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American Ghost Story: Kate Batts, Witch & Poltergeist


So to prepare for the onset of All Hallows Eve, I have found for you a tale most intriguing. This juicy local lore hails from the south, deep in the history of Tennessee, from a small town called Adams.  It’s about a witch, whose name was Kate Batts, and about her grudge-match with the head of a family by the name of Bell.  The Bell family was comprised of what has been recorded and acknowledged as, “good folks.” The torment of the father, Ol’ Jack Bell, as the witch spirit called him, was shared by all of his loved ones on the estate, but especially his daughter Betsy, who was forbidden by the ghost to marry  the man she had planned on. It was said that the witch ghost, was a woman who had been cheated by John Bell, and was hell bent on revenge and planned to act as executioner.

The Goodspeed brothers wrote a local history in 1886, and it said the following:

“A remarkable occurrence, which attracted wide-spread interest, was connected with the family of John Bell, who settled near what is now Adams Station about 1804. So great was the excitement that people came from hundreds of miles around to witness the manifestations of what was popularly known as the “Bell Witch.” This witch was supposed to be some spiritual being having the voice and attributes of a woman. It was invisible to the eye, yet it would hold conversation and even shake hands with certain individuals. The feats it performed were wonderful and seemingly designed to annoy the family. It would take the sugar from the bowls, spill the milk, take the quilts from the beds, slap and pinch the children, and then laugh at the discomfort of its victims. At first it was supposed to be a good spirit, but its subsequent acts, together with the curses with which it supplemented its remarks, proved the contrary.”

For four years the family of John Bell was forced to endure what has come to be called a “noisy spirit” or poltergeist of a type which was unique
when compared with similar events documented before or after it. Developing the ability to speak, the spirit soon began to call itself “Kate”, after an odd local woman named Kate Batts. People in the community  referred to it as “Kate Batts’ witch”, though its physical form, if any, was never truly identified. The center of the unseen entity’s activity was John’s youngest daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy) Bell, a very attractive girl, who suffered from physical abuses brought on by the spirit which included merciless beatings, scratching, slapping, and constant mental anguish brought about by the spirit’s seemingly inexhaustible mischief and verbal harassment. It consistently ridiculed the choice of Joshua Gardner as her future husband, and induced in Betsy, and her father, a sickness, the symptoms of which included odd physical disturbances that eventually resulted in the death of John. The spirit could read the thoughts of those around it, describing in great detail the backgrounds of total strangers. It could accurately describe simultaneous events in other areas of the world within moments of being asked. Kate could move objects, sing, preach, and accomplish the most baffling pranks without detection. Its knowledge of the universe was astonishing, yet curiously incomplete in many details. Upon being exposed to both Baptist and Methodist doctrines, Kate began to display violent and contradictory behavior resulting, no doubt, from the many differences of those philosophies. Perhaps the spirit’s most astonishing manifestation occurred when four other spirits named Blackdog, Mathematics, Cypocryphy, and Jerusalem appeared briefly during the later years of the haunting. All seemed to be subservient to Kate and were invisible as well. It was during this period that the spirit’s mischief grew more intolerable with each passing day. Its evil hatred was often matched in kind with benign understanding and kindness, making it, in essence, a great paradox in the spirit realm, and an unwelcome guest in the intensely religious community it had chosen to haunt.

There were many superstitious people in the country who believed the witch was a reality, something supernatural, beyond human power or comprehension, which had been clearly demonstrated.  This is the way many reasoned about the mystery.  Kate arrogantly claimed to be all things, possessing the power to assume any shape, form or character, that of human, beast, varmint, fowl or fish, and circumstances went to confirm the assertion.  Therefore people with vivid imaginations were capable of seeing many strange sights and things that could not be readily accounted for, which were credited to the witch. Kate was a great scapegoat.
The goblin’s favorite form, however, was that of a rabbit, and this much is verified beyond question, the hare ghost took malicious pleasure in hopping out into the road, showing itself to every one who ever passed through that lane.  This same rabbit is there plentifully to this day, and can’t be exterminated.  Very few men know a witch rabbit; only experts can distinguish one from the ordinary molly cottontail.  The experts in that section, however, are numerous, and no one to this good day will eat a rabbit that has a black spot on the bottom of its left hind foot.  When the spot is found, the foot is carefully cut off and placed in the hip pocket, and the body buried on the north side of an old log.

As the story grew in popularity people would come to visit the witch and people would travel hundreds of miles to come and see the effects she had on the Bell family’s life. Until one day in 1820 when the witch spirit accomplished her task! John Bell died.
At his funeral it was aid that she danced, laughed, and made quite  spectacle of herself. It took a while for the strange things to end though, and it is still said that her spirit took up residence in what is now referred to as the Bell Witch Cave. Others believe that it is the point from which she entered the world.  Regardless, after John’s death, she said she would be back in seven years….and she was.

In 1828, Kate Batts reappeared. She visited the home of John Bell Jr. She conversed with him about the past, present, & future as well as making some predictions. She also said that there was a reason for John Bell Sr.’s death, and that she would return once again in one-hundred & seven years hence. That places a re-occurrence in 1935, of which nothing that I know of has been found. But there are those who say that after her second return, that she never really left, that her spirit, mischievous, still lingers on, and that if you go to the Bell Cabin site or the Bell Witch Cave, that you are certain to get a little pinch!

Movies made based on the lore:

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Bell Witch Haunting (2004)

An American Haunting (2005)

Bell Witch: The Movie (2007)

The Bell Witch Haunting (2013)

For more information on the Bell Witch lore,  you can check out these sites:


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