the discussion
became very distasteful and irritating to the family, and Williams
Bell determined to write the incidents and truth of the whole story
and let the public pass upon the injustice of such a judgment. After
it was written, the brothers consulted over the matter, and finally
for good reasons then existing, agreed not to publish the statement
during the life of any member of John Bell, Sr.’s immediate family.
Williams Bell died a few years after, this, and gave the manuscript
to his eldest son, James Allen Bell, who has carefully preserved
it. The writer was raised within a few miles of the Bell place,
and has been familiar with the witch story from his youth up, and
becoming intimately acquainted with Joel and Allen Bell during his
residence in Springfield, about 1867 applied to Joel Bell for the
privilege of writing the history then, while himself, sister Betsy,
Frank Miles, Lawson Fort, Patrick MeGowen, Johnson, and others acquainted
with the facts, were still living. Joel Bell assented to the proposition,
but Allen Bell declined to furnish his father’s manuscript, and
the matter was dropped until recently. Since the death of all of
the family who were victims of the frightful disturbance, Allen
Bell has consented to the use of his father’s statement in connection
with other testimony. The further explanation of the Publication
of the history of these stirring events, after the lapse of many
years, will be found in the following correspondence:

ADAIRVILLE, KY.

July 1st, 1891

M. V. Ingram, Esq., Clarksville, Tenn.:

DEAR SIR – Some years ago, while you were engaged in publishing
a newspaper at Springfield, Tenn., Uncle Joel Bell applied to me
for the manuscript of my father, Williams Bell, stating that the
application was made at your request for the purpose of incorporating
the same in a full and complete history of the so-called Bell Witch,
which proposition I declined to accede to at that time, for several
reasons that need not now be mentioned. However, one objection was,
that after writing his own memories, and the recollections of other
members of the family, father consulted with Uncle John Bell in
regard to the matter, and they determined that in view of all the
surrounding circumstances, it was best that it should not be published
during the life of any of Grandfather John Bell’s immediate family,
and he gave me all of his notes just before his death with this
injunction. So many painfully abhorrent misrepresentations had gone
out concerning the mystery that he desired the writing should be
preserved, that the truth might be known in after years, should
the erroneous views which had found lodgment concerning the origin
of the distress continue to live through tradition handed down to
an enlightened generation under a version so disparaging. This history
was written by father during the Fall and Winter of 1846, and is
the only sketch ever written in detail by any one cognizant of the
facts and demonstrations. Now, nearly seventy-five years having
elapsed, the old members of the family who suffered the torments
having all passed away, and the witch story still continues to be
discussed as widely as the family name is known, under misconception
of the facts, I have concluded that in justice to the memory of
an honored ancestry, and to the public also whose minds have been
abused in regard to the matter, it would be well to give the whole
story to the World. You having made the application years ago, and
believing you are capable, and will if you undertake it, being already
acquainted with many of the circumstances, compile a faithful history
of the events, I am willing to let you have this manuscript and
notes, on the condition that you will agree to include all other
corroborative testimony still to be had, and write a deserved sketch
of Grandfather John Bell and family, and those associated with him
in any way during the period of the unexplained visitation which
afflicted him and gave rise to the excitement.

Respectfully,

J.A. BELL

CLARKSVILLE, TENN.

July 5th, 1891

Hon. J. Allen Bell, Adairville, Ky.:

DEAR SIR – In reply to your favor of the 1st inst., I remember distinctly
the discussion between Mr. Joel E. Bell and myself in 1867, in regard
to the publication of the history of the Bell Witch, and also his
after report of the interview with you, which caused the matter
to be dropped. Joel Bell was a gentleman whom I esteemed very highly
for his moral worth and generous friendship. His earnestness impressed
me with the views so decidedly expressed in favor of the publication
then, believing the facts would correct the erroneous impressions
which had been created. I will accept your proposition and undertake
to compile such testimony as may still exist; as you suggest, and
will endeavor to make a faithful record of the facts. I have always
regarded the so-called Bell Witch as a phenomenon for which the
Bell family, who suffered the infliction and misfortune, could in
no wise be responsible, but were entitled to all of that sympathy
so generously bestowed by the good people of that community who
knew John Bell only to honor him. But in undertaking the work, it
shall not be my purpose to account for the series of dramatic events
that so confused and mystified people at that time, but compile
the data and let readers form their own conclusion. I believe the
publication will do good, not only in correcting a false impression,
but will recount historical events and facts concerning the most
remarkable visitations, in the early part of the present century,
that ever afflicted any community, giving the present generation
some idea of the grounds for the superstition that possessed the
early settlers of this country.

Very truly, your friend,

M. V. INGRAM

The Early Settlers – Society and Religion
– Kate the Witch – The Bell Family – The School Master and Betsy’s
First Lover

More than one hundred years ago, the Star of Empire took its course
westward, following the footprints of the advance guard who had
blazed the way with blood, driving the red man, whose savagery rendered
life unsafe and civilization impossible, from this great country,
then, as now, teeming with possibilities. Couriers carried back
the glad tidings of peace and safety, and a glowing account of the
rich lands, fine forests, great water courses – rivers, creeks,
brooks, and bubbling springs. In short, the land of milk and honey
had been discovered in Tennessee, then the far west, and the flow
of emigration from North Carolina, Virginia, and other old States,
became steady and constant, rapidly settling up the country. They
were of the best blood of the land; men of brawn and brain. They
came with the axe, the hoe, the plow and sickle. They brought with
them their customs and notions of civilization and Christianity,
having the Bible and the American Constitution for their guide.
Wild speculations and schemes of laying out great, cities and building
railroads, had not entered the dreams of men then. Good lands and
farming was the object, and only young men of muscle, nerve, honesty
of purpose, and a courageous disposition to work, possessed of self-reliance
and frugal habits, were among the immigrants.

Along with this tide of immigration came John Bell and his amiable
wife Lucy and family of promising children, also a number of likely
Negroes, then slaves. They landed with their train of wagons and
splendid teams in the west end of Robertson county, Tennessee, near
where Adams Station is now located, on the Southeastern line of
the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, in the year 1804, and met with
a hearty reception by old friends who had preceded them. There was
general rejoicing in the community over the accession to the quiet
happy neighborhood. Mr. Bell purchased a home partially improved,
with good houses, barns, and a fine young orchard, surrounding himself
with about one thousand acres of the best land on Red River; and
settled down for life, clearing more land and opening a large and
fertile farm. His commanding appearance, steadfast qualities, and
force of character, at once gave him rank and influence in the community.
Mrs. Lucy Bell was an exemplary mother among matrons, ruling her
children with the glowing passion of a tender loving mother’s heart;
even the stern husband yielded to every glance of her gentle piercing
eyes and loving smiles. Everybody was in love with Mrs. Bell, and
wondered at the power of her influence, and the charming discipline
exercised in her home. It was indeed a happy and very prosperous
family, as every one recognized.

The principal families composing this delightful neighborhood at
that time were Rev. James and Rev. Thomas Gunn, the pioneers of
Methodism; William Johnson and James Johnson, the founder of Johnson’s
Camp Ground, and his two sons, John and Calvin Johnson; John Bell,
Jerry Batts, the Porters, Frederick Batts, the Long family, James
Byrns, the Gardners, Bartletts and Dardens, the Gooch family, Pitman,
Ruffin, Mathews, Morris, Frank Miles and brothers, “Ninety-Six”
Needham, Justice and Chester; and just across Red River, between
that and Elk Fork Creek, was the large Fort settlement, the Sugg
family, McGowen, Bourne, Royster, Waters, Thomas Gorham, Herring,
and many other good people. Rev. Sugg Fort was a pioneer Baptist
minister and a man of great influence. These people raised large
families, and formed the aristocratic society of the country, and
no man whose character for morality and integrity was not above
reproach was admitted to the circle. The circle, however, widened,
extending up and down the river, and into Kentucky, embracing a
large area of territory. Open hospitality characterized the community,
and neighbors assisted each other and co-operated in every good
move for the advancement of education and Christianity. They established
schools, built churches and worshipped together.

Churches took the
name of the river, creek or spring of the location, and it was nothing
uncommon for people to go ten or fifteen miles to church and visiting.
The Baptist took the lead in building houses of worship, Red River
Church being the first established in that community, which was
in 1791. It still maintains the name and organization under the
control of a new generation, but has changed the location, moving
a short distance to Adams Station, building a new and more commodious
house. Drake’s Pond Church on the State line, one mile east of Guthrie,
Ky., was the next congregation of worshippers organized. This church
was held by the Predestinarian Baptist when the split took place
in the denomination later. Rev. Sugg Fort was pastor of both churches,
and the two congregations visited and worshipped with each other
a great deal, the churches being only seven miles apart. The Methodists,
in the meanwhile, established several churches in the circle, presided
over by Rev. James and Rev. Thomas Gunn, who itinerated a wide scope
of country, evangelizing with great success, and it was not uncommon
for them to travel fifty miles to marry a couple or preach a funeral.
The people of the Bell neighborhood were about equally divided in
their church affiliations between the Baptist and Methodist, but
toleration, Christian fellowship, and a spirit of emulation prevailed.
They worshipped together, and the ties of friendship grew and strengthened;
families intermarried, and these fond relations still exist in the
present generation.

Like all new countries, the settlement became infested with robbers
and horse thieves, and it was almost impossible for any one to keep
a good horse. It seemed that the legal authorities were powerless
to detect and break up the vandalism and the situation necessitated
some active measures on the part of the citizens. Nicholas Darnley,
who lived on the Tennessee side of Drake’s Pond, several of ‘the
Forts and Gunns, taking the matter in hand, quietly organized a
large vigilance committee to ferret out such crimes, and were not
long in detecting the criminals. The ring leaders of the band proved
to be men connected with respectable families; one lived in the
bend of Red River below Port Royal, and the other a highly connected
citizen of Kentucky. The regulators took the two thieves into the
dense forest and swamps between Drake’s Pond and Sadlersville (as
now known), strung them up to limbs of trees and whipped them from
head to foot with keen switches. The men were then set free, and
warned that if caught again after three days they would be hung.
The thieves emigrated at once, crossing the Mississippi River, and
finally settled in Louisiana, reformed, leading more honorable lives,
and soon became extensive cotton planters and died respected, leaving
handsome fortunes. Both raised large families, ignorant of this
stain, and therefore their names are prudently withheld from this
sketch, but the circumstance, which was not very uncommon in olden
times, illustrates the fact, that the hickory used by our fathers
was more potent in correcting bad morals than the penitentiaries
of today, and was not less humane. Convicts who darken the door
of a modern prison, suffer the same character of punishment, laid
on with greater brutality, and other cruelties, and rarely is one
ever reclaimed. Whatever may be said of the barbarity of the old
whipping post law, it was certain punishment for the convicted,
and a greater terror to lawbreakers, than the penitentiaries of
the present day, and was more effective in every way, giving bad
men a chance to reform. No criminal cared to show his face in the
community after going to the whipping post.. They invariably moved
and led better lives.

The principal trading points for this locality at that time were
Port Royal, Tenn., and Keysburg, Ky., the oldest towns in this country
and just as large then as now; also Adairville, Ky., 8pringfield,
Clarksville, and Nashville, Tenn. Merchants bought their goods in
Philadelphia and New Orleans, hauling them out by wagons until steamboats
were brought into use. People, however, bought but very few goods.
They raised cotton and flax, sheep for wool, and made their clothing
at home, using the hand gin, cards, spinning wheel, and old-fashioned
loom, and had a cobbler to make up the hides, tanned in a neighboring
tannery on shares, into shoes. Doctors were scarce in the country,
and the few located at the trading points, did the medical practice
of the entire country, riding from five to fifteen miles to see
patients.

Some twelve years have passed since John Bell commenced a happy
and prosperous career in his new home on the south bank of Red River
in Robertson County. A very interesting family of children have
grown up, and fortune has smiled on him at every turn. He has become
one of the wealthiest and most influential men in the community,
respected for his integrity of character, Christian devotion and
generous hospitality. His house had become the home of every passing
stranger, and neighbors delighted in frequent calls and visits.
Many were the pleasant social gatherings at the Bell Place, in which
Prof. Richard Powell, the handsome bachelor school teacher, found
pleasurable mingling. He was a man of culture and force of character,
distinguished in his profession, which was a high calling at that
day and time. Every one liked Dick Powell for his fine social qualities
and genial manners. He kept a large school in the settlement, and
was the educator of several of Mr. Bell’s children, especially his
young daughter Betsy, whom he gave four years of tuition, and relished
every opportunity for praising her virtues to her mother, telling
Mrs. Bell what a bright, sweet girl she was, and no one was disposed
to controvert his judgment on this point.

Betsy was now ripening
into lovely girlhood, and the lads who had grown up with her under
Richard Powell’s tutorship, were as firmly impressed with her charms
as was the teacher. However, the boys were yet a little shy of any
demonstrations giving expression to their convictions, as Betsy
was considered too young to receive the attention of beaux, and
bashful youngsters made excuses for calling at Mr. Bell’s to visit
his boys. There was one very gallant youth, however, who made no
effort to disguise his admiration for the blue-eyed beauty, and
his attentions to Betsy were not discouraged. Joshua Gardner was
a very handsome young man, graceful in appearance and cultured in
manners, and very entertaining socially. He was of a good family,
and had won the distinction of being the sprightliest youth in School.
Every one conceded that Josh was a fine fellow, who would make his
way in the world, and his attentions to Betsy were not displeasing
to the old folks nor her brothers.

About this time a mysterious visitor, claiming to hale from the
old North State, put in appearance, taking up headquarters at John
Bell’s, and persisted, in spite of opposition, in remaining indefinitely
to fulfill certain missions. This was “Kate” the witch, which the
reader is doubtless growing very impatient to know something about.
The first evidence of the mystery, or the appearance of things out
of ordinary course of events, occurred in 1817. Mr. Bell, while
walking through his corn field, was confronted by a strange animal,
unlike any he had ever seen, sitting in a corn row, gazing steadfastly
at him as he approached nearer. He concluded that it was probably
a dog, and having his gun in hand, shot at it, when the animal ran
off. Some days after, in the late afternoon, Drew Bell observed
a very large fowl, which he supposed to be a wild turkey, as it
perched upon the fence, and ran in the house for a gun to kill it.
As he approached within shooting distance, the bird flapped its
wings and sailed off, and then he was mystified in discovering that
it was not a turkey, but some unknown bird of extraordinary size.
Betsy walked out one evening soon after this with the children among
the big forest trees near the house, and saw something which she
described as a pretty little girl dressed in green, swinging to
a limb of a tall oak. Then came Dean, the servant, reporting that
a large black dog came in the road in front of him at a certain
place, every night that he visited his wife Kate, who belonged to
Alex. Gunn, and trotted along before him to the cabin door and then
disappeared.

These strange apparitions, however, passed for the time unnoticed,
exciting no apprehensions whatever. Very soon there came a strange
knocking at the door and on the walls of the house, which could
not be detected. Later on the disturbance commenced within the house;
first in the room occupied by the boys and appeared like rats gnawing
the bed posts, then like dogs fighting, and also a noise like trace
chains dragging over the floor. As soon as a candle was lighted
to investigate the disturbance, the noise would cease, and screams
would be heard from Betsy’s room; something was after her, and the
girl was frightened nearly out of her life.

Mr. Bell now felt a strange affliction coming on him, which he could
not account for. It was stiffness of the tongue, which came suddenly,
and for a time, when these spells were on, he could not eat. He
described it as feeling like a small stick of wood crosswise in
his mouth, pressing out both cheeks, and when he attempted to eat
it would push the victuals out of his mouth.

John Bell endured such things for a long time, perhaps a year or
more, hoping that the disturbance would cease, charging his family
to keep the matter a profound secret and they were loyal in their
obedience. As frightful as were the demonstrations, not a single
neighbor or friend outside of the family had any knowledge of the
facts until the affliction became insufferable when Mr. Bell, in
strict confidence, laid the matter before James Johnson and wife,
narrating the circumstances, insisting that they should spend a
night at his house, hoping that Mr. Johnson could throw some light
on the mystery. The wish was very cordially acceded to and at the
hour of retirement Mr. Johnson led in family worship, as was his
custom, reading a chapter, singing a hymn, and then offering prayer.
He prayed very earnestly and fervently for a revelation of the cause,
or that the Lord would remove the disturbance. As soon as all were
in bed and the lights extinguished, the frightful racket commenced,
and presently entered Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s room with increased
demonstrations, stripping the cover from their bed. Mr. Johnson
was astounded and sat upright in bed in wild amazement; but he was
a man of strong faith and cool courage, and recovering from the
confusion he collected his wits and commenced talking to the spectre,
adjuring it to reveal itself and tell for what purpose it was there.
The effect of the entreaty convinced Mr. Johnson that the demonstrations
came from an intelligent source of some character, but beyond this
he had no conception whatever. He however insisted that Mr. Bell
should let the matter be known, and call in other friends to assist
in the further investigation. This was agreed to, and there was
no end to the number of visitors and investigations. Kate, however,
developed more rapidly, and soon in answer to the many entreaties,
commenced talking, and among the first vocal demonstrations, repeated
Mr. Johnson’s song and prayer offered on the night of his first
visit, referred to, word for word, personating the old gentleman,
assimilating his character so perfectly that no one could distinguish
it from his voice and prayer.

Kate had now become a fixture, attaining eminence as chief among
citizens, at home in the excellent family of John Bell, Sr., and
distinguished as the Bell Witch. He, she, or it – whatever may have
been the sex, has never been divined – made great pretentious for
religion taking Mr. Johnson for a model of Christianity, calling
him “Old Sugar Mouth,” frequently observing “Lord Jesus, how sweet
old Sugar Mouth prays; how I do love to hear him.” Kate delighted
in scriptural controversies, could quote any text or passage in
the Bible, and was able to maintain a discussion With the ablest
theologians, excelling in fervency of prayer and devotional songs
– no human Voice was sweet. Kate made frequent visits to North Carolina,
John Bell’s old neighborhood, never absent longer than a day or
an hour, but always reporting correctly the news or events of the
day in that vicinity. With all of these excellent traits of character,
Kate behaved badly toward visitors and all members of the family
except Mrs. Lucy Bell, to whom the witch was devoted, declaring
that “Old Luce” was a good Woman, but manifesting very great aversion
for “Old Jack” – John Bell, Sr. He was most detestable and loathsome
in the eyes of Kate, for which no cause was ever assigned. But the
witch often declared its purpose of killing him before leaving the
place.

Kate was also averse to the growing attachment between Joshua Gardner
and Betsy Bell, and remonstrated, punishing Betsy severely in divers
ways for receiving his devoted attentions. Esther, Betsy’s older
and only sister, married Bennett Porter, just before the witch had
fully developed, and Betsy was now the pride and pet of the household.
Like all other girls, however, she made bosom companions of two
of her female associates. These were Theny Thorn and Rebecca Porter.
They were Betsy’s seniors by one or two years, but were both vivacious,
charming girls, and had many admirers. Becky Porter was a sister
of Bennett Porter, and Theny Thorn was the adopted daughter of James
Johnson and second wife, also a niece of Mrs. Johnson, who had no
children, and they were greatly devoted to her. In fact she was
petted and almost spoilt, and knew them only as father and mother.
The three girls were classmates in school, close neighbors, the
families all on the most intimate terms, and they grew up together
like sisters, almost inseparably attached to each other, going together
in society, and were the chief attraction for all the young men
in the country. Especially was young James Long devoted to charming
Becky Porter, and Alex. Gooch felt a strong pulsation in his heart
for lovely Theny Thorn.

Kate the Witch never slept, was never idle or confined to any place,
but was here and there and everywhere, like the mist of night or
the morning sunbeams, was everything and nothing, invisible yet
present, spreading all over the neighborhood, prying into everybody’s
business and domestic affairs; caught on to every ludicrous thing
that happened, and all of the sordid, avaricious meanness that transpired;
divining the inmost secrets of the human heart, and withal, was
a great blabber mouth; getting neighbors by the ears, taunting people
with their sins and shortcomings, and laughing at their folly in
trying to discover the identity of the mystery. Kate, however, held
fast to Christianity, and was a regular fire-eating Methodist while
associating with “Old Sugar Mouth” and his son, Calvin Johnson;
was a regular attendant at Mr. Johnson’s prayer meetings; calling
the amens, thumping on the chairs, and uttering the exclamation
“Lord Jesus.”

People now concluded that a good spirit had been sent to the community
to work wonders and prepare the good at heart for the second advent.
Kate’s influence was something like that exercised over a “whiskey-soaked
town” by Rev. Sam Jones at the present day, only more forceful.
The sensation spread hundreds of miles and people were wild with
the excitement, and traveled long distances on horseback and in
vehicles to witness the demonstrations, and Mr. Bell’s home was
continually overflowing with visitors and investigators. John Bell’s
hospitality, however, was equal to the great strain. He fed all
visitors free of charge. Citizens of the community soon learned
to respect. Kate’s presence and councils, as they feared and abominated
the witch’s scorpion tongue. Everybody got good; the wicked left
off swearing, lying and whiskey drinking, just ns people do now
for Rev. Sam Jones. The avaricious were careful not to covet or
lay hands on that which belonged to their neighbors, lest Kate might
tell on them. No man allowed his right hand to do anything that
the left might be ashamed of. No citizen thought of locking his
smoke house or crib door, or of staying up through the night to
guard his hen roost or watermelon patch.

Negroes were too sleepy to leave their cabins after night, and white
people went out only in companies after dark to attend prayer meetings.
The wickedest man in the country could break new ground all day
with a fiery team and kicking colts, singing psalms, and never think
of cursing, though he might be laid out in a trance a dozen times
by a punch from the frisky plow handles. No incident out of the
regular routine of every day transactions occurred that the witch
did not know all about the affair, and would tell the circumstance
to some one in less than an hour.

What a great factor in politics this warlock would be at the present
time? The whole country would vote Kate an honorary life membership
of both houses of Congress, and the right to preside in all departments
at Washington, with the privilege of compelling witnesses, books,
papers, and giving reports to the newspapers. The witch might also
spread out over the entire land during election times to warn the
people who was fit for office. If so, only those commended by the
mage would ever attain to office, for no amount of money could bribe
the witch to conceal the schemes and purposes of designing men.
Whatever else may be said of the Bell Witch, Kate evinced an exalted
opinion and profound respect for an honest man, and never hesitated,
when occasion seemed to require, to remark the distinction of character
in men, as in the case of the two brothers, John and Calvin Johnson.
John was pronounced a sly trickster, frank and genial in his outward
appearance and association, but secretly planning in his own mind
some crafty scheme to detect the mysterious oracle. Calvin, however,
was an honest man with a pure heart, free from guile, and he was
permitted to feel the gentle pressure of the seer’s velvety hand,
which, when laid on others, produced a smarting sensation, like
the chastising palm of an irate mother when laid on a disobedient
boy. However, this semblance of deep piety did not hold out. It
answered a good purpose in the prayer meetings, serving to promote
Christian Fellowship and unify different denominations in devotional
exercises, in alternate meetings at Brother Johnson’s (Methodist),
and Brother Bell’s (Baptist) but Kate at last undertook too much
for the most renowned wizard. Satan, it is said, was once a respected
angel, and becoming too presumptuous, fell from his high state,
and so from the same kind of rashness Kate “tumbled.” This came
of attending the preaching of Rev. James Gunn and Rev. Sugg Fort,
thirteen miles apart; on the same day and same hour, trying to reconcile
the Arminianism of the one and Calvinism of the other, mixing Methodist
fire with Baptist water. This was too much even for so great an
oracle as the Bell Witch. The preachers were all right, and their
sermons and doctrines both got taken one at the time, and a regenerated
person could, hardly miss heaven on either line, but it would perplex
an angel, much less a presumptuous zealot, to run on both schedules
at the same time. This is what Kate undertook to do, and succeeded
to the extent of taking in both sermons; but the mixture was too
strong for the Witch’s faith, and the whole stock of piety was soon
worked out at a discount. After this Kate backslid and fell from
grace, took up with unregenerated spirits, held high carnivals at
John Gardner’s still house, coming in very drunk, cursing and fuming,
filling the house with bad breath, spitting on the Negroes, overturning
the chairs, stripping the cover from the beds, pinching and slapping
the children, and teasing Betsy in every conceivable way and to
such an alarming extent that her parents feared for her to remain
alone in her room a single night, and when it was not convenient
for Theny Thorn or Rebecca Porter, or both to stay with her, they
sent her from home to spend the night. This is something of the
general character of Kate, the unknown citizen, which is authentically
recorded in detail by Williams Bell and others further on.

Biographical Sketch of the Bell Family

and Reminiscences

John Bell, Sr., was born in 1750 in Halifax County, North Carolina.
He was a son of William Bell, a thrifty farmer and prominent citizen.
John was given a good country, school education, and was brought
up on the farm, where he acquired industrious and steady habits
in youth, and grew to manhood noted for his indomitable energy and
perseverance, combining all of those good qualities which fits a
man for usefulness and success in life, coupled with good practical
sense and a keen quick perception. In the meantime he learned the
cooper’s business, which was a valuable trade at that day, and with
all he was a handsome, prepossessing gentlemen.

In 1782 John Bell wedded Miss Lucy Williams, daughter of John Williams
of Edgecombe County, North Carolina, a man of considerable wealth
and prominence in the community. Lucy was a very handsome, winsome
lady, possessing those higher qualities of mind and heart and grace
of manners which go to make up that lovely female character she
developed all through life, as the reader has already been informed.
John Williams approved the match, and gave his daughter a young
Negro woman, Chloe, and her child, named Dean, and with the means
John had saved up, they bought a farm in Edgecombe County, beginning
a prosperous career. They both embraced the Baptist faith and became
earnest Christian workers, living up to their religion through life.

Twenty-two years of prosperity having now attended the happy union,
John Bell and wife found a large family growing up around them –
six children had been born to them, and Chloe had eight, that had
become valuable as slaves – a family of seventeen. There was absolute
necessity for more elbow room; more land to give their boys a chance
in life. Then it was that Mr. Bell determined to emigrate to Robertson
county, Tenn., settling, as he did, on Red River, some forty miles
north of Nashville, which history the reader is already familiar
with.

At the time the remarkable events in this history begun, they had
nine children, seven sons and two daughters: Jesse, John, Jr., Drcwry,
Benjamin, Esther, Zadok, Elizabeth, Richard Williams and Joel Egbert.
Benjamin died young; Zadok was educated for the bar, and became
a brilliant lawyer. He settled in Alabama, and died in the flush
of young manhood, having a promising future before him. The other
seven lived to mature age, honored and useful citizens.

John Bell made it a rule to owe no man. He paid as he went, and
accumulated rapidly from his farm by economy in management. He was
always forehanded, having money ahead, and was accommodating to
his neighbors, who were not so fortunate. He was as firm in his
convictions as he was dignified in character and generous in hospitality,
consequently he was a tower of strength in the community. His sons
and daughters, and the present generation of grandchildren, have
been no less honored, and no family name has made a stronger impress
on that county.

The first marriage in the family was that of Esther, who wedded
Alex. Bennett Porter, July 24th, 1817, Rev. Thomas Gunn officiating
at the altar. Esther was a very prepossessing young lady, gifted
with many graces and charms which made her attractive. Bennett Porter
was also popular, and the wedding was quite a noted event. Jesse
Bell, the eldest son, married Miss Martha Gunn, daughter of Rev.
Thomas Gunn. This marriage took place several months later. Both
couples settled in the neighborhood, making a fair start in life,
sharing the confidence and good will of the community. A year or
two after the death of John Bell, Sr., the two families emigrated
to Panola County, Miss., where they settled for life and raised
large and interesting families, and have many descendants there
at present. John Bell, Jr., the second son, was said to be the very
image of his father, and developed the old gentleman’s character
to a great degree, and was distinguished for his firmness and stern
integrity. He was a successful, farmer and a progressive citizen,
and enjoyed the fullest confidence of the community. He served as
magistrate during a term of years. John Bell, Jr., married Elizabeth
Gunn, daughter of Rev. Thomas Gunn, and raised an interesting family.
He died in 1861. John, Jr., Drew, and Alex. Gunn engaged in flat
boating in 1815. They built generally two or three boats during
the summer season, in Red River, at Thomas Gorham’s, now known as
the Sugg mill place. The boats were constructed of rough hewn and
sawed timber, and were cabled to the bank, awaiting the Winter or
Spring rise in the water, when they were loaded with all kinds of
produce, tobacco, flour, corn, oats, bacon, whiskey, dried fruits,
butter, turkeys, chickens, eggs, etc., and were cut loose on the
first current of sufficient tide to float the crafts out, each boat
having two men at the oars and the captain at the stern with one
oar, to steer the boat in the proper current to avoid snags and
breakers, as the craft drifted on with the flow to the great Father
of Waters, and down to New Orleans, the southern mart. This was
the only way people had at that time for shipping their produce
to market, except by wagons. It was very slow, but generally sure,
and always got there with the tide that left Red River. Each one
of the partners would take charge of a boat as captain or master,
and first loaded, first off. After arriving at New Orleans, and
selling the cargo, the boats were worthless except for fuel or second-hand
lumber, and they were sold for what the timber would bring, and
the boatmen made their way home as best they could, generally walking,
and arriving in time to build more boats for the next season. A
bill of lading for the last one of these trips, still in existence,
was made out to Alex. Gunn, April 1818, for fifty hogsheads of tobacco
weighing 64,166 pounds gross, probably not over 52,000 pounds net,
every hogshead numbered, for which he brought in returns a draft
on a Nashville bank for $1,000, two hundred pairs of boots, $800,
and $211 in sugar and coffee. This was probably after paying freight
charges, about three cents per pound, for the tobacco. About this
time two steamboats, the General Green and the General Robertson,
entered the Cumberland River, driving most of the flatboats men
out of the business, having a monopoly of the shipping trade up
to 1822, making Clarksville the principal shipping point, which
was then a town of only forty families – 215 white population, and
a number of Negroes.

The want of some satisfactory explanation, or the failure of all
investigations to throw light on the witch mystery, gave rise to
a speculative idea that John and Drew Bell had learned ventriloquism
and some subtle art while on these trips to New Orleans, and taught
the same to their young sister Betsy, for the purpose of attracting
people and making money. This conjecture was widely circulated,
and checked many people in their purpose of visiting the scene of
the excitement. Notwithstanding this explanation was accepted by
many, it was the silliest of all solutions attempted. If the parties
were able to perform such wonders, they only had to make the fact
known to have reaped a fortune. But to the contrary, they tried
to keep it a secret, and when known it brought both suffering and
loss to the family. Moreover, John Bell, Jr., was absent, visiting
relatives in North Carolina, six months or more during the height
of the excitement, and he could not possibly have had anything to
do with it. Drew was also absent at times, and still no difference
was observed in the manifestations when they were both absent or
present. The witch entertained visitors in the reception room just
the same when Betsy was present or retired to her own chamber. There
was also knocking on the doors and outer walls, and rattling on
the house-top heard, when every member of the family were known
to be within. And as soon as the family and visitors retired for
sleep, every room full, doors and windows securely closed, the cover
was stripped from every bed and pillows and sheets jerked from under
strong men. If the Bell brothers and sister, had been capable of
making such demonstrations, could they have continued the exhibitions
so long undiscovered by the shrewd detectives who were constantly
on the alert? Or would they have heartlessly inflicted so much distress
upon their father and family? No one in that community, familiar
with the facts and demonstrations, knowing the affections of the
children for their parents, and devotion to each other, ever believed
it. They knew it was impossible. Betsy was not only frightened,
but was severely punished in so many ways that she cheerfully submitted
to any and every investigation proposed, even to the ridiculous
treatment of cranks, conjurers, and witch doctors, in the hope of
relief from some source. Drewry Bell never married. He lived quite
a secluded bachelor’s life, accumulating considerable property.
He died at his home in that vicinity January 1st, 1865. It is said
by neighbors that he lived under forebodings and dreadful, apprehension
that the witch would visit some calamity on him. He charged every
strange noise and occurrence to the haunt, reciting mysterious occurrences
to his friends, believing that the spirit was ever present about
his premises, and through fear he kept some man employed on the
place to keep him company.

Richard Williams Bell settled on his portion of the land inherited
from his father’s estate, buying other interests, and devoted himself
to agriculture. He was endowed with a strong intellect, and was
the most cultured of the family, noted for his splendid business
qualifications and frugality, and especially was he distinguished
for his integrity of character, his deep piety and devotion to his
religious principles, his tender nature, and promptness in lending
a helping hand where help was needed, he was one of nature’s noblemen
– a good man and valuable citizen. He had not an enemy in the broad
land. His neighbors trusted him implicitly, and relied upon him
as a true friend and safe counselor in all things, and his name
is cherished to this day by all who knew him.

Williams Bell was a boy at the time of the witch affliction, which
the Bell’s have always alluded to as “our family trouble,” but he
was old enough, and probably just the right age, to receive a deep
and lasting impression of what occurred, what he saw, felt and heard,
things that were well calculated to impress a boy’s mind. He waited
upon his father during the last year of his life, and when able
to go out, accompanied him wherever he went about the farm or in
the neighborhood, witnessed his contortions and excruciating sufferings,
and heard the derisive songs and fearful anathemas pronounced against
him by the witch – terrifying invectives that were calculated to
appall the stoutest heart and leave an impress seared as by fire.
The imprint was never erased, and every recurring thought of the
dire events came like a convulsing nightmare. After mature years
he consulted with his brothers and sister Betsy, comparing their
recollections with the notes of his own memory, from which he wrote
the thrilling details of “Our Family Trouble,” and no reader who
ever knew the writer will question the truth of a single word of
it, no matter what may be their faith or opinion concerning the
mystery, or their views about witchcraft of olden times. Williams
Bell died October 24th, 1857, at the age of forty-six years, just
in the prime of life and his greatest usefulness. He left a good
estate for his widow and children. He was three times married, his
first wife being Sallie Gunn, daughter of Rev. Thomas Gunn; second
marriage with Susan Gunn, daughter of Rev. James Gunn, and third
wife, Eliza Orndorff. James Allen Bell was the eldest son by his
first wife. He received careful training at the hands of his father,
and developed steady business habits and strong convictions, attaining
to prominence quite early in life, taking a leading place in politics
and public affairs, and about 1870 was nominated by the County Democratic
Convention and elected by the people to represent the county in
the State Legislature. At the close of the term he sold his farm
and other interests in Robertson County and moved to Adairville,
Ky., engaging in the tobacco business, where he still resides, and
is highly esteemed by the people of both Logan and Robertson counties.
He married Miss Eugenia Chambers, a lady of many personal charms
and accomplishments. They have raised three children, a son and
two daughters, of whom they have just cause to feel proud. Williams
Bell’s youngest son, Ninyon Oliver, by his last marriage, is a substantial
farmer and owns a fine home adjoining the old Bell place in fact
his farm includes the old residence site and surroundings.

Joel E. Bell was the youngest child of John and Lucy Bell. The writer
enjoyed a personal acquaintance with him for twenty-five years,
and learned to appreciate his warm and generous friendship. He was
a man of noble impulse, clear practicable head and settled convictions,
favored by an indomitable spirit full of fiery enthusiasm, and always
left a strong and pleasing impress on those with whom he came in
contact. He took a leading part in all matters looking to the advancement
of the public welfare, and his zeal for the accomplishment of whatever
he undertook knew no bounds. He was a strong Baptist, a religious
enthusiast, always overflowing with the love of God, and his last
days were spent in zealous work for the Master’s cause. He attended
the associational meetings, delivered happy little speeches pregnant
with practical ideas, infusing spirit in the members, giving freely
of his own means for the advancement of religious enterprises. There
are but few Baptist ministers and prominent laymen in Tennessee
and Southern Kentucky Who do not remember old Brother Bell with
tender emotions. He died in 1890 at the age of seventy-seven years,
ripe for the enjoyment of that sweet repose which remains for the
righteous. Joel Bell sold his farm in the west end of the county,
the place now occupied by Lee Smith, about 1855, and moved to a
large brick dwelling at the cross roads four miles north of Springfield
– the Adairville road – where he died. He was twice married, and
was fortunate in both matches.

Betsy Bell and Her Trials

Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of John and Lucy Bell, was born
in 1805, and was only twelve years of age when “our family troubles”
commenced – a light, hearted, romping lass whose roguish beauty
and mischievous glance made the hearts of the boys go pit pat, while
she yet enjoyed most the gay notes of the woodland songsters, or
a stroll with her associates in search of wild flowers, berries,
etc., along the riverside where the murmuring waves lent an enchantment
to the pursuit. Betsy, however, developed rapidly, and at the age
of fifteen had ripened into lovely young womanhood, and was noted
for her extraordinary beauty and winsome ways. She was a blonde,
symmetrical in form, presenting a charming figure of uncommon grace,
with a fine suit of soft silky hair, which hung in beautiful waves,
in contrast with her fair complexion, and with all, there was enchantment
in the mischievous twinkle of her large deeply set blue eyes. She
was also characterized for her keen wit and sparkling humor; nor
had her domestic education, that which added most to a young girl’s
popularity in olden times, been neglected, to all of which must
be added industrious habits, gentleness and womanly dignity. It
is no wonder that she was the pet of the family and the favorite
in society, nor is it surprising that young Joshua Gardner should
have lost both his head and heart in admiration for the fair beauty
in whom the observing bachelor school master discovered so many
charms. Gardner had now become very earnest in his devotions, and
was never more happy than when in her society. And it was said that
the sentiment was reciprocated, he being the first young man to
impress her with his attentions. In fact their fondness for each
others society became the subject of general remark among the young
people. They were regarded as lovers, and Joshua was the recipient
of many congratulations on his good fortune in winning the affections
of the fairest beauty in the land. The affiance was marked by a
passionate tenderness and adoration which neither could well conceal,
and it was given still more notoriety by the witch, whose keen observations
and cutting remarks frequently drove them from the presence of other
company, for a walk in the lawn or seats under the favorite pear
tree. However, it was the manner in which Kate appeared that caused
serious forebodings. It was a soft melancholy voice, sighing in
the distance and gradually approaching nearer with gentle pleadings
in loud whispers, “Please Betsy Bell, don’t have Joshua Gardner.
Please Betsy Bell, don’t marry Joshua Gardner.” Over and over was
this entreaty earnestly repeated by the mysterious voice in the
most beseeching and supplicating tones, so doleful and disconsolate
that it caused a shudder to creep over every one who heard it. It
was so intensely persuasive, gentle and sweet, so extremely mystifying,
that it not only bewildered the lovers, but brought perplexity and
confusion into every social, circle where the matter was discussed
as the most absorbing theme. Why should Betsy Bell not wed Joshua
Gardner? He was handsome and gracious, well educated, intelligent
and entertaining, high spirited, industrious and energetic, and
noted for his strict moral character and pleasing deportment; he
was highly connected and possessed sufficient means for a good start
in life. His integrity was above reproach, and he stood before the
community as a model young man. Then why this dismal foreboding
of the witch? Why should Betsy Bell spurn his manly devotions? No
one could surmise or conjecture a single reason, and all hearts
warmed in deep sympathy for their betrothment. [sic] Betsy had suffered
extreme torture, the anguish of terror by contact with the frightful
ghost, and was deeply impressed with the witch’s earnest solicitude
as a premonition of some dire consequence. Joshua, however, was
stouter of heart. The burning passion which thrilled his soul was
like a consuming flame, and grew stronger as the persecutions increased.
He had his own opinions and conjectures about the mystery, and though
he could not solve it, he was willing to brook all danger of the
witch’s power to visit distress or greater evil than had already
been inflicted, and he was ready to endure all for the sake of her
whom he loved so tenderly, madly. He was assured that Betsy loved
him as passionately in return. Hers was a stronger, a more rational
devotion, looking also to the future, weighing deliberately the
consequences that might result from a mistake, and thought it best
to prolong the engagement and await further developments, hoping
that the mystery might be solved or the witch would disappear, leaving
them in the full enjoyment of each other’s love and all of their
sweet anticipations of uninterrupted happiness. This was the agreement,
and there was no abatement in their devotions; the attachment grew
stronger and the ties more tender and passionate. Betsy was not
without friends, sympathy and consolation all through this long
and trying ordeal. Her parents were deeply sensible of her sufferings
and the cloud of sorrow that overshadowed her, threatening to crush
the spirit and hope of her young life, and did all that was in their
power to alleviate her distress. Her mother, Mrs. Lucy Bell, whose
influence was the controlling power, and swayed like magic in molding
and shaping the character of her children, was watchful of her every
want and care. The brothers were not negligent in. providing diversions
for her relaxation. Theny Thorn and Becky Porter never deserted
her in moments when courage was needed to withstand the dreadful
scenes that were enacted. They witnessed the fearful convulsions
of hysteria which so frequently came on suddenly, with the announcement
of Kate’s presence, suppressing her breath until life was almost
extinct. They had heard her frantic screams from violent pain, complaining
that the “old thing” was sticking pins in her body. They had heard
the sound of the blow, and saw the tinge left by the invisible hand
that slapped her cheeks. They had seen her tucking comb snatched
by magic from her head and slammed on the floor, her beautiful hair
disheveled and all tangled in an instant, and heard Kate’s hilarious
laughter enjoying the freak. They had witnessed her shoes coming
unlaced and slipping from her feet at the witch’s suggestion, and
observed many other terrifying and tormenting acts, accompanied
with vile threats, while watching with Betsy night after night,
gossiping with the witch that she might have some rest. But few
girls could be persuaded to withstand such frightful scenes under
apprehensions of greater calamity, but timid as they were their
sympathy and devotion made them strong; courageous to endure and
suffer with their friend in any misfortune that might come. Their
presence and sympathy encouraged Betsy to bear her persecutions,
and hold out bravely in the hope that the mystery would soon be
dispelled. James Long and Alex. Gooch were frequently around contributing
to some diversion, and Joshua Gardner continued his rapturous attentions,
foregoing every desire of his own heart for her pleasure and comfort.
Prof. Richard Powell had ended his career as a pedagogue and was
not so much about the Bell home. He had entered the political arena
and become a leading politician and foremost in all public affairs.
He was several times elected to the State Legislature, where he
distinguished himself as a lawmaker of ability and gained wide popularity.

The Homestead — Graveyard — Witch
Stories

and Surroundings

The Bell Homestead

The old Bell farm is about one mile from Adams Station, a village
that sprang into existence in 1859-60, during the building of the
Edgefield and Kentucky Railroad, which is now the Southeastern branch
of the Louisville and Nashville system. It lies on the south side
of Red River, bordering some distance on that pretty stream, stretching
back nearly one mile over a beautiful fertile valley. The greater
portion of the farm was cleared by John Bell during the first twenty
years of the present century. Here Dean, the faithful Negro who
proudly mastered the big wagon and team in the train from the old
North State, that landed the family safely, deserves honorable mention.
He was noted for being the best axe man and rail splitter that ever
entered the forest of this country. He was small in statue, but
powerfully muscled, and no two men were ever found who could match
him in felling timber, he taking one side of a tree, against two
men on the opposite, and invariably cutting the deepest kerf; and
so with the mall and wedge, he could beat any two of the best rail
splitters in the country. Dean was as proud of this distinction
as ever John Sullivan was of his pugilistic championship, and he
was indeed a valuable man in the forest at that time, as he was
faithful and useful every way, and Mr. Bell thought a great deal
of him and treated him kindly, as he did all of his Negroes, but
money could not buy Dean. Red River is a bold strong stream, with
some interesting scenery, and bubbling springs bursting out along
its banks. During the early settlement the stream abounded with
game and fish, furnishing much sport for the natives, and young
people frequently gathered at favorite places for picnics and fishing
frolics. The noted spring mentioned by Willams Bell in this sketch,
designated by the witch as the hiding place of a large sum of money,
breaks out on the southeast corner of the place, near the river,
from which flows the bubbling waters of lethe.

The residence was a double log house, one and a half stories high,
a wide passage or hallway between, and an ell-room with passage,
the building weather-boarded on the outside, furnishing six large
comfortable rooms and two halls, and was one of the best residences
in the country at that time. It was located on a slight elevation
in the plane, nearly a half-mile back from the river, a large orchard
in the rear, and the lawn well set in pear trees. The farm has been
divided and the old buildings were long since torn away and the
logs used for building cabins, still standing on the Joel Bell place,
now owned by Lee Smith. No one cared to occupy the premises after
the death of Mrs. Lucy Bell, when it was vacated, and for some time
used for storing grain. The only sign now remaining is a few scattered
stones from the foundation, and three of the old pear trees that
surrounded the house, planted about the time or before John Bell
bought the place, some ninety years ago. One of these trees measures
nearly seven feet around the trunk; it, however, shows signs of
rapid decay. The public highway, known as the Brown’s Ford and Springfield
road, ran through the place within one hundred yards of the house,
and it was no uncommon thing during the witch excitement to find
a horse hitched to every fence corner of the long lane, by people
calling to hear the witch talk and investigate the sensation. Many
stories were told regarding spectres and apparitions of various
kinds seen, and uncommon sounds heard along this 1ane – strange
lights and jack-o-lanterns flitting across the field. There is nothing,
however, authentic in reference to these things except the incident
told by Dr. Gooch, who saw the old house enveloped in flames, and
the musical feast at the spring, related by Gunn and Bartlett. There
were many superstitious people in the country who believed the witch
was a reality, something supernatural, beyond human power or comprehension,
which had been clearly demonstrated. This is the way many reasoned
about the mystery. Kate arrogantly claimed to be all things, possessing
the power to assume any shape, form or character, that of human,
beast, varmint, fowl or fish, and circumstances went to confirm
the assertion. Therefore people with vivid imaginations were capable
of seeing many strange sights and things that could not be readily
accounted for, which were credited to the witch. Kate was a great
scapegoat. The goblin’s favorite form, however, was that of a rabbit,
and this much is verified beyond question, the hare ghost took malicious
pleasure in hopping out into the road, showing itself to every one
who ever passed through that lane. This same rabbit is there plentifully
to this day, and can’t be exterminated. Very few men know a witch
rabbit; only experts can distinguish one from the ordinary molly
cottontail. The experts in that section, however, are numerous,
and no one to this good day will eat a rabbit that has a black spot
on the bottom of its left hind foot. When the spot is found, the
foot is carefully cut off and placed in the hip pocket, and the
body buried on the north side of an old log.

The Bell Graveyard

Some of these people believed the spook escaped from an Indian grave
on the Bell place, by the reckless disinterment of the red man’s
bones, but Kate’s own statement, which was afterwards contradicted,
is the only shadow of evidence found to sustain this opinion.

The Bell graveyard is located on a gravelly knoll about three
hundred yards north of the side of the old dwelling, where repose
the dust of John Bell, Sr., his wife Lucy, and sons Benjamin, Zadok,
and Richard Williams, the last named who tells the story of “Our
Family Trouble.” A beautiful grove of cedar and walnut trees surround
the sacred spot, keeping silent watch over the graves of loved ones
whose bodies rest there. Wild grape vines, supported by large trunks,
spread their far-reaching tendrils over every branch and twig of
the trees, forming a delightful alcove. Native strawberries grow
all about, and wild flowers of many varieties blossom in their season,
filling nature’s bower with grateful fragrance, and decorating the
graves in living beauty. It is here that the wild wood songsters
gather to chant their sweetest lays, and the timid hare finds retreat
and hiding from the prowling huntsman. Sweet solemnity hovers over
the scene like the morning halo mantling the orb of light in gorgeous
beauty.

There are numbers of unregenerate men who can perhaps muster sufficient
courage to pass a city of towering shafts and monuments, but can:
not be induced to approach near so sacred a spot as this after the
sun has hidden his face behind the shadow of night. It presents
nothing fanciful, or inviting to their view, but rather a scene
of the ideal home of weird spirits. But to people who trust Providence,
admire tile beauties of nature, and fear not devils, this bowery
alcove of woodland trees, evergreens, vines and flowers, sheltering
sacred dust, appears one of the most lovely and majestic spots on
earth.

Let those who feel the need of it, have magnificent stately monuments
and lofty shafts mounted with a dove, or a pinnacle finger pointing
heavenward, but give me such a paradise of living green as this,
planted and nurtured by the hand of the All Wise Creator, where
angels may delight to meet and commune, breathing sweet incense
distilled by the zephyrs from nature’s own flowers, keeping vigilance
until the last trump shall sound, and why should I care for a granite
shaft reaching to the skies, or grumble at a poor scrawny spook
for wanting to hide beneath its cover, to catch a pure breath while
hazing around to avoid Satan?

On the opposite side of the river from the Bell place, is the William
La Prade farm, now owned by M. L. Killebrew, and just below Killebrew’s,
all between the river and Elk Fork Creek, is the Fort settlement,
a large and influential family, distinguished among the pioneers,
and whose descendants still maintain the honored name. On the east
was located the Gunns and Johnsons, all having good farms. James
Johnson and two sons, John and Calvin, were Bell’s nearest neighbors,
and next the Gunn families. James Johnson was a grand old man. He
was the founder of Johnson’s Camp Ground on his place, which was
kept up by his sons, the Gunns and other good people, 1ong years
after his death, as late as 1854. Great crowds of people from a
circle of twenty or thirty miles, gathered there annually, spending
weeks in a season of religious enjoyment. Many descendants of these
excellent families – Gunns and Johnsons – make up the present citizenship
maintaining as a precious heritage the good names left to them.
Also the Goochs, Longs, Porters, Jerry Batts, Miles, Byrns, Bartlett,
Ruffin, and other good names among the early settlers, are still
well represented.

One mile above Bell’s the Clark brothers had a mill to which the
early settlers carried their grain and grist. Later, Fort’s mill
was built below, and several other mills erected on Elk Fork. Morris
& Merritt bought out the Clarks and converted the old mill into
a cotton ginning, thread spinning and wool carding factory. It was
said that the witch took up at this factory after seven years absence
and return. The manager told the story to customers, that frequently
after shutting down the mill, the operators would hardly reach home
before the machinery would be heard apparently in full movement,
and returning hastily, opening the door, he would find everything
perfectly still as he had left it. There is, however, no evidence
to be had now verifying the statement.

Mrs. Kate Batts and the Witch

It is proper that the reader should, before perusing “Our Family
Trouble” and other accounts of the witch, be introduced to Mrs.
Kate Batts, who was a noted lady in that community, remarkable for
her eccentricities, who survived long after John Bell and is well
remembered by many citizens still living. There were two Batts families,
who were in no way related. Jerry Batts was a very prominent man,
and his descendants make up part of the present good citizenship
of that community.

Frederick Batts and wife Kate had three children, Jack, Calvin and
Mary. They had no relatives and lived very much unto themselves.
Their children died in advance of the turn of life and the family
has become extinct. The boys were all, spindling and gawky, and
very droll, and did not take in society. Mary, however, was a beautiful
bright girl and very popular. Frederick Batts was an invalid, a
helpless cripple, the greater part of his life, and his wife Kate
assumed control of the farm, the family and all business affairs,
and was successful in accumulating by her management, keeping the
one idea of money making before her. They were well to do people,
owned a very good farm, a number of Negroes, and were forehanded,
having always some money to lend.

Nothing of a disreputable nature attached to the family character.
They were respectable people, except for Mrs. Batts’ eccentricity,
which made many hold the family at as great a distance as possible.
She was a large fleshy woman, weighing over two hundred pounds,
and was headstrong and very exacting in her dealings with men. She
was exceedingly jealous of her rights, not always knowing what they
were, conceiving the idea that everybody was trying to beat her
out of something. Her tongue was fearful. She did not hesitate to
tackle any man who came under the ban of her displeasure, with a
scourge of epithets. This, however, was tolerated as a weakness,
and excited the sympathy of the better class, who humored her whims,
but no one cared to encounter her organ of articulation when she
was in a bad humor, and especially the ladies, who were generally
afraid of her, and could not endure her methods and dominating spirit.
The superstitious believed that she was a witch, and this conjecture
was strengthened by her habit of begging a brass pin from every
woman she met, which trifle was supposed to give her power over
the donor, and some ladies were careful to put their pins far away
when “Old Kate” came in sight.

Notwithstanding Mrs. Batts was around every few days, traveling
her circuit once a week, trading and gossiping, the superstitious
were careful to keep their apprehensions concealed from her. They
were all smiles and joy, and spared no opportunity to make “Aunt
Kate” happy in everything but one – and were exceedingly regretful
that there was not a pin on the place.

Mrs. Batts kept her Negro women employed mostly at spinning, weaving
cotton, flax and wool, making jeans, linsey, linen, etc., and knitting
stockings after night until late bed time, and always had something
to sell, and would buy all the surplus wool rolls and other raw
material wanted in her business, and this furnished her an excuse
for visiting regularly over the neighborhood. Mrs. Batts was very
aristocratic in her own conceit, believing that her property entitled
her to move in the highest circle of society, and she put on extraordinary
airs and used high sounding bombastic words, assimilating, as she
thought, aristocracy, which subjected her to much ridicule and made
her the laughing stock of the community. Moreover, she was anxious
to give her timid boy, Calvin, a matrimonial boost, and never hesitated
to invade the society of young people, who were amused by her quaint
remarks. The girls, however, dreaded her presence in mixed company,
lest she should unwittingly say something to cause a blush. However
she never neglected to put in a word for her noble boy, who resembled
a bean pole. “Girls, keep your eyes on Calvin; he’s all warp and
no filling, but he’ll weave a yard wide” – referring to her own
large proportions.

Mrs. Batts kept an old gray horse expressly for the saddle. Old
Gray was saddled every morning as regular as the sun shone, though
Aunt Kate was never known to ride. She invariably walked, carrying
a copperas riding skirt on her left arm, two little Negro boys walking
by her side, and Phillis, her waiting maid, in front leading the
old gray horse. This caravan was known as “Kate Batts’ troop.” No
difference where she went, if entering the finest parlor in the
country, Aunt Kate would habitually spread the copperas skirt over
the seat offered her, and set on it. With all of these peculiarities
and eccentricities, “Sister Kate” was an enthusiastic Christian,
always expatiating on the Scripture and the goodness of God, and
would have her share of rejoicing in every meeting, and it never
required an excess of spiritual animation to warm her up to business.
She was a member of Red River Church and a regular attendant, always
late, but in time to get happy before the meeting closed.

Kate Batts and Her “Troop”

On one occasion, Rev. Thomas Felts was conducting a revival meeting,
which had been in progress several days, and a deep religious feeling
had been awakened, the house being crowded every day with anxious
people. Just as Parson Felts had concluded a rousing sermon awakening
sinners to repentance, and called the mourners to the front, and
the whole audience engaged in singing rapturous praise and transporting
melody, the Batts’ troop arrived. Phillis observed “Old Missus”
had already caught the spirit and was filling up on glory, hurriedly
hitched Old Gray and made a rush for the house. The meeting had
reached its highest tension, the house was packed, and the congregation
on foot singing with the spirit. The interest centered around Joe
Edwards, who was down on his all fours at the mourner’s bench, supplicating
and praying manfully. Joe Edwards was a good citizen, but a desperately
wicked and undone sinner, and everybody was anxious to have him
converted. Especially were his religious friends in deep sympathy,
sharing the burden of sorrow he was trying to throw off, as he seemed
to be almost at the point of trusting, and the brethren had gathered
around, instructing and urging him on. Just at this critical moment
Sister Batts rushed in, and elbowing her way into the circle, she
deliberately spread her copperas riding skirt all over Joe Edwards
and sat down on him. The poor man did not know what had happened;
he felt that he was in the throes of the last desperate struggle
with Satan and that the devil was on top. He shouted and yelled
the louder, “Oh I am sinking, sinking. Oh take my burden Jesus and
make the devil turn me loose or I will go down, down, and be lost
forever in torment. Oh save me, save me, blessed Lord.”

A good brother invited Sister Batts to another seat, but she politely
declined with a flourish of big words, as was her custom when putting
on dignified airs. “No I thank you; this is so consoling to my disposition
that I feel amply corrugated.” “But,” insisted the good deacon,
“you are crowding the mourner.” “Oh that don’t disburse my perspicuity;
I’m a very plain woman and do love to homigate near the altar whar
th’r Lord am making confugation among th’r sinners.” “But, Sister
Batts, the man is suffocating,” still interposed the deacon. Yes,
bless Jesus, let him suffocate; he’s getting closer to th’r Lord,”
exclaimed Sister Batts.

The situation had now become serious. The whole house had caught
on, and was bursting with tittering laughter. Sister Batts felt
the foundation beneath her giving away, and was caught by two brethren
just as she threw up her hands, in time to prevent a still more
ludicrous scene. Joe Edwards rose up shouting joyously for his deliverance,
as if some unknown spirit had snatched him from the vasty deep.
Sister Batts clasped her hands and shouted, “Bless th’r Lord, bless
my soul, Jesus am so good to devolve His poor critters from the
consternation of Satan’s mighty dexterity.” The affair had reached
such a comical and extremely ludicrous stage, that the audience
could no longer restrain its resistibility to a simper, and many
left the house hurriedly for au outdoor open air free laugh. This
ended the service, breaking up the meeting. The preacher could do
nothing but dismiss the remainder of the congregation, who were
suffering from a suppressed tittering sensation, holding their sides
out of respect for the minister and religion.

Phillis was a strong believer in “Ole Missus.” Describing the incident
she said: “I neber seed Satan whipped outen er meetin so quick in
all’er my bawn days. Sooner an Ole Missus sot down on dat man de
devil tuck out under der flo an de man hollered glory, glory, lemme
up, lemme up. Ole Miss paid no tention tu enybody. She sat dar,
an menced gittin happy herself, an all de folks in de house menced
shoutin’. De man he got so full of glory he ware gwinter git up
anyhow an menced drawing hiz hine legs up sorter like er cow, an
den drapped back, kase Ole Miss ware still dar, an she want’er gwineter
git up tell ole Satan wuz mashed clean outen him. Hit made Mister
Joe Edwards sweat like er hoss, but he am got mighty good ligion
now, dat will last him tell der next meetin.”

As soon as the loquacious visitor developed the propensity for
articulation, people became importunate in their entreaties, begging
the mysterious voice to disclose its character, nature, who or what
it was, and what its mission, to which importunities various answers
were given, but no explanation that seemed to satisfy the anxious
curiosity. Finally Rev. James Gunn undertook in a conversation with
the gnome to draw out the information. The goblin declared that
it could not trifle with a preacher or tell Brother Gunn a lie,
and if he must know the truth, it was nothing more nor less than
old Kate Batts’ witch, and was determined to haunt and torment old
Jack Bell as long as he lived. This announcement seemed to fit the
case precisely and satisfy a certain element to a fraction. Less
superstitious and more considerate persons did not expect the witch
to divulge the truth, and of course did not believe a word concerning
Mrs. Batts’ agency in the matter; that was impossible. But the explanation
pleased those, who wanted it so. It served for a brand new and most
startling sensation in the mysterious developments, and all tongues
were set to wagging. Men and women looked aghast, and said that
was just what they had believed all the while. Various suspicious
circumstances were recalled to confirm the witch’s statement. The
most inconvertible evidence was that a certain girl in the vicinity
was given the task of churning, and after working the dasher diligently
for two hours without reward, and no signs of butter coming, she
declared that old Kate Batts had bewitched the milk and she was
determined to burn her.

Carrying out this decision, she stuck an iron poker in the fire,
and after it had come to a white heat, she soused the iron into
the milk, setting the churn away; then making some excuse for the
visit, she called on Aunt Kate to ascertain the result of her experiment,
and found Mrs. Baits sitting in the corner nursing a burnt hand,
which had been badly blistered through a mistake in taking the poker
by the hot end that morning.

Another circumstance, Mrs. Batts had been heard to speak harshly
of John Bell in regard to a transaction she had with him years back
when he first moved to the settlement, declaring that she would
get even with him. Mrs. Batts was not in the habit of saying many
good things about any one, unless she got the best end of a bargain
in her dealings, but it is most probable that the old transaction
referred to had been forgotten by both parties until brought out
by the witch, and John Bell hardly believed Mrs. Batts capable or
culpable in the mystery.

However, many were satisfied with the explanation, and from this
time on the witch was called “Kate,” and to this name the incomprehensible
voice was always pleased to answer. But there was music in the breeze
when this new sensation reached the ears of Mrs. Batts. Her eyes
flashed fire, and her tongue was let loose at both ends, rolling
off epithets like streaks of lightning. She kept every path in the
neighborhood hot for a month trying to find the “corrigendum who
dared to splavicate her character with the spirifications of John
Bell’s witch. She would show him the perspicuity in the constipation
of the law.” Sister Batts, however, never found the author of her
discomfiture. The corrigendum was a shapeless, invisible, irresponsible
thing, and not subject to the law.

Witchcraft of the Bible

Opinions of Rev. John Wesley, Dr. Clark, and other Distinguished
Divines and Commentators

The writer has no theory to present regarding the Bell Witch phenomena,
nor has he any opinion to advance concerning witchcraft, sorcery,
spiritualism or psychology in any form, but prefers quoting from
Scripture, and the reasoning of distinguished men, learned in theology,
and experienced in psychical research. He frankly confesses his
ignorance of such matters, and the total lack of both inclination
and ability to enter into the investigation of the fathomless subject.
Having known the history of the Bell Witch from a boy’s earliest
recollections, and now having collected and compiled the testimony,
he is convinced by the overwhelming evidence, that the circumstances
detailed by Williams Bell, and supported by others, as unreasonable
as they may appear, are literally true – such things did happen,
but no further can we venture.

Knowing the character of the men and women who testify to these
things, no one can disbelieve them, or believe that they would have
willfully misrepresented the facts; nor can it reasonably be said
that so many reputable witnesses had fallen into an abnormal state
of mind, and were so easily deceived in all of their rigid investigations.
A man may be arraigned for trial on the charge of murder, the court
and jury knowing nothing about the facts and circumstances, but
they are bound by both physical and moral law to believe and find
the man guilty on the testimony of reputable witnesses, detailing
the facts and circumstances, and yet may form no opinion or idea
as to the state of mind or cause that prompted the prisoner to commit
the murder. So it is in this instance; the testimony is convincing
of the truth of the wonderful phenomena, at John Bell’s, but the
motive or cause is beyond our comprehension, and to this extent
the facts must be accepted. It would be a shameful display of one’s
ignorance to deny on general principles the existence of the thing
or fact, in the face of such evidence, because he did not witness
it, and cannot comprehend it. Might as well the jury, after hearing
the evidence, discharge the prisoner on the grounds that they did
not see the act committed, and could not believe the man guilty
of a deed so atrocious.

The writer, however, wishes to present every phase of the Bell Witch
phenomena, together with some quotations from the Bible on which
many people in all ages have based their superstition; also the
reasoning of some spiritually enlightened and successful ministers
of Christ’s doctrine, and opinions on ancient witchcraft as presented
by the Bible, together with the ideas of modern spiritualism, for
the benefit of those who are disposed to investigate. Christianity
of the present day has generally abandoned the doctrine of “ministering
spirits” as a faith leading up to a danger line where there can
be no distinction between that and modern spiritualism. Dr. Bond,
a distinguished Methodist divine and editor, who has most forcibly
combated the faith on the grounds that, that which cannot be explained
is not to be believed, and for the best reason that many deeply
pious minds have become involved in confusion and error in trying
to exercise this discriminating faith, and he argues that all premonitions,
omens and spectral appearances are a common phenomena of disordered
senses, and that the doctrine of the spirit world is unscriptural
and dangerous in the extreme, and that theologians have no right
to say that the spirits of the dead live about us, and commune with
us, and minister to us.

Notwithstanding all such arguments and the efforts to put away superstition,
to ridicule and laugh it out of existence, there is scarcely any
one who is free from every form of superstition. Certainly the Christian
world gets its superstition from the Bible, if it is not innate,
and it is very hard to discard, and still accept all other things
that the Book teaches as divine revelation. There are but few people,
however, who are willing to admit their superstition, lest they
be laughed at and characterized as weak-minded, crazy, etc. Even
Dr. Clark, the great John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and
many other distinguished writers and commentators, have not escaped
this criticism. Mr. Wesley, however, was bold in speaking his sentiments
and rather boasted of his belief in witchcraft. He wrote and spoke
about the Epworth ghost that haunted the family some thirty years.

Rev. L. Tyerman, in his Life and Times of Wesley, says Wesley has
been censured and ridiculed for this credulity. Did Wesley deserve
this? The reader must not forget the undeniable, though mysterious,
supernatural noises in .the Epworth rectory. He must also bear in
mind that one of the most striking features in Wesley’s religious
character was his deep rooted, intense, powerful and impelling convictions
of the dread realities of an unseen world. This great conviction
took possession of the man, he loved it, cherished it, tried to
instill it into all of his helpers, all of his people, and without
it he would never have undertaken the Herculean labor, and endured
the almost unparalleled opprobrium that he did. Besides his own
justification of himself is more easily sneered at than answered.
He (Wesley) writes:

“With my last breath, will I bear my testimony against giving up
to infidels one great proof of the invisible world; I mean, that
of witchcraft and apparitions, confirmed by the testimony of all
ages. The English in general, and indeed, most of the men of learning
in Europe, have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions
as mere old wives’ fables. I am sorry for it, and I willingly take
this opportunity of entering my solemn protest against this violent
compliment, which so many that believe the Bible pay to those who
do not believe it. I owe them no such service. I take knowledge
these are at the bottom of the out cry which has been raised, and
with such insolence spread throughout the nation in direct opposition
not only to the Bible, but to the suffrage of the wisest and best
of men in all ages and nations. They well know (whether Christians
know or not) that the giving up of Witchcraft is in effect giving
up the Bible; and they know, on the other hand, that if but one
account of the intercourse of men with separate spirits be admitted
their whole castle in the air:  deism, atheism, materialism
– falls to the ground. I know no reason, therefore, why we should
suffer even this weapon to be wrested out of our hands. Indeed,
there are numerous arguments besides this, which abundantly confute
their vain imaginations. But we need not be hooted out of one; neither
reason nor religion requires this. One of the capital objections
to all of these accounts is, ‘Did you ever see an apparition yourself?’
No, nor did I ever see a murder; yet I believe there is such a thing.
The testimony of unexceptionable witnesses fully convince me both
of the one and the other.”

Was Mr. Wesley right or not? John Wesley was perhaps the greatest
evangelist the world has produced since the days of Paul, and now
after more than one hundred years can we, judging from his wonderful
work, deny that the spirit of God, and even ministering angels as
he claimed, attended him in his mighty spread of the gospel? Was
any living man ever endowed with such a wonderful capacity for traveling,
preaching and writing, under so many hardships and privations? And
does it not appear that he was inspired and guided by the same power
that supported Paul? The infidel may find some way of denying this,
but the Christian believer, hardly. Then to deny Wesley’s teachings
respecting Bible authority for witchcraft; or charge his faith to
a disordered mind, is to accuse God with raising up a great man
to propagate a monstrous error, and furthermore is to discard the
hundreds of passages all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations,
and agree with infidelity that all such Scripture is false, and
that being false, there can be nothing reliable in God’s Word. For
illustration take the case of the witch of Endor, whom Saul approached
in disguise after night, because he had ordered all witches and
wizards put to death, and the witch of Endor was shy of violating
the order. Now God had withdrawn from Saul and answered him no more,
and he sought a familiar spirit, promising the woman that no harm
should come to her for this thing. I. Samuel xxviii, 3: Now Samuel
was dead and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him.

Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said,
Bring me up Samuel. And when the woman saw Samuel, Saul asked what
form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh tip, and he is covered
with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped
with his face to the ground, and bowed himself. And Samuel said
to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?

Read the whole chapter – Saul’s trouble and Samuel’s prophecy of
what was to occur tomorrow, etc. There can be no doubt that this
was the identical Samuel who had anointed Saul King of Israel, if
the Bible be true; moreover the witch did not know Saul until after
Samuel appeared. This cannot be placed in the catalogue of God’s
miracles, because it was the woman’s profession; and she is supposed
to have brought up bad, as well as good spirits, and she was popularly
known in the country as a witch possessing this power, and therefore
Saul was directed to go to her. If this be a miracle, then God used
witches and wizards to perform miracles, and Paul and others who
cast out devils in the name of Christ, were wizards or seers. How
will Christian people who deny Mr. Wesley’s position reconcile this
question? Furthermore, additional light on this subject will be
found in I. Chronicles xiii. Saul died for asking counsel of one
that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it. Evidently God did
not approve of the works of this woman, though He permitted such
works. And why? Because it is in accord with the philosophy of creation
of worlds, the reign of devils on earth, and designs of the Almighty
in the scheme of redemption, answers the believers in a spiritual
world. They hold from the teachings of such Scripture, that there
is a spiritual world, just as this is a natural or material world.
They hold that the inner man, or life, is a refined substance, which,
when separated from the natural body by death, passes into the spiritual
world as tangible to those in the spiritual world as the body is
to the material world. Also that bad as well as good spirits enter
this spiritual kingdom, and that there is a continual struggle between
the good and bad in that world as in this. They believe that the
spiritual body is a very refined substance, like electricity, and
that matter is no obstruction to it, that it may and does have communion
with the spirit in the body, knows every thought and action of the
human mind, our wants and necessities, and therefore departed spirits
become ministering angels or spirits to friends in this world, and
just in proportion as man lives in nearness to God, spiritually,
rising high in the scale of mental, and heartfelt devotion, developing
his spiritual nature – that refined substance called animal electricity
or magnetism, which is the spirit – so much more is he capable of
recognizing the presence of ministering spirits by communication
or even by spiritual sight; and that it is through this medium that
people see apparitions, receive premonitions and warnings of what
is to occur. These believers hold that the visitation of angels
so often recorded in both the Old and New Testaments, were simply
ministering spirits, sometimes referred to as angels, and often,
as “man” or “men” and spirits. As in the case of Paul, Acts xvi.
9: when “a man” appeared to Paul in the night, “There stood a man
of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying: Come over into Macedonia and
help us.” Now the question, who was this “man?” Was he a spirit,
a Macedonian? In Rev. xxii. the angel appearing to John, tells him
that he was one of the prophets. The Psalmist says, “The angels
of the Lord encamped around them, and delivereth them.” And again,
“He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy
ways.” The Apostle Paul says, speaking of angelic spirits “Are they
not ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall
be heirs of salvation?” So it is believed from these and many other
such expressions in the Bible, that the atmosphere possesses the
property of telegraphing that is yet to be developed and better
understood, by which the spiritual world is in constant communication
with this, and that spirits travel like thought or the electric
flash, throughout all space in an instant, and space is annihilated.
It is, therefore, believed that the principles of the moral government
of God are the same under every dispensation, that this could not
be. changed in the very nature of God’s creation, and that the ministry
of angels and exemplified under every dispensation, showing the
uniformity of God’s works and government.

The question is asked: Are angels not men, spirits that once dwelt
in the body on earth? Who was “the man Gabriel” that spoke to Daniel
of the four great monarchies? Who was the prophet that talked to
John on the isle of Patmos? Who was the “young man” that stood in
the sepulcher, clothed in a long white garment. Who were the “two
men” that stood by them at the sepulcher in shining garments, telling
the disciples that “He is not here but is risen,” as recorded by
Luke xxiv? Who were the “two men” that spoke to the men of Galilee
when Jesus ascended from Mount Olivet? – Acts i., 9-11. This faith
must be the most comforting thing on earth to the soul that can
exercise it discriminately. But the danger is in going too far,
losing sight of God, and relying on ministering spirits, for there
may be evil as well as good spirits, and how can one know whether
the manifestation is from Christ’s Kingdom, or that of outer darkness?
God showed His disapproval of Saul’s act in calling up so good a
spirit as Samuel through a witch medium, knowing that the Lord had
withdrawn from him on account of his wickedness and disobedience;
yet the witch was gifted with that power – perhaps just as the present
day mediums have developed electrical force.

However, Mr. Wesley was not alone in proclaiming this belief in
a spiritual kingdom and ministering spirits. Many learned theologians
support this doctrine. Dr. Adam Clarke, the great scholar and commentator,
in his Commentary, vol. xi., page 299, says: “I believe there is
a supernatural and spiritual world in which human spirits, both
good and bad, live in a state of consciousness. … I believe that
any of these spirits may according to the order of God, in the laws
of their place of residence, hare intercourse with this world, and
become visible to mortals.” This doctrine is affirmed, from the
reason that Samuel actually appeared to Saul; Moses and Elias talked
with Jesus in the presence of Peter, James and John, and there are
many other such instances recorded.

Dr. Richard Watson, of England, who was regarded as the most intellectual
teacher the Methodist church ever had, referring to the case of
Samuel, says: “The account not only shows that the Jews believed
in the doctrine of apparitions, but that in fact such an appearance
on this occasion did actually occur; which answers all the objections
which were ever raised or can be raised, from the philosophy of
the case, against the possibility of the appearance of departed
spirits. I believe in this apparition of the departed Samuel, because
the text positively calls the appearance Samuel.”

In his Theological Institutes, a standard work embraced in the course
of study for ministers, Dr. Watson says:

“This is the doctrine of revelation; and if the evidence of that
revelation can be disproved, it may be rejected; if not, it must
be admitted, whether any argumentative proof can be offered in its
favor or not. That it is not unreasonable may be first established.
That God who made us and who is a pure spirit, can not have immediate
access to our thoughts, our affections, and our will, it would certainly
be much more reasonable to deny than to admit; and if the great
and universal Spirit possesses power, every physical objection at
least, to the doctrine in question is removed, and finite, unbodied
spirits may have the same kind of access to the mind of man, though
not in so perfect and intimate degree. Before any natural impossibility
can be urged against this intercourse of spirit with spirit, we
must know what no philosopher, however deep his researches into
the courses of the phenomena of the mind, has ever professed to
know – the laws of perception, memory and association. We can suggest
thoughts and reason, to each other, and thus mutually influence
our wills and affections. We employ, for this purpose, the media
of signs and words; but to contend that these are the only media
through which thought can be conveyed to thought, or that spiritual
beings cannot produce the same effects immediately, is to found
an objection wholly upon our ignorance. All the reason which the
case, considered in itself, affords, is certainly in favor of this
opinion. We have access to each other’s minds; we can suggest thoughts,
raise affections, influence the wills of others; and analogy, therefore,
favors the conclusion that, though by different and latent means,
unbodied spirits have the same access to each other, and us.”

Dr. Watson related a remarkable instance which serves to illustrate
the views so forcibly expressed, which was published many years
ago in the Methodist Magazine, and later in the Baltimore Methodist
Magazine. A man and his wife by the name of James, both of whom
died very suddenly, leaving a large estate, as was supposed without
a will. There arose serious difficulty among the heirs about the
property. James and his Wife came back (in the day time) and informed
a lady where the will was, in a secret drawer, in a secretary. She
informed the circuit preacher (a Mr. Mills), who went and found
the will, and reconciled the parties.

Bishop Simpson said it seemed to him “as though he were walking
on one side of the veil, and his departed son on the other. It is
only a veil. These friends will be the first to greet you, their
faces the first to flash upon you, as you pass into the invisible
world. This takes away the fear of death. Departed spirits are not
far above the earth, in some distant clime, but right upon the confines
of this world.”

Dr. Wilber Fisk says: “God has use or employment for all the creatures
he has made – for every saint on earth, for every angel in heaven.
Oh consoling doctrine! Angels are around us. The spirits of the
departed good encamp about our pathway.”

Indeed it is a happy thought, a belief that must keep the soul anchored
by faith near to God, a realization that is worth all else in a
dying hour. How many of us have stood by the bedside of a loved
and sainted friend, when the shadows were falling, watching every
change of expression as they marked the features with the light
of joy, while the veil was being drawn, affording a glimpse of the
beautiful beyond, and heard the sweet feeble voice utter exclamations
of rapturous praise for a vision too sublime to be described? And
have we not felt a sanctifying awe pervading the heart as if conscious
that the atmosphere was full of ministering spirits? Ah! “I would
not live always.” These are serious thoughts and impression that
the living delight to cling to, no matter what may be our opinions
concerning the spiritual world.

How anxiously we inquire after the last faint expressions from the
lips of dying saints, in the hope of more evidence confirming the
faith in a blessed abode, where the soul shall live forever in ecstasy.
Can any one doubt that Bishop McKendree recognized ministering spirits
around his dying bed when he exclaimed:

“Bright angels are from glory come,

They are around my bed,

They are in my room,

They wait to waft my spirit home.”

Can any one read the last days and the last hour, yea, the last
minute of John Wesley’s life, as recorded by Tyerman in his Life
and Times of Wesley, vol. iii., beginning on page 651, without feeling
enthused by rapturous joy expressed by the great man, or doubt that
the same ministering spirits that he claimed attended him all through
his most wonderful and eventful career, directing his course and
warning him daily of some new persecution that was coming, were
present, and beheld by him during the last moments as the veil was
drawn, when he exclaimed, “I’ll praise! I’ll praise!” and then cried,
“Farewell!” the last word he uttered. Then as Joseph Bradford was
saying, “Lift up your heads, 0 ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye
everlasting doors, and this heir of glory shall come in!” Wesley
gathered up his feet in the presence of his brethren, and without
a groan and without a sigh was gone.

Indeed there must be something exceedingly comforting in this simple
child-like fairly, and it does appear that no one need go astray
as long as such faith is well poised in God, looking to Him always
for spiritual guidance, rather than relying directly on apparitions,
premonitions, and spiritual communications; a kind of self-righteousness,
forgetting that God has any hand in the matter, and may permit bad
spirits unrestrained, to deceive the believer.

Recurring once more to Saul, who had in his great zeal for God’s
cause, (or rather his own conceit) “put away those that had familiar
spirits and the wizards out of the ]and,” and would have slain the
witch of Endor had he known of her, as she greatly feared, and cried
with a loud voice when Samuel appeared, Saying, “Why hast thou deceived
me? For thou art Saul,” he was conscious of having disobeyed the
voice of the Lord, in not executing His fierce wrath upon Amalek,
and knew that God was angry and had withdrawn from him; and yet,
in his sore distress, when the Philistines were upon him, he did
not humble himself in the sight of God, imploring pardon and Divine
aid. He simply “inquired of the Lord, and the Lord answered him
not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets.” Saul no doubt
thought it was God’s business to direct him in saving Israel, and
was sulky, and in his own strength, went in disguise to the witch
he would have slain, “Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing
the Lord has departed from thee, and is become thine enemy,” answered
Samuel. Now mark two expressions in this chapter, Samuel xxiii.
“What sawest thou?” inquired Saul. “And the woman said unto Saul,
I saw gods ascending out of the earth.” “An old man cometh up; he
is covered with a mantle.” It appears from this that the spirit
of Samuel ascended out of the earth and came not from above. Again,
Samuel said to Saul, “Moreover, the Lord will also deliver Israel
with thee into the hands of the Philistines; and tomorrow shalt,
thou and thy sons be with me.” The question: Where was Samuel that
Saul should be with him on “tomorrow” when he fell upon his own
sword and was slain as prophesied? Samuel came up out of the earth
and Saul was certainly not in favor with God, to warrant any belief
in his ascension to heaven, if Samuel was.

Another reference, Daniel v., gives an account of the hand writing
on the wall. Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God had given majesty and glory
and honor, but when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened
in pride, he was deposed and his glory taken from him, and he was
driven from the sons of men and become as a beast fed with grass
like oxen, till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom
of men. Belshazzar, his son and successor, knowing this, humbled
not his heart, but made a great feast, drank wine and praised the
gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of
stone. This was not all; he had the consecrated vessels which his
father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the Temple at Jerusalem and
desecrated them in use in his drunken revelry. “In the same hour
came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick
upon the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king
saw the part of the hand that wrote: “Then the king’s’ countenance
was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of
his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against the other.”
None of the astrologers, the Chaldeans, soothsayers, or wise men
of Babylon, could read or interpret the hand writing, and Daniel
of the captivity who had an excellent spirit and knowledge, was
brought before the king and read the hand writing, “Mene, mene,
tekel, upharisin.” The interpretation, “Thou are weighed in the
balances and art found wanting.” “In that night was Belshazzar the
king of the Chaldeans slain.” Again the question recurs, whose hand
was this that wrote upon the wall? Many believe it was the hand
of God, but the Bible says it was “fingers of man’s hand.” Daniel
says “the part of the hand sent by Him,” (God) and Daniel certainly
knew, for he was the only one who could read and interpret, the
writing. Then it was a man’s hand and God sent it. Here again it
is claimed that the doctrine of spiritual communication is sustained,
and the laws of God being immutable, just what was done then can
be done now; and therefore people cannot understand the many mysterious
things that occur. But the moral: Belshazzar was not so much frightened
by the hand writing on the wall, as he was by that inward conscience
smiting on the wall of his heart, which awakened him to a sense
of his guilt and condemnation, which caused his knees to tremble
and smite each other. The handwriting was the warning of his doom,
and that was what he wanted to know. There is not a wrong doer or
sinner in this enlightened age, who has not felt this same smiting
of the heart. Conscience is an all-powerful spirit that cannot be
resisted though it may not be heeded until the handwriting appears
off the wall.

We learn also from reading the Bible that there was another class
of extremist, religious bigots, who believed that all spiritual
communications were works of the devil, and they made laws to put
mediums or witches to death. II. Kings xxiii, informs us of the
great zeal of Josiah for the house of the Lord. In the eighteenth
year of King Josiah the greatest Passover known in all the history
of the Jews was held to the Lord.

“Moreover, the workers with familiar spirits and the wizards, and
the images and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied
in the land of Judah, and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that
he might perform the words of the law which were written in the
book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the Lord. Notwithstanding,
the Lord turned not from the fierceness of His great wrath, wherewith
his anger was kindled against Judah.”

This kind of zeal to please God in some other way than by the sacrifice
of a contrite heart, and free communion with the spirit of the Most
High, has characterized all ages, and down to the present time we
find men who have come in possession of great fortunes by stealth
and advantage, by which thousands have been impoverished, giving
munificent gifts to charitable institutions in the hope of winning
favor with God and gaining the praise of religious people, and whose
funeral orations team with glowing accounts of their goodness in
life.

This was the kind of opposition that John Wesley had to contend
with. He was reviled, hounded and vilified by the ablest ministers
of the Church of England, books and pamphlets by the score were
written, and newspapers engaged in ridiculing his religion. But
the great man with a heart overflowing with the love of God and
humanity, by a single mild utterance or the dash of his pen, turned
all of their anathemas against them.

Witches were burnt at the stake in the name of the church, even
in this country. The laws of Massachusetts made witchcraft an offense
punishable by death, and the Puritans found no trouble in procuring
the evidence to convict the accused. The first execution took place
in Charlestown, Mass., in 1648; Margaret Jones was the victim, and
John Winthrop, Governor of the State, presided at the condemning
trial. Witchcraft was considered a crime against the laws of God,
and the persecution continued, and many were put to death all along,
but the great crusade occurred in February, 1692, at Salem, when
the excitement reached its highest tension. Thirty women were convicted
that year on the testimony of children, who claimed that they were
tormented by the women; twenty of the number were executed.

Out of such intolerance came the necessity for religious liberty,
a division of sentiment on Bible doctrines, and the formation of
many sects or denominations into churches, and religious liberty
has continued to broaden into a mighty spread of the gospel of Christ
through the rivalry of denominations, or rather a spirit of emulation,
each striving to do the most for the advancement of pure Christianity.
But for these divisions and religious liberty, zealots would have
been burning witches until yet. And if our churches could all be
united into one, under one universal creed and laws of control,
as some people desire, we would return to witch burning within fifty
years. The world, and the churches as they are organized, are full
of religious bigots, who have no patience with that class professing
close communion with God through the medium of the spirit, because
they themselves know nothing of such religion.

The Bible has much to say about evil spirits as well as good spirits,
and all through Acts we find that Paul often came in contact with
those having evil spirits and those who practiced witchcraft, sorcery,
etc., but this the reader is familiar with, while there are many
authenticated phenomena of later days that serve better for the
present purpose. No one now doubts the authenticity of the Epworth
ghost – “Jeffry.” Rev. John Wesley published the whole story himself
in the Arminian Magazine for October, November and December, 1784.
The demonstrations commenced very much like the Bell Witch, by knocking
and other noise just by Mr. Wesley’s bed. For some time the Wesley
family hooted at the idea of the supernatural, but investigation
finally settled them in this conclusion beyond a doubt. It continued
to gather force just as did the Bell Witch but never to the extent
of talking or speaking. When spoken to, the answers were in groans
and squeaks, but no intelligent utterance. It was seen several times
and looked like a badger. The man servant chased it out of the dining
room once, when it ran into the kitchen, and was like a white rabbit.
Miss Susannah Wesley relates details which point to the presence
of a disembodied Jacobite, the knocking being more violent at the
words “our most Gracious Sovereign Lord,” when applied to King George
I, as generally used by Mr. Wesley in his prayers. This being noticed,
when Mr. Wesley omitted prayer for the royal family no knocking
occurred, which Mr. Wesley considered good evidence.

The Review of Reviews, New Year’s extra number for 1892, which is
devoted entirely to the scientific investigations of the Psychical
Research Society, contains in its wide scope of investigations more
than one hundred phenomena. The story of a haunted parsonage in
the north of England in which the phenomena occurred in 1891, the
spirit was more demonstrative than the Epsworth ghost. The demonstrations
consisted in

The rocking of Dr. William Smith’s cradle, which occurred in 1840
in Lynchburg, Va., is a most remarkable and well authenticated phenomena.
Dr. Smith was pastor of the Lynchburg church and many people Called
to witness the strange action of the cradle, which commenced rocking
of its own accord, and rocked one hour every day for thirty days.
A committee was appointed to investigate the cause, and the cradle
was taken to pieces and examined, every part and put together again,
and transferred to different rooms, and it rocked all the same without
any hand touching it. Rev. Dr. Penn undertook to hold it still,
and it wrenched itself from his hands, the timber cracking as if
it would break in his firm grasp.

Thousands of such phenomena, premonitions, etc., well authenticated,
might be cited, but there is nothing on record, or in all history
of phenomena outside of the Bible, that equals the deeply mysterious
demonstrations of the Bell Witch – seemingly a thing of life, like
that of a human being, endowed with mind, speech, and superior knowledge,
knowing all things, all men, and their inmost thoughts and secret
deeds, a thing of physical power and force superior to that of the
stoutest man – action as swift as the lightning, and yet invisible
and incomprehensible.

Spiritualists undertake to account for such mysteries, but theirs
is a very dangerous doctrine for the ordinary mind to tamper with.
One is liable to lose sight of God and repose faith in the medium,
who is but a human being, and if possessed with power to communicate
with spirits, may communicate with evil as well as good spirits.
Moreover, it is destructive to an unbalanced mind. All people possess
more or less animal electricity or magnetism, which is more largely
developed in one than in another, and always more in the medium,
whose will power overbalances the other. This force, however, is
developed in the practice of methods of communication, and involves
the whole mind and will power, convulsing the mind into an abnormal
state, subjected to the electric force. Persons who will sit for
one hour daily, with their hands on a table, giving all attention
to spiritual manifestations, will, on rising, feel a tingling nervous
sensation in their arms, and all through the system, which should
not be cultivated. It is better that such investigations be left
to the Society of Psychological Research, scientific men of strong
minds who have nothing else to do but to demonstrate, if they can,
the theory that all such mysteries are hidden in the yet mysterious
electrical force that permeates the atmosphere, the earth and all
animal nature, and which is being brought into use, developing some
new power or force every day, and prove that we are nearing a spiritual
kingdom where the disembodied are to be seen and conversed with.

Man is constituted a worshipping being, consequently all men are
superstitious, notwithstanding that, nine out of ten will deny most
emphatically holding to any kind of superstition. Yet when put to
the test not one of common intelligence can be found who has not
seen something, or heard something, dreamed something, or experienced
premonitions, that left an impress of the mysterious. For instance,
a gentleman familiar with the history of the Bell Witch, discussing
it with the writer, declared that those old people were superstitious,
and he did not believe a word of it; that there was not a particle
of superstition in his composition; “yet,” said he, “there was something
unaccountable at Bell’s, no doubt about that.” Did he believe it?
Why certainly.

Another instance: A very able, pious minister, discussing
the same subject in connection with the Wesley haunt, said he did
not believe a word of such things; it was all spiritualism, misleading
and dangerous, and Wesley, great man as he was, was liable to such
mistakes in an abnormal state of mind. Then he related an incident
in the early settlement of the country, when our fathers came among
the red men. Said he: “My grandfather belonged to the Nashville
settlement; he dreamed that the Indians had attacked the little
fort in Sumner county, while the inmates were asleep, and killed
every one. He was awakened by the force of the presentment, yet
thought nothing of it, and fell asleep again, and dreamed the same
thing, the premonition coming the second time with still more force.
He was greatly agitated, and mounted his best horse, as quick as
he could, running the horse every jump of the way to the little
fort. Arriving he found everybody sound asleep, and aroused the
people in great haste, shouting in the camp that Indians were marching
on the fort, and the settlers had barely made ready when the enemy
attacked. The citizens won the victory, routing the Indians without
loss. But for the dream and grandfather’s prompt action, the last
one in the fort would have been slain.” Is this excellent gentleman,
believing his grandfather’s story, as he certainly does, free from
superstition? Summing up the whole matter, it is useless and silly
to condemn that which we know nothing about and cannot understand
or explain. It is an assumption of wisdom that discredits our intelligence,
and the best way to treat ghosts is to let them alone, never go
spook hunting, but if a spirit comes to us, receive it just as a
spirit deserves to be treated, and observe the warning on the wall,
whether it be written by the hand of a spectre, or indicted by the
finger of conscience.

Our Family Trouble

The Story of the Bell Witch as Detailed by Richard Williams Bell

Part One:

Introduction

The Witch Commenced Whispering

A Disturbed Spirit

Part Two:

The Seer’s Prophecy

A Spirit Hunting a Lost Tooth

Priest Craft and Spiritual Knowledge

Part Three:

The Afflictions of Betsy and Father

The Witch Named Kate

The Witch Family — Blackdog, Mathematics, Cypocryphy and Jerusalem

The Witch and the Negroes

Part Four:

The Mysterious Hand Shaking

He Stole His Wife

Detective Williams

Kate Gets in Bed with William Porter

One School Day Experience

Joel Severely Whipped

Chasing the Shakers

Part Five:

Mother Bell’s Illness — The Witch Sings Sweet Songs and Brings
Her Hazelnuts and Grapes

Mrs. Martha Bell’s Stockings

Dr. Mize, the Wizard

The Doubles or Apparitions

Part Six:

The Poisonous Vial — Last Illness and Death of John Bell, Sr.

Kate’s Departure and Return After Seven Years

Our Family Trouble

The Story of the Bell Witch as Detailed by Richard Williams Bell

The reader is already familiar with the motives that inspired Richard
Williams Bell to write this sketch of “Our Family Trouble,” a phenomenal
mystery that continued to be a living sensation long after John
Bell’s death, the mention of which in any Robertson County family,
even to this good day, leads to a recital of events as they have
been handed down through tradition.

After a brief biography of his parents and the family, which is
more fully recorded elsewhere, Mr. Bell goes on writing:

After settling on Red River in Robertson County, Tenn., my father
prospered beyond his own expectations. He was a good manager, and
hard worker himself, making a regular hand on the farm. He indulged
no idleness around him, and brought up his children to work, endeavoring
to make their employment pleasurable. Mother was equally frugal
and careful in her domestic affairs, and was greatly devoted to
the proper moral training of children, keeping a restless watch
over every one, making sacrifices for their pleasure and well being,
and both were steadfast in their religious faith, being members
of the Baptist church, and set Christian examples before their children.
Father was always forehanded, paid as he went, was never in his
life served with a warrant or any legal process, and never had occasion
to fear the sheriff or any officer of the law, and was equally faithful
in bearing his share of whatever burden was necessary to advance
morality and good society. In the meanwhile he gave all of his children
the best education the schools of the country could afford, Zadok
being educated for a lawyer, while the other boys chose to follow
agriculture. Jesse and Esther had both married, settled, and everything
seemed to be going smoothly, when our trouble commenced. I was a
boy when the incidents, which I am about to record, known as the
Bell Witch took place. In fact, strange appearances and uncommon
sounds had been seen and heard by different members of the family
at times, some year or two before I knew anything about it, because
they indicated nothing of a serious character, gave no one any concern,
and would have passed unnoticed but for after developments. Even
the knocking on the door, and the outer walls of the house, had
been going on for some time before I knew of it, generally being
asleep, and father, believing that it was some mischievous person
trying to frighten the family, never discussed the matter in the
presence of the younger children, hoping to catch the prankster.

Then, after the demonstrations became known to all of us, father
enjoined secrecy upon every member of the family, and it was kept
a profound secret until it became intolerable. Therefore no notes
were made of these demonstrations or the exact dates. The importance
of a diary at that time did not occur to any one, for we were all
subjected to the most intense and painful excitement from day to
day, and week to week, to the end, not knowing from whence came
the disturber, the object of the visitation, what would follow next,
how long it would continue, nor the probable result. Therefore I
write from memory, such things as came under my own observations,
impressing my mind, and incidents known by other members of the
family and near neighbors to have taken place, and are absolutely
true. However, I do not pretend to record the half that did take
place, for that would be impossible without daily notes, but will
note a sufficient number of incidents to give the reader a general
idea of the phenomena and the afflictions endured by our family.

As before stated, the knocking at the door, and scratching noise
on the outer wall, which continued so long, never disturbed me,
nor was I the least frightened until the demonstrations within became
unendurable. This I think was in May, 1818. Father and mother occupied
a room on the first floor, Elizabeth had the room above, and the
boys occupied another room on the second floor; John and Drewry
had a bed together, and Joel and myself slept in another bed. As
I remember it was on Sunday night, just after the family had retired,
a noise commenced in our room like a rat gnawing vigorously on the
bed post. John and Drew got up to kill the rat. But the moment they
were out of bed the noise ceased. They examined the bedstead, but
discovered no marks made by a rat. As soon as they returned to bed
the noise commenced again, and thus it continued until a late hour
or some time after midnight, and we were all up a half dozen times
or more searching the room all over, every nook and corner, for
the rat, turning over everything, and could find nothing, not even
a crevice by which a rat could possibly enter. This kind of noise
continued from night to night, and week after week, and all of our
investigations were in vain. The room was overhauled several times,
everything moved and carefully examined, with the same result. Finally
when we would search for the rat in our room, the same noise would
appear in sister Elizabeth’s chamber, disturbing her, and arousing
all the family. And so it continued going from room to room, stopping
when we were all up, and commencing again as soon as we returned:
to bed, and was so exceedingly annoying that no one could sleep.
The noise was, after a while, accompanied by a scratching sound,
like a dog clawing on the floor, and increased in force until it
became evidently too strong for a rat. Then every room in the house
was torn up, the furniture, beds and clothing carefully examined,
and still nothing irregular could be found, nor was there a hole
or crevice by which a rat could enter, and nothing was accomplished
beyond the increase of our confusion and evil forebodings. The demonstrations
continued to increase, and finally the bed covering commenced slipping
off at the foot of the beds as if gradually drawn by some one, and
occasionally a noise like the smacking of lips, then a gulping sound,
like some one choking or strangling, while the vicious gnawing at
the bed post continued, and there was no such thing as sleep to
be thought of until the noise ceased, which was generally between
one and three o’clock in the morning. Some new performance was added
nearly every night, and it troubled Elizabeth more than anyone else.
Occasionally the sound was like heavy stones falling on the floor,
then like trace chains dragging, and chairs falling over. I call
to mind my first lively experience, something a boy is not likely
to forget. We bad become somewhat used to the mysterious noise,
and tried to dismiss it from mind, taking every opportunity for
a nap. The family had all retired early, and I had just fallen into
a sweet doze, when I felt my hair beginning to twist, and then a
sudden jerk, which raised me. It felt like the top of my head had
been taken off. Immediately Joel yelled out in great fright, and
next Elizabeth was screaming in her room, and ever after that something
was continually pulling at her hair after she retired to bed. This
transaction frightened us so badly that father and mother remained
up nearly all night. After this, the main feature in the phenomenon
was that of pulling the cover off the beds as fast as we could replace
it, also continuing other demonstrations. Failing in all efforts
to discover the source of the annoyance, and becoming convinced
that it was something out of the natural course of events, continually
on the increase in force, father finally determined to solicit the
cooperation of Mr. James Johnson, who was his nearest neighbor and
most intimate friend, in trying to detect the mystery, which had
been kept a secret within the family up to this time. So Mr. Johnson
and wife, at father’s request, came over to spend a night in the
investigation. At the usual hour for retiring, Mr. Johnson, who
was a very devout Christian, led in family worship, as was his custom,
reading a chapter in the Bible, singing and praying. He prayed fervently,
and very earnestly for our deliverance from the frightful disturbance,
or that its origin, cause and purpose might be revealed. Soon after
we had all retired, the disturbance commenced as usual; gnawing,
scratching, knocking on the wall, overturning chairs, pulling the
cover off of beds, etc., every act being exhibited as if on purpose
to show Mr. Johnson what could he done, appearing in his room, as
in other rooms, and so soon as a light would appear, the noise would
cease, and the trouble begin in another room. Mr. Johnson listened
attentively to all of the sounds and capers, and that which appeared
like some one sucking air through the teeth, and smacking of lips,
indicated to him that some intelligent agency gave force to the
movements, and he determined to try speaking to it, which he did,
inquiring, “In the name of the Lord, what or who are you? What do
you want and why are you here?”  This appeared to silence the
noise for considerable time, but it finally commenced again with
increased vigor, pulling the cover from the beds in spite of all
resistance, repeating other demonstrations, going from one room
to another, becoming fearful. The persecutions of Elizabeth were
increased to an extent that excited serious apprehensions. Her cheeks
were frequently crimsoned as by a hard blow from an open hand, and
her hair pulled until she would scream with pain. Mr. Johnson said
the phenomenon was beyond his comprehension; it was evidently preternatural
or supernatural, of an intelligent character. He arrived at this
conclusion from the fact that it ceased action when spoken to, and
certainly understood language. He advised father to invite other
friends into the investigation, and try all means for detecting
the mystery, to which he consented, and from this time on, it became
public. All of our neighbors were invited and committees formed,
experiments tried, and a close watch kept, in and out, every night,
but all of their wits were stifled, the demon and kind to her in
this trying ordeal.

It was suggested that sister should spend the nights with some one
of the neighbors to get rid of the trouble, and all were very kind
to invite her. In fact our neighbors were all touched with generous
sympathy and were unremitting in their efforts to alleviate our
distress, for it had become a calamity, and they came every night
to sit and watch with us. The suggestion of sending Elizabeth from
home was acted upon. She went to different places, James Johnson’s,
John Johnson’s, Jesse Bell’s, and Bennett Porter’s, but it made
no difference, the trouble followed her with the same severity,
disturbing the family where she went as it did at home, nor were
we in anywise relieved. This gave rise to a suspicion in the minds
of some persons that the mystery was some device or stratagem originated
by sister, from the fact that it appeared wherever she went, and
this clue was followed to a logical demonstration of the phenomena
was gradually developed, proving to be an intelligent character.
When asked a question in a way, that it could be answered by numbers,
for instance, “How many persons present? How many horses in the
barn? How many miles to a certain place?” The answers would come
in raps, like a man knocking on the wall, the bureau or the bedpost
with his fist, or by so many scratches on the wall like the noise
of a nail or claws, and the answers were invariably correct.

During the time, it was not uncommon to see lights like a candle
or lamp flitting across the yard and through the field, and frequently
when father, the boys and hands were coming in late from work, chunks
of wood and stones would fall along the way as if tossed by some
one, but we could never discover from whence, or what direction
they came. In addition to the demonstrations already described,
it took to slapping people on the face, especially those who resisted
the action of pulling the cover from the bed, and those who came
as detectives to expose the trick. The blows were heard distinctly,
like the open palm of a heavy hand, while the sting was keenly felt,
and it did not neglect to pull my hair, and make Joel squall as
often.

The Witch Commenced Whispering

The phenomena continued to develop force, and visitors persisted
in urging the witch to talk, and tell what was wanted, and finally
it commenced whistling when spoken to, in a low broken sound, as
if trying to speak in a whistling voice, and in this way it progressed,
developing until the whistling sound was changed to a weak faltering
whisper uttering indistinct words. The voice, however, gradually
gained strength in articulating, and soon the utterances became
distinct in a low whisper, so as to be understood in the absence
of any other noise. I do not remember the first intelligent utterance,
which, however, was of no significance, but the voice soon developed
sufficient strength to be distinctly heard by every one in the room.

A Disturbed Spirit

This new development added to the sensation already created. The
news spread, and people came in larger numbers, and the great anxiety
concerning the mystery prompted many questions in the effort to
induce the witch to disclose its own identity and purpose. Finally,
in answer to the question, “Who are you and what do you want?” the
reply came, “I am a spirit; I was once very happy but have been
disturbed.” This was uttered in a very feeble voice, but sufficiently
distinct to be understood by all present, and this was all the information
that could be elicited for the time.

The Seer’s Prophecy

The next utterance of any note that I remember, occurred on a Sunday
night, when the voice appeared stronger, and the witch talking more
freely, in fact speaking voluntarily, and appeared to be exercised
over a matter that was being discussed by the family. Brother John
Bell had for some time contemplated a trip to North Carolina to
look after father’s share of an estate that was being Wound up,
and was to start next morning (Monday) on horseback, and this was
the matter that interested the family and was being discussed, the
long tiresome journey, his probable long absence, the situation
of affairs, concerning Which father was giving him instructions.
Several neighbors were present, taking an interest, volunteering
some good natured advice to John, when the witch put in, remonstrating
against the trip, dissuading John from going, predicting bad luck,
telling him that he would have a hard trip for nothing, that the
estate had not been wound up and could not be for some time, and
be would get no money, but return empty handed. As a further argument
to dissuade John, the witch told him that an elegant young lady
from Virginia was then on her way to visit friends in Robertson
county, who would please him, and he could win her if he would stay;
that she was wealthy, possessing forty Negroes and considerable
money. John laughed at the revelation as supremely ridiculous, and
left on the following morning as contemplated, and was absent six
months or more, returning empty handed as predicted. Very soon after
his departure, the young lady in question arrived, and left before
his return, and John never met her.

A Spirit Hunting a Lost Tooth

The witch continued, to develop the power of articulation, talking
freely, and those who engaged in conversation with the invisible
persevered in plying questions to draw out an explanation of the
mystery, and again the question was pressed, inquiring, “Who are
you and what do you want?” and the witch replied, stating the second
time, “I am a spirit who was once very happy, but have been disturbed
and made unhappy? Then followed the question, “How were you disturbed,
and what makes you unhappy?” The reply to this question was, “I
am the spirit of a person who was buried in the woods near by, and
the grave has been disturbed, my bones disinterred and scattered,
and one of my teeth was lost under this house, and I am here looking
for that tooth.”

This statement revived the memory of a circumstance that occurred
some three or four years previously, and had been entirely forgotten.
The farm hands while engaged in clearing a plot of land, discovered
a small mound of graves, which father supposed to be an Indian burying
ground, and worked around it without obliterating the marks. Several
days later Corban Hall, a young man of the neighborhood, came to
our place, and was told by Drew the circumstance of finding the
Indian graves. Hall thought the graves probably contained some relics
which Indians commonly buried with their dead, and proposed to open
one and see, to which ‘Drew agreed, and they proceeded to disinter
the bones. Finding nothing else, Hall brought the jawbone to the
house, and while sitting in the passage he threw it against the
opposite wall, and the jarring knocked out a loose tooth, which
dropped through a crack in the floor.

Father passed through the hall in the meanwhile, and reprimanded
the boys severely for their action, and made one of the Negro men
take the jawbone back, replacing all the disinterred bones, and
filling in the grave. This was evidently the circumstance referred
to by the “spirit,” so long forgotten, and to be reminded of the
fact so mysteriously was very perplexing, and troubled father no
little. He examined the floor just where the bone dropped when it
struck the wall, as the boys had left it, and there was the crack
referred to, and he was pestered, and decided to take up a portion
of the floor and see if the tooth could be found. The dirt underneath
was raked up, sifted and thoroughly examined, but the tooth was
not found. The witch then laughed at father, declaring that it was
all a joke to fool “Old Jack.”

The Buried Treasure

The excitement in the country increased as the phenomena developed,
The fame of the witch had become widely spread, and people came
from all quarters to hear the strange and unaccountable voice. Some
were detectives, confident of exposing the mystery. Various opinions
were formed and expressed; some credited its own story, and believed
it an Indian spirit; some thought it was an evil spirit, others
declared it was witchcraft, and a few unkindly charged that it was
magic art and trickery gotten up by the Bell family to draw crowds
and make money. These same people had stayed as long as they wished,
enjoyed father’s hospitality, and paid not a cent for it, nor did
it ever cost any one a half shilling. The house was open to every
one that came; father and mother gave them the best they had, their
horses were fed, and no one allowed to go away hungry; many offered
pay and urged father to receive it, insisting that he could not
keep up entertaining so many without pay, but he persistently declined
remuneration, and not one of the family ever received a cent for
entertaining.  Father regarded the phenomena as an affliction, a
calamity, and such accusations were very galling, but were endured.

Inquisitive people continued to exercise all of their wits in plying
the witch with questions concerning, its personality or character,
but elicited no further information until the question was put by
James Gunn, then came the reply: “I am the spirit of an early emigrant,
who brought a large sum of money and buried my treasure for safe
keeping until needed. In the meanwhile I died without divulging
the secret, and I have returned in the spirit for the purpose of
making known the hiding place, and I want Betsy Bell to have the
money.” The spirit was then urged to tell where the money was concealed.
This was refused and the secret withheld until certain pledges were
made that the conditions would be complied with. The conditions
were that Drew Bell and Bennett Porter would agree to exhume the
money and give every dollar to Betsy, and that “Old Sugar Mouth”
(Mr. James Johnson) would go with them and see that the injunction
was fairly discharged, and that he should count the money and take
charge of it for Betsy.

The story was questioned and laughed at,
and then discussed. The witch had made some remarkable revelations,
and it was thought possible there might be something in it, and
the proposition was acceded to. Drew and Bennett agreed to do the
work, and Mr. Johnson consented to become the guardian and see that
the right thing was done. The spirit then went on. to state that
the money was under a large flat rock at the mouth of the spring
on the southwest corner of the farm, on Red River, describing the
surroundings so minutely that there could be no mistake. Every one
was acquainted with the spring, having frequented the place, but
no one could have described it so minutely, and this all tended
to strengthen faith in the revelation. The spirit insisted that
the committee selected should start very early the next morning
at the dawn of day, lest the secret should get out, and some fiend
should beat them to the place and get the money. This was also agreed
to, and by the break of day next morning all hands met and proceeded
to the spring. They found everything as described, the huge stone
intact, and were sure they were on time. They observed that it was
an excellent place for hiding money where no human being would ever
dream of looking for a treasure, or care to move the great stone
for any purpose, and yet susceptible of such a minute description
that no one could be mistaken in the revelation. They carried along
an axe and mattock, and were pretty soon at work, devising ways
and means for moving the big rock, which was so firmly imbedded
in the ground. It was no light job, but they cut poles, made levers
and fixed prizes, after first removing much dirt from around the
stone, so as to get under it. Then Drew and Porter prized and tugged,
Mr. Johnson occasionally lending a helping hand, and after a half
day’s very hard work, the stone was raised and moved from its bedding,
but no money appeared. Then followed a consultation and discussion
of the situation.

They reasoned that the glittering treasure was possibly sunk in
the earth, and the stone imbedded over it to elude suspicion, and
they decided to dig for it, and went to work in earnest, Porter
digging, and Drew scratching the loosened dirt out with his hands,
and so on they progressed until they had opened a hole about six
feet square and nearly as many feet deep, and still no money was
found. Exhausted and very hungry, they gave up the job, returning
to the house late in the afternoon much disgusted and chagrined.

That night the “spirit” appeared in great glee laughing and tantalizing
the men for being so easily duped, describing everything that occurred
at the spring in the most ludicrous way, telling how they tugged
at the big stone, and repeating what was said by each one. Bennett
Porter staved the mattock in up to the eye every pop, and oh how
it made him sweat. It told how “Old Sugar Mouth” looked on prayerfully,
encouraging the boys. The dirt taken out was mixed with small stones,
gravel, sand, etc., leaves and sticks, all of which indicated that
the earth had been removed and put back. Drew, the witch said, could
handle a sight of dirt, his hands were made for that purpose, and
were better than a shovel; no gold could slip through his fingers.
The witch’s description of the affair kept the house in an uproar
of laughter, and it was repeated with equal zest to all new comers
for a month.

Priest Craft and Scriptural Knowledge

There were but very few churches in the country at this period of
the century, nevertheless, ours was a very religious community.
Most of those coming from the older States brought their religion
with them, and inculcated the principle in their families. The influence
of Revs. James and Thomas Gunn, Rev. Sugg Fort, Mr. James Johnson,
and other good men, swayed mightily. Every man erected an altar
in his own home, and it was common for neighbors to meet during
the week at one or another’s house for prayer and exhortation, and
Bible study. In the absence of the preachers, Mr. James Johnson
was the principal leader in these exercises, and the meetings were
held alternately at his house and father’s, and occasionally at
one or the other of the Gunn’s. There was no spirit of denominational
jealousy existing, and all Christians mingled in these meetings
like brethren of the same faith. The witch, as it accumulated force,
dissembled this spirit, giving wonderful exhibitions of a thorough
knowledge of the Bible and Christian faith. The voice was not confined
to darkness, as were the physical demonstrations. The talking was
heard in lighted rooms, as in the dark; and finally in the day at
any hour. The first exhibition of a religious nature was the assimilation
of Mr. James Johnson’s character and worship, repeating the song
and prayer, uttering precisely the same petition made by the old
gentleman the night himself and wife came for the purpose of investigation,
and the impersonation of Mr. Johnson was so perfect that it appeared
like himself present.

It was not uncommon after this for the witch
to introduce worship, by lining a hymn, as was the custom, singing
it through, and then repeat Mr. Johnson’s prayer, or the petitions
of some one of the ministers. It could sing any song in the hymn
hooks of that time, and quote any passage of Scripture in the Bible
from Genesis to Revelations. The propensity for religious discussion
was strongly manifested, and in quoting Scripture the text was invariably
correctly cited, and if any one misquoted a verse, they would be
promptly corrected. It could quote Scripture as fast as it could
talk, one text after another, citing the book, chapter, and number
of the verse. It was a common test to open the Bible at any chapter,
and call on the spirit to repeat a certain verse, and this was done
accurately, as fast as the leaves were turned from one chapter of
the book to another. It delighted in taking issue on religious subjects,
with those well versed in Scripture, and was sure to get the best
of the argument, being always quick with a passage to sustain its
point.

This manifest knowledge of Scripture on the part of the witch
was unmistakable, and was the most mystifying of all the developments,
and strangers who came from a long distance were eager to engage
the seer in religious discussions, and were is often confounded;
and they were no less astounded when the witch would remind them
of events and circumstances in their history in a way that was marvelous.
Just here one circumstance I call to mind. The discussion had turned
on the command against covetousness and theft. A man, whose name
I will call John, put in remarking that he did not believe there
was any sin in stealing something to eat when one was reduced to
hunger, and could not obtain food for his labor. Instantly the witch
perniciously inquired of John “if he ate that sheepskin.” This settled
John. He was dumb as an oyster, and as soon as the subject was changed
he left the company, and was conspicuously absent after that. The
result was the revival of an old scandal, so long past that it had
been forgotten, in which John was accused of stealing a sheepskin.
This warlock was indeed a great tattler, and made mischief in the
community. Some people very much feared the garrulity of its loquacious
meddling and were extremely cautious, and it was this class who
the invisible delighted in torturing most. Nothing of moment occurred
in the country or in any family, which was not reported by the witch
at night.

The development of this characteristic led the people
to inquire after the news and converse with the witch as they would
with a person, very often inquiring what was then transpiring at
a certain place or house in the neighborhood. Sometimes the answer
would be, “I don’t know, wait a minute and I will go and see,” and
in less than five minutes it would report, and the report was generally
verified. This feature of the phenomena was discovered in this way:
Brother Jesse Bell lived within one mile of the homestead. He had
been absent several days on a trip, and was expected home on a certain
evening. After supper mother entered the room, inquiring if any
of us knew whether Jesse had returned or not. No one had heard,
or could inform her. The witch manifested much regard for mother
on all occasions, and never afflicted her in any way. On this occasion
it spoke promptly, saying: “Wait a minute Luce, I will go and see
for you.” Scarcely a minute had elapsed when the voice reported
that Jesse was at home, describing his position, sitting at table
reading by the light of a candle. The next morning Jesse came to
see us, and when told the circumstance, he said it was true, and
just at that time there was a distinct rap on his door, and before
he could move the door opened and closed immediately. His wife,
he said, noticed it also, and asked me what caused it, and I replied
that I reckoned it was the witch. Every Sabbath service that occurred
within the bounds was reported at night, the text, hymn, etc., and
the preacher also criticized, and everything of peculiar note was
described. The company was treated one night to a repetition of
one of Rev. James Gunn’s best sermons, preached in the vicinity,
the witch personating Mr. Gunn, lining the hymn, quoting his text
and prayer, and preaching so much like Mr. Gunn, that it appeared
the minister himself was present.

A number of persons were present who attended the meeting that day,
and recognized the declamation as the same sermon. Shortly after
this, Rev. James Gunn preached on Sunday at Bethel Methodist Church,
six miles southeast, and Rev. Sugg Fort filled his appointment at
Drake’s Pond Baptist Church, seven miles northwest, thirteen miles
apart, both preaching at the same hour, eleven o’clock. It so happened
that both ministers came to visit our family that evening, finding
quite a crowd of people gathered in, as was the case every day during
the excitement. Directly after supper the witch commenced talking
as usual, directing the conversation to Brother Gunn, discussing
some points in his sermon that day. Mr. Gunn asked the witch how
it knew what he had preached about? The answer was, “I was present
and heard you.” This statement being questioned, the “vociferator”
began, quoted the text and repeated the sermon verbatim, and the
closing prayer, all of which the preacher said was correct.

Some one suggested that Brother Fort had the advantage of the witch
this time, that having attended Brother Gunn’s service, it could
tell nothing about Brother Fort’s discourse at Drake’s Pond. “Yes
I can,” was the prompt reply. How do you know? was the inquiry.
“I was there and heard him.” Then assimilating Rev. Fort’s style,
it proceeded to quote his text and repeated his sermon, greatly
delighting the company. There was no one present who had heard either
sermon, but both ministers admitted that their sermons had been
accurately reproduced, and no one could doubt the fact, or were
more greatly surprised than themselves.

The Afflictions of Betsy and Father

The reader will understand that no feature of the exhibitions already
introduced was ever abandoned, but continued developing virulence,
or beneficence and felicity. The practice of pulling the cover off
the beds was a favorite pastime, and frequently the sheets would
be pulled from under the sleepers, or the pillows jerked from under
their heads, and other new performances added to the exhibitions.
The most serious consequence, however, was the afflictions of Elizabeth
and father. Notwithstanding the invisible agency feigned a tender
regard at times for Betsy, as it affectionately called her, it did
not cease tormenting in many ways, increasing her punishment. The
feint pretext for this was a manifest opposition to the attention
paid her by a certain young gentleman, who was much esteemed by
the family, often interposing impertinent objections, urging that
these mutual relations be severed. At least there was no other cause
manifested, or this would not be mentioned. Sister was now subjected
to fainting spells, followed by prostration, characterized by shortness
of breath and smothering sensations, panting as it were for life,
and becoming entirely exhausted and lifeless, losing her breath
for nearly a minute between gasps, and was rendered unconscious.
She would revive and then relapse, and it appeared that her suffering
was prolonged by the greater exertions used for her restoration.
These spells lasted from thirty to forty minutes, and passed off
suddenly, leaving her perfectly restored after a few minutes in
which she recovered from the exhaustion. There is no positive evidence
that these spells were produced by the witch. However, that was
the conclusion, from the fact that there was no other apparent cause.
She was a very stout girl, and with this exception, the personification
of robust health, and was never subject to hysteria or anything
of the kind. Moreover, the spells came on at regular hours in the
evening, just at the time the witch usually appeared, and immediately
after the spells passed off the mysterious voice commenced talking,
but never uttered a word during the time of her prostration. In
the meanwhile father was strangely afflicted, which should have
been mentioned in the outset, but he had never regarded his trouble
as of any consequence until after sister recovered from the attacks
just described. In fact his ailment commenced with the incipiency
of the witch demonstration, or before he recognized the phenomenal
disturbance. He complained of a curious sensational feeling in his
mouth, a stiffness of the tongue, and something like a stick crosswise,
punching each side of his jaws. This sensation did not last long,
did not recur very often, or cause pain, and therefore gave him
but little concern. But as the phenomena developed, this affliction
increased, his tongue swelling from the sides and pressing against
his jaws, so that he could neither talk nor eat for ten or fifteen
hours. In the meanwhile the witch manifested a pernicious dislike
for father, using the most vile and malignant epithets toward him,
declaring that it would torment “Old Jack Bell” to the end of his
life. As father’s trouble increased, Elizabeth was gradually relieved
from her severe spells, and soon recovered entirely from the affliction,
and never had another symptom of the kind. But father was seized
with another malady that caused him much trouble and suffering.
This was contortions of the face, a twitching and dancing of his
flesh, which laid him up for the time. These spells gradually increased,
and undoubtedly carried him to his grave, of which I will have more
to say further on.

The Witch Named “Kate”

People continued to ply our loquacious visitor with shrewd eager
questions, trying to elicit some information concerning the mystery,
which were with equal dexterity evaded, or a misleading answer given.
First, it was a disturbed spirit hunting a lost tooth; next, a spirit
that had returned to reveal the hiding place of a buried treasure.
Then it told Calvin Johnson that it was the spirit of a child buried
in North Carolina, and told John Johnson that it was his stepmother’s
witch. At last Rev. James Gunn manifested a very inquisitive desire
to penetrate the greatest of all secrets, and put the question very
earnestly. The witch replied, saying that Brother Gunn had put the
question in a way that it could no longer be evaded, and it would
not do to tell the preacher a flat lie, and if the plain truth must
be known, it was nobody else and nothing but “Old Kate Batts’ witch,”
determined to torment “Old Jack Bell” out of his life. This was
a startling announcement and most unfortunate under the circumstances,
because too many were willing to believe it, and it created a profound
sensation. Mrs. Kate Batts was the wife of Frederick Batts, who
was terribly afflicted, and she had become the head of the family,
taking charge of her husband’s affairs. She was very eccentric and
sensitive. Some people were disposed to shun her, which was still
more irritating to her sensitive nature. No harm could be said of
Mrs. Batts. She was kind hearted, and a good neighbor toward those
she liked. Mr. Gunn, of course, did not believe the witch’s statement,
but many did, or professed to, and the matter made Mrs. Batts very
mad, causing a lively sensation in the community. Ever after this
the goblin was called “Kate,” and answered readily when addressed
by that name, and for convenience sake I shall hereafter call the
witch Kate, though not out of any disregard for the memory of Mrs.
Batts, for after all she was a clever lady, and did not deserve
the cruel appellation of “witch.”

The Witch Family — Blackdog, Mathematics,
Cypocryphy, and Jerusalem

The next development was the introduction of four characters, assuming
the above names, purporting to be a witch family, each one acting
a part making night hideous in their high carnivals, using the most
offensive language and uttering vile threats. Up to this time the
strange visitor had spoken in the same soft delicate voice, except
when personating some individual. Now there were four distinct voices.
Blackdog assumed to be the head of the family, and spoke in a harsh
feminine tone. The voices of Mathematics and Cypocryphy were different,
but both of a more delicate feminine tone. Jerusalem spoke like
a boy. These exhibitions were opened like a drunken carousal, and
became perfect pandemoniums, frightful to the extreme, from which
there was no escape. Father would most gladly have abandoned home
and everything and fled with his family to some far away scene to
have escaped this intolerable persecution, but there was no hope,
no escape. The awful thing had sworn vengeance, and for what cause
it never named, nor could any one ever surmise. Nevertheless, when
the question of moving was discussed, it declared it would follow
“Old Jack” to the remotest part of the earth, and father believed
it. The family was frightened into consternation, apprehending that
a terrible crisis was rapidly approaching. Many of our neighbors
were frightened away, fearing they would become involved in a tragic
termination. Others, however, drew nearer, and never forsook us
in this most trying ordeal. James Johnson and his two sons, John
and Calvin, the Gunn families, the Fort’s, Gooch, William Porter,
Frank Miles, Jerry Batts, Major Bartlett, Squire Byrns and Major
Picketing were faithful and unremitting in their sympathy, and attentions,
and consolations, making many sacrifices for our comfort, and not
a night passed that four or more were not present to engage the
witch in conversation, and relieve father of the necessary attention
to strangers, giving him much rest. These demoniac councils were
introduced by singing songs of every character, followed by quarreling
with each other, employing obscene language and blasphemous oaths,
making a noise like a lot of drunken men fighting. At this stage
of the proceedings Blackdog would appear as peacemaker, denouncing
the others with vehemence and scurrility, uttering bitter curses
and threats of murder unless the belligerents should desist and
behave themselves, and sometimes would apparently thrash Jerusalem
unmercifully for disobeying orders. These carousals were ended only
by the command of Blackdog, professedly sending the family away
on different errands of deviltry, one or two remaining to keep up
the usual disturbance in different rooms at the same time. On one
occasion all four appeared almost beastly drunk, talking in a maudlin
sentimental strain, fuming the house with the scent of whiskey.
Blackdog said they got the whiskey at John Gardner’s still house,
which was some four miles distant. At other times the unity appeared
more civil, and would treat our company to some delightful singing,
a regular concert of rich feminine voices, modulated to the sweetest
cadence and intonation, singing any hymn called for with solemnity
and wonderful effect. The carousals did not continue long, much
to the gratification of the family and friends, and our serious
apprehensions were relieved. These concerts were agreeable closing
exercises of this series of meetings, and after they were suspended
the four demons or unity never, apparently, met again. It was plain
old Kate from that time on who assumed all characters, good or bad,
sometimes very pious and then extremely wicked.

The Witch and the Negroes

Kate manifested a strong aversion for the Negro, often remarking,
“I despise to smell a nigger, the scent makes me sick,” and this
no doubt accounts for the fact that the Negroes were never molested
in their cabins after night, but away from their quarters they encountered
a sight of trouble. Kate’s repugnance was mutual; the Negroes disliked
the witch, and were careful to evade all contacts possible by staying
in after night, augmenting that natural odor peculiar to the race
that was now worth something. They were afraid of the witch, and
it was difficult to get one out for an emergency.

This fear was increased by the miraculous stories told by Dean,
who was a kind of autocrat among the darkles, and by the way, was
a good Negro, father’s main reliance for heavy work, and noted for
his skill with the axe and maul and wedge. He was worth two ordinary
men in a forest clearing. Dean could see the witch any time when
alone, or on his way to visit his wife, who belonged to Alex. Gunn.
It appeared to him, he said, in the form of a black dog, and sometimes
had two heads, and at other times no head. The Negroes would stand
around him with eyes and mouth wide open to hear his description
of the witch, his encounters and hairbreadth escapes. He always
carried his axe and a witch ball made by his wife, according to
Uncle Zeke’s directions, to keep the witch from harming him. He
came up one morning, however, rather worsted, with his head badly
bruised and bloody, and always declared that the witch inflicted
the wound with a stick. Dean’s stories are not to be quoted as altogether
reliable; he was allowed a wide range for his vivid imagination.

Harry, the houseboy, however, had cause for believing every word
Dean told. It was Harry’s business to make the morning fires before
daylight. He became negligent in this duty, and father scolded and
threatened him several times. Finally Kate took the matter in hand,
speaking to father, “Never mind, old Jack, don’t fret. I will attend
to the rascal the next time he is belated.” This passed off like
much of such gab, but a few mornings after, Harry was later than
ever and father commenced scolding harshly, when the witch spoke
again, “Hold on old Jack, didn’t I tell you not to pester; I will
attend to this nigger.” Harry had just laid the kindling wood down,
and was on his knees blowing the coals to a blaze; when some unseen
force apparently seized him by the neck and flailed him unmercifully.
Harry yelled and begged piteously, and when let up the witch spoke,
promising to repeat the operation if he was ever derelict again.
Father said he heard the blows as they fell with force, sounding
like a paddle or strip of wood, but could see nothing but the boy
on his knees yelling for life. Harry was never late after that.

A rather funny trick was played on Phillis, a twelve year old girl
who waited in the house and assisted her mother in the kitchen.
We had a log rolling on our place, as was the custom in the country.
After the work was over, the youngsters, while waiting for supper,
engaged in some gymnastic exercises, trying the difficult feat of
locking their heels over the back of their neck. Phillis observed
these exercises, and the next day stole away up stairs to test her
athletic capacity. After several unsuccessful attempts, she suddenly
realized that her feet had forcibly gone over her head and were
securely locked. Time and again Aunt Lucy, her mother, called and
Phillis as often answered up stairs, but never came. Finally Aunt
Lucy got her dander up, and picking up a switch started, saying,
“Bound I fetch that gal down them stairs.” Pretty soon there was
a racket upstairs, and Aunt Lucy had worn out the switch before
Phillis could explain that the witch had her.

The case of Anky, however, lends more zest to the witch’s characteristic
antipathy for the Negro. Mother had taken notice of the fact that
Kate never made any demonstrations in the cabins, and conceived
the reason why, accepting the witch’s own statement. She exercised
her genius and hit upon a scheme to outwit Kate, which was rather
novel in its purpose. However, she turned the matter over in her
own mind carefully, and spoke not a word about it, not even to father,
for the reason, perhaps, that she was afraid of the thing, and believed
she fared best by cultivating the regard it manifested for her;
consequently no one knew a breath of her plans until the outcome
of the scheme was developed. Anky was a well-developed, buxom African
girl, some eighteen years of age — a real Negro, so to speak, exuberant
with that pungent aromatic which was so obnoxious to Kate’s olfactory.
Mother had determined to cautiously test her plan for getting rid
of the witch, telling Anky, in her gentle patronizing way, that
she wanted her for a house girl and desired that she should sleep
in her room. The girl manifested some misgivings, but felt complimented
by the distinction implied, and enquired of mother if she reckoned
the old witch would not pester her? Being assured that there was
not much danger, that Kate would be too busy entertaining the company
to take any notice of her, her fears gave way to her plucked up
courage and she followed mother’s directions to the letter, keeping
the whole matter a secret from the other Negroes and all the family
until the test was made as to whether the witch would trouble her
or not. So one evening after supper Anky quietly slipped in the
room with her pallet and spread it under mother’s bed, fixing herself
comfortably on it, to await the coming in of visitors and the witch
and hear the talking. It was a high bedstead, with a white-fringed
counterpane hanging to the floor, hiding Anky completely. She was
delighted, and not a soul except mother knew she was there. Very
soon the room was filled with visitors, keeping up a lively chit-chat
while waiting the coming of Kate, and mother had taken a seat with
the company anxiously waiting to see the outcome of her scheme.
Presently the voice of the witch angrily rang out above the din
of conversation. with the exclamation, “There is a damn nigger in
the house, it’s Ank; I smell her under the bed and she’s got to
get out.” In an instant a noise was heard under the bed like that
of a man clearing his throat, hawking and spitting vehemently, and
Anky came rolling out like a log starting down hill, her face and
head literally covered with foam like white spittle. She sprang
to her feet with wonderful agility, frantically exclaiming, “Oh
missus, missus, it’s going to spit me to death. Let me out, let
me out,” and she went yelling all the way to the cabin, “Let me
in, let me in.” The witch then addressed mother, “Say Luce, did
you bring that nigger in here?” “Yes,” replied mother, “I told Anky
that she might go under my bed, where she would be out of the way,
to hear you talk and sing.” “I thought so,” replied Kate, “I guess
she heard me. Nobody but you, Luce, would have thought of such a
smart trick as that, and if anybody else had done it I would have
killed the damn nigger. Lord Jesus I won’t get over that smell in
a month!”

The Mysterious Hand Shaking

The Johnson brothers, John and Calvin, perhaps had more intercourse
with the witch than any other two men who visited our place during
the excitement. That is they talked more with the invisible, entered
more earnestly into the investigation by cultivating friendly and
intimate relations. They were both very honorable men, of high standing
in the community, but were very dissimilar in character. Calvin
was a plain unassuming man of strict integrity, free from deception,
faithful in everything he pretended, and would not swerve from the
truth or break a promise knowingly and willfully under any circumstances.
John was more dexterous, of a shrewd investigating turn of mind,
guided by policy, and would make use of all legitimate means at
hand to gain a point or accomplish a purpose, and he cultivated
the witch more than any one else for the purpose of facilitating
his investigations. Kate was very fond of gab, and John Johnson
made use of every opportunity to engage the mage in conversation,
hoping to draw out something that would give a clue to the mystery,
but it appears that all of his wits were baffled, and that the seer
was all the while aware of his purpose. The question arose as to
the character of the blows received by so many persons on the cheek
after retiring. The sound was like a slap of an open hand, and every
one to testified that it left a sting like that of a hand, even
to the prints of the fingers being felt. Calvin Johnson conceived
the idea of asking the witch to shake hands with him. After much
persuasion Kate agreed to comply with the request, on one condition,
that Calvin would first promise not to try to grasp or hold the
hand that would be laid in his. This he agreed to, and then holding
out his hand, in an instant he felt the pressure of the invisible.
Mr. Johnson testified that he felt it very sensibly, and that the
touch was soft and delicate like the hand of a lady, and no one
ever doubted his statement. John Johnson begged Kate to shake hands
with him, persisting that he was as good a friend as his brother,
but the witch refused, telling John “No, you only want a chance
to catch me.” John vowed that he would not attempt anything of the
kind. Kate still refused, replying, “I know you, Jack Johnson; you
are a grand rascal, trying to find me out, and I won’t trust you.”
Two or three other persons claimed to have shaken hands with the
witch, which I don’t know about, though many testified to the force
of the hand as felt on the cheek.

He Stole His Wife

It was not uncommon for Kate to recognize strangers the moment they
entered the house, speaking to them on familiar terms. Here is one
instance I will note. Four strangers who had traveled a long distance
(whose names I cannot now remember, there were so many unknown callers),
arrived late — on a dark night, and knocking at the door, and were
admitted. They were unknown to any one in the house or on the place,
but the moment they entered the door, and before they could speak
to introduce themselves, Kate announced one by name, exclaiming,
“He is the grand rascal who stole his wife. He pulled her out of
her father’s house through a window, and hurt her arm, making her
cry; then he whispered to her, ‘Hush honey don’t cry, it will soon
get well.’” The strangers were greatly confused. They stood dumbfounded,
pausing some time before they could speak. The gentleman was asked
before leaving if the witch had stated the facts in regard to his
matrimonial escapade. He said yes, the circumstance occurred just
as stated.

Detective Williams

A good looking stranger arrived who introduced himself as Mr. Williams,
a professional detective, stating that he had heard much of the
witch mystery, which no one could explain, and having considerable
experience in unraveling tangled affairs and mysteries, he had traveled
a long distance for the purpose of investigating this matter, if
he should be permitted to do so; further stating that he did not
believe in either preternatural or supernatural things, and professed
to be an expert in detecting jugglery, sleight-of-hand performances,
illusions, etc., and would certainly expose these manifestations,
so much talked of if given a fair chance. Father bid the gentleman
a hearty welcome, telling him that he was just the man that was
wanted. “Make my house your home, and make free with everything
here as if your own, as long as you think proper to stay,” said
father, and Mr. Williams politely accepted the invitation and hung
up his hat. Mr. Williams was rather a portly, strong-muscled, well
dressed, handsome gentleman. He was no less self-possessed, and
wise in his own conceit, full of gab, letting his tongue run continually,
detailing to the company his wonderful exploits in the detective
business, and was very sure he would bring Kate to grief before
leaving. A day and night passed and Kate, for some cause best known
to the witch, kept silent, making no show except a little scratching
on the walls and thumping about the room, just enough to let the
company know that the spirit was present. Mr. Williams became very
impatient, appearing disgruntled, and spoke his mind more freely.
He said to a coterie of gentlemen who were discussing the witch,
that he was convinced that the whole thing was a family affair,
an invention gotten up for a sensation to draw people and make money,
and the actors were afraid to make any demonstrations while he was
present, knowing his profession and business, and that he would
most assuredly expose the trick. One of the gentlemen told father
what Williams had said, and it made him very indignant. He felt
outraged that such a charge should be made without the evidence,
by a man professing to be a gentleman, to whom he had extended every
courtesy and hospitality, and had proffered any assistance he might
call for, and in a rage he threatened to order Williams from the
place immediately. Just at this juncture Kate spoke, “No you don’t,
old Jack, let him stay; I will attend to the gentleman and satisfy
him that he is not so smart as he thinks.” Father said no more,
nor did he take any action in the matter, but treated Mr. Williams
gentlemanly as he did the others, nor was anything more heard from
Kate. The house was crowded with visitors that night, all expectantly
and anxious to hear the witch talk, and sat till late bed time awaiting
the sound of the mystifying voice, but not a word or single demonstration
of any kind was heard from Kate. This confirmed the detective in
his conjectures, and he repeated to several visitors his conclusions,
declaring that the witch would not appear again as long as he remained.
After they were all tired out, mother had straw mattresses spread
over the floor to accommodate the company. Mr. Williams, being the
largest gentleman present, selected one of these pallets to himself.
All retired and the light was extinguished, and a night of quiet
rest was promising. As soon as perfect quiet prevailed, and every
one appeared to be in a dose of sleep, Mr. Williams found himself
pinioned, as it were, to the floor by some irresistible force from
which he was utterly powerless to extricate himself, stout as he
was, and the witch scratching and pounding him with vengeance. He
yelled out to the top of his voice calling for help and mercy. Kate
held up long enough to inquire of the detective, which one of the
family he thought had him, and then let in again, giving him an
unmerciful beating, while the man plead for life. All of this occurred
in less than two minutes, and before a candle could be lighted,
and as soon as the light appeared the pounding ceased, but Kate
did a good deal of talking, more than Mr. Williams cared to hear.
The detective was badly used up and the worst scared man that ever
came to our house. He sat up on a chair the balance of the night,
with a burning candle by his side, subjected to the witch’s tantalizing
sarcasm, ridicule and derision, questioning him as to which of the
family was carrying on the devilment, how he liked the result of
his investigations, how long he intended to stay, etc. As soon as
day dawned, Mr. Williams ordered his horse, and could not be prevailed
upon to remain until after breakfast.

Kate Gets in Bed With William Porter

William Porter was a very prominent citizen of the community, a
gentleman of high integrity, regarded for his strict veracity. He
was also a good friend to our family, and spent many nights with
us during the trouble, taking his turn with others in entertaining
Kate, which was necessary to have any peace at all, and also agreeable
to those of an investigating turn of mind who were not afraid, and
this was Mr. Porter’s character; like John Johnson, he rather cultivated
the spirit, and said he was fond of gabbing with Kate. This seemed
to please the witch, and they got along on good terms. William Porter
was at this time a bachelor, occupying his house alone. The building
was a large hewn log house, with a partition dividing it into two
rooms. There was one chimney having a very large fireplace, and
the other end was used for a bedroom — entered by a door in the
partition. I give this as related by Mr. Porter himself, to a large
company at Father’s, and as he has often repeated the same to many
persons, and no one doubted his truthfulness. Said he:

 William Porter Attempts to Burn
the Witch

“It was a cold night and I made a big log fire before retiring to
keep the house warm. As soon as I got in bed I heard scratching
and thumping about the bed, just like Kate’s tricks, as I thought,
but was not long in doubt as to the fact. Presently I felt the cover
drawling to the backside, and immediately the witch spoke, when
I recognized the unmistakable voice of Kate. ‘Billy, I have come
to sleep with you and keep you warm.’ I replied, ‘Well Kate if you
are going to sleep with me, you must behave yourself.’ I clung to
the cover, feeling that it was drawing from me, as it appeared to
be raised from the bed on the other side, and something snake-like
crawling under. I was never afraid of the witch, or apprehended
that it would do me any harm but somehow this produced a kind of
chilly sensation that was simply awful. The cover continued to slip
in spite of my tenacious grasp, and was twisted into a roll on the
back side of the bed, just like a boy would roll himself in a quilt,
and not a strip was left on me. I jumped out of bed in a second,
and observing that Kate had rolled up in the cover, the thought
struck me, ‘I have got you now, you rascal, and will burn you up.’
In an instant I grabbed the roll of cover in my arms and started
to the fire, intending to throw the cover, witch and all in the
blaze. I discovered that it was very weighty, and smelt awful. I
had not gone half way across the room before the luggage got so
heavy and became so offensive that I was compelled to drop it on
the floor and rush out of doors for a breath of fresh air. The odor
emitted from the roll was the most offensive stench I ever smelt.
It was absolutely stifling and I could not have endured it another
second. After being refreshed I returned to the room, and gathered
up the roll of bed clothing shook them out, but Kate had departed,
and there was no unusual weight or offensive odor remaining, and
this is just how near I came catching the witch.”

Our School Day Experience

Major Garaldus Pickering, who was a distinguished man of that day,
kept a large school near by, which Joel and myself attended, and
had many little experiences with Kate along the way. The custom
was to take in school as soon as the teacher could get there, a
little after sunrise, and dismiss about thirty minutes before sunset.
Our route was through the woods, and some briar patches and hazel
thickets by the wayside. Passing these thickets, returning home,
sticks of wood and rocks were often tossed at us, but never with
much force, and we soon learned not to fear any harm from this pastime,
and frequently cut notches on the sticks, casting them back into
the thicket from whence they came, and invariably the same sticks
would be hurled back at us. After night Kate would recount everything
that occurred along the way. Even if one of us stumped a toe, falling
over, the witch claimed to have caused it, and would describe how
it appeared in the form of a rabbit or something else at certain
places. Our most serious trouble, however, was experienced at home,
the witch continually pulling the cover off, and twisting our hair,
and it was hard for a tired boy to get any sleep.

Joel Severely Whipped

It happened that Joel and myself were left to occupy a room alone
one night, and were troubled less than usual in the early part of
the night, but Kate put in good time just before day. It was quite
a cold morning, and rather too early to get up, but Kate continued
pulling the cover off and jerking my hair, and I got out of bed
and dressed myself. Joel, however, was much vexed, and said some
ugly things about “Old Kate,” and gathering up the cover from the
floor, he rolled himself up in it for another nap. Directly the
witch snatched it from him again. Joel became enraged, pulling at
the cover while Kate seemed to be hawking and spitting in his face,
and he had to turn loose the cover. This made Joel raving mad, and
he laid flat on his back, kicking with all his might, calling old
Kate the meanest kind of names. “Go away from here, you nasty old
thing,” he exclaimed. Kate became furious also, exclaiming, “You
little rascal, I’ll let you know who you are talking to.” That moment
Joel felt the blows falling fast and heavy, and no boy ever received
such a spanking as he got that morning, and he never forgot it.
It was absolutely frightful. I could do nothing for his relief.
He yelled frantically with all of his might, arousing the whole
house, nor did his punisher cease spanking until father entered
the door with a light, finding him almost lifeless. The blows sounded
like the spanking of an open heavy hand, and certainly there was
no one in the room but Joel and myself, and if there had been, there
was no way of escaping except by the door which father entered,
and that would have been impossible unobserved.

Chasing the Shakers

The Shakertown People at that time kept their trading men on the
road continually, traveling through the country, dealing with the
people. They went in two’s, generally on horseback, and could be
distinguished from other people at a distance by their broad brim
hats and peculiarity in dress. The two who traveled through our
section always made it convenient to call at our house for dinner
or a night’s lodging. It was about the regular time for these gentlemen
to come around, and near the dinner hour one of the servants came
in announcing to mother that the Shakers were coming down the lane.
This was a notice to increase the contents of the dinner Pot.

The Witch Chases the Shakers

Kate spoke up immediately, exclaiming, “Them damn Shakers shan’t
stop this time.” Father was troubled a good deal by breachy [sic]
stock on the outside pushing the fences down, and generally sent
Harry, a Negro boy, around every day to drive away stock and see
that the fences were up. There were three large dogs on the place
that the boy always carried along, and he had them well trained
and always eager for a chase, and would start at his call, yelping
furiously. Harry was nowhere about. He was out on the farm with
the other hands. But instantly after Kate spoke Harry’s voice was
heard in the front yard calling the dogs, “Here Caesar, here Tiger,
here Bulger, here, here, sic, sic,” slapping his hands. Not a soul
but the Shakers coming down the lane could be seen. The dogs, however,
responded with savage yelping, going in a fury, following the voice
that left the way egging them on, and just as the Shakers were nearing
the turning in gate, the dogs leaped the fence at their horses’
heels, and Harry’s voice was there too, hollering, “Sic, sic, take
’em.” The Shakers put whip to their horses and the dogs after them,
and Kate vehemently aging the dogs on and hilariously enjoying the
sport. It was a lively chase, and broke the Shakers from coming
that way again. The witch enjoyed the sport greatly, laughing and
repeating the affair to visitors, injecting many funny expressions
in describing the chase, and how the Shakers held on to their big
hats.

Mother Bell’s Illness–The Witch Sings
Sweet Songs and Brings Her Hazelnuts and Grapes

The story of the hazelnuts and grapes brought to mother during her
illness was hard for many to believe, and it may prove a severe
strain on the credulity of the reader, but it is nevertheless true,
and will be verified by several worthy persons who witnessed the
facts and have stated the same to many people. Kate had all along
manifested a high regard for mother, often remarking, “Old Luce
is a good woman.” This was very gratifying to the family; we were
all much devoted to her, and this earnest expression of tender respect
for her; so often repeated, was to a great extent an assurance that
whatever might befall other members of the family, mother would
be spared personal affliction. She was fearful of the thing, and
could not see any good sense or policy in antagonizing what was
now evidently a powerful, intelligent and incomprehensible agency,
and therefore she conceived it to be the best policy to cultivate
the kind manifestations of the witch, and she exercised all the
gentleness of her nature toward Kate, as she did her tender affections
for her children. This proved to be the best policy, for it is evident
that she appeased the seer’s malice in many instances, except in
father’s case, toward whom the malignity was unrelenting and beyond
control. About the middle of September, 1820, mother was taken down
with a spell of pleurisy, and then it was that Kate manifested a
sorrowful nature, growing more plaintive every day as the disease
progressed, giving utterance to woeful expressions that were full
of touching sympathy. “Luce, poor Luce, I am so sorry you are sick.
Don’t you feel better, Luce? What can I do for you, Luce?” These
and many other expressions of sympathy and anxious inquiries were
given vent by the saddened voice, that now appeared to remain constantly
in mother’s room prattling all through the day, changing to a more
joyful tone when she indicated any temporary relief. The persistent
jabbering and disquietude was enough to craze a well person, but
mother bore it all patiently, frequently replying to questions.
Sometimes she would reply, “Oh Kate, I am too sick to talk to you.”
Then the voice would hush for some time, as if choking expression.
When anything was wanted or called for that was needed for mother’s
comfort, the witch would speak promptly, telling precisely, where
the article could be found. And so the strange voice continued from
day to day, mystifying everyone who came to visit and minister to
mother’s wants, and it was utterly impossible to distinguish from
whence it came, and yet so pathetic as to affect the sympathy of
everyone who came within hearing. It was noticeable also that Kate
kept quiet when mother was apparently at rest or sleeping. She rested
better in the latter part of the night, and was somewhat refreshed
for the morning, and as soon as she was aroused Kate was heard inquiring,
“How do you feel this morning, Luce? Did you rest well through the
night? Don’t you want to hear a song, Luce?” Mother was very fond
of vocal music, in which Kate excelled, and it was her pleasure
to reply, “Yes Kate, sing something sweet.” While the witch sung
a number of beautiful stanzas, the following was the favorite, which
was sung every day:

Come my heart and let us try

For a little season

Every burden to lay by

Come and let us reason.

What is this that casts you down?

Who are those that grieve you?

Speak and let the worst be known,

Speaking may relieve you.

Christ by faith I sometimes see

And He doth relieve me,

But my fears return again,

These are they that grieve me.

Troubled like the restless Sea,

Feeble, faint and fearful,

Plagued with every sore disease,

How can I be cheerful?

No rhythmical sound or melody ever fell upon the ear with sweeter
pathos, coming as it did like a volume of symphony from a bursting
heart. I have seen the tears trickle down mother’s fevered cheeks,
while friends would turn away to hide repressed weeping. Sick as
she was, mother never neglected to compliment the song. “Thank you
Kate, that was so sweet and beautiful, it makes me feel better,”
which the witch seemed to appreciate. Mother gradually grew worse,
the disease reaching a serious stage. The doctor was still very
hopeful, but the family and our good neighbors were feeling the
deepest concern. Father became very restless and apprehensive of
the worst. Her appetite failed entirely, and this distressed Kate
woefully. The neighbors brought all sorts of tempting good things
to induce her to eat, and this example the observing witch imitated,
conceiving the idea, no doubt, that the most important thing was
the discovery of something agreeable to her appetite, and this was
the circumstance that seemed to have inspired the action of the
witch in bringing the nuts and grapes.

Wild fruits were plentiful in the bottoms and woods around the place,
and were then ripening. Tim first instance was the appearance of
the hazelnuts. The same plaintive voice was heard exclaiming, “Luce,
poor Luce, how do you feel now? Hold out your hands, Luce, and I
will give you something.” Mother stretched her arms, holding her
hands together open, and the hazelnuts were dropped from above into
her hands. This was witnessed by several ladies who had called in
to see mother, and it was so incredible that the floor above was
examined to see if there was not a loose plank or some kind of opening
through which they were dropped, hut it was found to be perfectly
secure, and not even a crevice through which a pin could pass. After
some time the amazement was increased by the same voice inquiring,
“Say Luce, why don’t you eat the hazelnuts?” Mother replied that
she could not crack them. Then the exclamation, “Well I will crack
some for you,” and instantly the sound of the cracking was heard,
and the cracked nuts dropped on her bed within hand’s reach, and
the same passionate voice continued insisting on mother’s eating
the nuts, that they would do her good. Next came the grapes in the
same way, the voice importuning her to eat them, that they would
do her good. Mother was thoughtful in expressing her thanks, remarking,
“You are so kind, Kate, but I am too sick to eat them.” From this
time on mother steadily improved, coming out of a severe spell that
held her down some twenty days, and no one could express more joy
and gladness than Kate, who also praised Dr. Hopson, the good physician
who brought her through safely. As soon as mother was convalescent,
Kate devoted more attention to the entertainment of the large number
of visitors who were constantly coming to hear the mysterious voice.
One evening the room was full of company, all deeply interested
in discussing the phenomena of the grapes, etc., when the presence
of the witch was announced by the voice exclaiming, “Who wants some
grapes?” and before any one could answer, a large bunch of luscious
wild grapes fell out on Elizabeth’s lap. The bunch was passed around
and all tasted of the fruit, and were satisfied that it was no illusion.
Kate evinced remarkable knowledge of the forest, and would tell
us where to find plenty of grapes, hazelnuts, herbs of every kind,
good hickory for axe handles, or tough sticks for a maul.

Mrs. Martha Bell’s Stockings

Kate, as before intimated, visited the family of Brother Jesse Bell
quite often, making demonstrations, but never to the extent of the
manifestations at home. Jesse’s wife, whom the witch called “Pots,”
observed mother’s policy in humoring the warlock, paying kindly
attention to its gabble, incurring favor or kindly relations, and
she too was treated with such consideration as to relieve her fears
of any immediate harm. Jesse Bell and Bennett Porter had determined
to move with their families to Panola county, Mississippi, and were
shaping their affairs to that end, as soon as circumstances would
admit. This phenomena I give as related by Martha herself, there
being no other witnesses to the circumstance, but I can not doubt
her statement, which is borne out by other facts. Late in the afternoon
she was sitting out some ten steps on the east side in the shade
of the house, engaged in pealing apples for drying. She heard a
kind of buzzing or indistinct whispering in her ear, and recognized
at once that it was the voice of the witch, and spoke to it, inquiring,
“What do you want, Kate? Speak out so I can understand you.” Then
the witch spoke plainly, saying, “Pots, I have brought you a present
to keep in remembrance of me when you go to your far away new home.
Will you accept it?” She replied, “Certainly Kate, I will gladly
accept any present you may bring. What is it?” Just then a small
roll, neatly wrapped in paper, fell on her lap. She looked up and
around in every direction, but no one was near, nor could she discover
from whence it came. In her confusion the witch spoke again, saying,
“I brought it, Pots; see what a nice pair of stockings. I want you
to keep them for your burial, to remember me, and never wear them.”
She then stripped off the paper and found a pair of elegant black
silk hose, for which she thanked Kate, promising to keep them as
requested. Martha said she discovered an ugly splotch on one of
the hose, which she was eyeing with much curiosity, when the witch
spoke very promptly, remarking, “That is blood. They killed a beef
at Kate Batts’ this morning, and the blood spattered on the stocking.”
Martha said she was so disconcerted and perplexed that she could
not speak, and Kate departed, or said nothing more. Jesse Bell came
in from the field very soon, and when made acquainted with all the
facts as above stated, determined to go at once to the Batts home
and ascertain the facts regarding the witch’s story of the butchering
that morning. He did not mention the circumstance, but very soon
Mrs. Batts expressed herself as very glad that he had called, stating
that they had killed a fine young beef that morning, and intended
sending Patsy (his wife) a piece, but had had no opportunity, and
wished him to take it, which he did. So this part of the witch’s
story was confirmed, and Jesse further ascertained from Mrs. Batts
that it had been a very busy day, and not one of the family had
left the place during the day, or but for the pressing engagement
she would have sent the beef to his house. Moreover, Martha Bell
had not left the premises, nor had any visitor been on the place.

Dr. Mize, the Wizard

During the period of these exciting demonstrations, ever so many
detectives, wise men, witch doctors, or conjurers, came to exercise
their skill on Kate, and were permitted to practice schemes and
magic arts to their heart’s content, and all were brought to grief
in some way, confessing that the phenomena was something beyond
comprehension. One notable instance was that of Dr. Mize, of Simpson
County, Ky., some thirty-five miles away, whose fame as a magician
had been widely spread, and many brought word to father of his genius,
urging him to send for the noted conjurer. The truth is, father
had become alarmed about his own condition. His spells of contortions
of the face, twitching of the flesh and stiffness of the tongue,
were gradually growing more frequent and severe. His friends observed
this, and also that the animosity of the witch toward him was increasing
in vehemence, every word spoken to him being a blast of calumnious
aspersions, and threatenings of some dire evil which was horrifying.
He had also become convinced from his observations, that this terrible
thing had the power, as it claimed, to so afflict him, and that
the purpose was to torture his life out, as it also declared; and
under these circumstances he yielded to the many persuasions to
exhaust all means and efforts to free himself and family from the
pestilence. He consulted with Mr. James Johnson about the matter,
who thought it would be well to give Dr. Mize a trial, and farther
proposed to go with Drew after the famous wizard. So it was agreed
that Mr. Johnson and Drew were to start on the hunt for Dr. Mize
after three o’clock in the morning, while Kate was not about, and
clear the neighborhood before the morning hour for the witch’s appearance.
The whole matter was to be kept a profound secret, and no one was
let into the understanding. Drew made ready to accompany Mr. Johnson
on a business trip, to be absent two or three days, and that was
all that was known about it. They got off according to the arrangement
in good time, and had perhaps passed Springfield before day. Kate
came as usual that morning, observing first Drew’s absence, setting
up an anxious inquiry for him. Not one of the family could give
any information concerning him, and the witch seemed baffled and
disappeared, and was not heard again during the day, but returned
that night in great glee, having discovered the whole secret, telling
all about Drew and Mr. Johnson’s trip. Kate went on to say, “I got
on their track and overtook them twenty miles on the way, and followed
along some distance, and when I hopped in the road before them,
looking like a poor old sick rabbit, ‘Old Sugar Mouth’ said, ‘There
is your witch, Drew; take her up in your lap. Don’t you see how
tired she is?'” Kate continued to gossip about the trip in a hilarious
way, manifesting much satisfaction in discovering the deep laid
scheme, but no one knew how true the story was until Mr. Johnson
and Drew returned the following evening, when they confirmed everything
that Kate had stated. Mr. Johnson said that he did not really believe
at the time of calling Drew’s attention to the rabbit, that it was
the witch, but spoke of its peculiar action in a jocular way, as
a mere matter of pastime, nor did Drew think otherwise of it. They
found Dr. Mize at his home east of Franklin, Ky., told him the story
of our trouble, and the information received concerning his power
to dispel witchery, etc. The Doctor said it was out of the ordinary
line of phenomena, but he had no doubt of his ability to remove
the spell and expose the craft that had brought it on, and he set
the time, some ten days ahead, when he would be ready to begin the
experiment. Accordingly, the wise man put in his appearance, having
studied the question, and was prepared for business, making boasts
of his knowledge of spirits and skill in casting out devils, much
to the disgust of father, who had about sized him up on sight. However,
like others, Mize was treated courteously and allowed to pursue
his own plans. The wizard stayed three or four days, hearing not
a breath from Kate. In the meanwhile he found an old shotgun that
had been out of repair some time, and he at once discovered that
the witch had put a spell on it. He soon cleaned the old gun, readjusted
the lock and trigger, performed some conjurations, making the gun
shoot as well as ever. This much, taken in consideration with the
fact that the witch had kept perfectly quiet since his arrival,
he considered as remarkable progress, and he doubted the return
of Kate. Certain he was that the witch would hardly show up as long
as he remained; witches, he said, were always shy of him. So Mize
continued, working sorcery, making curious mixtures, performing
incantations, etc., to the amusement of those who observed his actions.
Finally Kate put in, questioning the conjurer impertinently as to
what he was doing, and the object of his sorcery. Mize was nonplussed
by the mysterious voice, which he had not before heard, recognizing
that the witch had come to keep company with him. He tried to be
reticent and evasive, intimating that a witch had no business prying
into his affairs. Kate, however, continued to ply him with hard
questions, and finally suggested to Dr. Mize that he had omitted
some very important ingredients for his charm mixture. “What is
that?” inquired Mize with astonishment. “If you were a witch doctor
you would know how to aerify that mess, so as to pass into the aeriform
state, and see the spirit that talks to you, without asking silly
questions,” replied Kate. “What do you know about this business,
anyhow?” again inquired the bewildered conjurer. Kate then told
him that he was an old fool and didn’t know what he was doing, and
then started in to cursing Mize like blue blazes. Such a string
of blasting oaths was never heard, and Dr. Mize was frightened out
of his wits, and was anxious to get away.

“That thing,” he said, knew so much more about witchcraft than he
did, that he could do nothing with it.

Dr. Mize Flees from the Witch!

Mize arranged for an early start home the next morning. Somehow
his horse refused to go off kindly, rearing and kicking up. Finally
Kate came to the rescue, proposing to make the horse go, and accompany
the Doctor home. Immediately the horse started with a rush, kicking
and snorting, and went off at full speed with the Doctor hanging
on to the mane. The witch came that night in great glee, describing
the trip home with the “old fraud,” and the tricks played on him
along the way, just as Mize described the affair to his neighbors.

The Doubles or Apparitions

Much has been talked about Bennett Porter shooting at the witch.
Porter, according to his own statement, did shoot at an object that
appeared to his wife and Elizabeth, as described by them, but saw
nothing himself, except the bent saplings in motion. This circumstance
occurred during the time the witch family appeared on scene. Elizabeth
was there on a visit to her sister. Bennett Porter was absent during
the day, filling an engagement at Fort’s mill, which was in course
of construction, and returned home late in the afternoon. The hens
were laying about the stables, which were located on the opposite
side of the lane from the house. Esther started across the lane
that afternoon to gather up the eggs. Just as she passed from the
yard into road, she observed a woman walking slowly up the lane
toward the house, and she hurried on her mission and returned just
in time to meet the lady at the front entrance. She recognized the
person as one of her neighbors, and spoke to her pleasantly, to
which the woman made no reply. She repeated the salutation, which
again failed to elicit any response. The woman appeared to have
taken off her bonnet and let her hair down, and was engaged in combing
out her hair as she walked, and stopped just opposite the house,
where Esther met her, continuing the combing, and appeared deeply
absorbed or troubled. Esther said she invited the lady in the house,
repeating the solicitation several times, to which the woman paid
no attention. She felt much chagrined by the strange conduct of
her neighbor, and concluded that something was wrong with the lady
or that she had become offended towards her, and she passed in,
leaving the woman standing in the lane, combing her hair. She called
Elizabeth’s attention to the woman and her conduct, and they both
observed her still in the same attitude. Presently she climbed on
the yard fence, sitting there some five minutes, still combing her
hair, and then she tucked it up in the usual way and left the fence,
crossing over into the stable lot, where she could not have possibly
had any business. The lot enclosed some three or four acres, a grove
mostly of young saplings on the further side, ill the midst of which
was a large knotty log. The woman walked across the lot, passing
around the log, when there appeared three other persons, two younger
women or girls, and a boy. Each one bent down a sapling, sitting
upon them and riding up and down, giving motion to the spring afforded
by the bush. While this exercise still continued, Bennett Porter
returned home, finding Esther and Elisabeth excited over the strange
demonstrations that they tried to point out to him. He said he could
see the bushes in motion, but could not see the persons described.
He suggested that they were the witch apparitions, and got his gun,
insisting that Esther should shoot at one of the objects. While
he was getting his rifle, the appearances let the saplings up and
took positions behind the log, first one and then another showing
a head above the log. Esther refused to shoot, but directed Porter
to shoot near a large knot on the log, where one of the heads appeared.
He fired and his bullet cut the bark on the log just where he aimed,
but nothing more was seen of the four persons, nor could they, as
Porter thought, have escaped from the lot without detection. They
all three went to the log, and searched the lot over, and could
discover no signs except the bent saplings, and the mark of the
bullet on the log. Now whether these were doubles, apparitions,
witches, or real persons, the witch family in their carousal that
night made much ado about it, declaring to the company present that
Bennett Porter had shot at Jerusalem and had broken his arm with
the bullet.

The Poisonous Vial — The Last Illness
and Death of John Bell, Sr.

I have already written more about this abomination than contemplated
in the outset, and still have not told the half; but have presented
enough, to which others can testify, to enable the reader to form
some idea of the heinous thing, and the horrors that our family
had to endure during the early settlement of Robertson county, from
an unknown enemy, and for an unknown cause. Whether it was witchery,
such as afflicted people in past centuries and the darker ages,
whether some gifted fiend of hellish nature, practicing sorcery
for selfish enjoyment, or some more modern science akin to that
of mesmerism, or some hobgoblin native to the wilds of the country,
or a disembodied soul shut out from heaven, or an evil spirit like
those Paul drove out of the man into the swine, setting them mad;
or a demon let loose from hell, I am unable to decide; nor has any
one yet divined its nature or cause for appearing, and I trust this
description of the monster in all forms and shapes, and of many
tongues, will lead experts who may come with a wiser generation,
to a correct conclusion and satisfactory explanation.

However, no part of what I have written would be complete without
the finale; the climax which I now approach with a shudder that
fills my frame with horror, bringing fresh to memory scenes and
events that chilled the blood in my young veins, cheating me out
of twenty years of life. It hangs over me like the pall of death,
and sends weary thoughts like fleeting shadows through my brain,
reviving in memory those demoniac shrieks that came so oft from
an invisible and mysterious source, rending the air with vile and
hideous curses that drove me frantic with fear. It is no ghastly
dream of a fevered brain that comes to haunt one’s thoughts, but
a sad, fearful reality, a tremendous truth, that thrills the heart
with an unspeakable fear that no word painting can portray on paper.
Courageous men in battle line may rush upon bristling bayonets and
blazing musketry, and face the roaring cannon’s month, because they
can see the enemy and know who and what they are fighting; but when
it comes to meeting an unknown enemy of demonstrative power, with
gall upon its tongue and venom in its bosom, heaving bitter curses
and breathing threats of dire consequences, which one knows not
of, nor can judge in what shape or form the calamity is to come,
the stoutest heart will prove a coward, faltering and quivering
with painful fear. Why should my father, John Bell, be inflicted
with such a terrible curse? Why should such a fate befall a man
striving to live uprightly? I would be untrue to myself and my parentage,
should I fail to state boldly that John Bell was a man every inch
of him and in every sense of the term. No man was ever more faithful
and swift in the discharge of every duty, to his family, to the
church, to his neighbor’s, to his fellow man, and to his God, in
the fullness of his capacity and that faith which led him to love
and accept Christ as a Savior. No mortal man ever brought a charge
of delinquency or dishonor to his door. Not even the ghastly fiend
that haunted him to his death, in all of its vile curses and evil
threats, ever brought an accusation against him, or uttered a solitary
word that reflected upon his honor, his character, his courage,
or his integrity. He lived in peace, and in the enjoyment of the
full confidence of his neighbors, and lacked not for scores of friends
in his severest trials. Then why this affliction? Where the cause?
Which no man, saint, angel from heaven, or demon from hell, has
ever assigned. If there was any hidden or unknown cause why he should
have thus suffered, or if it was in the providence of God a natural
consequence, then why should the torments of a demon have been visited
upon Elizabeth, who was a girl of tender years, brought up under
the careful training of a Christian mother, and was free from guile
and the wiles of the wicked world, and innocent of all offense?
Yet this vile, heinous, unknown devil, torturer of human flesh,
that preyed upon the fears of people like a ravenous vulture, spared
not her, but rather chose her as a shining mark for an exhibition
of its wicked stratagems and devilish tortures. And never did it
cease to practice upon her fears, insult her modesty, stick pins
in her body, pinching and bruising her flesh, slapping her cheeks,
disheveling and tangling her hair, tormenting her in many ways,
until she surrendered that most cherished hope which animates every
young heart. Was this the stratagem of a human genius skilled in
the black art; was it an enchantment, a freak in destiny, or the
natural consequence of disobedience to some law in nature? Let a
wiser head than mine answer and explain the mystery. Another problem
in the development of these mysterious manifestations, that has
always puzzled my understanding: Why should the husband and father,
the head of the family, and the daughter, the pet and pride of the
household, the centre of all family affections, be selected to bear
the invectives of this terrible visitation, while demonstrations
of the tenderest love from the same source was bestowed upon the
wife and mother? If it was a living, intelligent creature, what
could have been the dominating faculty of its nature, which made
this discrimination?  Could it have been an intelligent human
devotion springing from an emotional nature that could so love the
wife and mother, and cherish such bitter enmity for her husband
and offspring, both of whom she loved most devotedly? I think not;
only a fiend of a hellish nature, with poisoned blood and seared
conscience, if a conscience at all, could have possessed such attributes.
Yet we, who experienced or witnessed the demonstration, know that
there was a wonderful power of intelligence, possessing knowledge
of men and things, a spirit of divination, that could read minds,
tell men’s secrets, quote the Scriptures, repeat sermons, sing hymns
and songs, assume bodily forms, and with all, an immense physical
force behind the manifestations.

Father continued to suffer with spells as I have already described,
the jerking and twitching of his face, and the swelling of his tongue,
fearfully distorting his whole physiogamy. These spells would last
from one to two days, and after passing off, he would be up and
about his business, apparently in strong robust health. As time
advanced the spells grew more frequent and severe, and there was
no periodical time for their return, and along toward the last I
stayed with him all the time, especially when he left the house,
going with him wherever he went. The witch also grew more angry
and virulent in disposition. Every word uttered to “Old Jack” was
a blast of curses and heinous threats, while to mother, “Old Luce,”
it continued most tender, loving and kind. About the middle of October
father had a very severe attack, which kept him confined to the
house six or eight days. The witch cursed and raved like a maniac
for several days, and ceased not from troubling him. However, he
temporarily overcome this attack, and was soon able to be out, though
he would not venture far from the house. But it was not destined
that he should enjoy a long respite. After a week’s recuperation
he felt much stronger, and called me very early one morning to go
with him to the hog pen, some three hundred yards from the house,
for the purpose of giving directions in separating the porkers intended
for fattening from the stock hogs. We had not gone far before one
of his shoes was jerked off. I replaced it on his foot, drawing
the strings tight, tying a double hard knot. After going a few steps
farther, the other shoe flew off in the same manner, which was replaced
and tied as in the case of the first.

In no way that I could tie them would they hold, notwithstanding
his shoes fitted close and were a little hard to put on, and we
were walking over a smooth, dry road. This worried him prodigiously;
nevertheless, he bore up strongly, and after much delay and worry
we reached the place, and he gave directions, seeing the hogs properly
separated as he desired, and the hands left for other work, and
we started back for the house. We had not gone many steps before
his shoes commenced jerking off as before, and presently he complained
of a blow on his face, which felt like an open hand, that almost
stunned him, and he sat down on a log that lay by the road side.
Then his face commenced jerking with fearful contortions, soon his
whole body, and then his shoes would fly off as fast as I could
put them on. The situation was trying and made me shudder. I was
terrified by the spectacle of the contortions that seized father,
as if to convert him into a very demon to swallow me up. Having
finished tying father’s shoes, I raised myself up to hear the reviling
sound of derisive songs piercing the air with terrorizing force.
As the demoniac shrieks died away in triumphant rejoicing, the spell
passed off, and I saw the tears chasing down father’s yet quivering
cheeks. The trace of faltering courage marked every lineament of
his face with a wearied expression of fading hope. He turned to
me with an expression of tender, compassionate fatherly devotion,
exclaiming in a woeful passionate tone, “Oh my son, my son, not
long will you have a father to wait on so patiently. I cannot much
longer survive the persecutions of this terrible thing. It is killing
me by slow tortures, and I feel that the end is nigh.” This expression
sent a pang to my bosom which I had never felt before. Mingled sorrow
and terror took possession of me and sent a tremor through my frame
that I can never forget. If the earth could have opened and swallowed
us up, it would have been a joyful deliverance. My heart bleeds
now at every pore as I pen these lines, refreshing my memory with
thoughts of the terror that possessed me then in anticipation of
a fearful tragedy that might be enacted before father could move
from his position. That moment he turned his eyes upward and lifted
his soul to heaven in a burst of fervent passionate prayer, such
as I had never heard him utter before. He prayed the Lord that if
it were possible, to let this terrible affliction pass. He beseeched
God to forsake him not in the trying ordeal, but to give him courage
to meet this unknown devastating enemy in the trying emergency,
and faith to lift him to the confidence and love of a blessed Savior,
and with all to relieve his family and loved ones from the terrible
afflictions of this wicked, unknown, terrifying, blasphemous agency.
It was in this strain that father prayed, pouring out his soul in
a passionate force that seemed to take hold of Christ by a powerful
faith that afforded fresh courage and renewed strength. After he
had finished his prayer, a feeling of calmness and reconciliation
seemed to possess him, and he appeared to have recovered from the
severe shock. The reviling songster had disappeared, and he rose
up remarking that he felt better and believed he could walk to the
house, and he did, meeting with no more annoyance as we proceeded
on the way. However, he took to his bed immediately on arriving
at the house, and though able to be up and down for several weeks,
he never left the house again, and seemed all the while perfectly
reconciled to the terrible fate that awaited him. He gradually declined;
nothing that friends could do brought any relief. Mother was almost
constantly at his bedside with all the devotion of her nature. Brother
John attended closely in the room, ministering to him, and good
neighbors were in constant attendance. The witch was carrying on
its deviltry more or less all the while.

The crisis, however, came on the morning of December 19th. Father,
sick as he was, had not up to this time failed to awake at his regular
hour, according to his long custom, and arouse the family. That
morning he appeared to be sleeping so soundly, mother quietly slipped,
out of the room to superintend breakfast, while brothers John and
Drew looked after the farm hands and feeding the stock, and would
not allow him to be disturbed until after breakfast. Noticing then
that he was sleeping unnaturally, it was thought best to awaken
him, when it was discovered that he was in a deep stupor, and could
not be aroused to any sensibility. Brother John attended to giving
him medicine, and went immediately to the cupboard where he had
carefully put away the medicines prescribed for him, but instead
he found a smoky looking vial, which was about one-third full of
dark colored liquid. He set up an inquiry at once to know who had
moved the medicine, and no one had touched it, and neither could
any one on the place give any account of the vial. Dr. George Hopson,
of Port Royal, was sent for in great haste and soon arrived; also
neighbors John Johnson, Alex. Gunn and Frank Miles arrived early,
and were there when the vial was found. Kate, the witch, in the
meantime broke out with joyous exultation, exclaiming, “It’s useless
for you to try to relieve Old Jack, I have got him this time; he
will never get up from that bed again.” Kate was then asked about
the vial of medicine found in the cupboard, and replied, “I put
it there, and gave Old Jack a big dose out of it last night while
he was asleep, which fixed him.” This was all the information that
could be drawn from the witch or any other source concerning the
vial of medicine. Certain it was that no member of the family ever
saw it before, or could tell anything about it. In fact no vial
and no medicine of any kind had been brought to the house by any
one else except by Dr. Hopson, and then it was handled carefully.
Dr. Hopson, on arrival, examined the vial and said he did not leave
it, and could not tell what it contained. It was then suggested
that the contents be tested on something. Alex. Gunn caught a cat,
and Brother John run a straw into the vial and drew it through the
cat’s mouth, wiping the straw on its tongue. The cat jumped and
whirled over a few times, stretched out, kicked, and died very quick.

Deathbed of John Bell

Father lay all day and night in a deep stupor, as if under the influence
of some opiate, and could not be aroused to take any medicine. The
Doctor said he could detect something on his breath that smelt very
much like the contents of the vial that he had examined. How father
could have gotten it was a mystery that could not be explained in
any other way except that testified by the witch. The vial and contents
was thrown into the fire, and instantly a blue blaze shot up the
chimney like a flash of powder. Father never revived or returned
to consciousness for a single moment. He lingered along through
the day and night, gradually wearing away, and on the morning of
December 20th, 1820, breathed his last. Kate was around during the
time, indulging in wild exultations and derisive songs. After father
breathed his last nothing more was heard from Kate until after the
burial was completed. It was a bright December day and a great crowd
of people came to attend the funeral. Rev. Sugg Fort and Revs. James
and Thomas Gunn conducted the services. After the grave was filled,
and the friends turned to leave the sad scene, the witch broke out
in a loud voice singing, “Row me up some brandy O,” and continued
singing this until the family and friends had all entered the house.
And thus ended one chapter in the series of exciting and frightful
events that kept the whole neighborhood so long in a frenzy, and
worked upon our fears from day to day.

Kate’s Departure and Return After Seven
Years

After the death of John Bell, Sr., the fury of the witch was greatly
abated. There were but two purposes, seemingly, developed in the
visitation. One was the persecution of father to the end of his
life. The other the vile purpose of destroying the anticipated happiness
that thrilled the heart of Betsy. This latter purpose, however,
was not so openly manifested as the first, and was of such a delicate
nature that it was kept a secret as much as possible in the family
and ignored when talked about. But it never ceased its tormenting
until her young dream was destroyed. The witch remained with us
after father’s death, through the Winter and Spring of 1821, all
the while diminishing or becoming less demonstrative. Finally it
took leave of the family, bidding mother, “Luce,” an affectionate
farewell, saying that it would be absent seven years, but would
surely return to see us and would then visit every house in the
neighborhood. This promise was fulfilled as regards the old homestead,
but I do not know that it visited other homes ill the vicinity.

It returned during February, 1828. The family was then nearly broken
up. Mother, Joel and myself were the only occupants left at the
old homestead, the other members of the family having settled off
to themselves. The demonstrations announcing its return were precisely
the same that characterized its first appearance. Joel occupied
a bed in mother’s room, and I slept in another apartment alone.
After considerable scratching on the weatherboarding on the outside,
it appeared in the same way on the inside, scratching on the bed
post and pulling the cover from my bed as fast as I could replace
it, keeping me up nearly all night. It went on in this way for several
nights, and I spoke not a word about it, lest I should frighten
mother. However, one night later, after worrying me for some time,
I heard a noise in mother’s room, and knew at once what was to pay.
Very soon mother and Joel came rushing into my room, much frightened,
telling me about the disturbance and something pulling the cover
off. We sat up till a late hour discussing the matter, satisfied
that it was the same old Kate, and agreed not to talk to the witch,
and that we would keep the matter a profound secret to ourselves,
worrying with it the best we could, hoping that it would soon leave,
as it did, after disturbing us in this way for some two weeks. This
was my last experience with Kate. The witch came and went, hundreds
of people witnessed its wonderful demonstrations, and many of the
best people of Robertson and adjoining counties have testified to
these facts, telling the story over and over to the younger generation,
and for this and other reasons as before stated I have written this
much of the details as correctly as it is possible to state the
exciting events. So far no one has ever given any intelligent or
comprehensive explanation of the great mystery. Those who came as
experts were worse confounded than all others. As I before stated,
a few mendacious calumniators were mean enough to charge that it
was tricks and inventions of the Bell family to make money, and
I write for the purpose of branding this version as an infamous
falsehood. It was well known in the vicinity and all over the county
that every investigation confirmed the fact that the Bell family
were the greatest, if not the only sufferers from the visitation,
and that no one, or a dozen persons in collusion, could have so
long, regularly and persistently practiced such a fraud without
detection, nor could they have known the minds and secrets of strangers
visiting the place, and detailed events that were then occurring
or had just transpired in different localities. Moreover the visitation
entailed great sacrifice. As to how long this palavering phenomenon
continued in the vicinity, I am unable to state. It did not disturb
the remaining members of the family at the old place anymore. Mother
died shortly after this and the house was entirely deserted, the
land and other property being divided among the heirs. The old house
stood for some years and was used for storing grain and other farm
products, and was finally torn down and moved away. Many persons
professed to have seen sights and heard strange sounds about the
old house and in the vicinity all along up to this day. Several
have described to me flitting lights along the old lane and through
the farm, while others profess to have heard sounds of wonderfully
sweet music and strange voices uttering indistinct word. And it
is said that such things have been seen and heard at various places
in the neighborhood, but I have no personal knowledge of the facts.

RICHARD WILLIAMS BELL

THE PHANTOM FISH

CHAPTER IX

After John Bell’s Death — The Lovers’ Easter Monday — Prof. Powell’s
School — Uncle Zeke’s Rectification of the Ghosts Disturbing the
Fish – Several Weddings

The death of John Bell, Sr., left a shadow of impenetrable gloom
hanging like the pall of darkness over the sorrow stricken family.
They were as a ship without a rudder; no solace for anguish and
no light penetrating the darkness of the future, or forecasting
the end of this great family affliction, save that the witch was
now less virulent in its demonstrations, ceasing to torment Betsy
as it had before. The only way open was in pursuing the even tenor
of life, awaiting the further developments of the unknown destroyer
of the peace of the happy household. The death of Mr. Bell and the
manner of his taking off awakened another sensation, one of a more
serious and solemn import than all the events in the varied chapter
of sensations that had so long kept the community in a state of
frenzy, calling into exercise every faculty and all the stratagems
of inventive genius, in the effort to detect the mysterious agency,
only to be toiled and involved in still greater confusion. The phenomena
had progressed, developing new features, power and character from
week to week, finally fulfilling that malignant purpose declared
in the outset to be a part of its mission, that of tormenting “Old
Jack Bell” out of his life by a slow process of mysterious torture,
and now all eyes and thoughts centered on Betsy, curiously wondering
and discussing with animation the probable effect of the death of
the father upon the daughter, and the attitude of the witch towards
her. The girl was then overwhelmed with grief for the loss of a
devoted father, which in the course of time was to be overcome,
but the forebodings of the horrible witch, whose caprice might chasten
her through life, or burst at any moment in the malignity of volcanic
wrath, hung over her like an impending calamity, menacing the happiness,
of life with bitter anguish. The suspense was dreadful in the extreme,
like a horrifying nightmare haunting a feverish dream, and was not
to be contemplated without a shudder. However, days and weeks passed,
and neighbors continued their good offices, visiting and ministering
comfort to the distressed family, and much to the surprise and gratification
of all, there appeared a remarkable change in the mordacity of Kate
toward Betsy. The haunting sphinx ceased harassing and become a
ministering spirit, manifesting more sympathy, and tender compassion
than all the friends who sought her on that gracious mission, save
perhaps one. Joshua Gardner was never remiss in his devotions, and
he labored with all the earnestness of his soul to remove the cloud
that shadowed her happiness, and his efforts were not without good
effect, notwithstanding his presence was attended with the premonition
of Kate’s abhorrent augury. Betsy Bell was conscious that her heart,
beat in unison of sympathy for that manly devotion so freely bestowed
on her. But what would be the consequence if she should disregard
the warnings of her wicked tormentor, whose inflictions were already
as great as could be endured? Might not the terrible freak execute
its threats on her, as it had fulfilled the prophecy concerning
her father, and destroy the peace and happiness of both herself
and lover, rendering them miserable for life, should she yield to
his entreaty and become his wife? Such were her thoughts and reasoning
against the inclination of her cherished desire, and it was a most
difficult problem to solve, in the struggle of the heart between
love and fear. Kate had ceased meddling in the affair, never called
Joshua’s name to Betsy, nor spoke when he was present.

Betsy’s and Joshua’s Engagement

This relenting was encouraging to the lovers, and Joshua took advantage
of the circumstance as evidence that the trouble was nearing the
end, and pressed his suit, urging that the marriage should take
place at an early date, when they might leave the haunted vale for
their contemplated Western home, entering connubial life amid happier
scenes full of new inspiration, and hearts thrilled with the joys
they had So long anticipated. Betsy was disposed to yield to his
persuasive reasoning; Joshua had drawn a different picture of the
future from that which she had been looking upon. It was full of
promise and stimulated renewed hope, and she gave her consent, conditionally,
insisting that the matter be postponed a while longer, awaiting
further developments in the witch’s course, which were to be expected
soon. There was, however, no more malevolent manifestations. Kate
had almost ceased annoying the family, which served to give coloring
to the rainbow of promise that Joshua painted so beautifully, and
Betsy soon found her crushed hope reviving, animating her broken
spirit. The flush returned to her paled cheeks, a brighter lustre
filled her pretty blue eyes, while a mischievous smile returned
to play in the light of those matchless orbs.

This change in Betsy was noticed by all comers and goers, and was
the gossip of the neighborhood. The Fairy Queen of the Haunted Dale
was herself again. The gloom of despond had passed away, and a happy
heart revealed itself in her sparkling eyes and merry laughter,
which seemed to defy Kate, and the witch had ceased to interpose
any further impediment to the match, and the brilliant wedding long
anticipated was conceded to be close at hand. The Bell home had
resumed something of its former gayety and splendid hospitality,
extending a hearty welcome to all who came, offering the greatest
attraction to visitors known in the country, and Betsy’s grace of
manners, pleasing conversation and charming wit, combined with her
personal beauty, was a source of pleasure that all, old and young,
delighted in.

She was the joy of the home,

The pride of the vale;

Her presence like sunshine

That lights up the dale.

Easter Monday

Easter came in all the glory of ethereal April. Nature had put on
its spring garb unusually early, and the day was like the resurrection
morn, lending inspiration and vigor to all that was flush with life.
The afternoon found a gay party of young people assembled at the
Bell home, as by intuition, to arrange plans for the outing and
pastime for the tomorrow, Easter Monday being a holiday observed
by all people, even the servants being exempted from regular duty
and allowed freedom to spend the day as they wished. A fishing excursion
and a hunt for Wild flowers along the river bluff seemed to promise
the greatest diversion, and it was agreed upon to meet at Brown’s
for the sport. The day dawned with a clear sky, and the sun rose
in all of her splendor, sending forth gentle rays to kiss away the
morning dew. The full blown orchard that almost surrounded the Bell
residence presented a living bouquet of nature’s beauty, white and
pink blooms nestling amid the fresh young foliage of the trees,
mingling their sweet perfumes on the gentle current that swept over
the valley.

Three interesting couples left the Bell place that morning for a
stroll through the orchard and across the meadow to the river side,
where the fishing party was expected to meet. The three couples
were Betsy Bell and her lover, Joshua Gardner, Theny Thorn and Alex.
Gooch, and Rebecca Porter and James Long. Three happier couples
never started out for a glorious holiday. Betsy had acceded to Joshua’s
proposition, dismissing all gloomy forebodings, and that morning
for the first time wore a beautiful engagement ring, which Joshua
placed on her finger Easter morning, while sitting beneath the favorite
pear tree, and she started out with a light and joyous heart, full
of mirthful sport, making merry the day. “See there girls,” exclaimed
Betsy, “those beautiful pear trees, arrayed in white, representing
the bride of the morning. They bow to us a hearty welcome this lovely
holiday.” “Yes, I see,” returned Theny Thorn, “they are perfectly
lovely; but you overlook the peach trees on the other side of the
path, dressed in pink. They represent the bridesmaids.” “Well,”
observed Becky Porter, “I should like to know what these pretty
little violets represent which you all are unconsciously mashing
under your big feet?” “They are Cupid’s arrows,” answered Joshua
Gardner. “They cannot be crushed by trampling, Miss Becky; see how
quick they rise up, smiling sweetly.” “Yes,” exclaimed Betsy, “that
is why I love them so much; break or bruise one, and it comes again
as fresh as ever;” Alex. Gooch presumed that these sentimental expressions
were inspired by the invigorating morning breeze. “Please, Miss
Betsy, what does this refreshing zephyr, which blows such a pleasant
gale, represent in your beautiful Easter picture?” “Oh, that is
the breath of the bridegroom,” laughingly answered Betsy.” “Then,”
observed James Long, “if we are to judge from the fragrance of his
breath, the bridegroom must be a distiller, out gathering nectar
from the myriads of sweet blossoms, that excites so much felicitous
exultation.” “Yes, Mr. Long,” replied Becky, “you have a correct
appreciation of the work of nature’s God; you observe that the sunbeams
come first, gathering dewdrops from the precious buds, giving off
the perfume to the morning’s breath; that is what Betsy refers to.”
“Oh, pshaw,” ejaculated Alex. Gooch, “please all hold up a bit and
find your equilibrium. We started out to go fishing, but you girls
are about to turn to fairies and take wings on the morning air.”
“Yes, yes,” exclaimed Joshua, “lets go fishing; why linger here.
Look yonder, see those majestic trees that line the river bank,
lifting up their leafy boughs in solid phalanx like a bordering
mountain range of evergreen, keeping sentry over this lovely valley.
See how gracefully their waving tops beckon us on to catch the sweet
strains of the warbling birds that are mingling their melody with
the soft sighing winds and the murmuring waves that are surging
by.” “Hold up, hold up two minutes, Joshua; catch your breath and
take a fresh start,” exclaimed. Alex.

Gooch. “Oh, no,” interposed James Long, “let Josh gush. He is in
ecstasy of mind this morning, which accounts for his poetical flights.”
“Well, said Miss Theny, “I am not going to leave here without a
bouquet of Cupid’s arrows. Come Becky, let’s you and I load up with
violets and peach blossoms, while Josh and Betsy are taking down
that pear tree.” Thus run the conversation in sallies of pleasantry
and flights of fancy, as the three joyous couples wended their way
through the orchard and across the green meadow to the river side,
where many happy souls had already gathered and were making the
best of the bright morning, entering fully into the frolicsome sports
of the day.

Prof. Powell’s School

Very soon Prof. Richard Powell put in an appearance, just out from
Springfield on his first canvass for the Legislature. He had heard
something about the fishing party, and could not resist the temptation
to call by, and mingle a short while with the happy throng of youngsters
who had grown up under his tutorage. His presence was the signal
for a general rush to the circle that was gathering around the handsome
teacher who, though a bachelor, maintained his youthful appearance,
good humor and fascinating manners, extending hearty greetings and
happy congratulations.

Professor Richard Powell

“How good it is to be here,” exclaimed the Professor; “it carries
me back to our joyous school days, when you were all happy rollicking
children, and I was well — I was one of you.” “We are all children
yet,” answered Joshua Gardner, “and I move that we open school right
here and now.” “Good,” said Alex. Gooch, “I am in for that.” “And
we will have some fun turning out the teacher,” remarked Jimmie
Long. “No you won’t,” returned Betsy, “we girls will take Mr. Powell’s
part and turn you boys in for the ducking. What say you girls? All
in favor of that motion hold up your strong right hand.” “Both hands,”
exclaimed Theny, and all hands went up. “There now boys,” observed
the Professor, “I have the advantage this time, and will not go
into the river today. Betsy you are just the same sweet good girl
you always were, taking my part against the boys, and you too, Theny,
Becky, Betsy Gunn, Nicie Gooch, Mary Gotham, Sarah Batts; yes, and
you too, Mahalia, Susan, Nancy, every one of those dear little hands;
you are all my pets and sweethearts, and I am going to stand by
you girls, as long as I live. If you should happen to marry these
bad boys, and they don’t treat you right, any of you, just call
on me, and I will help to turn him out and put his head under the
spring spout.” “Ha, ha,” laughed Drew Bell, “I am going to be a
girl today and help the Professor; put Calvin Johnson and Frank
Miles under the spout, they have no business in this crowd anyway;
they ought to be looking after some old girls.” “And where ought
you to be, Drew? I just came down here thinking I would bait my
hook with you for a catfish.” “No, no, Mr. Miles,” exclaimed Betsy
Gunn, “we can’t spare Mr. Drew; he digs our fish bait; look at his
hands.” “Hold up hands, Drew,” cried Calvin Johnson; “if you are
going to be a girl, hold up them hands.” “I shan’t,” said Drew.
“Oh yes, Drew,” insisted the Professor, “you have elegant hands.”
“You mean elephant hands, Mr. Powell,” returned Frank Miles.” “No,
grubbing hoes,” said another. “Flatboat oars,” put in Alex. Gunn.”
“Call them what you please,” spoke Becky Porter, “Mr. Drew can dig
more fish bait than all of you, and we can’t get along without him
on Easter Monday.” “Why Becky,” whispered Mary, “I guess you can
get J. Long just as well.” “Now Mary, that’s a good pun; what a
witty Bell you might be,” retorted Becky. “Please, Professor, excuse
brother Drew from holding up his hands, he hasn’t washed them to-day,”
pleaded Betsy. “Drew you will be excused, now finish digging bait;
go to the spring and wash your hands, and then come to books, and
fetch your gun to keep bad boys like Frank Miles off.”

Thus an hour passed in the exchange of pleasantry, witticisms, congratulations,
repartee and general hilarity, recounting amusing events that occurred
during school days, Mr. Powell declaring that it was the happiest
hour he had spent since he had left the neighborhood, and he was
very sorry that he could not spend the day in such pleasant company,
but that he was obliged to leave, and wishing all much good luck
in the catch of the day, he was off; not, however, without paying
Betsy Bell some special compliments, telling her that she had grown
up to be more beautiful and charming than he had ever dreamed of
when he used to pet her so much. “Just as I always told your mother,
Miss Betsy, that you were the brightest and smartest girl in school,
when she declared I would spoil you; but I did not, did I?” “I think
not, Professor; I hope I don’t act like a spoilt girl,” returned
Betsy. “No you do not, Josh will bear me out in that. And by the
way, Josh is a fine fellow; I have heard that you and Josh were
about to make a match, and I shall wish you much happiness and prosperity.
That boy never could help loving you, and I never did blame him,
as you were my little pet also, and I have waited almost as patiently
as did Jacob for Rachel, hoping that you and Josh might forget that
young school day love, but I have been disappointed, and now my
request is to be at the wedding. I want to be present when you wed,
my little pet. Good-bye, I wish you well.” “Professor, I shall let
you know when that happens,” answered Betsy. As soon as Mr. Powell
left, the assembly broke up in couples, stringing out along the
river bank wherever good places could be found to throw in their
hooks.

The darkies in the country were all out early for the holiday, and
had monopolized the river bank from Brown’s ford up to Gorham’s
mill, and the young people respecting their rights too much to disturb
their pleasure, sought places below the ford, the three couples
from the Bell home being last to locate, Joshua and Betsy taking
the last position, just opposite the enchanted spring where the
treasure trove was said to be concealed, which was a fair open spot.
Mr. Gardner soon baited the hooks and set the poles in the bank
to await the coming of the fish, and he and Betsy seated themselves
on a green sward back upon the hillside overlooking the fishing
tackle. The sky continued clear, and the sun approached noontide,
spreading bright rays over the valley, while a brisk wind heavily
freighted with sweetest fragrance swept over, keeping the fresh
green foliage of the tall trees along the river side in constant
commotion. The modest little brook from the enchanted spring rippled
down the riverbank in sweet consonance with the murmuring waves
that rolled steadily by. The merry laughter of the gay throng strung
out along the brink was caught up by the breeze in chorus with the
music of the happy wildwood songsters that fluttered, chirped and
twittered in the boughs overhead. It was indeed a real Easter day
— the goddess of Spring restoring to nature that refreshing and
renewal of life which so beautifully commemorates the resurrection
of the world’s Savior. Even the finny tribe seemed mindful of the
commemorative event and were on a holiday frolic, coming to the
top, jumping and flouncing on the bosom of the crystal-like waves,
and didn’t care a fig for the daintiest bait thrown out by eager
fishermen. “Keep less noise down there, you’ll frighten the fish
away,” yelled a stentorian voice in a commanding tone. “You are
making more noise, Mr. Miles, than all of us,” exclaimed Betsy Gunn.
“Yes, but I have got to roar to get you youngsters settled so I
can catch fish. Now you and John Bell settle, down to the business
you came here for, like Josh and Betsy, I came to catch fish,” returned
Mr. Miles. “So did we,” observed John, “but we have no idea of scaring
them to death.” “That is just what you are doing; see how they jump,”
replied William Porter; “Frank and I came here to catch some fish
if you chaps will make less noise.” “Then you will have to jump
in and run them down, Brother Billy,” exclaimed Becky Porter.

Uncle Zeke’s Rectification On Dem Ghosts

Uncle Zeke, a consequential old darkey, who was very proud of the
honor of being special valet to Rev. Thomas Gunn, occupied a position
just above, to the right of Frank Miles, inquiringly put the question:
“Mars Frank, can I have the ‘sumption to pose you a question?” “Yes,
Uncle Zeke, what is it?” “Well sar, Ize bin wanting to know how
dem fishes jumpin’ up out der kin hear us talkin when they ain’t
got no ears?” “I don’t know, Uncle Zeke, but suppose it is by instinct
or jar from the vibration of sound on the air; what do you think
about it?” “Well sar, Mars Frank, I was just lowin’ da cud see fru
dat water better dan da cud hear; den sar I was lowin’ too dat dar
war sumpen wrong wid dem fishes out dar, cause sir, you never seed
fishes jump up dat way on holiday fo dis.” “What do you think is
the matter, Uncle Zeke?” “Well sar, an Injun spirit is out dar ‘mong
dem fish, dats what’s der matter, an they ain’t goin to bite today.”
“Do you mean the old witch, Uncle Zeke?” “Dats exactly what it is,
sar.” “How do you know that it’s an Indian spirit?” “Well sar, dat
is der ruction in der case. Do you know dat der Injuns fust had
dis country and dis river, an dats why they named it Red River,
cause it belonged to the red men?” “Yes, but there is another story
about the naming of this river which beats that. The story is that
Moses Renfroe, who brought the first white settlement to this river,
himself and all of his people were slaughtered by the Indians. The
savage brutes dragged the men, women and children to the river,
scalped their heads and cut their throats, throwing their bodies
in, causing the water to run red with blood, and the stream was
after that called Red River. That is what I understand about it,
Uncle Zeke, but go on with your story, about the spirit.” “Well
sar, dats all der same; cause I was goin to say, the Injuns was
here fust, and we white fokes drove em out, all but dem what was
dead and couldn’t go, an they’s here yet in der spirit. Ize had
dis conjection under consideration ever since I fust heard Mars
Tom prayin fur der witch to abrogate, an it taint heard him yet,
dats what. When Mars Tom Gunn prays against the spirits and hit
don’t abrogate, den it hain’t got no connection with Heaven.” “I
think you are about right on that,” approvingly replied Mr. Miles.
“Well sar, dat is der rectification of dcm ghostes in my mind. You
neber heard tell of Injuns in hell then, did you, Mars Frank?” “Never
did, Uncle Zeke.” “Well den, you neber seed one in hell, did you?”
“No, Uncle Zeke, I have not,” returned Miles. “Needer did Mars Tom.
Cause he don’t pray for em; den where is they? Why sar, dem dead
Injuns who lived here are here yet, cause dey ain’t got nowbar to
go, an dats what’s der matter. I said soon as I heard about Corban
Hall diggin up dem Injun bones over dar in the bottom, dar was goin
to be trouble.” “Have you ever seen the spirit, Uncle Zeke?” enquired
Miles; “Dat spirit what you call der witch? Yes sar, ain’t you seed
dem lights that move over the bottom on dark nights like a ball
of fire? Well, dats what it is, an you better not go about der except
when you got a hair ball wid fox fire in it. That’s der only way
you kin fight dem spirits; jest like Dean does. Cause der Injun
is like a black cat, he’s got fire’ in his eyes, fire in his back,
an der devil in hiz neck, an you better let him alone.

I said soon as I seed de Professor cum down here dis morning, dat
dar warn’t goin to be no fish caught here today, an now you sees
how dem fishes are jumpin up.” “Why, Uncle Zeke, what has the Professor
got to do with it?” enquired Miles. “I tells you, Mars Frank, Ize
a nigger and ain’t got no business talkin’, but I knows some things
dat won’t do to tell. Can’t you see der spiritations in dat man’s
eyes? He didn’t cum here for nuttin. I haint bin round here all
dis time when der Professor kept school but know something, cause
I’ve turned my witch ball on der phenomiter of dem ghostes, and
seed dat man sperimentin’ in der ruction of der spirits by der precunious
instinction of der fungus, an every time he hit de Injun flint with
the back of hiz knife he kotch der fire in hiz eyes; den when he
looks on dat witch gal his eyes blazes, and den melts an dat put
er spell on her.” Frank Miles laughed heartily at the idea, and
told Uncle Zeke that his conclusions were no doubt correct.

During this interval, while time was swiftly passing, Joshua Gardner
and Betsy Bell had not thought of their fishing tackle. They continued
to occupy the velvety stratum first selected for a seat, oblivious
to the merriment of their frolicsome friends, and all the passing
events that lent gayety to the occasion. Prof. Powell had observed
that Betsy was wearing an engagement ring, and it was no doubt the
sight of this token of a betrothal that inspired his remarks on
taking leave of his “pet” that morning; and this was the subject
that absorbed the thoughts of the lovers. They were discussing the
wedding day, the far away home in the West that should soon give
them welcome; the new scene that the change would bring, and the
joys that awaited to bless their union. They were given entirely
to the revelry of their own sweet dreams, bestowing no attention
upon the surrounding charms. They took no notice of the finny tribe
that played upon the rolling waves in sight, nor to the rippling
of the wandering brook that gushed wildly down the hill from the
foaming fountain above. Nor were they attracted by the warbling
strains of the birds in the rustling boughs overhead, or interested
in any of those things that afforded so much pleasure to other members
of the company. They longed for the holly, for love’s own sweet
home in the faraway West, where they had:

For Cupid built a flowery castle,

Stored with manna of pure love,

And strung Aeolian harps to sing

Songs of the turtle dove.

The Phantom Fish

Presently the sound of a mighty splashing was heard upon the waters
that attracted all attention. A great fish had seized Joshua Gardner’s
hook with such force that it jerked the pole from the bank, and
dashed off up stream, slashing the waves furiously as it rose to
the top, flouncing and fluttering with great rage, and then diving
to the bottom, carrying the pole under also, and instantly rising
with a spurt, rushing in wild confusion to the south bank, as if
it meant to leap for the and, but just at the water’s edge it darted
under, bounding up stream with the pole trolling behind, between
the bank and the hooks thrown out by the eager fishermen along the
stream. Passing under Uncle Zeke’s tackle, the big swimmer flounced
again to the top, making a hurry-scurry circle, tangling the old
darkies’ lines with the pole, and taking another straight shoot
up the river. Before Uncle Zeke could recover from the confusion,
one of his poles had joined in the procession, and he was bewildered
with excitement. “Why don’t you jump in, Uncle Zeke, and catch that
fish and save your pole? Don’t you see the fish is hung, and you
are a good swimmer? Go quick, jump, plunge, and bring in the biggest
fish ever caught in Red River,” wildly shouted Frank Miles. This
speech fired Uncle Zeke’s courage to the highest pitch. He lost
his head, and forgot all about the “Injun spirit” for the moment,
and in less than a half minute had pulled off his coat and shoes
and was in the act of jumping head-foremost into the river. But
a precaution struck him, and he called a halt, carefully stepping
one foot in the water, which he quickly jerked back with a shudder,
and exclaiming, “I aint goin in der; I’ve done had a sentment bout
dat fish, cepen its goin to fool me.” “Oh go ahead, Uncle Zeke,
don’t be so cowardly; you belong to Parson Gunn, and what’s the
difference if you should drown, you will go straight to heaven,”
urged Mr. Miles.

“Dats so, Mars Frank, I ain’t carin’ nuffin bout drownin, but den
whose goin to tend to Mars Tom’s hoss like I does, and whose goin
to brush his coat and hat an black high shoes? Cause their ain’t
nary another darkey that knows how to mix der lampblack; dats what
pesters me by der sentment.” In the meanwhile a more youthful and
daring darkey, a little higher up, heard Mr. Miles’ suggestion and
plunged in, swimming to the poles that were still bobbing up and
down in the water, and as he grabbed the main pole, the fish made
a circle, tightening the line, and whirling the Negro around in
the water, as it made another dash for the bank, helping the darkey
to swim with greater ease and speed. But just as he reached the
shore, and the excited crowd had gathered to help land the catch,
the great fish flounced to the top, releasing itself, and was gone
dashing up stream, splitting the waves, amid the shouts of excited
fishermen nearly up to Gorham’s mill. Now an excited discussion
turned upon the antics of the monster acquatic, its size, and to
which family of the finny tribe it belonged. One thought it was
an “eel,” another said “catfish,” another said a shark had wandered
up the stream. Frank Miles declared that it was the biggest trout
ever seen, but all agreed that the great finny was between two and
three feet in length. William Porter observed that they had all
better get to their places and bait their hooks; that the fish might
return soon. The suggestion was sufficient, and pretty soon quiet
was restored, every one giving strict attention to fishing. But
Uncle Zeke could not suppress the inclination to whisper to Frank
Miles, “I tole you so. I said sumptin war goin to happen.”

Joshua and Betsy had been attracted from their delightful repose
by the prevailing excitement, but as soon as the big finny made
its escape, they returned to the beautiful sward, ostensibly to
look after the remaining fishing tackle. Betsy, however, did not
seem so gay and happy as she had appeared all the morning, and frankly
confessed to her lover strange forebodings that depressed her feelings,
but she could not explain the cause. Joshua then devoted his efforts
to dispelling the gloom, as he had before done, and at the moment
he had quite well succeeded, when the reverberating sound of ecstatic
voices above were heard in wild exclaim, “Look out, look out, its
coming back!” The breaking waves and the furious lashing of the
water told the story, that the playful fish was on its return down
stream, riding upon the tide, as if to catch the sunbeams that glittered
upon the foamy crest. It, however, quickly disappeared, and all
was quiet, every fisherman anxiously watching for a bite.

The Lovers’ Forebodings

The dying excitement of the last appearance left the lovers in a
reverie of their own thoughts, deeply meditating upon their contemplated
plans, as if trying to penetrate a shadow that seemed to hang heavily
over their destiny, in spite of all efforts to rise above the crest
of the cloud by looking all the while at the bright side. The suspense
was painful, but nothing to compare with the sound of Kate’s familiar
voice which immediately pierced their ears like the bursting of
a thunder cloud, pleading in that same old plaintive tone, “Please
Betsy Bell, don’t have Joshua Gardner,” repeating the entreaty over
and over, until the lovers were overwhelmed with dismay, when the
melancholy voice died away gradually as the waves rolled by and
were lost to sight with the passing current. The color faded from
the poor girl’s checks as quickly as if a dagger had pierced her
bosom, and Joshua, though courageous as he had proven before on
similar occasions, felt the pangs of a broken heart, and was powerless
to sooth the anguish that told so plainly on his affianced.

They sat motionless and speechless for some minutes, as if awaiting
an awful doom. At last Betsy broke the silence, proposing a walk
up the hillside to the spring for a drink of water. There they drank
and discoursed on the excellency of the cooling draught, the beauty
of the foaming bubbles that broke away in diminutive billows rushing
with the trickling stream down the craggy hillside, then gathering
a few wild flowers, and thus they whiled away some twenty minutes
in an effort to dispel the gloomy forebodings and regain composure,
but all was in vain. Finally Betsy summoned the courage of her convictions,
telling Joshua frankly that her mind was made up, and that she could
not brook the storm which threatened all the fancied happiness which
seemed to be in store for them; that she was now clearly convinced
that her tormenter would follow her through life with an appalling
destiny, should she resist its importunities and dire threatenings,
just as it had already afflicted her, and brought her father to
suffering and unto death. Even were she able to endure it all, her
compliance with his wish would be an injustice to Joshua, and a
wrong for which she could never expect forgiveness. Therefore she
desired to withdraw her promise and return to him the engagement
ring that she prized so highly. Joshua Gardner was suffering the
bitterest anguish that ever pierced a heart. He had never known
before the strength of his passion for the queenly beauty who stood
before him in the perfection of lovely young womanhood, conscious
that the stern decision had cost her as much pain as it did him,
and was rendered as a sacrifice for his own welfare, as she conceived.
He tried to plead his cause anew, but was so overwhelmed with the
force of her reasoning and firmness of decision that he for the
first time faltered, realizing that all hope was vain, and that
every plea but added another sorrow to a bleeding heart, and a fresh
pang to his own, and he gracefully accepted the inevitable, begging
her to keep the ring in memory of one who loved her dearer than
his own life. This she declined to do, telling him that the ring
was a seal to her solemn vow, and the vow could not be broken in
the sight of heaven, unless he would accept the return of the ring.
“I could not,” she said, “retain it without retaining the thorn
that now pierces my heart and I know Joshua that you are too generous
not to accede to my wish.” Slipping it from her finger as she held
out her hand, Joshua Gardner in all the bitter anguish of a broken
heart, exclaimed, “Betsy, my love, the adoration of my soul, the
long hope of my life, this is the bitterest draught of all, but
for your sake I drink to the dregs, releasing you from the promise
which I know was earnest.” Thus ended the affair in which the witch
had manifested so much interest from the commencement of the “Family
Trouble.”

Very soon the three couples retraced their steps across the valley
to the Bell home, amid the gay scenes of nature in the full flush
of joyous Spring, but the walk was not attended by that levity and
buoyancy of spirit which characterized the morning stroll. All were
conscious of the shadow which hung so heavily over Betsy, depressing
her happy spirit, and which had that day sent another poisonous
shaft quivering to her bleeding heart, and the bowed form and dejected
spirit of Joshua Gardner, which told plainly that he too carried
a crushed heart in his manly bosom, and all hearts were touched
too deep with burning sympathy to admit of any alacrity. It was
more like going to a funeral, and the accompanying couples kept
a respectful distance in the rear, discussing as they walked leisurely
along the appalling sorrow which the return of the witch had brought
that day. The lovers separated that afternoon never to meet again.
A few days later, as soon as he could arrange his affairs, Joshua
Gardner took his departure, several days journey to the west, and
settled in West Tennessee, the place now known as Gardner’s Station,
Obion county, where he passed a long and honorable career, esteemed
by the people for his true manhood and moral worth. He died several
years ago at the advanced age of eighty-four years.

The weird fiend, cast the scene,

Lurid with the seer’s blight.

And hope forlorn, shadowed the morn

With the gloom of night.

Thus the sequel, young love unequal

To the wizard’s subtle art.

And dreamers await, the hand of fate,

While despondency sears the heart.

The lovers parted, weary, broken-hearted,

Cruel fate coming between.

The blasting frost, the appalling ghost,

Chilled the bower of green.

The flowers withered, the castle quivered

When Cupid fled the scene.

And the beautiful tower, lovers bower

Became a fading, crumbling sheen.

Seizing the wreck, scuttling the deck

Witches vaunted ghoulish spleen.

The vile freak, with exulting shriek

Cavorted the dale unseen.

The jack-o-lantern glare, flitted the air.

O’er the valley of doom.

And the pall of night, shadowed beacon light

Filling the vale with gloom.

Down the hill and o’er the rill

Horrid spirits delighted to prowl,

The piercing thrill, of whippoorwill,

Giving place to the hooting owl.

From the mill and old still

Came songs of the weird,

Voices shrill, with horrible trill

Hushing the joyous mocking bird.

The old pear tree, hoary it be,

Still shadows the happy scene,

Spreading its boughs, over the vows

Witnessed beneath its green.

Where lovers plighted, hearts united,

The vows they would redeem.

And continues weeping, lovers sleeping,

For the return of the dream.

The witch exulted freely over the victory won, but troubled Betsy
no more; rather tried to soothe and strengthen her depressed spirit,
promising to leave soon, as it did, bidding the family goodbye.

Several Weddings

Some months later a brilliant wedding took place at the residence
of James Johnson. The whole community gathered in to celebrate the
nuptials that united Theny Thorn and Alex. Gooch. Six months after
this affair, James Long and Rebecca Porter were happily wedded.
Both couples settled in the Bell neighborhood, sharing the burdens
of good citizenship, and their descendants still reside in that
community, worthily sustaining the honored names inherited, ranking
among the best people of the county. Next followed the marriage
of John Bell, Jr., and Elizabeth Gunn, whose honorable career and
success in life is recorded in the family biography.

It was a long while before Betsy Bell could overcome the shock of
that notable Easter Monday in April 1821, which almost extinguished
that effervescence which had characterized her girlhood. Vivacious
as she was, it was difficult for her to conceal the depression that
had so long menaced her young life and overwhelmed her on that memorial
day. Some while after this, however, the Professor, Hon. Richard
Powell, became her persistent suitor and was finally accepted, and
in this she kept her promise that the Professor should be at the
wedding. Richard Powell was many years her senior, but was a handsome
gentleman of elegant manners, and bore all honorable name and reputation.
He was in fact a leading character and politician, represented the
county several times, or as long as he desired, in the State Legislature,
which was then considered a very high honor. He was also prominent
in all public affairs, and one of the most popular men in Robertson
County. Their married life was comparatively short, about seventeen
years. Mr. Powell died, and Betsy remained a widow the balance of
her life. About 1875 she moved to Mississippi, where one of her
children and other relatives resided, and died in 1890 at the age
of eighty-six years. She has grandchildren still living in Robertson
county, who have inherited that vivacity and charming wit which
characterized her young life. After mature years, Mrs. Powell became
a large fleshy woman, and physically very stout. She was high spirited
and noted through life for her industrious habits, good nature,
and splendid social qualities, always entertaining in any circle.
The fearful thing known as “The Family Trouble,” so called to this
day by the descendants, was the plague of her life. She had borne
with great fortitude and womanly courage the afflictions visited
upon her, but the story set afloat by parties failing in their investigations,
charging her with the authorship of the mystery, after she had submitted
to all manner of tests, was crushing to her strong spirit, yet she
murmured not, hoping to live down the misrepresentation, and that
her innocence would be demonstrated to all intelligent reasonable
people, and so it was to the people of Robertson County, acquainted
with the facts, but a mischievous lie once set afloat travels far
beyond the reach of truth. So it was in her case; wherever the story
of the witch had gone among strangers, her name has been coupled
with it as the author of those most wonderful demonstrations, and
all through her long life the story was frequently revived, which
to her was like a cankerworm that never ceased torturing; and still
she endured it patiently. However, the time came when patience ceased
to be a virtue.

About 1849 the Saturday Evening Post, published either at Philadelphia
or New York, printed a long sketch of the Bell Witch phenomenon,
written by a reporter who made a strenuous effort in the details
to connect her with the authorship of the demonstrations. Mrs. Powell
was so outraged by the publication that she engaged a lawyer to
institute suit for libel. The matter, however, was settled without
litigation, the paper retracting the charges, explaining how this
version of the story had gained credence, and the fact that at the
time the demonstrations commenced Betsy Bell had scarcely advanced
from the stage of childhood and was too young to have been capable
of originating and practicing so great a deception. The fact also
that after this report had gained circulation, she had submitted
to any and every test that the wits of detectives could invent to
prove the theory, and all the stratagems employed, served only to
demonstrate her innocence and utter ignorance of the agency of the
so-called witchery, and was herself the greatest sufferer from the
affliction.

NEGRO STORIES

The Experiences of Uncle Dean, the Rail Splitter

Rev. James Byrns, in his graphic sketch, intimates that the Negroes
gave the most thrilling accounts of the witch operations, but he
seems to regard Negro testimony as unreliable and declines to quote
their sayings; on general principles no doubt. But in this the good
man is mistaken. He has not studied the Negro character along this
line. The colored brother may prevaricate in regard to a chicken
roost; he may be extravagant in describing a coon fight; he may
dilate humorously on his possum dog; he may spin fine yarns about
the golden pavements in the New Jerusalem and the angels sopping
possum gravy with ash cakes and “taters;” he may mislead one in
regard to the contents of his gourd bottle; he may be weak on the
subject of watermelons, and tell fine stories on Bre’r Rabbit sitting
in the fence corner picking briars out of his feet, but when it
comes to haunts, he is the most reliable witness on earth. The Negro
may be off and crooked on some things, but under no circumstance
will he tell a lie on a ghost, nor deviate a single hair’s breadth
from the truth in establishing the existence of the spooks. The
purpose of the writer is to go to the bottom of this witch history
and give all of the inside facts, and this cannot be done if Sambo
is ignored. No such a history would be complete without the stories
of Uncle Dean, the famous rail-splitter, and trusty servant of John
Bell, who had many contacts with the witch. Therefore the writer
paid a special visit to Aunt Ibby Gunn, who was a servant of Alex.
Gunn, and resides at Cedar Hill, Tenn., with her children, happy
and cheerful, and at this writing is eighty-six years of age, as
appears from the Gunn family record — born October 25, 1806. She
was the younger sister of Dean’s wife, Kate. They were daughters
of Uncle Zeke, a pompous old darkie who belonged to Rev. Thomas
Gunn, and felt elevated by the pious and dignified character of
his master.

Dean and the Black Dog Witch

Dean and the Two-Headed Dog Witch

Aunt Ibby is the only survivor of the Negro families who lived in
that vicinity in the beginning of the Witch history. Being approached
on the subject she replied: “Course I members bout dar witch, cause
it cum wid Dean to see hiz wife, fur she was my sister, an I done
want no mo boderation by dem spirits nudder, I dont.” Aunt Ibby
was disposed to stop at this. She did not care to discuss haunts,
lest the demons might return to disturb her. Being assured, however,
that the witch had become very rich and aristocratic, and had long
since gone to Europe on a pleasure, trip, promising not to return
during her life time, she consented to tell some things that Dean
said about it. “De fust time Dean seed der speritation he sed it
appeared like a big black dog, jest trottin long afore him tipity
tipity tip, to de door, an den banish. Dean sed how he warnt fraid,
but I seed he ware mighty pale; den he tuck to fetchin hiz axe,
kase dat dog cum wid him eber time, an den banish, sorter pericatin
in der transfiction, jest gwine all ter pieces, risin like sparks
when yer chunk der fire. Den hit got to pesterin old Mister Bell
so bad, jabbin all der vitals outen hiz mouf wid a stick, Dean was
sorter confuscated bout what ter do, cause dat sort uv carrication
wuz pecteratin on der appetude, an spoilin er heap of good eatin.
Den Kate she tuck and made Dean a witch ball outen her hair, an
put in sum spunk, foxfire and such, and some brimstone an camfire,
den wrapped hit all ober wid yarn an hair, an gave Dean der ball
tu keep der dog frum hurtin him. So der nex night, cumin long der
road whistlin he wuz, sumpen said, ‘Dean what makes you whistle
so lonesum, jest dar away.” Dean sez, “Kase ize gwinter see my wife.’
Den hit sez, ‘Dean what’s dat yous got in yer pocket?’ Dean sez,
‘Nullin.’ Den hit sez, ‘Dean you knows dats er lie, kase yous got
fox fire wrapped up in yer wife’s hair tu pester me. I’ll sho you
Mr. Smarty you can’t congergate me dat way,’ jest so. Dean he got
down on hiz knees tu pray. Den hit sez, ‘Lord Jesus, Dean, what
er fool yer is; done yer know yer can’t pray like ole Sugar Mouf?
Git up frum dar an sho yer foxfire.’ Sez Dean, sez he, just so ‘In
der name of der Lord what’s yer gwine ter do tu me?’ Den it sez,
‘Cepen you give me dar ball Ise gwine ter turn you tu a hoss an
ride you cross der river to der stillhouse.’ Den Dean tuck der ball
outen hiz pocket, an hit commenced swellin bigger an er fodder stack,
an he had ter drap it, he did, an der ball busted an tuck fire,
blazin up, an almost stunk hiz bref away, But dat warnt nuffin;
dar wuz dar same black dog wid his mouf wide open grinin jest redy
tu jump on im, an Dean he cum down wid hiz axe, he did, and split
dar dogs head wide open, an staved der axe clear down in der ground
so deep he coulden find it no more. De dog he turned ober an ober
three times, kicked, an den jumped up mose outer sight an fell kerflop
on dat fox fire, and der ball riz right up an shot off in er blaze
like er star. Dean he lit out, he did, and he never stopped till
he run agin der door an busted hit wide open, an fell on der floor,
pale as er white sheet. For God!  Dat nigger’s eyes done come
clean outen hiz head. Kate she tuck to rubin him wid cam fire an
old berdildoc til he cum to his self an told all about this, and
der next time Dean seed dat dog, it had two heads.”

How Dean Was Turned into a Mule

Dean Changed into a Mule by Two Witches

Dean had another thrilling and most frightful experience with
the witches, which he told to Alex. Gunn and others, after relating
the same transaction described in Aunt Ibby’s interview. Said he,
“I told Kate an Uncle Zeke bout how dat ball tuck fire shootin off
wid dat dog after I split his head open, an sartin az your bawned,
Mars Alex, but fur dat ball I’d been a gone nigger. Den Kate she
tuck an made me a nudder ball an put some other spiritifications
in it, cept them what wus in der first ball; some sort er Injun
congerations jest like her fader said. Den she told me dat der witch
couldn’t do nuffin long as I kept dat ball in my pocket; an if I
give it up any mo dar wud be der last of me, jest so. Den I tuck
der ball in my pocket, I did, feelin pretty certain it was gwinter
stay der dis time, an it did. Den sar, Mars Alex, der nex time I
went by der wood pile an tuck my axe on my shoulder, cause I depends
a heap on my axe, an went along outen der gate whistlin like I didn’t
care fur nuffin, an goin along up der lane, dar sat dat same black
dog wid two heads an both moufs open grinnin at me, he wuz, showin
his big white teeth. I sorter stopped, I did, Den sez I, ‘In der
name of der Lord what’s dat?’ Jest so, den sumpen sed, ‘Dean you
can’t pass here cepten you give me dat ball in yo pocket,’ Jest
so, den I membered what Kate an Uncle Zeke said how der witch couldn’t
do nuffin cepen hit got my ball. Sez I, ‘What’s yo name?’ ‘My name
is Black Dog; you knows me, you black rascal, cause you’s done an
split my head open wid yo axe,’ Jest so, den sez I, ‘I haut got
no ball, yo tuck it tudder time.’ Den it sez, ‘You’s a liar Dean,
I knows you’s done an got er hudder ball worsser dan der fust one,
cause you is dun an fetched er whole heap of trouble on me.’ Den
sez I, ‘If you won’t lemme pass, I kin go back.’ Jest so, den I
sorter walked backwards, back, back, back, tel I got clean outen
sight, an den turned round ter run. An befo God dar was dar same
dog on tudder side wid his mouth wide open. I tells you, Mars Alex,
I felt a heep wusser, like I wus kerflumuxed, but it warnt goin
to give up, an I jest resolved in my mind to fight it out, cause
dar warnt no udder choice. Den sez I, ‘What you want?’ Jest so,
den it sez, ‘Cepen you gimme dar ball Ise gwinter turn you to a
hoss an ride you ober der river to der still-house.’ Den I membered
again what Kate an Uncle Zeke said, how dar want no dependence in
what a Injun spirit said, an if I give up dat ball I’d be a dead
nigger right dar, cause dat ghost ware mad. Den I solved to depend
on dat ball and my axe, and sed, ‘I aint goin ter give you my ball,
an I’ll split you clean open tu der tail cepen you git outen my
way,’ Jest so, den hit sez, ‘Say yer prayers Dean, an I commenced
gittin weak, an draped my axe, cause I felt er curious spell creepin
on me. Den sumpen sed, ‘Pick up your axe Dean,’ and I stooped ober
feelin fur der axe an cudden find it, an cudden git up no mo, an
dar I stood on my hands an feet. Den sumpen sed, ‘He’s tu high behind
to tote dubble.’ Er hudder sed, ‘Dats all right, level im down.’
Den sumpen jerked my tail, an I kicked backwards wid one foot an
hit fell kerflop in der road. Bout dis time der ole jack brayed
an one witch sed, ‘Dar, bad luck, dat spoilt der job; he’s nuffin
but er dam mule.’ Tother one said, ‘Well, you can’t make nuffin
but er mule outen er dam nigger, no how.’ Den da commenced cussin
an fussin bout which one was gwinter ride befo an behind. One says,
‘Der mule hant got no main fur sturips an bridle ter hold to, an
my arms are too short to catch his ears.’ Den da both hopped up;
de little witch got on behind an sed, ‘Now les ride him to hell
fur breakfast.’ Den de big witch stretched both hands out an tuck
me by der ears, an quicker dan da knowed nuffin, I tucked my head,
jumped backwards, an kicked them clean over my back, an sat dem
witches down ca-whallup on tudder side of der fence in der field,
an I tuck out and went taren up der lane, an never stopped runnin
tell I got to Kate’s door an commenced pawin till I pawed der door
open, an there sat Kate mendin my old britches, an seein her by
der light it tuck der spell off, and I was myself again. I tells
you, Mars Alex, but fur Kate’s hair ball dem witches would of rid
me all night, an where wud I be now? When I heard dem talkin bout
ridin me to hell fur breakfast I was der most scared mule you eber
seed, cause it appeared like a mighty long rocky road down hill
for me ter tote double an skip in before sun up. Den I didn’t know
bout cumin back any mo. Den what wud I look like walkin round dar
among gentlemen wid my ole rail-splitin clothes on? What would ole
master say when he got up an found me missin? I tells you, Mars
Alex, it ware a mighty solemn confusion what perigated round my
prehension bout dat time.”

How Dean Got His Head Busted

Dean Accosted by the “Rabbit” Witch

There are many persons still living in Robertson County who remember
Uncle Dean. He lived to a very old age, and was noted throughout
the surrounding country as the famous rail-splitter, a distinction
which he was very proud of, though it did not elect him to the presidency
of the United States. However, had he lived in later years, he might
have walked Abraham Lincoln’s log. The Negroes and children in the
neighborhood delighted in gathering around the old darkie to hear
his hair-raising witch stories. Dean carried a prominent scar on
his forehead, which gave his physiognomy a very conspicuous cast.
A good lady connected with the Bell family, describing Dean to the
writer, says he declared to the day of his death that this scar
was caused by an unpleasant contact with “Kate,” the witch, in which
he was knocked in the head with a big stick. Dean was a great possum
hunter; Autumn came in all of its glory. The luscious persimmon
was ripe, and possums fat and plentiful, and Dean’s heart panted
for the woods, as did his appetite long for “possum and taters.”
His mind was bent on a round with the “varments,” but a very serious
dilemma was presented in the contemplation of the sport. His experience
with “Black Dog” warned him of the danger in venturing out without
his witch ball, and it was certain that no game could be found if
he carried it; no dog could trail a possum after catching the scent
of a witch ball. So it was, Dean turned the matter over and over
in his mind, and kept a sharp lookout for “Kate.” He determined
to make use of the first favorable opportunity that presented. Finally
the time came. Hearing the Witch in the house carrying on at a great
rate with the visitors, he concluded that was the opportunity to
make a short round, and return before “Kate” adjourned the meeting.
So he swung his axe over his shoulder, whistled to old Caesar and
struck out. Next morning Dean was missing, and Mr. Bell was very
uneasy for a time, but soon after breakfast he showed up with a
great gash in his cranium and was very bloody.

“What’s the matter now Dean?” inquired Mr. Bell. “De witch dun had
me for a fact, ole mars, an for God’s sake, it liked ter killed
me, it did. Cepten fur thinken bout whose gwinter split der rails,
I specs that I’d of given up. Cause I knowed dar warn’t gwinter
be no mo rails split here cepten I done it. Dats all dat saved me
sar, fur a fact it was.” “How did it happen Dean?” again inquired
Mr. Bell. “Well ole mars, Ise gwinter to tell der truf bout it,
dar I iz. For God sake, it was jest dis way. I heard de ole witch
in der house speakin wid de white folks bout religion. Den I concluded
it was a mighty good time ter go out an kotch er possum fur dinner
Sunday, supposin I cud git back before de witch knowed it. So I
slips off round der field, an directly old Caesar he treed a big
possum up on top of dat high stump side of der fence. I jest left
him dar, cause I knowed he warn’t gwinter git away from ole Caesar.
Den I tuck an cut down a little saplin bout six foot long, an split
one end of it, den tuck der possum down an pull his tail through
der split, an layed him down ter git my axe. Den I hears sumpen
cummin down other side of de fence, tipity tipity tip, tipity tipity
tip, and der next ting. I knowed, dar stood a great big ole rabbit,
an Caesar he tuck out he did. Den I knowed sumpen war gwinter happen,
cause dar dog neber lef me fo dis. Den de old rabbit said, ‘Hello,
Kernel Possum, what’s all er dat ornamentation you got on yer tail?’
Jest so, den der possum said, “Oh Kernel Rabbit, Ise so glad yous
cum; dis aint no ornamentation, hit am er split stick Dean put on
my tail to keep me from gittin away. Oh it am hurtin so bad. Please
Kernel take hit off.’ Den Kernel Rabbit, he said, ‘Why aint you
like me, Kernel Possum; don’t hab no tail, den de niggers cant put
split stick on yer.’ Den Kernel Possum sed, ‘If I done hab no tail
like you, how’s I gwinter hold on to der limbs an shake simmons
down fur you? ‘Dats so, sez Kernel Rabbit, jest take er way. ‘Den
Kernel Rabbit he commenced swellin like blowin up like a bladder,
tell he got bigger den Mars Frank Miles an he tuck holt of dat stick
and jerked der split wide open, he did, an told Kernel Possum to
go on an shake dat simmon tree. Den he turned round to me, Kernel
Rabbit did, an sez, ‘Dean, I’ll learn you sum sense bout puttin
er poor possum’s tail in der split stick. Next thing you’ll be twisten
all of my hide off tu get me outen de hollow.’ Den he hit me kerwhack
on der head wid dat stick, an I knowed nuffin mo til sun up.”

This explanation satisfied “old mars,” and he told Dean to go to
Aunt Chloe and let her bandage his head, and lay up until he got
well, and hereafter always wrap the possum’s tail around his thumb
and carry it in his hand, and never draw another one through the
split of a stick. From that day to this, no one in this part of
the country has been guilty of the barbarous act of drawing a “po”
possum’s tail through the split of a stick, or of twisting a rabbit
out of a hole.

Gen. Andrew Jackson

Remarkable and Amusing Incidents Attending the Great Soldier and
Statesman’s Visit to the Witch, and Other Reminiscences

Andrew Jackson’s Wagon is “Held” by
the Witch

Col. Thomas L. Yancey, a prominent lawyer of the Clarksville, Tenn.,
bar, who is closely related to the Fort family, was raised in the
Bell settlement, and has been familiar with the stories of the witch
as told by different witnesses from his youth up, contributes the
following interesting sketch from notes taken with a view to writing
the history. In addition to the visit of Gen. Jackson and party,
it will be observed that he confirms the statements of three other
parties in regard to Dr. Sugg’s experience:

CLARKSVILLE, TENN.

JAN. 1, 1894

M. E INGRAM – DEAR SIR:

In answer to your inquiry as to what I know about the Bell Witch
excitement of many years ago, I will state that I was born within
four miles of the John Bell home, where the witch is said to have
disported itself to the terror of many good and pious souls. While
quite a young man I became much interested in the stories my relatives
and other people told in regard to the phenomenon, which I had heard
repeated from my earliest recollection, and ambitious in my youth
to discover the cause and write a history of the affair, I determined
to enter into the investigation, and did some forty years ago undertake
the matter, gathering many amusing and strange incidents, but not
sufficiently connected and authenticated to justify my purpose.
I soon learned that Williams Bell was the only person who had kept
a diary of what transpired, and had written the facts, leaving the
manuscript with his wife or some member of his family at his death.
Of course I was anxious to get the paper, and not being acquainted
with Williams Bell’s widow, I applied to Squire John Bell, Jr.,
to know if such manuscript was in existence, and if it could be
had for publication. He informed me that his brother had written
the facts, etc., regarding the mystery, and that Washington Lowe,
a lawyer of Springfield, had applied for it and been refused. He
thought, however, he could induce his brother’s family to let him
have it, and promised to intercede for me. Some time after this
he told me that he could not get it, that the family refused to
let him or any one have it, and after this I gave up the purpose
of writing a book and pursued the investigation no further.

However, I remember some very graphic stories told by the old people
who visited the scene often, stated as having absolutely occurred,
and told in all seriousness by persons whose veracity I could not
doubt. My grandfather, Whitmel Fort, told me that he visited the
place often during the excitement, meeting with many persons from
a distance who came to investigate the witch. Grandfather said he
could in no way account for the phenomena. There was no doubt of
the fact that something persecuted Miss Betsy Bell terribly after
she retired to bed. He went with others to her relief amid her outcries
of agony, and they all could not hold the bed covering on her, so
powerful was the unseen object in pulling it off. Even could this
have been accounted for, the keen ringing sound like that of a hand
slapping her jaws when she would scream with pain, and the deep
red splotches left on her cheeks, were mysterious beyond comprehension.

Grandfather Fort also told me the story of Gen. Jackson’s visit
to the witch, which was quite amusing to me. The crowds that gathered
at Bell’s, many coming a long distance, were so large that the house
would not accommodate the company. Mr. Bell would not accept any
pay for entertaining, and the imposition on the family, being a
constant thing, was so apparent, that parties were made up and went
prepared for camping out. So Gen. Jackson’s party came from Nashville
with a wagon loaded with a tent, provisions, etc., bent on a good
time and much fun investigating the witch. The men were riding on
horseback and were following along in the rear of the wagon as they
approached near the place, discussing the matter and planning how
they were going to do up the witch, if it made an exhibition of
such pranks as they had heard of. Just then, within a short distance
of the house, traveling over a smooth level piece of road, the wagon
halted and stuck fast. The driver popped his whip, whooped and shouted
to the team, and the horses pulled with all of their might, but
could not move the wagon an inch. It was dead stuck as if welded
to the earth. Gen. Jackson commanded all men to dismount and put
their shoulders to the wheels and give the wagon a push. The order
was promptly obeyed. The driver laid on the lash and the horses
and men did their best, making repeated efforts, but all in vain;
it was no go. The wheels were then taken off, one at a time, and
examined and found to be all right, revolving easily on the axles.
Another trial was made to get away, the driver whipping up the team
while the men pushed at the wheels, and still it was no go. All
stood off looking at the wagon in serious meditation, for they were
“stuck.” Gen. Jackson after a few moments thought, realizing that
they were in a fix, threw up his hands exclaiming, “By the eternal,
boys, it is the witch.” Then came the sound of a sharp metallic
voice from the bushes, saying, “All right General, let the wagon
move on, I will see you again to-night.” The men in bewildered astonishment
looked in every direction to see if they could discover from whence
came the strange voice, but could find no explanation to the mystery.
Gen. Jackson exclaimed again, “By the eternal, boys, this is worse
than fighting the British.” The horses then started unexpectedly
of their own accord, and the wagon rolled along as light and smoothly
as ever. Jackson’s party was in no good frame of mind for camping
out that night, notwithstanding one of the party was a professional
“witch layer,” and boasted much of his power over evil spirits,
and was taken along purposely to deal with Kate, as they called
the witch. The whole party went to the house for quarters and comfort,
and Mr. Bell, recognizing the distinguished character of the leader
of the party, was lavishing in courtesies and entertainment. But
Gen. Jackson was out with the boys for fun and “witch hunting” was
one of them for the time. They were expecting Kate to put in an
appearance according to promise, and they chose to set in a room
by the light of a tallow candle waiting for the witch. The witch
layer had a big flintlock army or horse pistol, loaded with a silver
bullet, which he held steady in hand, keeping a close lookout for
Kate. He was a brawny man, with long hair, high cheekbones, hawk-bill
nose and fiery eyes. He talked much, entertaining the company with
details of his adventures, and exhibitions of undaunted courage
and success in overcoming witches. He exhibited the tip of a black
cat’s tail, about two inches, telling how he shot the cat with a
silver bullet while sitting on a bewitched woman’s coffin, and by
stroking that cat’s tail on his nose it would flash a light on a
witch the darkest night that ever come; the light, however, was
not visible to any one but a magician. The party was highly entertained
by the vain stories of this dolt. They flattered his vanity and
encouraged his conceit, laughed at his stories, and called him sage,
Apollo, oracle, wiseacre, etc. Yet there was an expectancy in the
minds of all left from the wagon experience, which made the mage’s
stories go well, and all kept wide awake till a late hour, when
they became weary and drowsy, and rather tired of hearing the warlock
detail his exploits. Old Hickory was the first one to let off tension.
He commenced yawning and twisting in his chair. Leaning over he
whispered to the man nearest him, “Sam, I’ll bet that fellow is
an arrant coward. By the eternals, I do wish the thing would come,
I want to see him run.” The General did not have long to wait. Presently
perfect quiet reigned, and then was heard a noise like dainty footsteps
prancing over the floor, and quickly following, the same metallic
voice heard in the bushes rang out from one corner of the room,
exclaiming, “All right, General, I am on hand ready for business.”
And then addressing the witch layer, “Now, Mr. Smarty, here I am,
shoot.” The seer stroked his nose with the cat’s tail, leveled his
pistol, and pulled the trigger, but it failed to fire. “Try again,”
exclaimed the witch, which he did with the same result. “Now its
my turn; lookout, you old coward, hypocrite, fraud. I’ll teach you
a lesson.” The next thing a sound was heard like that of boxing
with the open hand, whack, whack, and the Oracle tumbled over like
lightning had struck him, but he quickly recovered his feet and
went capering around the room like a frightened steer, running over
every one in his way, yelling, “Oh my nose, my nose, the devil has
got me. Oh Lordy! He’s got me by the nose.” Suddenly, as if by its
own accord, the door flew open and the witch layer dashed out, and
made a beeline for the lane at full speed, yelling every jump. Everybody
rushed out under .the excitement, expecting the man would be killed,
but as far as they could hear up the lane, he was still running
and yelling, “Oh Lordy.” Jackson, they say, dropped down on the
ground and rolled over and over, laughing. “By the eternal, boys,
I never saw so much fun in all my life. This beats fighting the
British.” Presently the witch was on hand and joined in the laugh.
“Lord Jesus,” it exclaimed, “How the old devil did run and beg;
I’ll bet he won’t come here again with his old horse pistol to shoot
me. I guess that’s fun enough for tonight, General, and you can
go to bed now. I will come tomorrow night and show you another rascal
in this crowd.” Old Hickory was anxious to stay a week, but his
party had enough of that thing. No one knew whose turn would come
next, and no inducements could keep them. They spent the next night
in Springfield, and returned to Nashville the following day.

There was much talk about the witch shaking hands with one of the
Johnson’s, a near neighbor, and Patrick McGowin, a highly esteemed
Irishman, who lived across the line in Montgomery County, and had
refused to shake hands with all other persons, for the reason, as
was stated the witch said, thee two men were honest and truthful
and could be trusted when they promised not to try to hold or squeeze
its hand. I knew Mr. McGowen well, who was then getting to be quite
an old man, and knew he was cautious, prudent and perfectly reliable
in all he said. This was his general character, and I went to see
him expressly to hear his own statement about the matter. We discussed
the witch and the many mysterious stories in regard to the occurrences
at Bell’s, which he could in no way account for. I asked him particularly
about the handshaking. The old gentleman talked about it with some
reluctance. He said the witch did offer to shake hands with him,
but he was not sure it could be called a handshaking. He held out
his hand for that purpose, and felt something in his hand, which
felt like a hairy substance. Calvin Johnson described that which
he felt, like unto a woman’s hand.

Dr. Henry Sugg was a man of great prominence in that community.
He was quite a small boy during the reign of the witch, and of course
never witnessed the early demonstration; and growing up skeptical,
did not believe the stories told by the older people. He was disposed
to ridicule the whole matter when spoken of, and he heard much about
it in his practice among the sick. The old Bell house was torn down
after the death of the old people, and moved to the place near Brown’s
ford, now owned by Levi Smith. It was also said that when the witch
took its departure, it promised to return after a certain number
of years and remain permanently, and this many people believed.
This brings me to Dr. Sugg’s statement which I had from his own
lips. He was called to see a patient at this house, some thirty
years after the witch first disappeared, or in the fifties. If I
mistake not, he said Joel Bell lived there or owned the place. Anyway,
the subject of the Bell Witch came up, and the man told about the
strange noise heard and ridiculous things that had occurred the
night before, and said he was sure that it was the Bell Witch. Dr.
Sugg laughed at the man and told him it was all imagination, that
the Bell Witch was a hoax and there never was anything in it, ridiculing
his superstition. Just then he heard a terrible rattling of the
vials in his medical bag, setting on the floor near the door, where
he had placed the pocket as he entered the house, and immediately
following the rattling noise came the sound of explosion, as if
every bottle in the valise had burst or the corks all popped out.
He rushed immediately to the pockets to see what had happened, and
found everything intact, just as it should be. Then it was the other
man’s turn to ridicule him. He, however, tried to explain the phenomena
to the satisfaction of the superstitious man, and while doing so
the same sound was repeated with still greater force, and the second
examination discovered nothing wrong or out of place in the valise,
and, said he, “I could find no explanation for the mystery, and
never have; it was so remarkable and unmistakable that there could
be no explanation.”

Mrs. Wimberly, who was a daughter of Mat. Ligon, told me about the
visit of Betsy Bell to her father’s on the occasion when the witch
followed and abused her dreadfully, boxing her jaws, pinching her
arms and pulling her hair, calling her ugly names, for trying to
run away from it. Ligon’s family got no rest that night, and were
terribly frightened. I could tell you many other stories in regard
to this unexplained mystery, but no doubt you have them all from
the statement of Williams Bell and others.

T. L. YANCEY

The house referred to by Col. Yancey is the same building in which
Reynolds Powell and Allen Bell had a lively experience some time
about 1861, as described in another chapter. The body of the house
is made of hewed logs, now probably 100 years old, well preserved
by weatherboarding.

Theny Thorn

Reminiscences from the Girl Who Associated
Most with Betsy Bell

Mrs. Lucinda E. Rawls, of Clarksville, Tenn., widow of the late
J. J. Rawls, and daughter by the marriage of David Alexander Gooch
and Partheny Thorn, contributes the following graphic interview
from the reminiscences of her mother and other things connected
with the exciting events of the Bell Witch history, and the effect
and influence upon the community. Theny Thorn was born in 1803.
Her parents lived in Stewart County, and died while she was quite
a small child, too young to remember them. She was a niece of Jane
Marvlin, who possessed considerable property, and became the second
wife of James Johnson, father of John and Calvin by his first marriage.
Mr. Johnson and second wife had no children, and they adopted Theny
Thorn and raised her from a child, loving her as their own bestowing
much care and devotion upon her, and she knew them only as father
and mother, and Mrs. Rawls alluded to the old people most affectionately
as grandfather and grandmother. Mrs. Rawls very cheerfully granted
this interview, and said she was willing to state anything she knew
personally or that which she had heard repeated by her mother, Grandfather
James Johnson, John and Calvin Johnson, Dr. Ardra Gooch, John Bell,
Jr., and many others concerning the Bell Witch. It was, she says,
a common subject of discussion in all family circles and neighborhood
gatherings from her childhood up to the time she left the neighborhood
in 1855, and she has rarely failed to hear the mystery spoken of
on her visits to that vicinity since. “Yes,” replied Mrs. Rawls,
in answer to certain questions, “the Bell Witch was, and is still,
a great scapegoat. Every circumstance out of the regular order of
things is attributed to the witch. It has not been long since a
man claiming to be the witch was waylaid and murdered by two men
who were cleared, on the plea that the murdered man had bewitched
them.”

“Mother was very intimate with Betsy Bell,” continued Mrs. Rawls,
“and sympathized deeply with her in the trouble and affliction brought
upon her by the wicked thing. It not only punished her severely,
but frightened the poor girl almost out of her life, and mother
stayed with her the more on this account to relieve her fears; in
fact, her parents were afraid to leave her in her room alone a single
night, and mother stayed with her almost every night, except when
Becky Porter was there. It was very cruel in some people, she said,
to charge the awful thing against Betsy. She was only twelve or
thirteen years of age when the demonstrations commenced. She was
a very tender, sweet girl, and was constantly under the gentle watch
care of her mother, and never had an opportunity or any chance to
learn such an art, if it were possible, and it was not in her nature
to do so, nor could she have possibly escaped detection. Those who
accused her could never state a reason or offer a shadow of evidence
to that effect. The persecutions of the witch were enough for any
frail mortal to bear, (more than her father could bear) without
the slanderous charges of ignorant men who were incapable of discerning
the cause, to crush her hope in life.”

Question: Mrs. Rawls, did you ever hear your mother state in what
particular way the witch annoyed Betsy?

Answer: “Yes, repeatedly; in every conceivable way and form imaginable.
It would not let a bit of cover stay on the bed. It would pinch
the girl till she would scream, slap her checks, pull her hair,
stick pins in her body, and sometimes almost take her breath. Mother
said it would seem to jerk the tucking comb out of her hair and
dash it on the floor. You know that the girls in those days put
up their hair with long tooth combs, instead of hair pins as now
used. The combs were generally made of tortoise shell, which were
ornamented and were pretty and costly, and easily broken by dropping
on the floor, and strange as it appears, Mother said Betsy never
had one broken, though they struck the floor as if thrown with force.
Mother said she had seen this trick performed often when looking
directly at Betsy, and knew she did not move her hands and no visible
hand or cause could be detected. Betsy had a fine suit of long flaxen
hair, which hung in beautiful waves that made her appear most charming,
and she was very proud of it. When the tuckers were pulled out,
her hair would drop all about her neck and shoulders and become
so tangled that it would require a full half hour’s time to comb
it out. Then the witch would break out with hilarious laughter,
‘Ha, ha, Betsy, if Josh could see you now he would envy me.’ It
carried on such mischief nearly all night, pulling the cover from
the bed as fast as they could replace it, knocking over the chairs
and keeping up a continual gabbing of nonsensical talk and laughter,
and they were compelled to gas with the invisible thing through
fear of something worse. Mother said she had spent many nights with
no one else but Betsy and herself in the room, with doors and windows
securely closed, and all efforts to detect the agency of these demonstrations
or the source from whence came the remarkable voice, were in vain.
Another favorite trick of the witch was that of tampering with Betsy’s
shoes. Mother said she had seen the strings tied so tight that the
girl could not loose the knot, and the next minute the shoes would
be unlaced and jerked from her feet. Sometimes when preparing to
retire, the witch would exclaim, ‘Betsy let me unlace your shoes
and in a second her shoes would be pulled from her feet. Mother
said she asked the witch why it would not unlace and remove her
shoes, and the reply would come, ‘I don’t like you Theny, you are
so silly; I don’t want anything to do with you?’”

Question: Did you ever hear your mother repeat the circumstance
of the four-leaf clover, which has been so generally spoken of?

Answer: “Yes, I have heard her tell it frequently to different persons.
That occurred in this way. There were a number of young people in
company, discussing the witch. Some one remarked that according
to the saying, if any one could find a four-leaf clover they would
be able to see the witch. Clover, you know, uniformly has three
leaves, and it is very rare that four leaves are found. However,
mother paid a visit to the Misses Pacely, daughters of Tanner Pacely,
near Russellville, Ky. The girls were out one evening for a walk,
and while strolling through a field, mother discovered a clover
with four leaves, which she pulled, placing it in the front fold
of her dress without calling any attention to it, intending carrying
the clover home to try her luck, and not one discovered her action
or purpose; nor did she mention the fact to a soul, lest people
would think her superstitious, and silly. She returned home the
next day with the clover in the bosom of her dress. It was late
in the afternoon when she arrived, and very soon ‘Kate,’ as they
called the witch, exclaimed, ‘Lord Jesus, Theny, what a fool you
have made of yourself; you went all the way to old man Pacely’s
to hunt a four leaf clover and brought It home secretly in your
bosom, believing that it would enable you to see me, but you will
never be smart enough for that, ha, ha, ha,’ and so it went on teasing
mother, and telling the joke to every one who came in.”

Question: Did the witch stay regularly at James Johnson’s?

Answer: “No, it only visited grandfather’s occasionally, as it did
several other places. Grandfather was a very devout Christian, and
a very zealous worker in the Methodist Church. He made it a rule
through life to hold family worship before retiring at night, and
often the neighbors would gather in and have prayer meetings at
his house. The witch was generally present on such occasions, and
during prayers would thump and scratch on the chairs and do other
mischief, and would tell the folks at Bell’s, ‘I went to hear “Old
Sugar Mouth” pray last night; Lord Jesus, how good he did get.’
It called grandfather ‘Old Sugar Mouth.’ It also visited the family
at other times, and would talk about any and everything, discuss
the Scriptures, and gossip about the affairs of the country. Grandfather
said it seemed to know everything that was transpiring. Uncle John
Johnson was at Mr. Bell’s during the last day of the old gentleman’s
illness. I heard him tell the circumstances of finding a strange
vial of medicine in the cupboard that no one could account for or
tell what was in the vial. The witch said it put the vial there
for Old Jack, and had given him a dose to kill him. There were several
men present, who had called in to see Mr. Bell, and hearing this,
some one advised John Bell, Jr., to test the medicine on a cat.
He did so, giving the cat a very small portion, which threw it into
convulsions instantly. The cat squalled, whirled around and died
in a few minutes. Drew Bell had gone out before the vial was discovered,
to direct the hands about some work on the place, and the first
that Drew heard of the matter was from the witch. The very moment
Drew returned, Kate commenced, ‘Drew, John found that vial of medicine
I put in the cupboard for Old Jack, and gave the cat some of it.
Lord Jesus, how it did make that cat squall, jump up, turn over
and die.’”

Question: Mrs. Rawls, did you ever hear your mother speak of the
exploits of magicians or conjurers who came along?

Answer: “Yes, there were ever so many witch doctors during the time
working incantations and magic arts, but with no avail. They were
a great set of frauds. One or two I have in mind, and one who thought
he had succeeded to a wonderful degree. One of these wizards notified
the Bell family that he would be there on a certain day to kill
the witch, and instructed that two silver dollars be concealed in
a certain form or way, to make bullets, as he would be able to see
the thing and shoot it with a silver bullet. The Bells tried everything
suggested, no matter what it was, that looked to the discovery of
the plague, and the money was hidden away in the cupboard as directed,
and it was not suspected that the witch would know anything about
it. The conjurer, however, failed to come, and Kate then told them
all about the arrangement, laughing heartily, and told them that
they had better take that money out of the cupboard and put it to
some better use. On another occasion a witch doctor insisted that
he could relieve Betsy of the spell if she would take his medicine,
and she readily agreed to take his prescription. Mother remonstrated
with Betsy against taking the awful dose, but she persisted that
she would take anything that anybody would give her, even if it
was poison, to get rid of her excruciating pest, and so she did
swallow it down. It very soon made her deathly sick, as the conjurer
promised it would, and immediately a copious evacuation of the stomach
followed. The excrement was examined and found to be literally full
of pins and needles, and Kate, the witch, fairly roared with laughter,
and said that fellow was the only conjurer who had ever done any
good. He had made Betsy throw up pins and needles enough to supply
the whole community, and if he would give her another dose of that
stuff, he would get enough to set up a pin and needle store. The
witch doctor really believed that the pins and needles were ejected
from the girl’s stomach, and was astounded by the result of his
own practice. There could be no mistake that they were real brass
pins and needles. Mother gathered up a number and kept them as long:
as she lived. I have seen the pins and needles myself. As a matter
of course Betsy could not have lived with such a conglomeration
in her stomach, and the only solution of the matter was that the
witch dropped the pins and needles in the excrement unobserved;
just as it pulled off her shoes, disheveled her hair, gave her and
her mother hazelnuts, and many other miraculous performances that
no one could ever account for.”

Question: Mrs. Rawls, did you know Mrs. Kate Batts, or ever hear
her name discussed in connection with the witchery?

Answer: “Yes, Mrs. Kate Batts lived many years after the death of
John Bell and wife; after I was quite grown. She was very odd in
her ways, original, having many funny sayings, and was the common
talk of the neighborhood. I remember that she caused me to get an
awful scolding from father for laughing at her on a certain occasion.
It was during a protracted meeting at Red River Church. Rev. Thomas
Felts had concluded a revival sermon that aroused the entire audience,
and had called up the mourners, who were kneeling at the front seat
as usual, praying, when Mrs. Batts came in and spread her riding
skirt over Joe Edwards, who was a mourner, and sat down on him.
The scene was so ludicrous that I could not restrain myself, and
with several other girls, we got into a great titter. The efforts
of the brethren to get her up, her refusal to rise, and quaint expressions,
made the matter worse, and the whole house burst into laughter.
It was enough to make an angel laugh, and I just had to tell father
that he was too sanctimonious for heaven. Mrs. Batts had but three
children. Mary, her only daughter, was a beautiful girl, very sprightly
and lovely. Her sons, both mature men, were quite to the contrary.
John was married; Calvin tall and very awkward. Mrs. Batts thought
Calvin the finest young man in the country, and had a peculiar way
of introducing and commending him to society, by pushing herself
into company, remarking, ‘Girls, keep your eyes on Calvin; he is
all warp ready for the filling.’”

“You ask me what people thought of Mrs. Batts in connection with
the witchery. The truth is some people firmly believed that she
was the witch, and was afraid of her. Seventy-five years ago people
were not very distantly removed from the age of witchcraft. Educational
facilities were limited. People relied on the country school teacher
and the preacher, and as a matter of fact superstition was abroad
in the land. People accepted the teaching of the Scriptures literally,
and those familiar with the Bible could quote freely in support
of the doctrine of witchcraft. The whole country was excited by
the wonderful performances of the Bell Witch, and people unable
to discover any cause or agency for such exhibitions, naturally
attributed it to witchery, and there was no better scapegoat than
Mrs. Kate Batts, because it fitted her character so well. The witch,
in the first instance, gave out the information that it was “Old
Kate Batts’ Witch.” It was said that John Bell had a misunderstanding
with Mrs. Batts in some trading between them soon after he came
to the country. Mrs. Batts got very mad, said hard things, and made
threats that she would get even with him. Again it was said that
Mrs. Batts was constantly on the pad from house to house, always
wanting to buy wool rolls or sell something, and begged every woman
she met with for a pin. These with many other circumstances led
superstitious people to believe that she was a witch. Those who
gave the matter intelligent consideration and investigation, though
failing on every hypothesis for an explanation of the mystery, did
not believe Mrs. Batts capable of performing such tricks. But to
give you some idea of the extent and character of the superstition
that prevailed, I will state two or three circumstances. The fact
that Mrs. Batts was always begging pins was regarded as a direct
circumstance against her, because the witch also had a weakness
for pins, and used them quite freely on Betsy Bell and the witch
doctors, and pins were frequently found in the bed pillows, stuck
from the inside of the pillow case with points out, and sometimes
found in the chairs, and the saying was that the witch had power
over any one who gave her pins. Again I remember, on the occasion
of Mrs. Batts’ death, the news soon spread all over the country,
and it was difficult to find any lady who was willing to set up
one night with the corpse, as was customary. Finally Fannie Sory
volunteered to pay this respect to the dead if three or four other
girls would join her and the company was then made up. After the
burial next day, those girls told that they were beset with black
cats and black dogs all night. One of them vowed to me that it was
every word true, and she could prove it by the other girls. Two
of the girls went to the well during the night for fresh water,
and said they had to fight dogs with sticks all the way from the
house to the well — large black curly haired dogs. The yard was
full, while the house was full of black cats, constantly jumping
on the coffin. This was undoubtedly a bit of wicked mischief on
the part of the girls, practicing on the superstition of people,
and many believed every word of it. Doubtless there were one or
two black dogs belonging to the place, and like as many black cats,
as cats and dogs were generally plentiful about every place. Another
circumstance that occurred previous to the old lady’s death: Emily
Paine had the task of churning one morning. She was in a great hurry
to get through, and after churning two hours, and the butter failing
to come, her patience gave out, and she remarked that she just knew
old Kate Batts had bewitched the milk, and she was going to burn
her. She set the churn of milk aside and heated an iron poker red
hot, and stuck it down in the churn, leaving it there, saying she
was determined to find out if Mrs. Batts was burnt, and at once
made some excuse for calling on the old lady. Sure enough Mrs. Batts
was nursing a sore hand, which she said was burnt that morning.
This confirmed the case beyond a doubt. I have heard Mrs. Paine,
Emily’s mother, tell this story and laugh. Emily Paine afterwards
married Henry Calhoon.”

The Murder

The murder referred to by Mrs. Rawls was the killing of a man named
Smith, by Thomas Clinard and Richard Burgess; which occurred at
a railroad crossing, between Springfield and Cedar Hill about 1875
or ’76. Smith came into the community a stranger, and was employed
by Mr. Fletcher, where Clinard and Burgess were also engaged on
the farm. Smith professed to be something of a wizard, or rather
boasted of his power to hypnotize and lay spells on people, subjecting
any one who came under his influence to his will, and it was reported
that he claimed to have derived this power from the mantle of the
Bell Witch. However, the writer interviewed Hon. John F. House,
who was council for the defense, on the subject, who says that no
such evidence was produced in the trial, but that the lawyers handled
the Bell Witch affair for all that it was worth in the defense of
their clients, presenting the analogy or similarity of circumstances
with good effect on the jury. The evidence was overwhelming to the
effect that Smith did practice hypnotism or some such art on the
defendants, and had them completely under his control and practiced
on their fears with dire threats, and made the them do many foolish
things that they detested, and they could not escape his dogging
influence that subjected them to ridicule. They tried to evade and
shun Smith, and for this he chided and threatened them; consequently
the animosity, and they planed his murder and waylaid and shot him
to death, and then surrendered to the legal authorities, standing
trial on a plea of self-defense and were cleared. It was one of
the most interesting cases that ever came before the courts of this
country, and the entire community acquiesced in the decision of
the court. No doubt that the young men owe their escape from the
fearful rigor of the law to the powerful pleadings and matchless
eloquence of Col. House, who has so often distinguished himself
as a great orator, lawyer and philanthropist.

RECOLLECTIONS

CHAPTER XIII

HON. JOHN D. TYLER VISITED THE WITCH

Having heard the name of Hon. John D. Tyler mentioned as one of
the investigators, the writer called on Judge Charles W. Tyler,
of Clarksville, Tenn., to know if he ever heard his distinguished
father speak of the mystery.

“Yes,” said he, “I have heard my father tell many wonderful things
that occurred at Bell’s about the time he moved to this county from
Virginia. I remember that he said reports concerning the mysterious
affair reached Virginia before he left that State, and his friends
laughed and ridiculed him for moving to a haunted country. But of
course he paid no attention to such jeers and jests, for he did
not believe the story. But when he arrived here, which was in the
Fall of 1818, he found great excitement prevailing all over the
country and he joined in with others, visiting the place to investigate
the cause. I shall not undertake to detail any statements that my
father made in regard to what he saw and heard on these occasions;
but you can refer to me for the fact that he did state that he investigated
the matter to his full satisfaction; having entered upon the investigation
deeply impressed that the demonstrations were made by members of
the family, and he pursued his inquiry along this line, making every
test possible, and became thoroughly convinced that no member of
the family had anything to do with it, and further than that, the
mystery to him was never solved.

Judge Tyler is so well known in Tennessee, that the mention of his
name is sufficient for home people. But for the information of those
in other sections, we will state that he is a citizen of Clarksville,
Tenn., County Financier, and Judge of the County and Criminal Court,
which positions he has held eighteen years by the suffrage of the
people. His father, Hon. John D. Tyler, was one of the most eminent
educators known in this country in early days. He served one or
two terms in the State Senate, and was prominent in all public affairs,
as he was widely known as a man of high intelligence, and distinguished
for his thoroughness in everything he undertook. There is no question
that he entered upon the investigation with the determination to
discover the cause if possible, but gave it up after satisfying
himself of his mistake regarding the connection of any member of
the family with the affair.

MRS. MAHALA DARDEN’S MINUTE DESCRIPTION
OF JOHN BELL — HIS STRANGE AFFLICTION — BETSY BELL AND JOSHUA
GARDNER WERE LOVERS

The writer made a special visit during July, 1892, to Cedar Hill, Tenn.,
for the purpose of interviewing Mrs. Mahala Darden, one of the most
estimable ladies of Robertson county, then eighty-five of age. Mrs.
Darden resides with her son, Charles Darden, a prosperous farmer,
two miles from Cedar Hill. She is the pride and delight of the family,
and a mother to be proud of. Mrs. Darden retains to a remarkable
degree her physical strength and activity, while her memory is so
clear and bright that she details incidents of her girlhood with
the greatest accuracy, giving dates and circumstances, and altogether
she is one of the most intelligent and entertaining ladies in the
county, loved and venerated as mother by the entire community. After
some pleasant conversation, the subject of the Bell Witch was broached.

“Yes,” replied the good lady, “I have a very distinct recollection
of the prevailing excitement during, the witch period. There never
was anything like it; people talked about nothing else, and a great
many went to hear it; Mr. Bell’s house was full of people almost
constantly.”

Did you witness any of the witch demonstrations, Mrs. Darden? “Oh,
no; I was rather too young. Parents did not think it prudent to
take their children, especially girls. Moreover, I had no desire
to go at that time.”

Will you tell what you know about John Bell and his family, and
all about the witch, as you heard the story from the old people?
“Certainly. John Bell was a fine looking gentleman, a man of distinguished
appearance, and was one of the wealthiest men in the country. He
always had plenty of money, and was very prosperous. He was also
popular and highly respected by the people. I remember distinctly
the first time I ever saw Mr. Bell, and how he impressed me. It
was in 1817. My father, James Byrns, was a magistrate, living then
several miles from John Bell’s. Mr. Bell came to my father’s one
day with quite a number of men to attend a trial or some law business
before my father. His commanding appearance was so marked as to
distinguish him over all others, and impress me with his presence.
I was then ten years old, and had learned to spin. Work was creditable
to a girl in those days, and especially was it a mark of distinction
for one of my years to become an expert in handling the cards and
spinning wheel, and I was very proud of it. Well, I had the wheel
out in the middle of the floor, making it fairly whiz. I had set
in for a big day’s work, expecting much praise from mother at night,
and the men soon crowded the house so full that father told me I
would have to move my wheel out and give up the spinning. I did
so, and went to help mother about other things. Dinner was prepared
for the company, and when I went in to notify father that dinner
was ready, I noticed that all rose up for the invitation except
Mr. Bell, who shook his head declining. Father extended him the
second invitation, which he still declined, shaking his head. Some
remarks were made at the table about his refusal. He seemed depressed,
confused and sullen. Mr. Bell returned on the following day, riding
four or five miles, telling father that he came expressly to apologize
and explain his conduct on the previous day, lest he (my father)
should take offence for his refusal to dine. ‘All of a sudden,’
said he, ‘my tongue became strangely affected. Something that felt
like a fungus growth came on both sides, pressing against my jaws,
filling my mouth so that I could not eat or talk.’ It was said that
Mr. Bell was affected in this way off and on to his death.

Nothing, however, was known at this time of the Bell witch trouble;
at least, was not known outside of the family. Soon after this my
father moved to a farm near Mr. Bell’s, and the two families became
intimate. The first I heard of the witch, was told as a secret,
said to have leaked out through young John Bell, who told an intimate
friend that something strange and very troublesome was disturbing
the family. I was about twelve years old when the witch excitement
reached its highest tension. My father went frequently to witness
the mystery.

The first time he heard it, the noise was like that of ducks fluttering
and washing in a pond of water. He described many strange things
which occurred after that. Mrs. Lucy Bell told me about the witch
bringing her grapes and hazelnuts, and emptying the sugar out of
the bowl on the hearth, and many other things. They were wonderful
tricks, but I could not disbelieve Mrs. Bell. David Darden said
he determined in his own mind one night to outdo the witch. He wrapped
the cover of his bed around his hand, and held with all his might,
but the witch stripped the bed in spite of him. When it visited
Mr. Porter’s it made a noise like a log of wood falling on the house.
The witch told at Mr. Bells that it intended visiting every family
in the neighborhood, and did visit many as reported, but never came
to my father’s that I know of, and I was in constant dread, fearing
it would come. Mrs. Bartlett said she was there one night when many
persons were waiting to hear the witch talk. Finally a rapping or
noise was heard just outside, and several went to the door to see
what it was, when the witch laughed out, exclaiming, ‘Oh it’s nothing
but Old Caesar lapping out of the bath tub.’ Old Caesar was the
dog. I heard a good deal of laughter about a trick it played on
Drew Bell. Drew leaned his chair back against the bureau, which
set against the wall, placing his feet on the rounds. Instantly
the bureau was snatched from behind him and Drew tumbled down on
the floor. The witch told him to get up, that he ought to have better
sense than lean against the bureau. On one occasion a little unknown
black dog came to the house, cutting some antics. Mr. Bell said
he would shoot that dog, and started to get his gun. Mrs. Bell interfered,
telling him he must not. The dog lay down on the floor and rolled
over and over toward the door, and the minute the dog disappeared
from the house the witch exclaimed, ‘Look out, Old Jack, here comes
Jerusalem.’”

Did you know Rev. Thomas and Rev. James Gunn, Mrs. Darden? “Indeed
I did. They were the founders of Methodism in this community. Two
nobler ministers never lived in this section, and I have never seen
two men imbued with more spirituality, and have never heard any
preacher with more inspiration. They preached all over the country
for many miles around, after going a whole day’s journey or more,
and great revivals resulted from their preaching.”

Did they visit Mr. Bell’s or try to detect the witch? “My understanding
was at the time that they did. Mr. Bell sent for them often and
they tried faithfully to throw some light upon the mystery, but
never could.”

Did you know the Batts family? “Yes; there were two Batts families.
Quite a number of the descendents of Jerry Batts are still living
here, and they are mighty fine people. The other Batts family, descendants
of Fred and Kate Batts, have disappeared.”

What do you know, Mrs. Darden, of Mrs. Kate Batts? “Oh, Aunt Kate,
as the young people all called her, was a good kind hearted old
lady. She was very peculiar in her ways, and was mighty funny, which
made people talk about her a great deal. But I always liked Aunt
Kate, she was so cheerful and full of life I was glad to meet her.
She was very sensitive. The witch told some one that it was ‘Old
Kate Batts,’ and this is why the witch took the name of Kate. Some
people were silly enough to believe it. She heard this and it made
her very mad. She turned loose her tongue on people who talked about
her in a way that made some really afraid of her. I did not blame
her for getting mad at such foolishness.

Of course she was no witch; if she had been she would have bewitched
every one who talked bad about her. The witch gave itself many names,
called itself Black Dog, Jerusalem and other names. People discussed
all of these things, watched Mrs. Batts, and tried every way to
detect the cause, but no discovery that I ever heard of that threw
the least suspicion on Aunt Kate beyond the simple statement of
the witch, which as a matter of course was false and intended to
mislead. You know how people fly to extremes and jump at conclusions
when trying to unravel or penetrate a great mystery. Some charged
that it was John and Drew Bell practicing ventriloquism. Others
thought it was Betsy Bell practicing some unknown art, but the more
sensible people accepted none of these theories; in fact they would
not support any kind of investigation. What on earth could possibly
have induced the Bells to inflict so much distress and punishment
on the family, even had they the power? Not money, for they had
that, and refused to receive a cent from the many strangers and
investigators calling. Not notoriety, for they kept the whole matter
a secret as long as possible. Then it could not add anything to
the good name Mr. Bell had earned for himself and family and cherished
so much. No, it was simply a phenomenon which no one could explain.”

Did you ever hear Jerry Batts express his opinion about the witch?
“Yes; he discussed it a great deal with father and mother in my
presence, but they never arrived at any satisfactory explanation.
I remember distinctly one expression from Mr. Jerry Batts that impressed
me. He remarked to father, ‘The witch will never leave until John
Bell’s head is cut off,’ meaning of course, not as long as the old
gentleman lived. I suppose it was Mr. Bell’s peculiar afflictions
that led him to make the remark. The witch had declared its intention
to kill him, and the old gentleman charged his affliction to that
source. The witch did torment him to his grave, and reviled with
ghoulish glee at his burying. A large crowd of people attended the
funeral, and it was a very solemn occasion — every one seemed sadly
depressed. After the grave was filled and the crowd of sorrowing
friends started to leave, the witch commenced singing:

‘Row me up some brandy, O,

Row row, row row,

Row me up some brandy, O,

Row me up some more.’”

Did you know Joshua Gardner, Mrs. Darden? “Yes. He was Betsy Bell’s
lover at the time, and it was generally believed that the sentiment
was mutual. Betsy thought much of him. He came of a splendid family
of people, was a handsome young man, full six feet tall, and weighed
about one hundred and sixty pounds. He had dark hair and gray eyes,
was intelligent and entertaining, and a man of good deportment,
and very popular in the community.”

Please, Mrs. Darden, describe Betsy Bell? “Betsy was a beautiful
girl. She was of light complexion; what you would call a blonde.
She was a little above medium height, presenting a graceful figure
and elegant carriage. She possessed a rare suit of rich golden hair,
soft gentle blue eyes and winning ways, and with all was an industrious,
bright and interesting girl, who had more admirers than any girl
in the country. I thought a great deal of Betsy; she was a sweet
good girl, and I deeply sympathized with her in her disappointments
and afflictions.”

Then Betsy did not marry young Joshua Gardner? “No; she finally
married Richard Powell, her school teacher, who was a very prominent
man.”

Do you know; Mrs. Darden, what broke up the love affair between
Betsy and Gardner, and induced her to marry Powell? “Ah, now you
ask me a hard question; I cannot tell. You may learn that from others.
It was said that the witch had something to do with it but I do
not know. I always thought Betsy loved Gardner best, that is she
seemed happy in his company, and he was certainly greatly devoted
to her when out in society. You know, however, that it has always
been said that destiny controls the fortunes of men and women. You
know also that women are counted as very fickle creatures, and there
is no accounting for the change of a woman’s mind in love affairs,
and often the most desperate love cases come to naught. Don’t you
think I have told you enough?”

“Yes, Mrs. Darden, many thanks for this very entertaining interview.”

REV. JAMES G. BYRNS’S STATEMENTS —
FIRST APPEARANCE OF THE WITCH — ITS DOINGS AND SAYINGS — THE WITCH
KILLER FROM THE EAST

Rev. James G. Byrns, one of the oldest and most highly esteemed
citizens of Springfield, Tenn., a man whose years are full of good
works, and whose integrity is above reproach of any kind, contributes
the following interesting sketch, which goes to establish the character
of the witnesses, giving a graphic account of the first appearance
of the witch and its operations. The writer of this sketch is a
son of Squire James Byrns, who was the good magistrate of the Bell
district, a man of high moral character, noted for his intelligence
and general usefulness as a citizen, and his impartiality and faithfulness
in the discharge of his official duties. Mr. Byrns, being requested
to prepare a sketch, writes as follows:

Of course I am too young to know anything personally about the Bell
Witch, but shall endeavor to state faithfully some of the facts
impressed upon me, as I have so often heard them detailed by my
father, James Byrns, Sr., John Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Alex. Gunn,
Sr., William Porter, Frank R. Miles, Martin Pitman, Mrs. Rebecca
Long, my wife’s mother, who was Rebecca Porter, Mrs. Martha Bell,
and many other citizens, and have also heard many miraculous statements
by Negroes, which I will not repeat.

Old Mr. Bell told my father, also John Johnson and others, that
the first unaccountable object that attracted his attention was
a large, strange looking animal, resembling a dog. He walked out
to the field to see if the fodder was ripe enough to gather. Before
starting he cleaned his gun and loaded it to shoot squirrels and
rabbits around the field. About the middle of the field, he said,
he discovered the animal sitting in the row, looking intently at
him. He approached nearer to it, and the dog, as he thought it was,
did not move, which surprised him, and he then concluded to shoot
it. At the fire of the gun the strange looking creature ran, and
as soon as it moved, he discovered that it was an uncommon animal,
and knew there was no dog in the country like it. However, this
circumstance was without significance, and was forgotten until later
developments connected it with other affairs.

Soon after this the trouble commenced. Something appeared scratching
on the outside wall of the house, and occasionally a tap at the
door. Mr. Bell said he frequently went out to see what was the matter,
but could discover nothing. He said nothing about it, not even to
the family, lest it might alarm them, and thinking too that it was
some one playing pranks, and by watching he would be able to discover
the intruder. Such demonstrations continued to increase, being heard
two or three times during a week, and become so intolerable that
Mr. Bell determined to lay some scheme to catch the offender. Finally
the mysterious knocking appeared to be within the upper story of
the house, and sometimes the noise would appear like trace chains
or harness falling on the floor above him, but on investigation
nothing could be found. From this on the demonstrations increased,
and appeared like rats gnawing and dogs fighting in the house. After
carrying on at this rate for some time, it commenced troubling various
members of the family, pulling the covers off of the beds, pinching
and slapping the children, and became so frightful that the family
could no longer conceal their distress, and neighbors were called
in to witness the strange occurrences and detect the cause. But
no one to this day has been able to explain or account for the mystery.
The more people investigated, the more demonstrative it became,
sounds like heavy stones and chunks of wood falling on the floor
being heard. Finally the witch commenced talking and laughing, singing
and praying. For some time it was very pious, and later became extremely
wicked, using unchaste and most offensive language. The mystery
deepened, and every one who undertook to explain it was covered
with confusion. Some people thought it was two members of the Bell
family practicing ventriloquism, but this theory soon exploded,
by applying the strictest tests. The reader will remember that I
am stating these things just as they were detailed to me by the
parties above named, who were witnesses all through the troubles.
The witch talked more freely to some parties than to others. It
seemed to prefer talking with John Johnson and Bennett Porter more
than any other persons, perhaps because they were more disposed
to humor and gab with it than were others, Bennett Porter was Mr.
Bell’s son-in-law — married Esther Bell. The witch promised him
one night to go home with him that the family might have some rest.
Then it said, “Bennett, you will try to kill me if I visit your
house.” “No I won’t,” replied Porter. “,Oh, but I know you,” replied
the witch, “but I have been to your house. Do you remember that
bird you thought sung so sweet the other morning?” “Yes,” replied
Porter. “Well that was me.” Then continued the witch, “Bennett,
didn’t you see the biggest and poorest old rabbit that you ever
saw in your life, as you came over here this evening?” “Yes,” replied
Mr. Porter. “Well that was me,” said the witch, and who then burst
into laughter. This was the kind of gossip it carried on constantly,
and would tell what different people in the neighborhood had been
doing during the day, or what was then transpiring.

It seemed to take special delight in afflicting and tormenting old
Mr. Bell, and his young daughter Betsy. It often said that it had
come to kill old Jack Bell and it was said that Mr. Bell died from
strange afflictions visited on him by his tormentor. It interfered
a great deal with Betsy’s love affairs, and wanted her to marry
a certain man in the neighborhood. Betsy complained of a painful,
sensation like some one sticking pins in her body. It would fill
her hair full of pins, jerk her tucking comb out, and laugh at its
own wicked tricks and Betsy’s discomfiture, and she was frequently
sent from home for rest and freedom from the tortures inflicted
by the witch.

It was very common for large crowds to gather at Mr. Bell’s to hear
the witch talk. One night when the house was full, there came an
old gentleman by the name of Grizzard. The witch entered with the
exclamation, “Here is old Grizzard; you all just ought to hear old
Grizzard call his hogs. He begins, ‘Pig, pig, pig.’ The hogs come
in a run, and Griz counts them and then begins hollering, ‘Here,
here, sic, sic, sowey, sowey.’

That’s the way old Grizzard feeds his hogs.” And Mr. Grizzard said
the witch was correct. Next came the exclamation or inquiry, “Where
is Jerusalem?” (Jerusalem was a member of the witch family.) No
one replying, the same voice answered, “There he is on the wall.”
All eyes were at once turned to discover a large black bug crawling
on the wall. Mr. Bell remarked, “Well, if that is Jerusalem, I will
kill him,” and he did kill the bug. The witch laughed heartily,
exclaiming, “Lord Jesus, what a fool I did make of old Jack Bell.”

The Witch seemed to like old Mrs. Lucy Bell. It called her “Old
Luce,” and said Old Luce was a good woman, which was indeed her
character throughout the country. Mrs. Bell had quite a spell of
sickness, and one morning refused her breakfast. Very soon Mrs.
Bell heard a soft pathetic voice, apparently just above her head,
calling her name, “Luce, poor Luce, are you sick Luce?” “Yes,” replied
Mrs. Bell, “I am.” “Well Luce, hold out your hands, and I will give
you some hazelnuts I brought from the bottom; they will be good
for you.” Mrs. Bell held out her hands and received the hazelnuts
as they dropped. Presently the same voice inquired, “Luce, poor
Luce, why don’t you eat the hazelnuts?” “Oh, you know that I can’t
crack them,” replied Mrs. Bell. Then it told her to hold out her
hands again, saying, “I will crack some for you.” Instantly the
sound of the cracking was heard, and the cracked nuts were dropped
on her lap. Several ladies were there ministering to Mrs. Bell,
and testified to this. That night the witch came in with the news
that a baby had just been born to a family living in the bottom,
which proved to be correct as stated. I understand that the baby
was Mrs. Wash. Ayers, now living. The next day it visited Mrs. Bell
again, bringing a bunch of wild grapes in the same manner as the
hazelnuts came.

On another occasion the witch came in a jolly good mood, when quite
a number of persons were sitting in the room engaged in social intercourse,
announcing its presence with the inquiry, “Who wants some grapes,”
and that moment a bunch of large wild grapes dropped in Betsy Bell’s
lap. I heard John Bell, Jr., and others confirm this circumstance.

Calvin Johnson told me that after some persuasion the witch consented
to shake hands with him if he would promise not to catch it. He
promised and held out his hand, and instantly felt something like
a soft delicate hand resting on his. The hand was placed lengthwise
on his, so that he could not grasp it. John Johnson asked, the witch
why it would not shake hands with him? The answer was, “You are
a rascal, Jack; you want to catch me.” John said that was just what
he intended to do. The witch seemed to have more confidence in Calvin
Johnson than any one. It said Calvin was an honest man, truthful
and free from deceit, and this was true of the man.

John Johnson called in one night when the witch was in a great way
talking, and addressing the witch said, “Well Kate, you can’t tell
what my wife has been doing to-day?” “Yes I can,” it promptly replied,
“she has been baking cakes for you to carry along to eat on your
trip to Nashville, where you intend starting tomorrow.” This Mr.
Johnson said was true, and no one outside of the family could have
known it.

One night some one inquired of the witch what was going on over
at Jesse Bells? “I don’t know,’” it answered, “but will go and see.”
Five minutes later the witch returned and told what every member
of the family was doing at that hour, which was confirmed the next
day by Jesse Bell.

During the excitement the conjurers and experts in divining mysteries
came along, and of course the Bell family were disposed to let them
try their experiments. One of these was a smart fellow from the
East, who claimed to be a witch killer, and said he could, by some
sort of divination, see witches and shoot them. This smart gentleman
conjured around several days with hair balls and foxfire, washed
out his gun with his charm mixture, molded silver bullets and loaded
for the witch, and set around day after day waiting for the goblin
to put in its appearance, but Kate did not show up. He said the
witch was afraid of him and would not come as long as he remained.
The family had almost arrived at the conclusion that there was something
in the man, and Mr. Bell was seriously contemplating the wisdom
of hiring the gentleman from the East to stay about to keep the
witch away. The family had not enjoyed so long a respite since the
specter’s first appeared. Finally the witch killer concluded that
he would go home, and return very soon to stay longer, should Kate
make any more trouble. But he was firmly impressed that nothing
more would be heard of it. His horse was brought to the front near
the house, the witch man placed his saddle bags, stuffed with all
kinds of conjurations, on the saddle, and bidding good-bye to Mr.
Bell, the family and friends who came out to see him off, he mounted
his horse to start, but the animal would not budge. He kicked, spurred
and whipped, but it was no go. The horse would rear up, fall down
and roll and kick. The witch man then turned to conjuring his horse,
rubbed and petted the animal until it became quiet, and then mounted
again, but the horse still refused to go. The witch killer was about
to give up in despair, when the familiar voice of Kate was heard
in the air, exclaiming, “I can make that horse go. Let me get on
behind.” Just then the horse dashed off, seemingly of its own accord,
making a circle around the yard, kicking and squealing with wild
rage, and the witch hollering, “Hold on old man, hold on.” Finally
the horse struck a bee line for the gate, and out he went, kicking
and snorting, the rider hanging to the mane of the horse’s neck,
yelling for dear life, “Oh mercy.” It appeared, however, that it
was “Kate” and not mercy that had him. The witch laughed a week
over that transaction. “Lord Jesus,” it said, “I scared that old
man nearly to death. I stuck him full of brass pins. He will spit
brass pins and foxfire for the next six months. Lord Jesus, how
he did beg. I told the old scoundrel that he came here to kill me,
and I was not going to let him off easy. He said if I would let
him alone he never would come here again. I broke him from trying
that caper any more.”

The witch told various stories concerning itself, and said it could
be anything, assume any form it desired; a dog, a rabbit, bird,
or human form. It finally told the family that if Betsy would marry
a certain gentleman, it would leave and not trouble them any more.
The Negroes could tell the most wonderful stories, and narrate miraculous
escapes.

The men and women whom I have mentioned as my authority for this
statement are all dead, but their memories live and speak for their
integrity and veracity. They were as pure and truthful people as
I ever knew, and strange and mysterious as the story of the Bell
Witch may seem, I could not, if I would, doubt the statements of
these people. As to what it was, or who it was, I cannot form or
express any opinion, but as to the truth of the trouble, I have
not the shadow of a doubt. The evidence that James Byrns, Sr. was
my father, is not to me a particle stronger or more convincing.
There is no court in all of the land that would require one-half
of the testimony to establish any fact, as can be produced in support
of the story of these wonderful demonstrations, rather I should
say history, for in fact it is a part of the early history of Robertson
county, and will be handed down from generation to generation in
this county, just as stirring events that transpired at the building
of Solomon’s Temple have come down through a certain channel to
the present time. Like the queen of Sheba when she heard the fame
of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him
with hard questions, and confessed that the half had not been told
her, people came from all quarters to see with their own eyes, or
rather, hear with their own ears, and prove what they believed a
cheap fraud and deception, but returned worse confounded than ever.
Though Mr. Bell was a man in good prosperous circumstances, strangers
and visitors who came on the mission of divining the mystery almost
ate him out of house and home. In conclusion, therefore, I must
confess with the testimony before me, I believe as firmly as I can
believe anything that I have not seen or felt, the truth of the
existence of the Bell Witch.

JAMES G. BYRNS.

Some Thrilling Incidents Told by Mrs.
Nancy Ayers, the Baby the Witch Spanked

Washington Ayers and wife are two happy old people living some two
miles from the old Bell place, and about the same distance from
Cedar Hill, Tenn. Mrs. Nancy Ayres is a daughter of John and Patsy
Johnson, who had a most thrilling experience in trying to detect
the authorship of the demoniac exhibitions, which disturbed the
Bell family. She was born in 1819, and is still a very active lady
for one at her ripe age. She is also intelligent and very entertaining,
especially in describing the sensation which the Bell Witch left
behind to live after the intensely exciting events of that period.
Mrs. Ayres is greatly esteemed in the community. She inherited that
rugged honesty which characterized the Johnson family, and is affectionately
called “Aunt Nancy” by every one. The writer was told before visiting
Mrs. Ayers, “You can rely on everything Aunt Nancy says as strictly
correct.”

Mrs. Ayers was asked if she was willing to tell all she knew about
the Bell Witch? “Oh no, I could not tell the half I have heard in
a week; strictly speaking, I know nothing. I was born in the middle
of the most exciting events, and they say that the witch was the
first to carry the news of my birth to the Bell family. All I know
is hearsay from father, mother, Grandfather James Johnson, Uncle
Calvin Johnson, Joel Bell, and everybody who lived in the neighborhood
at that time, and, of course, I believe their statements as firmly
as if I had witnessed the demonstrations.”

It is said that the witch, whipped you when a baby. How is that,
Mrs. Ayers? “Well, that is what father and mother told me repeatedly
after I had grown up. It occurred in this way: Betsy Bell frequently
came to our house to spend the night and get some rest if possible
from the witch. In fact, father invited and urged her to come. He
said he had two purposes in view; one was a desire to render any
services possible that would relieve the family of the pest: even
for a short time. His second reason was a determination to follow
up every clue, or every line of investigation, that had been suggested
or could be thought of, in an effort to elucidate the mystery. This
he was doing on his own account and in his own way, and proceeded
in a way to elude all suspicion of his purpose.

Several persons who had been trying the detect to cause of the remarkable
exhibitions and failing, had arrived at the conclusion that Betsy
Bell possessed some extraordinary gift akin to ventriloquism, and
was practicing a deception in collusion with some other person,
and that he had about arrived at this conclusion himself, but carefully
concealed his convictions from her and all other persons, and he
thought he would have a better opportunity of determining this matter
if she were to come alone to spend a few nights at his house. As
before stated, she did come, and the witch came with her, keeping
up so much talking, scratching, knocking over the chairs, pulling
the covering from the beds, and other vexatious disturbances that
it was impossible for any one to sleep while it was there, and this
all went to confirm his opinion. So it happened one night when Betsy
and the witch were there, that I was fretful and worried mother
a great deal, she having to get up frequently to rock my cradle.

Finally Kate, as they called the witch, spoke factiously, inquiring
of mother, ‘Patsy, why don’t you slap that child and make it behave
itself? If you won’t I will.’ Instantly they heard something like
a hand spanking me, and I yelled to the top of my voice, as if something
was taking my life, when both father and mother sprang out of bed
to my rescue. They searched the room all over, but could find nothing
irregular, no persons but themselves in the room, and no possible
way that anyone .could have gotten in and out without a noise or
detection.”

Did you behave after that? “Well, they said I did behave like a
little lady the balance of the night.”

Did your father’s investigations satisfy him thoroughly that Betsy
Bell was culpable in the witch demonstration? “Oh no. To the contrary
he became thoroughly satisfied that Betsy was entirely innocent
of the whole matter, and was a great sufferer from the affliction,
as was her father. It was said by those who had been watching Betsy,
that the witch never talked when her lips were closed. This was
not true. He said it talked to him not only when her lips were closed,
but when she was not near, not in talking or hearing distance, and
in fact would talk at old man Bell’s when neither Betsy, Drew or
young John were on the place, and yet seemed to follow Betsy wherever
she went, going with her to grandfather’s, James Johnson, when she
visited Theny Thorn, and at bedtime go through the form of reading
a chapter in the Bible, singing grandfather’s favorite song, and
offer prayer, just as he would. Father said it did many things that
would have been impossible for a young girl like Betsy, and told
things that she could not possibly have known. The witch talked
almost incessantly, gabbing and spouting about everything that was
going on in the country, seemed familiar with everybody’s business,
telling things that no one present knew anything about, called strangers
by name and telling where they were from before they could introduce
themselves. It would also quote Scripture, discuss doctrinal questions,
sing songs, and pray eloquent prayers, and never failed to answer
any question concerning any passage, verse or text in the Bible
correctly, giving full references as to where it might be found.
Then on the other hand it could be very wicked and out curse a sailor.
Mr. Bell sometimes sent for father to set up and entertain Kate,
that the family might get a little rest. He rather liked this, as
it afforded him a better opportunity for prosecuting his investigations.
The witch also seemed to like gossiping with him, and there was
a peculiar excitement about it that interested him, and he would
sit and talk to the thing just as patiently and earnestly as if
he was discussing a very important matter with some person. Father
said that one night after the witch had gone on for some time prattling
about everything in the country, he concluded to change the topic
and lead it out concerning itself, and beginning with flattery he
said, ‘Kate, I love to talk with you because you are so smart and
can always learn me something. You and I have been good friends,
and I want to know more about you. Now there is no person present
but you and I; tell me confidentially something about yourself?’
‘No Jack,’ was the reply, ‘I can’t tell you that yet, but I will
tell you before I leave.’

‘How long before you will leave?’ ‘I won’t tell you that neither,
but I will not leave as long as old Jack Bell lives.’ ‘Have you
really come to kill old Jack?’ ‘Yes, I have told him so over and
often.’ ‘What has old Jack done that you want to kill him?’ ‘Oh,
nothing particular; I just don’t like him.’ ‘But everybody in the
country likes him and regards him as a very fine old gentleman,
don’t they?’ ‘Yes, and that is the reason he needs killing.’ ‘But
Kate, if you kill old Jack without giving a better reason than that,
people will think very hard of you, and then according to law you
will be hung for murder, won’t you?’ ‘No, it’s catching before hanging.’
‘Yes, but isn’t the maxim, “murder will out” equally true?’ ‘That
may be Jack, but still its catching before hanging.’ ‘Well Kate,
tell me why you hate Betsy; isn’t she a sweet lovely girl?’ ‘How
do you know Jack, that I hate Betsy?’ ‘Because you are always following
and ding-donging after her.’ ‘Well, is that any evidence that I
hate her?’ ‘But then you pull her hair, pinch her arms, stick pins
in her.’ ‘Well, don’t lovers play with each other that way sometimes?’
‘No, I never did; no man who really loves a girl will serve her
as you do Betsy,’ ‘How do you know that I am a man?’ ‘Because you
get drunk and curse sometimes, and say and do things that no nice
woman would do.’ ‘But Jack, why should I be a woman; may I not be
a spirit or something else?’ ‘No Kate, you are no spirit. A spirit
can’t pull the cover from beds, slap people, pull hair, stick pins,
scratch, and do such things like you.’ ‘Well, I will make you think
I am a spirit before you get home.’ ‘How are you going to do that,
Kate?’ ‘I am going to scare you.’ ‘You can’t scare me, Kate; I know
that you are too good a friend to do me any harm, and therefore
I am not afraid of you.’ ‘Well, just wait until you start through
the woods home, and see if I don’t make you hump yourself.’ ‘Oh
phsaw, Kate, you are just joking and gabbing now. Tell me where
you live, and who and what you are, anyhow?’ ‘I live in the woods,
in the air, in the water, in houses with people; I live in heaven
and in hell; I am all things and anything I want to be; now don’t
you know what I am?’ ‘No, I don’t; come and shake hands with me
like you did with Calvin.’ ‘No, I can’t trust you, Jack.’ ‘Why Kate,
you trusted my brother Calvin and I am just as good as he is?’ ‘No
you are not,’ returned Kate, ‘Calvin is a good Christian and a true
man; he won’t violate his promise for anything.’ ‘Neither will I.’
‘Oh, but you are lying, Jack; I know you too well. You are smarter
than Calvin, but you are a grand rascal, old Jack Johnson. You just
want a chance to catch me; that is what you are here for, trying
to find out who or what I am, and you want a chance to grasp my
hand.’ After much talking on this line, the conversation ended some
time after midnight, and father started home. Kate never would shake
hands with him, though he importuned often, nor did he ever learn
anything more about the witch than was manifested in this conversation,
which I have heard him repeat so often that I remember it word by
word. Father said as soon as he reached the woods, the bushes and
trees commenced cracking, like they were all breaking down, and
sticks and chunks of wood fell about him thick and fast, as if thrown
by someone. He never would acknowledge that he run, but I always
believed he did. Father said the witch seemed to know his mind and
purpose as well as he did himself, and that he was fully determined
to try to catch it by the hand if it had shaken hands with him.”

Did you ever hear Calvin Johnson say it shook hands with him? “Yes,
I have heard Uncle Calvin make the statement frequently. He said
the Witch made him promise not to grasp or squeeze its hand before
it consented, and he could not violate his Promise. He said he held
out his hand, and very quick felt the pressure of’ another hand
on his, which was laid lengthwise, and not across, in the common
form of shaking hands, and that it felt very soft, like a woman’s
hand. But it never would trust father, though it showed a preference
for talking with him. It told others as it told him, that old Jack
Johnson was smart and cunning, that he was a grand rascal, always
hatching plans and schemes to catch it, and he had to be watched.”

Mrs. Ayres, your father, you say, addressed the witch as “Kate,”
did you ever hear him explain how it came by that name? “Yes; people
continued their expostulations with overtures and importunities
to reveal its name, purpose, etc. The witch had given many names
and various explanations of its presence, but the biggest sensation
of all came when it told that it was old Kate Batts’ witch. Mrs.
Batts was a very sensitive, peculiar, blustering kind of woman,
whose eccentricities subjected her to much ridicule, and her original
oddity was a kind of jesting stock, and common talk. So it was a
popular hit, and started fresh gossip for all laughing tongues.
It made the old lady very mad; she cut tall capers and said more
funny things in her maledictions and imprecations than was ever
heard, and naturally everybody took to calling the witch ‘Kate.’”

Did anybody really believe that Mrs. Kate Batts was the witch? “Yes,
some people did, and they were afraid of her. Father said the idea
was the most absurd and preposterous that had been advanced; contrary
to all reason. Mrs. Batts, he said could not have had any conception
of such a thing, much less practice the art, eluding detection.
On another occasion father said he was postulating with Kate, begging
the witch to tell something about itself. Kate replied, ‘Well Jack,
if you will agree to keep it a secret, and not tell old “Sugar Mouth,”
(that was. grandfather) I will tell you.’ Of course father agreed
to that. ‘Now,’ says Kate, ‘I am your stepmother.’ Father replied,
‘Kate, you know you are lying; my stepmother is a good woman, and
the best friend I have. She would not do so many mean things as
you are guilty of.’ ‘Now,’ replied Kate, ‘I can prove it to you.’
Grandmother Johnson had an unruly servant who would go wrong, irritating
her very much, and the old lady was constantly after Rachel, raising
a sharp storm about her ears. Father said the witch at once assumed
the voice and tone of his stepmother, and got after Rachel. ‘Tut,
tut, Rachel, what makes you do so,’ imitating grandmother exactly.”

Did your father ever speak of meeting the witch doctors and conjurers
at Bell’s? “Oh yes, ever so many came, and father used to tell many
ridiculous and laughable incidents regarding the experiments of
witch killers. The Bell’s allowed every one who came along to experiment
to his full satisfaction, and the witch always got the best of them.
I remember one incident that amused him very much. This fellow put
some silver, twelve dollars, in a bowl of water, performed his incantations,
and set the bowl away, that the silver might remain in the water
all night to work the enchantment when the witch came. Betsy Bell
had to drink the enchanted water. Next morning the money was gone,
which caused a mighty stir. A Negro was charged with stealing the
money, and Mr. Bell was threatening the servant with a whipping.
This was one of the times that Kate came to the Negro’s rescue.
‘Hold on, old Jack,’ spoke Kate, ‘that Negro is innocent; I can
tell you who got that money,’ and did tell. Mr. Bell dropped the
matter and said no more about it. Several evenings later father
went over to entertain the witch while the family and visitors slept.
After all had retired and everything was quiet, father said he sat
leaning his chair against the wall, waiting for Kate. Presently
he felt something touch him on the shoulder, and he was directly
accosted by the voice of the witch. ‘Say Jack, did you hear about
that money scrape they had here the other evening?’ ‘Yes,’ replied
father, ‘I heard something about it.’ ‘Well, it was funny; I saved
that nigger from a good whipping by telling old Jack who got the
money,’ and then went on to state that the person who got the money
went to Springfield yesterday and bought lots of nice things with
it. ‘Ha, ha, ha, I guess they will quit fooling with these witch
doctors now.’ Father had occasion to go to Springfield a day or
two later, and inquired about the transactions of this person as
told by Kate, and found that the witch had reported correctly.”

Did you, Mrs. Ayers, ever hear Bennett Porter say anything about
the witch? “No; Bennett Porter moved away while I was quite a child.
I have, however, heard various persons say that Bennett Porter shot
at the witch, and it made much ado about it, threatening something
serious to him or his children. I have also heard it repeated by
many that the witch was seen by Betsy swinging on the limb of a
tree and looking like a little girl dressed in green.”

Did you ever hear Williams or Joel Bell express any opinion in regard
to the witch? “Nothing particular. They discussed it in a general
way when asked questions regarding the demonstrations, but never
seemed disposed to talk much about it. I suppose they had heard
enough of it. However, Joel told me that the witch gave him the
severest whipping he ever felt, and one that he would never forget
as long as he lived.”

Mrs. Ayers, did you ever hear anything detrimental in any way to
the character of John Bell or his family? “Not a breath in the world.
No man or family stood higher in the estimation of the people than
John Bell. I have heard him spoken of as one of the leading men
of the country, and father said the citizens had the utmost confidence
in his integrity. More than that, he raised his children to be honorable
men and women, and the family influence is felt in Robertson county
to this day; even the grandchildren are men of the same substantial
character.”

Do you remember anything about Rev. Thomas and Rev. James Gunn?
“Yes, certainly; they were the founders of Methodism in this section,
and Rev. Sugg Fort was the leading Baptist. Their lives were full
of good works and honors. I have heard it said many times that they
visited Mr. Bell often and sympathized with him in his distress.”

TESTIMONIALS

CHAPTER XIV

The Bell Family, the Gunns, Forts, Johnsons, Porters, Frank Miles
and Other Citizens Whose Statements Authenticate the History of
the Bell Witch

Rev. Joshua W. Featherston, of Cedar Hill, Tenn., who after a long
and useful career retired from the ministry and now lives happily,
himself and wife, at his cottage, honored by all people, writes
as follows:

CEDAR HILL, TENN, Dec. 23, 1891

In answer to the request to contribute what I know in regard to
the characters or standing of Rev. Thomas Gunn, Rev. James Gunn,
Rev. Sugg Fort, John and Calvin Johnson, W. B. Porter, Frank R.
Miles, and the Bell family, I will state that they were among the
early settlers of Robertson county, Tenn. I was intimately acquainted
with each and every one of them except old Mr. John Bell, who died
just before I settled in the neighborhood, and it is with pleasure
that I can testify to their, high characters as men of worth and
standing in the community. They were men of undoubted honor, possessing
strong minds, and were not easily imposed upon.

As to the subject in hand, the Bell Witch, the history of which
is made up from the detailed statements of these men, in connection
with others, I can say that I have had many conversations with the
parties in regard to the matter, and they all testified to very
nearly the same facts and details, and I believe every word they
told me respecting the demonstrations. As regards Rev. James and
Rev. Thomas Gunn, they did more towards the establishment of the
Methodist church in this country than any other men. In fact they
were the founders of Methodism in this and surrounding counties,
and their influence is felt to this day. They married at least two-thirds
of the couples, and preached nearly all the funerals, in this and
surrounding country during many years, and finally went down to
their graves in peace, ripe with age and full of honors.

J. V. FEATHERSTON

About Frank R. Miles’ Experience

The writer had an interesting interview with Rev. J. W. Featherston
at his pleasant home, since the above letter was written. He repeats
many thrilling incidents told him by the men above mentioned, all
of which is found in other testimony. Mr. Featherston says he had
more talk with Frank Miles in regard to the actions of the witch
than any one else, and had implicit confidence in Miles as a man
who would not exaggerate or misstate the truth. Miles weighed about
two hundred and fifty pounds, was in the prime of life, vigorous
and very stout. He was at John Bell’s a great deal, going as other
friends to relieve and comfort the family in their distress, just
as he would have attended a sick neighbor. Mr. Miles had a lively
experience with the witch, which required more courage than force
to meet. He undertook to resist the playful frolics of the intruder,
which rather excited the animus of the monster with resentment and
pique for Miles, and it manifested special delight in snatching
the cover from his bed and striking him heavy blows. Mr. Miles said
he exercised all the strength in his arms in trying to retain the
bed covering when the witch was pulling at it, but in vain; it was
like tearing the whole fabric into shreds. Mr. Featherston further
states that the witch sensation was the exciting theme of the whole
community when he moved in, and continued so for years. It was the
subject of discussion in every household, and is often talked of
now, having a bearing upon other things.

One of the most remarkable features in the development of the witch
character was its preeminent knowledge of men, an innate, tangible
comprehension of every man’s attributes of mind and nature. Every
citizen or stranger that came in contact with the mystery found
disparagement in trying to cope with it on any subject, and suffered,
an exposure of the inmost purposes and secrets of the heart. Take
for an example of its exposition of this supernatural gift, the
Johnson brothers. There was no difference in their standing as men
of high honor and integrity of character. John was perhaps considered
the most intellectual and forcible man of the two, while Calvin
was noted for his frankness, devotion to principle, and absolute
freedom from all deceit and guile. These elements the witch observed,
and while it manifested the highest pleasure in vociferating and
palavering with John, it trusted Calvin implicitly, and assigned
its reason for this distinction. Calvin, it said, was a pure, truthful,
scrupulous, Christian man, and therefore it gave him its hand, which
it refused John and every one else, trusting no man as it did Calvin
Johnson. On the other hand it characterized John as a sharp, unscrupulous,
tricky man, “whose inmost purpose was to catch it,” and this, so
far as the witch was concerned, John admitted to be true, and that
he had pursued unawares every scheme, plan, stratagem, artifice
or illusion he was capable of inventing in his efforts to detect
the author of these most miraculous demonstrations, and at last
gave it up in despair, as a matter beyond human power, knowledge
or comprehension. This one instance of distinguishing the difference
in the characters of the Johnson brothers would not be sufficient
basis for a settled conclusion that the so-called witch was an agency
above human genius or power, but the same wonderful intuition, instinct
and archness [sic] was developed in hundreds of instances, and was
a leading characteristic in all of its operations, and for this
reason Mr. Featherston says he cannot believe that the demonstrations
were the result of any human agency.

Dr. J. T. Mathews Testifies

Dr. J. T. Mathews, who has been a well established practicing physician
of Cedar Hill for many years, writes as follows:

CEDAR HILL, TENN., Dec. 23, 1891

In answer to questions concerning the character of certain gentlemen
among the older settlers, it gives me pleasure to testify to the
high standing and stability of character concerning Frank R. Miles
and W. B. Porter, whom I was personally acquainted with, but too
young to remember the others. They were regarded as honorable gentlemen,
whose statements concerning any matter were to be relied upon implicitly
without the least hesitation. They lived on Sturgeon Creek, were
of the best families in their day and time, were known far and near,
and no one who knew them would think of calling their veracity in
question.

Respectfully,

J. T. MATHEWS

E. Newton Knew the Men

Mr. E. Newton, an old and respected citizen of Cedar Hill, writes
under date of Dec. 23, 1891:

I was personally acquainted with Rev. Thomas Gunn, Rev. James Gunn,
William Porter, John Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Alexander Gunn, and
the Bell family. They were of the best families that ever lived
in this country, men of the highest integrity and were honored by
all people. They were among the pioneers of civilization: and Christianity,
and were the leaders in the development of the county. They molded
the character of the best element now in this section, and their
influence will live to affect generations to come. No men contributed
more to the advancement of Christianity than the two Gunns.

E. NEWTON

A Host of Good Citizens Testify

To Whom It May Concern:

We, the undersigned, affix our names to this, understanding its
full purport and intent, which is to certify that the following
named men, to wit: Rev. James Gunn, Rev. Thomas Gunn, Alexander
Gunn, Rev. Sugg Fort, John Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Frank R. Miles,
Wm. B. Porter and John Bell, Sr., were among the first settlers
of the western part of Robertson county, Tenn. They were all men
of prominence and great influence, and their memories are respected
and revered to this day by the descendants of all who knew them.
Many of their descendents are now among us, honored and respected
citizens. The men above named all lived to a ripe old age, and left
behind them honored names, and we consider anything emanating from
any of them as entirely trustworthy. The post office address of
the signers to this is Cedar Hill, Tenn.

This Dec. 23, 1891.

J.E.Ruffin R. H. Bartlett H. B. Spain A. L. Bartlett

L. Batts J. W. M. Gooch Matt. Gooch Mrs. T. J. Ayers

W. R. Featherston William Wvnn E. S. Hawkins, M. D. B. H. Sory,
Sheriff

R. S. Draughon B. S. Byrns W. J. Barnes J. H. Long, Jr.

G. W. Sherod Levi Dunn W. H. Menees H. W. Williams

A. L. Batts. A. J. Newton William Soloman R. B. Long

R. B. Morris E. W. Gunn J. T. Bartlett Mary A. Bartlett

Nannie M. Morriss W. L. Melon J. R. Rufffin G. M. Darden

D. P. Ayres Mrs. M. L. Ayers J. H. Long, Sr. W. J. Darden

J. C. Davis M. J. Batts T. B. Polk J. H. Wynn

T. D. Morris G. B. Fyke C. B. Darden

Major Garaldus Pickering, the Man Who
Kicked the Witch out of Bed

Mr. R, H. Pickering, an honored citizen of Clarksville, Tenn., who
has been connected with the business interest of the city for forty
years, also served as County Trustee, and is a prominent official
in the Methodist Church, known throughout the Tennessee Conference,
contributes the statement of his father, Major Garaldus Pickering,
who was a distinguished citizen of his day, and visited the Bell
family during the witch excitement. No testimony could be more reliable,
Mr. Henry Pickering states:

I have heard my father, Garaldus Pickering, tell many wonderful
things about the Bell Witch. He taught a large school in the Bell
vicinity for a number of years, and educated two or three of the
Bell boys. He visited the family and had some experience with the
witch, as it was called, though he did not believe in witchcraft,
and said he was never afraid of it. He had no idea as to what it
was, but certainly it was an insoluble mystery, which has never
been accounted for. A great many people went to hear it talk and
witness its tricks; strangers came from North Carolina, Virginia
and other States, and it was nothing uncommon to find the stables
and lots full of horses, and a horse tied in every corner of the
lane fence.

Father told me some remarkable experiences that Frank Miles had
with the witch, but I will only repeat one or two things in his
own personal experience and contact. He said: The family and company
had all retired for the night in the usual way. Presently he felt
the cover slipping off toward the foot of the bed, and he drew it
up, holding it tightly. The next minute he felt something like a
hand or fingers tickling him under the toes. He drew his feet up
and kicked with all the power in him. He felt something weighty
as his feet struck it, and heard it strike against the wall and
fall to the floor, making a noise more like the falling of a side
of heavy sole leather, than anything he could describe.

Another instance; while the family and guests were at supper, the
subject of a wedding that was to take place at that hour came up.
Father stated the names of the contracting parties, which I have
forgotten, but remember the circumstance very distinctly, as it
impressed me at the time. However, some one remarked that the hour
for the marriage had about passed, and the parties were no doubt
then man and wife. Another remarked that Rev. Gunn performed the
ceremony. The witch then spoke, exclaiming, “No, he did not marry
them.” “Yes, but you are mistaken this time,” replied one. “Brother
Gunn was engaged to tie the knot, and he never fails.” “He failed
this time,” returned the witch. “Brother Gunn was taken very sick
and could not go, and the wedding was about to be a failure, but
they sent off for Squire Byrns and he married them.” No one present
believed it possible for the witch to know the facts so soon, but
this was ascertained on the following day to be the truth of the
case in every particular. Regarding the authorship of these very
singular exhibitions, father thought it absurd to charge it to any
of the Bell family. They were the sufferers, and suffered greatly;
moreover, they were every one afraid of it; that was clear to any
observer. He was there one night when several strangers rode up
and halloed ever so long, and not one of the family could be induced
to go out, because they were afraid, and he got out of bed, dressed,
and went out himself.

John A. Gunn’s Statement

CLARKSVILLE, TENN., May 16, 1893

To the Author — Dear Sir:

In reply to your questions I will state that I am familiar with
the Bell Witch story as written by Richard Williams Bell, and that
I have heard the same things that are detailed by him, and many
other incidents not recorded, repeated over and again by the old
citizens who lived in the vicinity at that time. I have heard my
father, Alexander Gunn, John Johnson and Frank Miles all repeat
the circumstance of finding the vial of poison in the cupboard at
the time of John Bell’s death, the experiment in giving it to a
cat, etc., just as told by the writer, all three being present and
witnessed Mr. Bell’s death and the circum. stances. I have heard
Calvin Johnson tell the circumstance of his shaking hands with the
witch, and many other very strange things. I have heard my grandfathers,
Rev. James Gunn and Rev. Thomas Gunn, repeat many of the demonstrations
which came under their observation; also James Johnson related the
same things; the story of the witch bringing Mrs. Lucy Bell grapes
and hazelnuts. Mrs. Martha Bell, wife of Jesse Bell, who lived to
be ninety-six years of age; told me the story regarding the stockings
as written by Williams Bell. Also I have heard William Porter repeat
the same circumstance of the witch’s visit to his house and getting
in bed with him. I have heard Alex. Gooch and wife, who was Theny
Thorn, Jeff. and James Gooch, Jerry Batts, Major Robert Bartlett,
Prof. John D. Tyler, of Montgomery County, and many others who witnessed
the demonstrations, relate the same events and discuss many other
things observed. I have also talked with Mrs. Betsy Powell regarding
her troubles with the mysterious visitation. All of these people
lived to a good old age, James Johnson passed his ninety-ninth year,
John Johnson passed eighty, Grandfather Thomas Gunn ninety-six,
and Rev. James Gunn seventy years. They were all honored citizens,
whose statements were trustworthy in regard to any matter, and no
one who ever knew them doubted the truth of the circumstances regarding
the witch demonstrations at John Bell’s and other places in the
neighborhood. Moreover, these citizens followed every clue, exercised
all of their wits, applied all manner of tests, placed unsuspected
detectives in and around the house, acted upon all suggestions regarding
the suspicion that had been lodged against certain members of the
family, and with all, their investigations ended in confusion, leaving
the affair shrouded in still deeper mystery, which no one to this
day has ever been able to account for or explain in any intelligent
or satisfactory way. Besides the names I have mentioned among the
most prominent citizens of the community, hundreds of men from other
communities and sections visited the place, remaining days and nights,
for the same purpose, and all failed in the object of detecting
the cause of the demonstrations.

John Johnson, perhaps, took more interest in the investigations
than any other man; in fact, from all I could gather, he was the
leader and inventor of most all the schemes resorted to. He was
a man of splendid endowments, keen observation, quick perception,
and close comprehension; self-willed, and self-possessed, sustaining
an unsullied and intrepid character. Moreover, he was less given
than most of men to the superstitious ideas that characterized the
people in that age, and as he told me, he entered into the investigation
believing that some human agency was at the bottom of the strange
manifestations, and he was determined to find it out if possible.

Knowing Mr. Johnson and others who lived long years ago, as I did,
together with the statements of my father and grandfather, I cannot
at all question the appearance and existence of the unsolved mystery
of the Bell Witch, nor do I doubt the actual occurrence of the incidents
recorded by Richard Williams Bell, whom I knew to be one of the
purest and best of men that ever lived in Robertson County.

Respectfully,

JOHN A. GUNN

David Thompson Porter’s Testimony

Esquire Zopher Smith, a prominent Magistrate of Clarksville, Tenn.,
was raised in Keysburg, Ky., and gratefully remembers David Thompson
Porter as the friend of his youth. Mr. Porter was a merchant of
Keysburg, and was honored for his worth as a citizen of the highest
integrity and force of character, enjoying at that day a reputation
Similar to that sustained by his distinguished son, Dr. D. T. Porter,
of Memphis, Tenn. Squire Smith was a young clerk in the store, and
he says he has heard Mr. Porter state repeatedly that he spent many
nights at John Bell’s, acting in concert with other citizens in
trying to detect the agency of those most mysterious and wonderful
demonstrations, following up every clue, and exhausting all resources
and stratagems to no purpose. Squire Smith recounts many incidents
stated by Mr. Porter, which impressed him at the time, especially
the story of the witch carrying hazelnuts and grapes to Mrs. Bell,
which Mr. Porter said was a positive fact. He described the knocking
at the door like some one seeking admittance, and instantly the
door would open of its own accord, and then the witch would begin
talking. He also described the pulling of the cover off of the beds,
and nearly all of the characteristic incidents recorded by Williams
Bell, which need not be repeated. Such statements as this are of
course hearsay, or second-handed testimony, but nevertheless reliable.
The writer has several times observed Squire Smith as a witness
in s higher court, testifying to the preliminary statements of certain
witnesses in his court, which was accepted as valid testimony, and
this is just the same kind of evidence. The men and Women of mature
years who witnessed the demonstrations have all passed away, but
we have the incidents recorded by Williams Bell, and approved by
other members of the family, who were living witness to all of it,
and these hearsay statements are simply repetitions of the same
facts by other parties who never saw Williams Bell’s manuscript,
or knew that such a record was in existence, and the chain of evidence
is as complete and strong as it is possible to make any kind of
testimony. Squire Smith says Mr. Porter affirmed his statements
with the same emphasis as if he had been qualified in a court of
justice, and he could not disbelieve a word he said.

Dr. William Fort’s Investigation

The writer is authorized by a highly reputable lady of the Fort
connection to state that Dr. William Fort came all the way from
his home, then in Missouri, to investigate the phenomena. Parties
who had failed in all of their efforts to explain the mystery, gave
publicity to the suspicion that the demonstrations had their origin
in the practices of ventriloquism by certain members of the family
(something that would have been impossible without the knowledge
of the old people and intimate neighbors, and without easy detection).
Dr. Fort determined to make a thorough test of this version, and
had the accused members to sit by him, holding his hands over their
mouths while the witch continued to talk uninterrupted and without
change or modulation in the tone of voice.

Private Conversation Exposed

The same lady relates this incident: Jesse Herring and wife were
two estimable old people who lived in the vicinity. They were extremely
cautious and guarded in their conversation about other people, and
never discussed the witch or spent any opinion about it away from
their own fireside. One night with closed doors, and not a soul
in the house except themselves, they discussed the mystery very
freely, and not a word was spoken by either of them to any one in
regard to this conversation, or the witch. On the following night
the witch reported to be whole conversation to the company assembled
at John Bell’s.

Emptied the Milk Vessels

Mrs. Betsy Sugg called one morning to pay Mrs. Lucy Bell a visit.
The subject of milk and butter came up, and Mrs. Bell spoke of her
new dairy house and invited Mrs. Sugg out to show her how nicely
it was arranged. She had just finished straining and setting the
milk for cream, locked the door and put the key in her pocket. The
milk was set in pewter basins, vessels then in common use for milk,
with wooden covers. Mrs. Bell took the key from her pocket, unlocked
and opened the door, and to her surprise and chagrin there was not
a drop of milk there, and the basins were turned bottom up and the
covers placed over them. “Some of Kate’s mischief,” exclaimed Mrs.
Bell. “The witch is always playing some such prank as this.”

Uncle to the Devil

The witch it is said always treated the preachers, the Gunns and
Rev. Sugg Fort, with more respectful consideration than other people.
It was inclined to be on intimate or jocular terms with Rev. Fort,
calling him Uncle Suggie, always welcoming him at the door with
a happy salutation, “Good morning,” or “Good evening Uncle Suggie.
How do you like to be called uncle to the devil ?”

Frightened Jerry Stark’ s Horse

Mr. James Chapman, a good citizen of Keysburg, Ky., spent the prime
of his life in Robertson County, and repeats many of the incidents
herein noted, as he heard them stated by older citizens. He heard
more from Jerry Stark than any other person, and says, knowing the
upright character of the man, he could not question Mr. Stark’s
statements. Mr. Stark visited the Bell place frequently during the
witch excitement, and the progress of the investigations, and generally
stayed all night.

Mr. Stark, says Chapman, described a large tree that stood in the
Bell lane, under which he had to pass, when leaving the Place the
following morning, after staying over night, and invariably, as
he approached near, a rustling sound was heard among the leaves
of the tree, and immediately as he passed under the tree, something
apparently the size of a rabbit would jump out of the tree behind
him, and that instant his horse would dash off as fast as he could
go, which Mr. Stark said he could not account for, and never saw
anything more of the spectre after it jumped. Mr. Chapman further
states that some time after the old Bell house had been torn away,
he was there helping Williams Bell in the wheat harvest. The grain
was very rank, and they had stopped under a pear tree to whet their
scythes and rest, and while there he mentioned this circumstance
as told him by Mr. Jerry Stark, and Williams Bell confirmed the
statement, pointing to the tree which was still standing, remarking
that Stark’s horse always started in a run with him the moment he
passed under that tree.

Esquire James I. Holman Writes

SPRINGFIELD, TENN., Nov. 4, 1893

M. V. Ingram — My Dear Sir:

I see in the Nashville Banner of November 3d, a statement to the
effect that you are writing a history of the Bell Witch for publication,
and I write you to say that I want a copy as soon as it is out.
I am now fifty-one years of age, and have as keen a relish for reading
the full details of the great mystery as I did when a boy, and heard
my grandfather, Irvin Polk, tell so much of the many wonderful things
he had witnessed, known as the witch demonstrations. He lived near
the Bell place, and was there on many occasions and witnessed strange
things that he could in no way account for, and which, as I. understand,
has never been explained. I could not doubt the statements of grandfather,
even had I never heard them confirmed by many others, and it certainly
was a wonderfully mysterious thing. The old Bell house in which
the witch performed, if you do not know the fact, was many years
ago torn down and moved to the place on the bluff of Brown’s ford,
now occupied by Levi Smith and family. I learn from my father, Col.
D. D. Holman, that Major Wash. Lowe, who you remember as a prominent
lawyer of Springfield, undertook to write up the facts, but for
some reason never finished, and turned his writing over to Allen
Bell, which you may get and learn something from.

Respectfully, your friend,

JAMES I. HOLMAN

The writer will state that he has all the notes written by Major
Lowe, but it is so badly faded and colorless that very little of
it is legible.

William Wall’s Experience With the
Witch

Esquire J. E. Ransdell, of the Fourteenth District of Montgomery
County, Tenn., relates the experience of Uncle Billy Wall with the
witch, as he heard the old gentleman tell it to many persons. Mr.
Wall lived at Fredonia, in Montgomery County. He has been dead some
ten years, but his story impressed Squire Ransdell in such a way
that he has never forgotten it. Uncle Billy said he concluded to
go over to Bell’s and hear the mysterious talking that was exciting
the country. He started late, on a good fat horse, that was remarkable
for its good saddle qualities and gentleness. Nearing the place
he was hailed by a voice, in the bushes calling him familiarly,
“Hello, Billy Wall, you are going to see the witch?” “Yes”, replied
Uncle. Billy, “that is where I am going.” The voice replied, “I
am going there too, and believe I will ride behind you on that fat
horse.” “All right,” returned Mr. Wall, “hop up.” That moment he
felt his horse squat, as if some heavy weight had fallen upon him,
and then commenced wriggling, prancing and kicking up. He threw
one hand behind to feel what it was, and then the other hand, but
found nothing, and yet, he said, “the damn thing kept up a continual
palavering at my back, asking me all sorts of hell-fired questions,
while my horse continued in a canter, squealing and kicking up,
and every damn hair on my head stood straight up, reaching for the
treetops. It wasn’t any fun for me, but the damn thing kept on laughing
and talking about my fine race horse, and how pleasant it was to
ride behind on his broad fat back, telling me what a fine suit of
hair I had, and how beautifully it stood up, making me look like
a statesman. I let my horse out, and wasn’t long in getting there.
As soon as I halted in front of the house, the damn thing politely
invited me to ‘light Mr. Wall, hitch your horse to the rack and
go in; I will be in pretty soon and entertain you.’ Just about an
hour later the racket commenced, and it looked like hell was to
pay. It came rattling like dried hazelnuts pouring down by showers
on the floor; and all sorts of talking going on. That trip satisfied
me; I got enough of the witch in one night and never went back.”

Squire Ransdell says the way in which Mr. Wall told this story,
giving emphasis to nearly every word, portraying in expression his
own feelings at the time, was the most laughable thing he ever heard.

Joshua Gardner Testified to the Wonderful
Phenomena

Among the many letters in answer to the advertisement for the Bell
Witch, after it went into the hands of the publisher, the following
from W. H. Gardner, a prominent business man of Union City, Tenn.,
and A. E. Gardner, of Dresden. Tenn., a gentleman favorably known
throughout the State for his high integrity, presents evidence regarding
Joshua Gardner’s experience with the witch demonstrations:

UNION CITY, TENN., April 20, 1894

M. V. Ingram — Dear Sir:

When will your book, “History of the Bell Witch,” be out? My uncle,
Joshua Gardner, was a conspicuous figure in the remarkable affair,
as Betsy Bell’s lover, and of course I want to read your history.
Truly, as you say, it is the most wonderful phenomenon that ever
occurred in this or any other country, and which will no doubt ever
remain a mystery. I can recall, perhaps, an hundred occasions since
I was a boy that I heard Uncle Joshua relating the remarkable story,
and strange: to say, in the latter years of his life, he was loath
to speak of it, even when urged to recount the queer doings and
sayings of the witch, and then, if one of his hearers manifested
the least inclination to disbelieve, he would desist. He believed
in it as strong as he held to his religion, and a more devoted,
conscientious Christian man never lived than Joshua Gardner. He
died a few years since at the age of eighty-four years. I remember
that Uncle Joshua received a copy of the Philadelphia Saturday Evening
Post of 1849, containing a long and interesting account of the witch,
written by a reporter. We kept the paper until a few years since,
but it has in some way been lost and cannot now be found. I understand
that Mrs. Wade, living near here, who is now ninety years of age,
was a witness to the stirring and exciting incidents. There are
several persons in this vicinity who are familiar with the history
of the witch, and agree perfectly as to the facts of the remarkable
phenomenon.

Respectfully,

W. H. GARDNER

DRESDEN TENN., April 25, 1894

M. V. Ingram — Dear Sir:

I see notice of your intention to publish a history of the “Bell
Witch.” My uncle, Joshua Gardner, figured considerably in the life
of the witch, and of course I have heard a great deal about it and
feel anxious to see the history, and will ask you to put me down
as one of your first subscribers.

Respectfully,

A. E. GARDNER

LATEST DEMONSTRATIONS

CHAPTER XV

The Witch’s Return After Seven Years

Williams Bell says when the witch took its departure in 1821, bidding
adieu to the family, it promised to return in seven years. He also
records the fact that it did return according to promise, remaining
some two weeks, making the same demonstrations that characterized
the first appearing, and that himself, Joel Bell and their mother,
Mrs. Lucy Bell, were the only members of the family then remaining
at the old homestead — John, Drew and Betsy, those accused of producing
the demonstrations, having all gone away to themselves, and were
not apprised of the reappearance, the three having agreed to keep
the matter a profound secret, lest the old troubles should be renewed.
This statement is substantiated by Joel, who in later years never
hesitated to talk about the family troubles, detailing the circumstances
to interested friends inquiring into the mystery. He consulted with
his brother in regard to the publication, read his manuscript, and
knew everything that was in it. Williams Bell, however, does not
vouch for the many reports of strange noises and varied sounds,
and mysterious appearances, seen and heard about the place and at
several other places in that end of the county, to which others
testify; much of the testimony to these apparitions has been omitted.
He heard no more of it up to the date of his writing, 1846. Later
than this, however, there is some well substantiated evidence to
demonstrations similar to the early manifestations.

After the death of Mrs. Lucy Bell, the land was divided, and Joel
received the river plot, adjoining Williams on the north, on which
he settled after his marriage.

Dr. Henry H. Sugg’s Statement

Dr. Henry H. Sugg’s statement is first of importance, which the
writer is authorized to repeat by three highly creditable persons,
one a lady, and the others, Col. Thomas Trigg, of Montgomery County,
Tenn., and Mr. John A. Gunn, to whom he made the statement at different
times, and all repeat it precisely alike; also Col. Yancey narrates
the same story. Dr. Sugg said he was called to Joel Bell’s to see
a sick child. This was about 1852. It was a cold day, and entering
the house as usual he found a comfortable fire burning, and placing
his medical pocket on the floor by the door as he entered, he seated
himself by the fire to warm. Immediately he heard a rapping or rattling
of glass in the valise, and instantly following this was an explosive
sound like the popping of corks, and a crash of the vials. He was
sure that every bottle in the valise had been smashed, and he jumped
up excitedly to ascertain the cause, but on opening the valise,
found nothing out of place and no harm done. Mr. Bell also observed
the same thing, and remarked that such things were common, that
he never paid any attention to them. This statement is further supported
and given additional significance by:

Reynolds Powell’s Story

Reynolds Powell tells the story of a circumstance that occurred
at the same place in 1861. Joel Bell sold this farm to his brother
Williams, and after the death of Williams Bell, the place was allotted
to his son, Allen Bell, who cultivated it several years before he
was married.

The writer visited Mrs. Annie Powell, a daughter of the late Dr.
Scott, of Barren Plains, Robertson County, and widow of DeWitt Powell,
who now resides near Barren Plains, for the purpose of interviewing
her on the subject in hand. We found her quite an interesting lady,
familiar with the entire history of the Bell Witch, as she had heard
it repeated by her father and mother, and mother-in-law, the Gunn
family, and many others, rehearsing, as she did, many of the circumstances
already recorded, remarking in the conversation, “Allen Bell could,
tell you a very interesting circumstance if he would, but I have
no idea that he will, as he has never spoken of it to any of us.
Reynolds Powell, however, told all about the affair the next day
after it happened. Allen Bell had about recovered from a hard spell
of sickness. In fact he was discharged from the army soon after
he joined on account of bad health, from which he was not expected
to recover. Reynolds Powell went down to spend a night with him
during his convalescence, and on his return home next morning he
told how bad he and Allen were scared. Allen had been staying with
his stepmother, but other company came in, and they went over to
Allen’s place to sleep, in order to make room. They retired, leaving
the doors open for fresh air, and very soon, he said, the dog commenced
barking furiously, and ran into the house greatly frightened, while
a strange noise was heard without. The dog continued snarling, snapping
and barking in a frightened way that indicated a close contest with
something. They got up to see what was the matter, but could not
discover anything unusual and put the dog out, closing the doors.
The dog took to his feet and left the place, and all was quiet for
the next hour, when they were awakened by the removal of the bolster
from under their heads, and then followed the sheets, being jerked
from under them. They arose to investigate the cause, but could
find nothing out of the regular order of things. They replaced the
sheet and bolster, securely bolted the doors, and retired again,
placing a light cover over them. After some while the same trick
was repeated, the cover bolster and sheet all being snatched from
the bed. They replaced the things, which were removed the third
time. They then placed the bolster on the bed, and laid with their
breasts across it, holding with their hands, determined to retain
it, but it was immediately snatched away with great force., and
the bolster was thrown on top of their heads, and this ended the
contest. He said they didn’t sleep much, and I suppose that was
true. You ask Allen about it.”

Reynolds Powell was killed in the Confederate army after this. The
Writer interviewed Allen Bell in regard to the circumstance, and
he admitted that it was substantially true, but he was surprised
to learn that Reynolds Powell had ever told it to any one. He said,
however, that the demonstrations were never repeated while he remained
on the place. This demonstration was characteristic of the performances
at John Bell’s, and was evidently the acts of the same agency.

Another characteristic incident in the same vicinity, or on the
Bell place,

several years later, to which reputable gentlemen testify, is here
presented.

Music of the Enchanted Spring

John A. Gunn and A. L. Bartlett testify that during the year 1866
they had occasion to cross Red River, and the stream having swollen
too full for fording; they left their horses on the south, or Bell
side of the river, and crossed over in a canoe. Returning late in
the afternoon, they landed near the famous enchanted spring, designated
by the spirit as the hiding place of the treasure trove. They did
not land there, however, with any expectation of finding the treasure
— oh no. They sought a cooling draught of limpid water to quench
their burning thirst, so they say, which is evidently true. However,
after refreshing themselves, they started up the hill, when a sweet
strain of music pierced their ears like a volume of symphony vibrating
the air. They both involuntarily stopped, and seated themselves
on a moss covered stone, listening to the ravishing melody which
continued some thirty minutes. It was unlike any music they had
ever heard. The modulating sound was indescribable, and unsurpassingly
sweet. It was utterly impossible to discover from whence it came,
the whole atmosphere seemed thrilled with vibrating euphony, and
the gentlemen were caught up, as it were, on wings of ecstasy.

Heartless people who have no conception of the mysterious, no ear
for music, no eye for the beautiful and no taste for the sweets
of this life, ascribe such manifestations as this to the imagination
under a peculiar state of mind, and bewildering circumstances. But
not so in this case. These gentlemen were then in the vigor of young
manhood, and had crossed the river that day in defiance of wind
and wave to spend a joyous Sabbath with their best girls. Evidently
they did not return with their hearts attuned to a heavenly sonnet,
for neither of them married on the north side of the river, nor
did they ever cross again on the same mission, and therefore could
not have experienced the passionate throbbings that calls forth
such an euphonious dulcet.

The writer can bear testimony to some remarkable experiences in
crossing the same stream near the charmed spring, and it is under
altogether different circumstances and state of mind that ones imaginations
take flight, catching sweet intonations from the rippling waves,
and chasing billows, bringing the cadence into diapason with the
melody of the birds, and the chant of the sylph, forming a transporting
consonance that carries the soul beyond that blessed abode where
the ordinary mortal is willing to stop. These gentlemen had no such
experience; in truth they sought a draught of lethe in all possible
haste — a spring known to all lovers of that section as the gushing
stream of oblivion, and he who drinks may depart in forgetfulness.
Kate the spirit, is ever present to administer to the comfort of’
a despairing swain. There was no circumstance attending this incident
that could have possibly exercised the imagination. The gentlemen
were tired and had no imagination, and there could not have been
any illusion or delusion, in the melodious sound that pierced their
ears. It was no other than Kate, the witch, who always put in just
at the right time and place unexpectedly and most mysteriously,
and no doubt that the sweet strains of music was very helpful to
their fatigued feelings.

Be this as it may, they are men of veracity and testify to the truth
of this incident. They were then fresh from the field of battle,
familiar with the sound of rattling musketry and roaring cannon,
and were not easily frightened or deceived. Kate was a musical witch,
and the circumstance is characteristic of the acts performed years
before.

The writer has information of two incidents which occurred in 1872,
a few miles from the Bell place, that were of the same nature and
character of the disturbances that annoyed the Bell family so much,
and unmistakably emanated from the same source or agency. These
demonstrations were witnessed by two young ladies who could not
have been mistaken. But, for proper and prudent reasons, they request
that the circumstances and details be omitted in this publication,
and in deference to their wishes they are not recorded. However,
these incidents are sufficient to enable the author to trace the
operations, of the agency known as the “Bell Witch” from 1817 to
1872, a period of fifty-five years, and he leaves readers to form
their own conclusion as to the nature and authorship of the demonstrations.
The testimony presented is given on the authority and statements
of the very best people of the country, men and women who would
not tend their names and influence for the purpose of making up
a story of fiction, and altogether goes to establish, beyond question
or doubt the existence for fifty-five years of the greatest mystery
and wonder that the world has any account of.

The writer has only to say in conclusion, that if it was the work
of human agency, the author was a shrewd devil, of great age and
wonderful cunning, to have escaped detection during so long a reign
terrorizing the fears of timid people, continuing still at large
undiscovered and unknown, in a country of sharp detectives, set
to catch evil doers of every description. Conceding that it is possible
for a person or persons, through any kind of mechanism, skill or
human genius, to inaugurate such a mystifying terror, continuing
over a half century undiscovered, is to admit that the present century
of Christian civilization has progressed far beyond any other age
in developing deviltry in human nature.

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