This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Bell Witch

The Bells, as well as their servants, continued to see strange animals around the property. It appeared as a strange hare, a bizarre bird no one could shoot, or even a dog. Sometimes the dog was old and lame, at other times it was black and had red eyes. Dean, one of the family’s slaves, became a source of information on the Bell household events. Dean said the dog followed him home often. He even hit the beast’s head with an axe and split it in two, but afterward the dog often appeared to him with two heads.

Bizarre noises manifested in the bedrooms every night, first as knocks, then scratches and bites. Several boys heard someone noisily eating in their bedroom while they tried to sleep. The family heard chains rattle and rats scurry around the flooring. Family members nearly dismantled the house in search of the source, but none was ever found.

Most of the children suffered slaps from an unseen hand, but one was exceedingly so. The youngest daughter, Betsy, was subject to intense abuse that continued until her until her face was blood red. No one ever witnessed an aggressor. She began to fall into trance-like states that lasted for hours. She was subject to fainting spells. She began to cry that someone was sticking pins or needles into her skin. The painful fits usually lasted around an hour.

The activity soon centered on John Bell, more than anyone. His tongue swelled to the point that he couldn’t talk or eat. He claimed it often felt like a twig was sideways in his mouth. The swelling turned into full body spasms that nearly paralyzed him. The events didn’t follow any particular pattern as the first year crawled by. The family actually went for short periods with no disturbances at all.

A year into the activity, they couldn’t pretend it was nothing. The family tentatively involved neighbor, Mr. James Johnson and his wife. Mr. Bell made a special visit to explain their situation. Johnson was known for his robust, powerful prayers. The family assumed that if anyone could exorcise an evil spirit, Johnson could. He found no respect at the Bell household. His repeatedly stayed with the family, but an unseen culprit stripped the bedding from beneath him at night. Despite the initial aggravation, the spirit developed a strange affection for him, even called him “Ol’ Sugar Mouth.”

Soon after, throngs of curious spectators flocked to the Bell house. It seemed the spirit enjoyed the attention. After it gained an audience through knocks and scratches, it attempted to vocalize. Communication was feeble at first, with odd noises or whistles. It was only a matter of time before the spirit began to form coherent words and then complete sentences. Soon after, the spirit fluently spoke a number of languages.

With a line of communication open, many visitors wanted to know where the spirit came from. Unfortunately, the spirit had no idea of where it came from, either. It offered a host of possible origins.

  • It was the spirit of a Native American whose bones had been disturbed.
  • It was a North Carolina child’s spirit, who was murdered because John Bell did or didn’t do something. According to that story, it haunted the family out of vengeance.
  • The spirit claimed to be the soul of an early settler who’d buried a vast quantity of gold and wanted Betsy to have it.
  • The spirit lost a tooth under the house and couldn’t rest until it was found. A group of men tried to find the missing bone, but they learned it was pointless. The spirit mocked those trying to help and it declared its sole purpose was to torment “Old Jack,” as it called John Bell.
  • It was just the spirit of an “evil” stepmother with no connection to the Bell family at all.

The series of tales ended with the spirit claiming to be Kate Batts’ “witch.” Everyone gave up on discovering its origins. No one believed Batts was to blame, but whispers carried the tale across the southeast.


Now About Kate

Kate Batts, noted for her eccentricity, enjoyed the notoriety. She was a sympathetic figure, despite her fondness for ill-gained attention. She ran her farm independently, with an invalid husband, and children who gained reputations for being “idle” and “dim.” She did not ask for pity. In fact, she was known for wise business decisions and financial success, despite the personal hardships. All of her children eventually died before they had families of their own, and the family line became extinct.

Kate was noted for her sharp tongue and many secretly called her “Mrs. Malaprop,” for her habitual and inappropriate use of long words. One particularly notable line from the Red Book states: “She kept every path in the neighborhood hot for a month trying to find the ‘corrigendum’ who dared to ‘splavicate’ her character with the ‘spirifications’ of John Bell’s witch. She would show him the ‘perspicuity’ in the ‘constipation’ of the law.” [1] Unfortunately, Mrs. Batts’s peculiar terms were never translated.

The spirit claimed it would follow John Bell, or “Old Jack,” to his grave. This was not entirely true. The family let Betsy stay with families throughout the community to see if she could get away from the spirit’s focus. The spirit wouldn’t follow “Old Jack,” at this point. It followed Betsy wherever she went. It also declared that if the family moved, it would just follow.


Bell Witch Sources:
  1. Chapter 6 – Kate Batts & the WitchThe Red Book- Ingram
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