By Don Wick © 1987
Issue: June, 1987
Editor's Note... The following is the final part of a five part series of stories sent to us by the Tennessee Department of Tourism Development. If you like "haint" stories, you're going to love this one!
The Bell Witch in the 20th Century
After Lucy Bell's death in 1828, the witch seemed to lose much of its interest in the Bell family.
While the witch never gave any specific reasons for its actions, the mysterious death of John Bell and the termination of Elizabeth's romance with Joshua Gardner had apparently fulfilled its objectives. Perhaps the death of Kate's one friend in the Bell household untied the final knot holding it to the Bell farm.
For whatever unknown reason, the Witch's appearances became fewer and less spectacular.
Joel Bell had a brief encounter with the witch in 1852 and his son Allen, in 1861. Two more incidents were reported in 1872 and other periodic reports of strange, unaccountable occurrences continue into present times.
Carney Bell, one of the modern descendants of John and Lucy Bell and currently a partner in the Austin and Bell Funeral Home at Springfield, has had several odd occurrences in recent years which might attribute to Kate. There was, for instance, the famous rabbit–hunting incident.
"This happened in 1975 or 1976," Carney Bell explains. "I was out rabbit hunting with four of my boys on the old Head farm about eight miles from the old family at Adams. One of my boys spotted a rabbit and took a shot at it. The rabbit rolled over as if it had been hit, then revived and ran off. We chased it into a honeysuckle thicket and lost it."
"I put my hand down on what I thought was an old honeysuckle stump to get my feet untangled and when I did, I discovered it wasn't wood, but stone."
"We took a closer look and found we were in and old, overgrown cemetery in the middle of the field and I had put my hand down on one of the old headstones."
"The carving was almost gone. We rubbed a clod of dirt over the carving and saw the name on the stone was Joel Egbert Bell – my great–great–grandfather. I had been looking for that particular family grave for close to 20 years."
Carney Bell also relates the story of the night he was house setting at his mother's home at Springfield some 15 miles from Adams.
"I was sitting in a chair reading a book when one of my neighbors called to tell me that Channel 5 television from Nashville was broadcasting a story about the Bell Witch," Carney says. "I turned on the television set in the living room, but all I could get on Channel 5 was 'zebras'."
"I tried a couple of other television sets in the house, but I couldn't get a picture on any of them, just sound – except for commercials. They came in beautifully, but every time the station went back to the story, the picture went out completely."
One landmark from the heyday of the Bell Witch still remains on the old Bell farm.
There is a cave near the bank of the Red River which was used as a storage place in John Bell's day. Many of the 20th century phenomena have taken place in or around this cave.
Many visitors to the cave have reported seeing the figure of a dark haired woman floating through the caves passageways. Several people have reported being touched by something. Others have heard sounds like chains dragging along the cave floor. Still others have heard footsteps. One boy had a cap snatched off his head and deposited on a ledge 30 feet up.
In 1977, five soldiers from nearby Fort Campbell, Kentucky, were visiting the cave. One of them was sitting on a rock and telling the others he didn't believe in such things when something none of the others could see grabbed him and pinned him down. He began calling for help, saying it was as if something was sitting on his chest and squeezing the breath out of him.
W.M. "Bims" Eden, the longtime owner of part of the old Bell farm which contains the cave, has witnessed many of the 20th century encounters with the Witch and he has had more than his share of personal experiences with Kate – or something.
"I can't say for a fact that it is," Eden says. "All I know is what I've seen. There was a winter day eight or ten years ago, for instance, when we had about three–quarters of an inch new snow. I heard somebody knocking on my front door. I looked through the window and saw the image of a figure I didn't recognize walking away from the house. I saw it walk behind a tree, but it didn't come out on the other side of the tree."
"I got my shotgun and went out the back door, but when I got to the tree, there was no one there. There were no footprints in that fresh snow either."
Strange floating lights are also still occasionally seen in the fields of the old Bell farm. Many people have chased the lights, only to have them vanish and reappear farther away.
There is also the figure of a little girl which occasionally materializes along U.S. Highway 41 which borders the old Bell farm. More than one unsuspecting motorist has been sure that he struck her, but no trace of her is ever found.
The story of the Bell Witch has reached the status of folklore in Tennessee and much of the South, but around Adams, Tennessee, the Witch is much more than just a musty old legend. Kate is still an almost tangible presence, and whenever something out of the ordinary happens, the residents around here are likely to shrug their shoulders and simply say, "Kate probably did it."