The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Strange True Story of the Bell Witch of Tennessee, Part 3 of 5

By Don Wick © 1987

Issue: April, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is the third 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!

Andrew Jackson Meets The Bell Witch

Adams, Tennessee - While Elizabeth Bell and her father were the chief victims of the Witch's torments, no member of the Bell family escaped. Kate was not always a vindictive spirit either. The Witch could be helpful when it wished.

Once when John Bell, Jr. was planning a trip back to North Carolina to settle his father's share of an estate, Kate told him the trip was a waste of time, that the estate had not been settled yet and if he went he would come back with nothing.

John, Jr. insisted he was going anyway.

The Witch told him he was making a mistake. It said that a young lady was on her way to visit relatives in Robertson County. It said that she was very beautiful and very rich, that she owned 40 slaves and a fortune and that he could win her for his wife if he stayed.

But John, Jr. went back to North Carolina anyway. He was gone for six months and he came back without a cent. While he was gone a young lady did come to visit relatives in the area. She was very beautiful and very rich. She did own 40 slaves, but she went home before John, Jr. returned and he never had the chance to meet her.

The only member of the Bell family the Witch really seemed to like was Lucy Bell. Kate always spoke to her with respect, gave her helpful advice, and kept her informed of what was happening in her family back in North Carolina.

Once when Lucy was seriously ill the Witch became concerned about her. It would sing to her and when she didn't feel like eating, the Witch brought her treats to try to tempt her appetite.

One day while several of the neighborhood women were visiting with her the Witch told Lucy to hold out her hands. When she did hazelnuts began materializing out of thin air and dropping into her cupped hands.

Lucy put the nuts down on the bed beside her and the Witch asked why she wouldn't eat them. Lucy said she didn't have anything to crack them with.

There were sudden popping noises and the nuts were suddenly neatly cracked for her. A few days later the Witch brought her a handful of grapes in the same mysterious manner.

As the fame of the Bell Witch began to spread, more and more people began showing up at the Bell farm. Some of them came from great distances. One of Kate's favorite tricks was to tell these people what was happening to their families at home at that precise moment and, no matter where they were from, Kate's reports always turned out to be correct.

One of the visitors to the Bell farm was General Andrew Jackson, who came from Nashville with a company of men including one who insisted that he could get rid of the Witch.

As Jackson's wagon approached the Bell farm the wheels suddenly locked.

The ground was dry and level, but no matter how hard the horses strained and the men pushed, the wagon would not move.

Jackson finally threw up his hands and said, "By the eternal, boys, it is the Witch."

It was then that they heard a sharp, metallic voice laughing at them and saying, "All right, General, let the wagon move on. I will see you again tonight."

That night Jackson and his men sat in the Bell parlor waiting for the Witch to appear and listening to the "witch layer" telling what he would do if it appeared while he cradled a gun loaded with a silver bullet.

Finally, they heard the sound of footsteps in the room and the Witch's voice, saying that it was present and "ready for business". It told the "witch layer" to go ahead and shoot, but the gun would not fire.

It told him to try again, and again the gun failed to fire. Then they heard a solid slapping sound. The man's chair overturned. He got up off the floor and began dancing around the room screaming that the Witch had him by the nose.

He was last seen running down the lane in the direction of Nashville while Jackson and his men collapsed in laughter.

Jackson and his men left the next morning even though John Bell invited them to stay longer. Jackson said he had seen enough of the Bell Witch.

Whatever it was, the Witch was no ethereal will o the wisp. It had tangible mass and sometimes form. It claimed that it could assume any shape it wished and frequently claimed to have appeared in the form of a large black dog or a rabbit.

Many people, especially those who resisted its efforts to pull away the bedcovers, felt the sting of its slapping hand but it was apparently not invulnerable.

It shook hands with several people, but it chose those people very carefully and always exacted a pledge in advance that the person would not try to grab it. It refused the honor to anyone it did not trust.

One man who shook hands with the Witch described it as a delicate touch, "like a woman's hand" laid lengthwise in his palm. Another described it as a "hairy substance."

While the Witch spent most of its time in the Bell house, it was by no means confined there and many people throughout the area had experiences with Kate.

One of the Bell's neighbors, William Porter, had one of the most memorable.

Go to Part 4