General Andrew Jackson and the Bell Witch

By M. V. Ingram

 

Grandfather Fort told me the story of Gen. Jackson’s visit to the witch, which was quite amusing to me. The crowds that gathered at Bell’s, many coming a long distance, were so large that the house would not accommodate the company. Mr. Bell would not accept any pay for entertaining, and the imposition on the family, being a constant thing, was so apparent, that parties were made up and went prepared for camping out. So 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, if it made an exhibition of such pranks as they had heard of. Just then, within a short distance of the house, 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. The order was promptly obeyed. The driver laid on the lash and the horses and men did their best, making repeated efforts, 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. Another trial was made to get away, the driver whipping up the team while the men pushed at the wheels, and still it was no go. All stood off looking at the wagon in serious meditation, for they were “stuck.” 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 tonight.” 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. Gen. Jackson exclaimed again, “By the eternal, boys, this is worse than fighting the British.” The horses then started unexpectedly of their own accord, and the wagon rolled along as light and smoothly as ever. Jackson’s party was in no good frame of mind for camping out that night, notwithstanding one of the party was a professional “witch layer,” and boasted much of his power over evil spirits, and was taken along purposedly to deal with Kate, as they called the witch. The whole party went to the house for quarters and comfort, and Mr. Bell, recognizing the distinguished character of the leader of the party, was lavishing in courtesies and entertainment. But Gen. Jackson was out with the boys for fun—“witch hunting”—and was one of them for the time. They were expecting Kate to put in an appearance according to promise, and they chose to sit in a room by the light of a tallow candle waiting for the witch. The witch layer had a big flint lock army or horse pistol, loaded with a silver bullet, which he held steady in hand, keeping a close lookout for Kate. He was a brawny man, with long hair, high cheek bones, hawk-bill nose and fiery eyes. He talked much, entertaining the company with details of his adventures, and exhibitions of undaunted courage and success in overcoming witches. He exhibited the tip of a black cat’s tail, about two inches, telling how he shot the cat with a silver bullet while sitting on a bewitched woman’s coffin, and by stroking that cat’s tail on his nose it would flash a light on a witch the darkest night that ever come; the light, however, was not visible to any one but a magician. The party was highly entertained by the vain stories of

this dolt. They flattered his vanity and encouraged his conceit, laughed at his stories, and called him sage, Apollo, oracle, wiseacre, etc. Yet there was an expectancy in the minds of all left from the wagon experience, which made the mage’s stories go well, and all kept wide awake till a late hour, when they became weary and drowsy, and rather tired of hearing the warlock detail his exploits. Old Hickory was the first one to let off tension. He commenced yawning and twisting in his chair. Leaning over he whispered to the man nearest him, “Sam, I’ll bet that fellow is an arrant coward. By the eternals, I do wish the thing would come, I want to see him run.” The General did not have long to wait. Presently perfect quiet reigned, and then was heard a noise like dainty footsteps prancing over the floor, and quickly following, the same metallic voice heard in the bushes rang out from one corner of the room, exclaiming, “All right, General, I am on hand ready for business.” And then addressing the witch layer, “Now, Mr. Smarty, here I am, shoot.” The seer stroked his nose with the cat’s tail, leveled his pistol, and pulled the trigger, but it failed to fire. “Try again,” exclaimed the witch, which he did with the same result. “Now it’s my turn; look out, you old coward, hypocrite, fraud. I’ll teach you a lesson.” The next thing a sound was heard like that of boxing with the open hand, whack, whack, and the oracle tumbled over like lightning had struck him, but he quickly recovered his feet and went capering around the room like a frightened steer, running over every one in his way, yelling, “Oh my nose, my nose, the devil has got me. Oh lordy, he’s got me by the nose.” Suddenly, as if by its own accord, the door flew open and the witch layer dashed out, and made a bee line for the lane at full speed, yelling every jump. Everybody rushed out under the excitement, expecting the man would be killed, but as far as they could hear up the lane, he was still running and yelling, “Oh Lordy.” Jackson, they say, dropped down on the ground and rolled over and over, laughing. “By the eternal, boys, I never saw so much fun in all my life. This beats fighting the British.” Presently the witch was on hand and joined in the laugh. “Lord Jesus,” it exclaimed, “How the old devil did run and beg; I’ll bet he won’t come here again with his old horse pistol to shoot me. I guess that’s fun enough for to-night, General, and you can go to bed now. I will come to-morrow night and show you another rascal in this crowd.” Old Hickory was anxious to stay a week, but his party had enough of that thing. No one knew whose turn would come next, and no inducements could keep them. They spent the next night in Springfield, and returned to Nashville the following day. . .