The Mountain Laurel
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The Strange True Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee, Part 2 of 5

By Don Wick © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Adams, Tennessee - Attempts by the Bell family and their neighbors to communicate with whatever it was in the Bell house produced an unexpected result.

The thing began to talk.

At first it was only a low, broken, whistling sound, but the strange, disembodied voice quickly gained strength. It became a distinct whisper and finally a clear and clearly feminine voice.

Naturally, one of the first questions asked was, "What are you?"

The disembodied voice said, "I am a spirit. I was once very happy but I have been disturbed."

That is all it would say about itself and in all the time it stayed with the Bell family it always seemed reluctant to talk about itself. Some students of the Witch believe that perhaps it really didn't know who or what it was, and much of what it did say was conflicting.

On one occasion it said that it was the spirit of an Indian who had once lived in the area. Another time it said that it was the spirit of an immigrant who had buried a treasure under a large rock by a spring on the banks of the river and that it wanted Elizabeth Bell to have it.

The spirit gave specific instructions for locating the treasure, but after a day of digging at the designated spot, the spirit began laughing at them for their foolishness in believing such a story. Still another time it claimed to be "Old Kate Batts Witch."

Kate Batts was a neighbor of the Bell family. She and John Bell had had a violent quarrel shortly after the Bell family arrived in Robertson County. She was also a woman well know for her eccentricities. Many people believed her to be a witch. She had a habit, for instance, of begging pins from any woman she met.

According to the superstition of the day, loaning a pin to someone gave that person witch like control over the lender.

Not everyone believed in witches, of course, but everyone in the neighborhood made a practice of hiding their pins anyway whenever Kate Batts came to call.

Whether or not the spirit had any connection with Kate Batts, the name stuck. It would forever afterwards be known as The Bell Witch, and to most people, then and now, it was simply "Kate," a name it cheerfully accepted.

If the Witch wouldn't talk much about itself, it would talk about almost anything else. In fact, once it learned to talk, it was hard to shut the thing up. It loved to get into religious and philosophical discussions with the many visitors who were now arriving regularly at the Bell farm. It would quote Biblical chapter and verse to prove its points and it rarely lost a debate.

It regularly attended church services at both the Methodist and Baptist churches in the area. Sometimes it appeared to have attended both services at the same time in churches 13 miles apart.

It had a tremendous talent for mimicry and delighted in replaying the sermons word for word in the voices of the two ministers.

Many people began to believe that it was some sort of divine spirit, but Kate became a back slider, "The result," as one wag put it, "of mixing the Methodist fire with Baptist water."

Kate took to raiding a nearby still house and getting roaring drunk, keeping everyone up all night with horrendous curses and drunken songs.

It was also about this time that an entire "family" of spirits joined Kate at the Bell farm. Kate introduced them as Blackdog, Mathematics, Cypocryphy and Jerusalem.

Now there were five distinct disembodied voices. Kate's was described as a delicate, somewhat feminine voice. Blackdog had a harsh feminine voice. Mathematics and Cypocryphy were more delicate feminine voices and Jerusalem sounded like a boy.

The five spirits kept the Bell house in a constant uproar, and while the other four seemed to come and go, Kate was the constant companion of the Bell family.

Kate also loved to perform for the steady stream of visitors to the Bell farm and Elizabeth was usually the chief victim when the Witch wanted to demonstrate its powers.

She would be prodded, poked and pricked with invisible pins. She was slapped across the face until her cheeks turned red. The combs would fly out of her hair and smash to the floor without breaking. Her shoes would unlace themselves and sail across the room while the Witch laughed uproariously.

Kate tormented Elizabeth to the extent that the Bell family became afraid to leave her alone for fear the Witch would kill her. Two of her close girl friends from the neighborhood spent most nights with her and witnessed the horrors Elizabeth endured from Kate. Even when Elizabeth spent the night away from home with friends, the Witch would follow her.

Elizabeth fell in love with a boy named Joshua Gardner, and while he came from one of the county's best families and was regarded as an excellent young man, the Witch did not like him. It begged Elizabeth not to marry him and it did everything in its power to break up their romance.

For some unknown reason, the Witch also had an abiding and passionate hatred for John Bell. It would never explain why it hated John Bell so much, but the Witch swore it would kill him.

John Bell began to suffer mysterious attacks in which his tongue would swell and stiffen in his mouth. He would be unable to eat or talk. He described the feeling like a sharp stick wedged crossways in his mouth.

The Witch laughed at his suffering and as the spells grew more frequent and worse, Kate repeated the vow to one day kill him.

Go to Part 3