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The Bell Witch Haunting, a classic and terrifying tale

The Bell Witch Haunting was THE hype-story of its day. Despite taking place in the early 1800s, when mass communication wasn’t exactly easy, people all over the US were hearing about the terrifying shit happening to the Bell family.

The Bell Witch Haunting is also one of those rare, extremely substantiated cases. As we’ve written before, not every haunting will have this much evidence. Obviously we don’t have video or scientific evidence but what mattered back in the day was corroborating witnesses of which this case had in spades. There were multiple credible eye-witness accounts of people who stayed with the Bells, legal affidavits and, if you believe it, a visit from a major historical figure who would swear from that point on that the Bell Witch was a legitimate as anything else he’d ever experienced.

Even now it is the very epitome of the “some say…” story. “Some say the Bell Witch slapped Betsy 6 times,” “Some say the property is still haunted,” “Some say we can make a few bucks at the box office by calling something the Bell Witch.”

Well, some say that Creepers are the best folk anywhere on the net and they want to read more about the Bell Witch Haunting. And so you shall my friends, so you shall.

We’re going to pick this up as if you’ve never heard of the Bell Witch Haunting on any level. A Bell Witch newb if you will. Just to get everyone on the same page.

As the story goes, John Bell and his wife Lucy Williams, along with their 6 children, decided to move to Red River, Tennessee sometime in the early 1800s. They settled into what is now known as Adams, Tennessee buying a nice big family home and quite a bit of land to which they would continue to add over the years.

The Bells didn’t wait long to expand the family either. Elizabeth, also known as Betsy, was born in 1806 while Richard and Joel joined the family in 1811 and 1813 respectively.

One fateful day in 1817 John was looking over a corn field when he spotted a strange looking animal in his path. He often remembered the beast as the precursor to everything that would happen next. John described it as large with the body of a dog, completely black and with the head of a rabbit. The animal spooked him enough that he shot at it, only barely missing it as it ran off.

The Bell Witch Haunting may have all started with the sighting of a jackalope or other mystical creature.
The Jackalope is a mystical creature that could have started all of this

That very evening, as the Bells were settling in for the night, a heavy beating sound started to come from the outside walls of their large home. When they investigated outside they found nothing.

Over the next few weeks the mysterious sounds from outside continued to increase in frequency and intensity every night. The Bells would run out into the dark regularly to try and catch the awful people harassing them but they would come back empty handed every time.

Things would only get worse from here.

The children began hearing noises from inside their bedrooms. They would wake up their parents complaining of rats scurrying around the floor and chewing at their bed posts. They would have bed covers and pillows thrown onto the ground in the middle of the night and loud sounds against their walls.

Eventually the sounds gave way to a hushed voiced that could be faintly heard throughout the house. As time went on the voice grew louder and more clear. The voice began to sing hymns and even to spoke with Bells, eventually declaring herself to be a Witch long dead.

Unfortunately for someone in the family, the Bell Witch haunting was about to turn violent.

Contact with the disembodied voice continued to escalate but Betsy, the Bells youngest daughter, began to experience terrible encounters with the Witch. At first Betsy would be randomly pushed around the house. Then it began pulling her hair while mocking her mercilessly. Finally, Betsy would be slapped around the home endlessly, leaving bloody marks and welts all over her body.

The Bell Witch Haunting was particularly hard on Betsy Bell
Betsy was never alone and always had the Witch right behind her

Until now the Bell family, at the urging of John Sr., had kept the events within the home a secret from the Red River community. John was, after all, an elder of the Baptist Church, these sorts of things didn’t happen to people of good standing. Eventually overwhelmed John finally decided to enlist the help of his closest friend and upstanding Red River citizen, James Johnston.

Once all was revealed, Johnston, convinced the Bells were not thinking clearly and simply needed a little perspective, decided to spend the night at the Bell home with his wife. That night they were both exposed to the same relentless horrors the family had been experiencing all of this time. After being slapped viciously, bed covers thrown to the floor and tormented throughout the night Jame finally yelled out:

“”In the name of the Lord, who are you and what do you want!”

The only response they received was a deep cackling laugh but the Johnstons were left to rest for the remainder of the evening.

James Johnston and his wife would be the first outsiders to experience the Bell Witch Haunting but this was a key component to the viral nature the Bell Witch Haunting would take on from here. Both the Bells and the Johnstons were extremely reputable families. When they said there was a haunting at the Bell house, there was no earthly reason for them to do so other than it being a factual telling of what was actually happening.

Word of the haunting quickly spread throughout the community and well beyond. People came from all over to experience the entity and the Witch was clearly strengthening. It now sang hymns loudly throughout the home, it would quote various scriptures regularly and it once repeated, word-for-word, two separate sermons that were happening at the same time on the same day 13 miles apart.

This is a good point to take a small break to explain that one of the main reasons the Bell Witch haunting is so unique and so highly regarded is because most of what you read above is extremely well documented. We have written accounts, on record, from towns people who actually experienced this entity performing its mystical acts first hand. These weren’t the local town crackpots either, they were well known and respected members of the community, adding validity to an unbelievable situation. Lawyers officially swearing in front of judges that this was all actually happening.

It’s just as important to note however that this next part is highly disputed and there’s very little proof of this particular sequence of events ever occurring.

As we pick this back up word of the fantastical paranormal events had reached Nashville where the story caught the attention of then-Major General Andrew Jackson. The 3 elder Bell boys had served under Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans and the Major General knew the family well. When he heard of their strange troubles with the supposed Bell Witch, he decided to visit his old friends and see if he could lend a hand.

The future President Andrew Jackson visited the Bell family during their time of need.
President Andrew Jackson, also possible Paranormal researcher

Jackson and his entourage arrived in Red River in 1819 but as they approached the Bell farm the horses and the wagons they were pulling came to a full stop, refusing to go any further. Several of the men attempted to move the animals and the wagons but nothing could be done. “By the eternal, boys! That must be the Bell Witch!” Jackson yelled out. A disembodied female voice came out of nowhere and told Jackson him and his group could continue and that she would see them that evening. The horses and wagons were suddenly able to move without issue.

Unfortunately, the curious events which supposedly happen next aren’t clear.

Jackson and his group make their way to the Bell farm where John Bell, his sons and the Major-General take some time to catch up, talk about Indian affairs and of course, go over the events of the past few years. As they were waiting for an appearance from the Bell Witch haunting one of the men Jackson had brought along proclaimed to be an experienced Witch Tamer (you could read that as you will) and that his gun was armed with silver bullets. “The Witch,” he explained “is too scared to show herself while I’m here!”

Let this be a lesson for you Creepers dealing with this sort of thing – never antagonize a grumpy Witch.

The self-proclaimed Witch Tamer suddenly began screaming, his body twisting in terrifying, impossible angles. He yelled that his body was being struck with thousands of needles as his eyes and ears began to bleed profusely. He was dragged off his feet by an unseen force to the front of the house where the main door opened of its own accord and the man was thrown clear of the house. Once on the dirt path in front of the home the Witch Tamer was left alone to sob as his friends rushed to his side.

After witnessing the events the men refused to stay in the home. Jackson had them set up their tents outside of the Bell farm while he vowed to stay in the house to get to the bottom of this terrible haunting.

Unfortunately we don’t have a clear idea of what happened next with the Major-General and his men. We do know that Jackson left the Bell Farm quite quickly that same night and when he was seen in Springfield early the next morning he said to a friend: “The Bell farm is most certainly cursed and the family along with it. I fear there is nothing I can do for my friends now.”

The Bell Witch Haunting happened at the Bell Farm
A local drawing of the Bell Farm

As the Bell Witch Haunting continued, life for the Bells was far from normal but it did move forward. Throughout all the events Betsy had become interested in a young man who lived near by called Joshua Gardner. In an odd twist, this relationship is where we get our first hint at a possible origin and motive for the Bell Witch Haunting.

As the relationship between Betsy and Joshua began to flourish the two families officially agreed to a formal engagement. Almost everyone in town thought this was a good match, both young people were from good, prominent, Baptist families who well respected in the county. There were however, 2 holdouts. The Bell Witch and a man named Richard Powell.

The entity in the Bell was steadfast against the marriage, repeatedly warning and threatening that two shouldn’t wed but more on that later. For now we’re going to focus on Richard Powell.

Powell was a schoolteacher to Betsy, and Joshua, and was 11 years her senior. Despite that fact he had always expressed great interest in marrying Betsy when she was older. All we can say here is that it was a weird time Creepers. When he heard of the engagement between Betsy and Joshua he approached John Bell Sr. and made his disappointment of the situation known. Ultimately, he politely withdrew his interest in Betsy. What we know now is that there was more to Power than the people of Red River knew.

It would seem that Richard Powell had deep roots in the occult and was an avid follower of mystical theories. He was also married to a woman in Nashville who would later claim that he was a powerful Warlock who, she said, was obsessed with Betsy Bell.

Was Richard Powell really into the occult?

Unfortunately ignorant to the oddness that was Richard Powell, the Bells went on without ever truly knowing who they were dealing with. The Bell Witch, it would seem, agreed with his disapproval.

Events increased soon after the announcement. Betsy and Joshua could not spend time on the farm, in the house, in the fields or by the river without being regularly harassed or attacked by the Witch. Try as he may to spend time with Betsy, Joshua would be seen regularly running away from the Bell Farm as he was slapped and terrorized by the unseen assailant.

Finally on Easter Monday in 1820 Betsy met with Joshua by the river and, perhaps from sheer exhaustion, ended the engagement. Joshua was allowed to leave the Bell Farm free from terror and the Witch stopped harming Betsy. It would seem, she had a new target.

John Bell Sr. had been experiencing medical issues over the past year. He had some minor twitching in his face and some trouble swallowing but nothing the doctors were overly concerned about especially considering the tremendous stress he had been experiencing. The Bell Witch Haunting was about to get even darker.

By the fall of 2020 the Witch took to yelling “Old Jack Bell is not well!” throughout the house. Shrieking and cackling as he would cough and stumble. As his health declined the Witch began removing his shoes as he walked, causing him to fall, and slapping his face when he began to experience seizures.

The Witch would cackle, laugh and would yell about killing old John. She would speak for hours about how much she hated him, how he should never have arranged the marriage between Betsy and Joshua and how he should have never told the world about the Bell Witch Haunting.

On December 20, 1820 John Bell Sr. took his last breath after slipping into a coma the day before. Immediately after his death the family found an odd vile in the kitchen, filled with an unknown green liquid. The voice spoke out: “I gave Ol’Jack some of that last night and it fixed him good it did!” John Jr. gave some of the liquid to a cat who died within a few seconds. He then threw it into the fireplace where it exploded into bright green flames.

A sick cat
The cats always get the hard jobs

John Bells funeral was one of the largest in the history of the county and the Witch made herself known there also. She sang loudly about a poisoned bottle of Brandi throughout the funeral and the family reported she did not stop until the very last of the visitors were gone.

For the following three weeks the entity was present but quiet and largely benevolent. Finally, it spoke to John Bells widow, Lucy Bell, and told her it would leave the family alone but it would come back to visit John Bells closest living relative in 107 years.

And that was the end of the Bell Witch Haunting as we know it.

The Bell family have themselves been an enigmatic end-part of the story. The 107 year deadline the Witch had given Lucy would have landed sometime 1935. The closest living relative was a Dr. Charles Bailey Bell who wrote the first definitive book and research into the Bell Witch Haunting which was published in 1934. No follow up on whether the entity made contact in 1935 has ever been published by the family.

Since Dr. Bell there have been many books, some researched and some just full of hot air, about the Bell Witch Haunting. There’s been claims that the Bell Witch continues to have contact with the Bell family, although members of the family deny this quite readily. There’s also plenty of people who claim that the old Bell Farm still experiences many strange events and hauntings.

In our time we’ve seen a full blown movie, which wasn’t, er, good? Even the Blair Witch movie burrowed quite heavily from the Bell Witch haunting.

In the end, all we’re left with is this. The Bell Witch Haunting might be the best, most proven haunting in all of human history. It had multiple, extremely credible witnesses and paranormal activity like we’ve never seen before and rarely since.

Regardless of who or what you think was the cause,it is, to this day, one of the most undeniable paranormal events anyone has ever experienced.

Written by Danny Beauregard

Danny is the founder of creepytimes.com and your resident raving loon. When not writing and researching for the site he's busy being a husband and a father.

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