So widely spread was the news about The Bell Witch that people came from hundreds of miles around hoping to hear the spirit's shrill voice or witness a manifestation of its vile temper. When word of the haunting reached Nashville, one of its most famous citizens, General Andrew Jackson, decided to gather a party of friends and journey to Adams to investigate.
The General, who had earned his tough reputation in many conflicts with Native Americans, was determined to confront the phenomenon and either expose it as a hoax or send the spirit away. A chapter in M. V. Ingram's 1894 book, An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch - considered by many to be the best account of the story - is devoted to Jackson's visit:
Gen. Jackson's party came from Nashville with a wagon loaded with a tent, provisions, etc., bent on a good time and much fun investigating the witch. The men were riding on horseback and were following along in the rear of the wagon as they approached near the place, discussing the matter and planning how they were going to do up the witch. Just then, traveling over a smooth level piece of road, the wagon halted and stuck fast. The driver popped his whip, whooped and shouted to the team, and the horses pulled with all of their might, but could not move the wagon an inch. It was dead stuck as if welded to the earth. Gen. Jackson commanded all men to dismount and put their shoulders to the wheels and give the wagon a push, but all in vain; it was no go. The wheels were then taken off, one at a time, and examined and found to be all right, revolving easily on the axles. Gen. Jackson after a few moments thought, realizing that they were in a fix, threw up his hands exclaiming, "By the eternal, boys, it is the witch." Then came the sound of a sharp metallic voice from the bushes, saying, "All right General, let the wagon move on, I will see you again to-night." The men in bewildered astonishment looked in every direction to see if they could discover from whence came the strange voice, but could find no explanation to the mystery. The horses then started unexpectedly of their own accord, and the wagon rolled along as light and smoothly as ever.
Attack on Jackson?
According to some versions of the story, Jackson did indeed encounter The Bell Witch that night:
Betsy Bell screamed all night from the pinching and slapping she received from the Witch, and Jackson's covers were ripped off as quickly as he could put them back on, and he had his entire party of men were slapped, pinched and had their hair pulled by the witch until morning, when Jackson and his men decided to hightail it out of Adams. Jackson was later quoted as saying, "I'd rather fight the British in New Orleans than to have to fight the Bell Witch."
The Death of John Bell
The torment of the Bell house continued for years, culminating in the ghost's ultimate act of vengeance upon the man she claimed had cheated her: she took responsibility for his death. In October 1820, Bell was struck with an illness while walking to the pigsty of his farm. Some believe that he suffered a stroke, since thereafter he had difficulty speaking and swallowing. In and out of bed for several weeks, his health declined. The Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee, tells this part of the story:
On the morning of December 19, he failed to awake at his regular time. When the family noticed he was sleeping unnaturally, they attempted to arouse him. They discovered Bell was in a stupor and couldn't be completely awakened. John Jr. went to the medicine cupboard to get his father's medicine and noticed it was gone with a strange vial in its place. No one claimed to have replaced the medicine with the vial. A doctor was summoned to the house. The witch began taunting that she had place the vial in the medicine cabinet and given Bell a dose of it while he slept. Contents of the vial were tested on a cat and discovered to be highly poisonous. John Bell died on December 20. "Kate" was quiet until after the funeral. After the grave was filled, the witch began singing loudly and joyously. This continued until all friends and family left the grave site.
Next page: An explanation?