The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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The Strange True Story Of The Bell Witch Of Tennessee, Part 4 of 5

By Don Wick © 1987

Issue: May, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is the fourth 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 Gets In Bed With William Porter

Adams, Tennessee - William Porter was a bachelor who lived alone some distance from the Bell farm. He and Kate talked often and had become friendly enough so that Porter had no fear of the spirit.

One cold winter night as he lay in bed, he felt the covers being pulled back and heard Kate's familiar voice saying it had come "to spend the night with him and keep him warm."

Porter told the Witch that if it was going to spend the night with him it had to behave itself.

He felt something sliding into bed with him and then felt the covers being pulled off him as Kate rolled up in them and left him exposed.

Porter said he suddenly realized that the form in the bed next to him was clearly outlined under the bedcovers and he had an idea.

He grabbed the form, covers and all, and began carrying it toward the fireplace with the intention of throwing the whole thing into the fire, but the weight got heavier and heavier as he approached the fireplace and what he described as "an awful stench" began rising from the covers. He had to drop the load and run from the house to get his breath and Kate never again got into bed with anybody.

By 1820 the Witch's terror tactics had taken a heavy toll on the Bell family.

John Bell's mysterious afflictions grew more frequent and more terrible. The Witch cursed him constantly and the viciousness of its attacks on him increased until he was at times almost an invalid.

On the morning of December 19th, 1820, he was found in bed in an unnaturally deep sleep. The family could not arouse him.

John, Jr. went to the cupboard to get the medicine prescribed for his father, but the bottle was missing. In its place was a small smoky looking vial containing a strange dark liquid.

The family sent for the doctor in nearby Port Royal, but Kate told them it was useless.

"I've got him this time," Kate crowed. "He'll never get up from that bed again."

The family asked Kate about the mysterious vial in the cupboard and Kate said, "I put it there. I gave Old Jack a big dose of it last night while he was asleep, which fixed him."

The family withdrew some of the dark liquid on a straw and drew the straw through a cat's mouth. The cat went into immediate convulsions and died.

John Bell died the next day and Kate came to his funeral, singing drunkenly as they buried him in the family graveyard.

After his death, the Witch seemed to lose much of its interest in the Bell family. Kate's appearances became fewer and fewer and Elizabeth began to believe that perhaps she and Joshua Gardner might be able to marry after all. They became engaged, but Kate was not through with them yet.

The engagement came to a sudden and tragic end on Easter Monday of 1821.

Elizabeth and Joshua and several other young couples from the area had gone fishing. It was a glorious day and the banks of the Red River were full of fishermen enjoying the holiday and the sunshine.

The enjoyment of the day was ruined, however, when a huge fish seized Joshua's line and jerked it, pole and all into the river, leaping into the air and then diving to the bottom, carrying Joshua Gardner's fishing pole with it.

Those who saw it said the fish was between two and three feet long. Almost no one thought it was an ordinary fish, especially when it returned a short time later swimming along the surface, still dragging the fishing pole behind it.

Then came Kate's familiar voice materializing from thin air and repeating over and over in a horrible voice filled with melancholy, "Please Betsy Bell, don't have Joshua Gardner."

When the voice died away, Elizabeth Bell removed the engagement ring from her finger and gave it back to Joshua Gardner, convinced at last that the Witch would never leave them in peace.

Gardner apparently knew it too. He accepted the return of his ring and a short time later moved away from Robertson County to Obion County in west Tennessee. He and Elizabeth never saw each other again.

Elizabeth eventually married a man named Richard Powell who was several years older than she and had once been her school teacher. The Witch apparently approved of him because it did not oppose the marriage and so far as anyone knows, Kate never bothered them. Elizabeth Bell died in 1890 at the age of 86.

With Joshua Gardner's departure, the Witch's appearances became fewer and fewer. Later in the spring of 1821, the Witch suddenly announced that it was leaving, but it promised to return in seven years.

In 1828, when the seven years were up, things had changed radically at the Bell farm. Most of the children, Elizabeth among them, had married and moved away. Only Richard, his younger brother Joel, and Lucy Bell still lived in the big double log house.

Kate's return in February of 1828 was marked by the same knockings and scratchings on the outside walls of the house, followed by the gnawing on the bed post and the pulling of the bed covers from the beds. This time, though, the Witch stayed for only a short time, and when Lucy Bell died later that year, the Witch became quiet again.

The old Bell farm was divided among the children after Lucy's death, but for obvious reasons, no one wanted to live in the old house. It was used for storage for several years and eventually it was torn down.

But the stories of the Bell Witch do not end there.

Go to Part 5 of 5