The Bell’s Witch

historic marker

In Adams, Tennessee you will find the historic marker that tells of the legend of the Bell family and the spirit that haunted them. John Bell moved his family from North Carolina to Robertson County, Tennessee in 1803. He was a farmer and became a leader in a local church. He and his family lived peacefully until 1817 when strange things started happening in and around their home.

Stories differ, but here is a summary of what I was told, read and imagined.


One night in 1817 John Bell was disturbed from a sound sleep by knocking outside his home. When he investigated, he found nothing. He reassured his family and everyone settled down to rest before another busy   

The story would stop here, but this wasn’t a one night occurrence. Instead the noises grew louder with each passing night. One day Betsy, John’s daughter, came in from the yard out of breath, and barely coherent she told her mama what she saw at the edge of the wood.

“Mama, it was a weird creature, ugly, I was afraid. I… I could see through it.” Mama comforted her and put her to bed with a cup of tea. Later she told John about it when he came in. They agreed to be wary and cautious while they were out.

That night the noises moved inside the home. The family got little rest from that night on. The demon moved about in the day as well, slamming doors, breaking glass and other unsettling distractions for the family. Eventually, the demon was strong enough to speak.

“Who are you?” John said.

Many times the unseen being gave different names. This particular night she said, “I am the witch of Kate Batts.” That name was used from then on.

“Why are you here?” he said.

” I am here to kill you, John. Betsy you will not marry Joshua Gardner.”

John had kept the strange haunting a secret for a long time, but eventually the strange noises accelerated to physical torment. Kate pulled Betsy hair, pinched her and beat her. John didn’t fare any better. He often felt as if he was choking, and he developed facial tics. He finally confided in a neighbor, James Johnson. James and his wife spent several nights with the Bell’s and confirmed the noises. James and John agreed to call together trusted neighbors to form a committee to investigate.

News as sensational as the Bell’s witch wouldn’t stay a secret for long. Soon people from near and far traveled to the Bell home to experience the terror of the witch, Kate. Andrew Jackson came from his Old Hickory home to witness the haunting. Everyone who visited came away mystified.

John Bell grew weaker each day, until on December 20, 1820 he died. After her father’s death, Betsy called off her engagement to Joshua. Kate’s mission completed, she left without ever revealing her reason for targeting the family. When she left she promised to return in seven years. Folks in Adams say she did for a visit to John Bell, Jr.’s home. There she spoke with John about the past and the future. She left again and promised to return one hundred and seven years.

Strange occurrences continue to be reported in Adams. Many say Kate never left; she will forever haunt the community, making her presences known in supernatural ways. Martha and I live about 15 miles from Adams. Her daughters and their families live there. The legend lives on to this day.

There have been many books written about the Bell family and the witch. The earliest are Authenticated History of Bell Witch by M. V. Ingram and A Mysterious Spirit by Charles Bailey Bell.

There’s a month-long Bell Witch Fest each October. Tonight, Halloween night, is the last night to visit the Bell Witch Cave for a frightful evening of chills and thrills.

Now you can tell your children, grandchildren or anyone else the story of the Bell’s Witch and her evil torment of the Bell family from 1817 through 1820. Tell them she still roams the woods in Adams and plays wicked tricks on the residents.




A Horse Story


Ginger, a chestnut mare, was a gift from my father when we were living on Brindley Mt., Alabama. She was skittish, but friendly. I rode her in the fields when I could find time away from the children. Dad also gave my boys a Shelton pony with a cart. That’s a story from another time.

One afternoon friends from Huntsville came to visit. We walked to the barn, and at their request I saddled Ginger so they could have a ride. I decided I’d take her around the barn to get her settled and warmed up. We were trotting around for the first time when we rounded the last corner, and there were my friends laughing a talking. Ginger jumped in alarm, and began rearing in fear. You guessed it I lost my seat and my guest lost their desire to ride.

My neighbor had a Tennessee Walking Horse that he offered to let mate with Ginger.
walking horses
We decided to leave them in the field for their romantic interlude instead of interfering in what is natural. Horses are energetic in their amour; they bite, kick, whinny and dance around each other. I had to wonder if Ginger would survive. Then I silently reminded myself they have been successfully mating without anyone’s help for a long time! Ginger produced a beautiful black male colt.

The Tennessee Walking Horse is gaited horse known for its unique four-beat “running walk”. They have a distinctive exaggerated movement called the Big Lick style. The breed is a mix of Narragansett and Canadian Pacer, Standardbred, Thoroughbred, Morgan, and American Saddlebred stock. It is a popular riding horse because of its calm disposition, smooth gaits and sure-footedness.

Shelbyville, Tennessee hosts an annual national celebration that is well attended. If you’re interested visit for a calendar of events.

Watertown, Tennessee Part 2

dt wt farem
The population of Watertown is around 1,480 souls. Perhaps you think there’s nothing to do in this small community of commuters and farmers; you’d be wrong.

music festival
Saturday, July 12, there is a Music Festival taking place. If you’d like to know more visit

Sunset Shopping on Saturday, July 19 features drawings for prizes, refreshments and special sales.

jims antiques
While you’re there you’ll want to visit Jim’s Antique’s on the square. Jim is a Maine transplant. Each year Jim makes the trip back to Maine; when he returns he brings maple syrup and other New England delicacies for his customers in the Middle Tennessee area.

This fall in September you won’t want to miss the famous Mile Long Yard Sale.

In October the Excursion Train will feature a Train Robbery benefit. You can see the full year schedule of the train at November the event on the train is the Murder Mystery Train. Attendees are encouraged to come in costume and to be ready to participate. Of course the train runs the Polar Express with Santa in December.
pol ex

Tennessee Sounds Good Part 2

Every state in the U.S. has symbols to brag about, songs, wild life and flags. I’ll show you some historical landmarks as well.

Tennessee got it’s nickname as the Volunteer State during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, especially during the Battle of New Orleans.

I love our state song, Rocky Top by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant.

One of the finest singers is our Mocking Bird. He sings a melodious song of its own, and is noted for mimicking the songs of other birds.

The firefly and the lady bug are our state insects.

We honor the tulip poplar tree because the pioneers primarily used it to build their cabins.
tulip po

The passion wild flower, our state wild flower, got its name from Christian missionaries to South America, who saw in the flower’s various parts symbols of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
passion flower

The purple iris is commonly accepted as our state flower. All colors grow profusely all over the state.

The “bandit” raccoon is our state animal. I read in a list somewhere this adorable creature is considered one of 20 of the most dangerous animals.

Nashville is the state capitol. Our capitol building is a beautiful example of Grecian architecture.

Andrew Jackson, lawyer, judge, U.S. representative, was the seventh president of the United States. He is known for founding the Democratic Party and for his support of personal liberty. His nicknames include, “People’s President” and “Old Hickory”. His home, the Hermitage, is just outside Nashville. Anytime I can I take visitors there, and enjoy it each time.

One last landmark and treasure before I go: The Parthenon in Nashville.

Watertown, Tennessee, Part 1

I went for a weekend visit with my brother and sister-in-law, Mike and Gloria Dixon. They live in a beautiful town called Watertown. I want to tell you a little about the town and my visit.

After the Revolutionary War, the federal and nine state governments awarded land grants to citizens and soldiers for services rendered. Colonel Archibald Lytle and his brother William were given land that is now known as Watertown. Wilson L. Waters moved into the area in late 1700’s. In 1845 the post office moved from nearby Three Forks to Wilson’s store. Waters added a sawmill, gristmill and blacksmith shop. Eventually his 400-acre farm became known as Watertown.

When the Nashville and Knoxville Railroad built a depot in Watertown in 1885, it became the hub of business in the area. The increased business led to a doubling of the village’s size. A fire in 1903 destroyed the wood structures of the village, and many businesses. Rebuilding resulted in a town square surrounded by brick buildings; it remains the core of the current city of Watertown.

The town has been the site of several music videos, television episodes and motion picture productions throughout its history. Visit to see a listing. Here’s one I like

Songwriter Tom T. Hall wrote these lyrics about Watertown, Tennessee:
I got a little farm and it’s mostly rock
It ain’t too much but it’s all I got
Bluebirds singing in the evergreen trees
In Watertown Tennessee
Hey, Watertown Tennessee
People in Watertown will never do die
When they reach a hundred they can truly fly
Sail into heaven on a southerly breeze
In Watertown Tennessee
Hey, Watertown Tennessee
I had me an outhouse down by the creek
Prettiest outhouse you ever did see
Flood came along now I’m up the creek
In Watertown Tennessee
Hey, Watertown Tennessee
Well, a big old red hawk circling around
Looking for a chicken down here on the ground
Sometimes he gets as high as me
In Watertown Tennessee
Hey, Watertown Tennessee
When I get to heaven if I ever do die
I’m a gonna cut me a hole in the sky
Sittin’ in a mansion and all I’ll see
Is Watertown Tennessee
Hey, Watertown Tennessee
Now if you want to be famous and you want to be rich
People in Watertown taught me a trick I’m gonna tell it
If I stay around long, whoops, that’s the end of this song
Called Watertown Tennessee

Times up today. Come back tomorrow and I’ll tell you some intimate details of Watertown.

Tennessee Sounds Good Part 1

sounds good

I was born in Missouri, but spent more time in Tennessee, so I call it home. The name comes from a Cherokee word, Tanasi, the name of a village translated river. Our statehood birthdate is June 1, 1796.

basinhighland rim
The Nashville Basin or the Central Basin, the area surrounding Nashville, Tennessee, was caused by an uplifting which produced a dome. The underlying rock strata dip down away from Nashville. The uplifting of the dome fractured overlying strata, causing erosion and resulted in the dome becoming a basin.

One of the main difficulties of living here in the basin is allergies. Nothing escapes the basin, and several types of pollen flourishes here. Contributing factors are a longer growing season, rainfall with a temperate climate, and amazing variety of trees and grasses. Guess what I’m allergic to, trees and grass. At least I don’t have to mow! But I love to garden and it makes me miserable.

grand div
Another distinction of Tennessee is three geographic regions. The Grand Divisions are East, Middle, and West Tennessee, many times called the 3 states of Tennessee. Each is roughly one-third of the state’s land area, and are geographically, culturally, legally, and economically distinct. Our flag of Tennessee has three prominent stars representing the Grand Divisions.

Where Two Rivers Meet – Part 2

Clarksville grew along the banks of the Cumberland River. The city incorporated in 1855, and became known for its production of dark fired tobacco. Farming brought prosperity as well. In the 20th century Clarksville and Montgomery County took on a more technology-based profile. Today the city has become part of a significant regional center for transportation and industry and one of Tennessee’s fastest-growing cities.

walk The Cumberland River Walk is a 2-mile riverfront promenade. steam boatThere families can enjoy the playground and picnic area, and a beautiful place to walk or ride bikes. The park is the setting for various exhibits, festivals and concerts during the year.

nick and me on riverwalk It’s one of my favorite places to come and walk Nick. Yes, pets are welcome, and there are pet stations along the path.

The Wampus Cat…

A Tennessee Tall Tale cat and indian maidThe end of the “tail”…

Martha and I sat by firelight long into the night talking about our visit from Granny. “Never in my life have I had such an unexpected visitor.” Martha said.

“I felt like I knew her, sort of like she really was my Granny. I wasn’t afraid until she told us the legend of the Wampus Cat.” I said.

“You don’t believe that, do you? She’s probably a local who likes to tell newcomers to the area about the tall tales told around here,” Martha said. “How about a little Fireball night-cap and then we turn in for the night?”

“OK, just a tad,” I tell her. We sipped and continued our conversation longer than we should have. Finally I snuggled into my bed. “Leave the curtains open so we can see the fire, in case we need to add wood.” Martha laughed at that, but left the curtains open. She ran, flying under the covers of her bed.

Sometime later we awakened by a loud rapping at the door. We sat very still on the edge of our beds. “Oh no,” I whispered, “the fire.” Martha gasped, held her finger to her lips. The pounding on the door grew louder. She tiptoed over to the fire, hiding in the shadows, to put more logs on. The fire sparked, hissed and jumped, but caught the new wood quickly.

As she crept back to bed, the pounding stopped. We looked at each other, both hoping who ever it was had left. The window at the side of the door began to shake, and then on the other side. Whoever was out there was trying to get in any way possible. The sound of claws ripping at glass and wood frame assaulted our ears.

Once again quite. The waiting was intense. I held my breath for what seemed like minutes, until a clawing at the roof as the thing made its way to the chimney. Would the fire protect us? Screeching and howling as we had never heard before pierced the air. A scrambling as the creäture clamored down to the ground.

Quite once again. Would the rampage end now? Had we kept the Wampus Cat at bay?

Suddenly at the window in a flash of fire light we saw the cat with her face and claws pressed against the panes.

cworss eyed wampus

Finally, defeated she left. What would she have done if she could get in? Eat us? I don’t think so. I think she roams looking for someone who she can force to change places with her. By magic she would give the woman she captured her curse of roaming the earth with no home.

The next day Martha and I decided we felt safe enough to venture out on a planned hike through the area. The map that we got at the market showed an old church in a glade with a cemetery behind it. I packed some sandwiches and a thermos of tea in my backpack, and we headed out.

We had an easy time walking the trail was well-traveled, just steep. We kept a steady pace and within an hour we came to the old church. It looked old, but cared for.

frame church

The doors were locked so we went around to explore the cemetery. “Let’s see if we can find the oldest marker. You go to the left, and I’ll go right,” Martha said. “We’ll call out dates to each other.”

We walked slowly, calling out interesting epitaphs and dates in the early 1900. In the glade the sun beat down and we were soon growing hot and weary. I kept encouraging Martha, “Just a few more minutes. I feel something is here we need to see.”

“Martha,” I screeched. “Come here, I found it!” She hurried over, stepping over and around graves as fast as she could. I was jumping up and down, like a kid. “You’re not going to believe this. Oh my goodness. This is so incredible!”

Soon we were standing in front of an ancient tomb stone. “Read it, Martha, read it!” I squealed.

Martha began, “Here lies Aingeal Markham, Born February 25, 1840, Died February 25, 1940, Beloved daughter, sister, mother and Granny. She lived her life in service to others.” Martha turned to me, “Meredith how is this possible. Was she a ghost? Good grief, she was born on your birthdate and died on the same date 100 years later. What does that mean? Her surname is our family name! Is this all coincidence?”

We both stood there in amazement for sometime. Neither of us having an explanation of the mysterious events of the last two days.

“Martha, I don’t know if we should tell anyone this. They will think we’re 1 fry short of a happy meal. No one would ever believe that this happened for real.” Until this day this has been our secret.

(Don’t laugh. You never know when this could happen to you if you venture out into the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee.)

The Wampus Cat

A Tennessee Tall Tale
Retold by Meredith Dixon Haynes

Martha and I are on a retreat in the Great Smoky Mountains. Our log cabin is cozy with all the comforts of home even though we are deep in the woods, and it’s a couple of miles from another cabin. cabin_in_the_smoky_mountains_tennessee_postcard-rfc9e735814824ba889a2b53ca2518f4f_vgbaq_8byvr_324
Tonight as we are cleaning up after a late supper a knock on the door startles both of us. We can’t see the front door on the porch. “Who’s there?” I call.
“It’s Aingeal Markham, dearie. I’m bone weary from walking. Please let me come in for a spell.”
I look at Martha and we silently assent to let her in. Cautiously I unlock the door and allow a bent, ancient looking woman to enter. Even though she looks like a weathered prune, she has a gentle aura, and we relax and settle her in a rocker by the fire.
“Would you like a cup of sassafras tea?” I ask. “Carl at the store in town told us it’s good for all kind of ailments.”
“Aye, he’d be right. I use to dig my own sassafras in my younger days.”
“Did you say your last name is Markham?” Martha asks.
“Aye. We come from Galway where the name is Marchachain. After the family settled in Nottinghamshire, folks started calling us Markham.”
Martha, sits down on the cane bottom chair next to her as I hand her a mug of tea. “The reason I ask, our family name on our grandmother’s side is Markham.”
I sit in my usual spot on the floor and nestle in a pile of pillows. “What brings you out this far in the woods, Miss Markham.”
“Call me Granny, dearie, everybody does. I come to find you and give you a warning. You mustn’t go out after dark. You need to keep your door barred and windows locked tight. And it’d be a good idea to keep a small fire going all during the night, like you have now.”
I glanced at Martha and wondered if she felt the same icy fingers of chill down her backbone as I did. “Miss, ah, Granny, why do you say this?”
“Child, the Wampus Cat roams about looking for revenge.”


Martha said, “What’s a wampus cat?”
“I was afraid you all hadn’t heard. That’s why I came as quick as I could. Long time ago when the Cherokees were the only living souls here, the men did all the hunting. Women folk stayed home to tend children, cook, and make a garden.” Martha and I are listening intently caught up in the story Granny told us.
“One pretty young thing was jealous she couldn’t go with her husband and the other men. She wanted to see where they went, what they did. Finally, she couldn’t stand it any longer. She wrapped herself in a mountain cat skin and set off some distance back from the hunting party.” Granny paused to sip her tea.
“Soon the men came to a clearing and stopped. They set up camp and started a fire as dusk settled. The woman hid behind some rocks, hunkered down into the mountain cat skin. Soon the men started to tell their sacred stories. The medicine man started doing his magic. The woman stayed quite, but fear began to rise in her breast. She knew the laws of the tribe. The men held sacred the hunts, the stories and the magic. It was for their eyes only. It was forbidden to the women. Panic caused her to scream and run back toward the village.”
Granny paused, very still. “Go on,” Martha and I said in unison.
“The men followed her and caught her in the woods. By now it’s pitch black except for a torch carried by the young woman’s husband. They all made a circle around him, her and the medicine man. The medicine man takes a rope, wraps it around and around, tying that cat skin so tight to the woman. He speaks the magic into the night, ‘Forever you will be half woman half cat. You will roam the land with no home.’ And POOF she becomes a terrible monster,” She said with a flourish of her hands. Martha and I both jump.
“Since that time she is out in the woods looking for someone to take out her revenge. Some can hear her howl. Some say she tries to get in any opening she can, even down the fire-place. Some say none have lived to tell of seeing her.” She stopped, finished her tea. As she rose from the rocker she said, “And now I must hurry back it will soon be getting dark. Don’t forget what I told you about locking tight and a fire all night.”
Before we could say come back, she was out the door and gone. It was as if she vanished into the deepening shadows. Martha and I closed the door of the cabin. I locked the door as she checked the windows.

Please come back for the rest of the Tennessee Tall Tale.

Since You Asked

Today I told you about Dunbar Cave. Someone asked if I had ever been inside. Yes, I had returned to Tennessee in 1991 from living in Florida for 5 years. My first granddaughter was almost 2 and I wanted to be closer than 900 miles.

Tennessee required 2 college courses to be recertified. I traveled from Nashville to Clarksville to attend a science class at Austin Peay University. It was the one of the best science classes I’ve ever taken. One fact I didn’t know, Tennessee has more species of trees than any other state.

The most interesting thing we did was visit Dunbar Cave. I saw the colorless, blind fish and the bats. I recall there were some tight squeezes on the tour. It was worth it to see the stalagmites and stalactites. Spelunking isn’t a hobby I’m drawn to, but touring is a different matter. I’d do that again.