Bell Witch’s Cave


Next to the materialization of fruits and nuts, the witch was especially fond of producing pins and needles. Mrs. Bell was provided with enough pins to supply the entire county, but often the witch would impishly hide them in the bedclothes or in chair cushions— points out. John Jr., Betsy’s favorite brother, was the only member of the family besides the mother who received decent treatment from the witch.

The invisible force often whipped Joel and Richard soundly, and Drewry was so frightened of the witch that he never married, fearing that the entity might someday return and single out his own family for particular attention. John Jr. was the only one of Betsy’s brothers who could “sass back” at the witch and get away with it. The witch even went to special pains to get John Jr. to like it, and the mysterious entity often performed demonstrations of ability solely for his benefit.

The cruelest act perpetrated on Betsy was the breaking of her engagement to Joshua Gardner (or Gardiner). Friends and family acclaimed the two young people to be ideally suited for one another, but the witch protested violently when the engagement was announced. The witch screamed at Joshua whenever he entered the Bell home and embarrassed both young people by shouting obscenities about them in front of their friends. A friend of the family, Frank Miles, learned of the witch’s objection to Betsy’s engagement and resolved to stand up to the evil spirit on her behalf.

He challenged the entity to take any form it wished, and he would soon send her packing. Suddenly his head jerked backwards as if a solid slap had stung his cheeks. He put up his forearms to block a series of facial blows, and then dropped his guard as he received a vicious punch in the stomach. Miles slumped against a wall, desperately shaking his head to recover his senses.

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Frank Miles looked helplessly at Betsy Bell, who watched the one-sided boxing match. Reluctantly, he picked up his hat and coat. A man couldn’t fight an enemy he couldn’t see. General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), Old Hickory himself, decided to have his try at defeating the witch. An old friend of John Bell, Jackson set out from The Hermitage accompanied by a professional “witch-layer” and several servants. As his party approached the Bell place, Jackson was startled when the wheels of his coach suddenly froze and the full strength of the horses could not make them budge an inch.

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A voice from the bushes cackled a greeting to Jackson and uttered a command that “unfroze” the wheels. The general and his men realized that the element of surprise was lost. The witch knew they were coming. That night the witch-layer fled in terror when the witch attacked him, and General Jackson’s men followed him out the door.

According to the old stories, Jackson told John Bell that fighting the witch was worse than having faced the British at the battle of New Orleans. Old Hickory wanted to stay for a week and face down the spirit, but his committee of ghost chasers had had enough, so he left with his men. With the decisive defeat of her champions, Miles and Jackson, Betsy had no choice but to give in to the witch’s demands and break her engagement with Joshua Gardner.

On the night on which Betsy returned the ring, the witch’s laughter could be heard ringing victoriously from every room in the house. Shortly after the entity had accomplished the severing of Betsy’s marriage agreement with her fiancé, it once more began to concentrate its energy on the destruction of John Bell. Richard was walking with his father on that day in December of 1820 when John Bell collapsed into a spasmodically convulsing heap. John Bell was brought home to his bed where he lay for several days in a weakened condition. Even during the man’s illness, the witch would not leave him in peace, but continued to torment him by slapping his face and throwing his legs into the air.

On the morning of December 19, 1820, John Bell lapsed into a stupor from which he would never be aroused. The witch sang bawdy songs all during John Bell’s funeral and annoyed the assembled mourners with sounds of its crude celebration throughout the man’s last rites. After the death of her father, the witch behaved much better toward Betsy.

It never again inflicted pain upon her and actually addressed her in terms of endearment. During the rest of the winter and on into the spring months, the manifestations decreased steadily. Then, one night after the evening meal, a large smoke ball seemed to roll down from the chimney of the fireplace out into the room. As it burst, a voice told the family: “I’m going now, and I will be gone for seven years.” True to its word, the witch returned to the homestead in 1828.

Betsy had entered into a successful marriage with another man; John Jr. had married and now farmed land of his own. Only Mrs. Bell, Joel, and Richard remained on the home place. The disturbances primarily consisted of the witch’s most elementary pranks—rappings, scratchings, pulling the covers off the bed—and the family agreed to ignore the unwanted guest.

Their plan worked, and the witch left them after two weeks of pestering them for attention. The entity sought out John Jr. and told him in a fit of pique that it would return to one of his descendants in “one hundred years and seven.” Dr. Charles Bailey Bell should have been the recipient of the Bell Witch’s unwelcome return visit, but Bell and his family survived the year 1935 without hearing the slightest unexplained scratch or undetermined rapping.

Charles Bell has written the official record of the mysterious disturbances endured by his ancestors in The Bell Witch: A Mysterious Spirit, or Our Family Troubles (reprint of pamphlet, 1985). Today, the abandoned homestead of the Bell family is owned by a private trust, and no visitors are allowed to explore the property. The only site connected with the legends of the Bell Witch and open to the public is the Bell Witch Cave, which continues to produce accounts of unusual lights and eerie images on photographs.< Source: Encyclopedia of The Unusual and Unexplained Things

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