The official biographer of the incidents surrounding the Bell Witch Legend was a FIVE YEAR OLD boy. Imagine his perspective of his eleven year old sister's peculiar actions as the following story depicts. Why have so many people been willing to give his imagination so much credibility? Are YOU one of them? Was this story the more accurate explanation reported in lost 1846 Saturday Evening Post article?
She repeated, "What do you want? Why are you here?"
Betsy lay motionless in a bed she shared with her five-year old brother, Richie. She felt embarrassed - a young woman of eleven still having to share a bed with her baby brother. But, the family home, log cabin on their thousand-acre farm in 1817 in north central Tennessee, didn't have many rooms. So, all her brothers and sisters, the six of the eight that still lived at home, had to share beds.
As she lay awake, staring upward into the darkness at the hewn log in the ceiling, painful images kept flashing in her mind. She couldn't forget them, no matter how desperately she tried. Over and over they reappeared, torturing her and depriving her of sleep.
The memory of papa's face stuck in her mind. She remembered earlier that evening sitting on the floor in the main room of their cabin with her brothers and sisters and listening to papa read passages from the book of truth. Every Saturday evening, after she completed her chores, papa, known in the community as John Bell, a man in his mid-sixties and an elder of prominence in the Red River Baptist church, preached to the family.
She could still see the light from mama's old oil wick lantern illuminating the room in a soft reddish-yellow glow and papa reading from the tattered pages of his bible. Like giving a sermon from the pulpit, papa spoke slowly and sternly. She thought she was scolding them for some yet unrealized mischief. She could remember him stopping, looking up with his brow contorted, and demanding her brother explain the passage he'd just read and share the lesson papa said was hidden in the words.
She knew he liked to select his topic based on a recent misdeed someone of the family and to use this opportunity to lecture them. Their punishment, she thought, was the public humiliation.
She couldn't remember Mama ever joining the discussion. While they sat in front of papa's chair, Luci Bell, a small woman in her forties, stayed at the other side of the room and quietly worked near the fireplace. Using the light from the flickering flames, mama was always tending to some domestic task, such as mending their clothes. Although they had half dozen slaves to do this kind of work, mama chose to do it herself. She said she found papa's sessions too stressful and didn't want to participate.
Betsy kept seeing papa's face from that evening. The pale yellow glow from the lantern light cast an ominous shadow of the bridge of his nose on his check. She imagined papa looking only at her for the entire evening. Papa knows, she feared. He always seemed to know when she was hiding something. She had sinned and papa was planning her punishment.
She rolled her head side to side on her pillow, hoping to shake his face from her mind. For awhile, it seemed to work, but as soon as more pleasant thoughts took form, her fear of papa's anticipated judgment drove them away. Tearfully, she pleaded for his specter to depart. As she searched her subconscious for some place to hide, the quiet of the night was unexpectedly interrupted.
What was that noise she thought?
There! Did she hear it again?
She stopped shaking her head, held her breath, and strained to hear any sound. She heard the squeaking of the crickets and the stirring of the horses in the nearby barn, but they were familiar sounds and were outside. But she was certain, what she had heard came from inside her bedroom. When she started breathing again, a new fear had replaced papa's face.
Glancing from side to side into the darkness, she slowly pulled up the bedcovers until the hemline was even with her eyes. Clutching onto the blanket, so hard her fingernails painfully dug into her palms, she jabbed her left elbow into Richie's ribs.
"Wake up Richie! Please, please wake up," she pleaded.
"Quit it, Betsy. I'm tryin' ta sleep," he eventually murmured.
"Richie, somethun's in the room. I heard it."
"Your nutso! Papa sed mice are in da wall, tryin' ta git in, cuz it's cold."
"Mice don't talk."
"Betsy, pleez lemme be. Go ta sleep."
She was sure she heard someone speak but could not make out the words. For what seemed to be hours, Betsy remained motion-less. Then frozen in horror, she watched the blankets slide down toward the foot of the bed, gather up, and as if propelled by some mysterious force fly back toward her head. It happened a second time. This time they flew off the bed and landed on the floor on the right side.
Startled, Betsy sat straight up in bed, clutching her pillow as a shield against this unknown presence.
All the commotion had Richie wide-eyed awake. Upset, he complained, "I'm gettin' papa. He'll fix ya good."
His threat shocked Betsy back to those earlier awful images. With her heart pounding in her chest, she felt an instant pain in her temples.
"Please Richie," she pleaded, "I didn't do it. The thing in here did it."
"An it likes ta pull bedcovers," he retorted.
Just then Betsy thought she heard that voice again. Nervously, she turned and stared across the bed into the darkness of the far corner of the room. With the light from the full moon shining through a tiny window high in the wall, she could see the covers crumbled in a pile on the floor, but nothing else. The sound repeated. What was it she thought?
While staring intently as if in a trance, she subconscious-ly reached over and squeezed Richie's arm just above his elbow, digging her fingernails into his flesh. Before he could jerk away in pain, she said "Did you hear it?"
Richie had heard nothing, but his sister's peculiar actions worried him. He wanted to run, get papa, and be done with it, but Betsy was scaring him. Something could be in the room. It could have hidden under the bed and, for sure, it would grab him if he jumped out of bed. Was it those hideous evil spirits that the blackies told him stole away children in the dark of the night? He decided the top of the bed, next to Betsy, was safe. Maybe, Betsy's noise would just go away.
As if for self-protection against the unseen entity, Betsy curled up in a ball on the bed, tightly clutching her pillow. Richie pulled close to her. With the blankets now on the floor, she welcomed the warmth of his body and his nearness made her feel safer.
As they lay listening, Betsy could only hear familiar noises of night. The mysterious sound was gone. But, she was no longer thinking of papa and she took comfort in Richie's closeness. Strange, she thought, her horrible little bother was her protector. Eventually, they feel asleep.
Since Richie and Betsy were awake for much of the night, they slept late into the morning. Upon awakening, they ran to the kitchen to tell mama of the strange happenings. Luci listened quietly as she boiled water for their breakfast in an old kettle on the black cast-iron stove.
"Betsy hear'd talkin' in our room," Richie exclaimed. His eyes were as wide as saucers and he stabbed his finger into the air in the direction of their bedroom.
"Somethen was unda da bed en pulled da covers off. Betsy made it go away."
Luci remained silent as Richie continued to tell of their encounter. When he finished, she said, "Betsy's a good sister. I'm glad she made it go away, but I'm sure you were just dreaming."
"No mama, ah really hear'd it!" Richie protested.
Betsy sat quietly at the table. She was satisfied to let Richie tell their story. Mama's praise made her feel good about herself. Most importantly, while she thought about this strange sound, she forgot about her fear of papa. But where was papa?
Due to lateness of the day, John Bell had already gone to the Red River Baptist Church to assist in the service. Mama said he was not expected to return until the evening. Betsy was relieved to know she didn't have to worry about his judgment, at least for that day. Well, that was her hope.
"I taking that old sickly mare into Royal," a voice from just outside the door proclaimed.
Papa! Betsy thought. Instantly, she turned toward the door to confirm the source of her anxiety. Her sudden motion propelled a plate, which was sitting on the table in front of her, across the kitchen striking Luci in the back.
"Betsy!" mama exclaimed as the plate fell to the floor.
Betsy was terrified. She remembered nothing about that plate. The words - oh my, oh my, it's papa - kept echoing in her head. The seconds she waited for the voice to enter the kitchen seemed like an eternity. Finally, Jesse, her twenty-seven year old brother, stepped into the doorway. His voice always reminded Betsy of papa.
"What's going on?" Jesse asked as he walked into the kitchen and saw the broken plate on the floor.
"We got spooks," Richie replied excitedly, "day juss flung da plate at mama."
"Sure and I recon you're gonna tell me its ole Kate's witch," Jesse said with a laugh.
The John Bell had a troubled history with Kate Bates. Due to personal problems, she was forced to sell her farm to him and felt cheated. She swore that someday she would even the score.
The threat became the family joke. When anything out of the ordinary happened, someone would say ole Kate Bates had turned her witch loose.
"Ya, it's da witch! She pull'd our blankets lass night," Richie added.
Surprisingly, comments about ole Kate's witch relaxed Betsy. She forgot about papa and she forgot about the broken plate. Furthermore, Mama and Jesse seemed more interested in what to do with the mare, then in determining how the plate ended on the floor.
A week latter, again on Saturday night, the episode in the bedroom repeated. Although Richie saw nothing, Betsy told him
what she thought she saw and heard. As he listened intently, Betsy found that Richie, with all the innocence of a five-year child, never doubted anything she said. He was her confidant. She always felt good whenever Richie shared his version of the experience with anyone patient enough to listen.
The incidents repeated, week after week. Although nobody ever actually saw or heard anything, over time Richie's rendition of Betsy's story gained in credibility. When furniture was found disturbed and kitchen utensils were misplaced, like that morning-after that first occurrence, the explanation became it was Betsy's witch or ole Kate's witch.
A couple of months later, Betsy had her dreaded confrontation with papa and the visitation in the bedroom that night reached a more ominous level.
"Betsy! Betsy!" the sound finally spoke words.
Startled, Betsy sat straight up in bed. That had become the signal to Richie that Betsy heard something.
He said nervously, "Wadya hear? Wadya hear?"
"Nothing! Go to sleep."
Before she heard her name called out, she had her face buried in her pillow, trying to hide from Richie that she was crying after her humiliation by papa that evening.
"I am not a scourge. I am not a vessel for sin," she had been telling herself over and over again between sobs.
Instinctively, she cried out to the voice, "What do you want?"
Betsy heard nothing.