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Off the Beaten Path: The Legend of The Bell Witch

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Growing up in Tennessee, the story of the Bell Witch was actually taught in schools.  In 4th grade, a good part of the syllabus is about Tennessee history, this being a part of that.  I vaguely remember what exactly they taught us, but last weekend I set out to finally go visit the Bell Witch Cave myself.  If anyone has seen the movie, “An American Haunting,”  it was based off of the Bell Witch, but only accounts for one the many explanations of what happened on the Bell land in the 1800’s.  While it’s not necessarily a bad film, you really shouldn’t rely on it for the true story.

The Bell Witch
Welcome To Adams

So the story goes…

The Bell family, headed by John Bell, moved from North Carolina to Robertson County, Tennessee in the 1800’s.  At the time, this community was known as Red River, but is presently known as Adams, TN.  It all began in 1817 when John, while inspecting the fields encountered a strange-looking animal, with the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit.  He didn’t really think anything more of it until other strange things started happening.

Not long after, the Bells began hearing beating sounds on the outside walls of their log cabin.  The frequency and force of these sounds grew and at a rapid pace.  Each time, they’d run out of the house but there was never any sign of anyone or anything.  Soon, the noises started happening inside of the house.  The children would complain of a gnawing sound on their bedposts, almost like a rat was chewing away at it.  The children also complained of having their covers and pillows ripped from their beds while sleeping.  Other sounds they regularly heard were that of chains being drug through the house, stones being dropped on the wooden floors, and choking sounds.  John Bell and Betsy, the youngest daughter, took the majority of the encounters with the entity.  Betsy began experiencing physically brutal encounters.  Her hair would be pulled and she would be slapped so hard that it would leave welts and hand prints on her body.

The original Bell home was torn down in the 1840’s, but this is a replica.
The Bell Witch
The Bell Cabin

While the entity very openly despised John, she simply only berated Betsy for one reason: she wanted her to break off her engagement to Joshua Gardner, a young man who lived near the Bells.  For an unknown reason, the Bell Witch was not pleased with their engagement.  Betsy refused to break it off for a very long time, but eventually had enough and followed her wishes.  Besides breaking off Betsy’s engagement, the other main reason the bell witch haunted the family was to kill John.  His throat would swell and he would have twitching and jerking of facial muscles.  Over the years, John became weaker and weaker.

As the entity’s frequency and force grew, the noises soon grew to voices.  It sang hymns, quoted scripture, and carried on extremely intelligent conversations with the Bell family.  One minute it would be friendly and pleasant and the next, it would be cussing up a storm and physically tormenting them.  When asked who and what it was, it would give different answers.  One of the identities  was that of the witch of a neighbor woman, Kate Batts.  Many believed this theory and the Bell Witch simply became known as “Kate.”

John Bell insisted that his family keep this a secret and they did so for a year.  Finally, John shared their secret with his closest friend, James Johnston, and invited him and his wife to stay the night at their home to experience it for themselves.  The “witch” did not disappoint and finally the Bells’ secret was out.  The news of the Bells’ “family problem” traveled so far and much that even President Andrew Jackson decided he must come out to the property to check it out.

On December 20, 1820, John died.  It was believed that Kate poisoned him.  And, in 1821, Betsy broke off her engagement with Joshua Gardner.

After John died and Betsy broke off her engagement, Kate said her farewells and promised to return in seven years.  In 1828, she returned for a few weeks.  She had long talks with John Bell Jr about the past, present and future.  She also made some predictions about the future which are otherworldly.  She then bid farewell again and said she would return in one hundred and seven years, which would have been 1935.  Some believe she never left at all though and has just taken up residence inside the cave because there has continued to be strange occurrences in the area.

When visiting, you have the option of a tour through the cave, the cabin, or a combination of both.  I chose the combination, grabbed some hot chocolate, and went to stand around the fire while waiting for my first tour.  After enough people had gathered, we were headed down to the cave which is a short walk from the cabin along the riverbed.

The Bell Witch
Enter At Own Risk
the riverbed that runs along the cave
The Bell Witch
the mouth of the cave
looking away from the mouth of the cave

The Bell Witch

The bluff above the entrance to the cave is an old ancient Indian burial ground.  The previous owners of the land had an archaeologist come out from Nashville and they estimated the graves to be somewhere between 3,000-5,000 years old.  They were buried sitting straight up in the ground facing east and this is how they were able to determine the time period.  It is also believed that these are the ancestors of the Chickasaw Indians.  While many believe that “Kate” may have taken up residence here after haunting the Bells, others believe that the entity may have actually originated in the cave.  Did the Indians just happen to bury their dead there or did they have a reason for choosing that spot?

During the tour, I learned that in the 1990’s, a paranormal investigator came to the cave and set up night vision video cameras throughout the cave.  He picked up something on camera that could not be explained.  He took it to several experts and some believe that it could have been a vortex or a porthole, basically a spiritual doorway.  Whatever it was, showed up and was gone in 3/100th of a second.

So, did the Indians just happen to bury their dead here or did they know this porthole existed and wanted their loved ones to be closer to the spiritual world?  I don’t guess we will ever really know where the entity originated.

Nobody really even knows for sure what this bell witch thing was anyways.  Was it the neighbor woman?  Was it a spirit that escaped from the porthole?  Was it something else entirely?

In the first room of the cave is a stone box Indian grave.  This was found down the river a ways and was actually put in this room specifically for the tour. An anthropologist from Bowling Green, KY came out and said that the grave was from a young Indian girl that had been dead somwhere between 300-1500 years.   Someone broke in one night and stole the remains, but the box is still present.

Box Grave of Young Indian Girl

While unfortunately, nothing supernatural or crazy happened on my time at the cave, there have been lots of reports of unexplained occurrences.  Cameras and phones have been known to shut off and lock up inside the cave.  They also have had people’s phones and cameras that keep repeatedly taking pictures and won’t stop or turn off.  Weird and unexplained things have shown up in pictures.  While on the tour, there have been dark shadows going along the length of the cave that everyone saw, but there was no explanation for it.

The Bell Witch
The First Room in the Cave
Inside the Second Room of the Cave

The Bell Witch

A Small Wishing Well Along the Walls

The Bell Witch

The Bell Witch What theory do you believe?  Do you believe in the supernatural?

Ashley Hubbard

Ashley Hubbard is a blogger and freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee focusing on sustainability, travel, veganism, mental health, and more. Passionate about animal rights, sustainable travel, and social impact, she seeks out ethical experiences whether at home or on the road. She shares these experiences on her website,

This Post Has 36 Comments

  1. Sorry Ashley, can’t say that I believe in the supernatural but I think that it would be really cool to see everything in the caves. I think the supernatural is just in your head, our minds can really play tricks on us and makes us believe what we want to (or makes us think we see things!).

    Either way, your pictures are great and this was a really great read into the ‘so-called’ supernatural experience that many folks believe!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      The cave was very cool despite what you believe in and it was also very interesting to learn about the Native American history. I can’t say if I believe in the supernatural or not…kind of on the fence on that one ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Well that genuinely sounds creepy haha. Did they make a movie of this? I like reading about this kind of stuff but I don’t know if I’d want to visit it. I get freaked out easily! Really interesting part of the history and culture though!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      They did make a movie based on it–“The American Haunting.” However, a lot of people say it’s not accurate depiction of it.

  3. Spooky! I have always been a big fan of scary places, I still remember the time some friends and I broke into a graveyard in the middle of the night! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  4. It does sound creepy, but I don’t really believe in the supernatural and portals to other worlds. Sounds fun though!

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      I’m not sure about the portals either, but it was still very interesting to learn about!

  5. frankaboutcroatia

    And now this is really some spooky story, that I cannot believe kids from Tennessee are taught in schools. I don’t think I would be visiting. Was even a bit scared just reading it ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Haha not only were we taught in school, we were taught when we were like 9 and 10 years old.

  6. Michael Huxley

    Great post! I love old tales and stories of places like this, whether you believe the supernatural or not it adds a little extra flavour to places that you visit.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Michael! I’m not sure what I believe, but I have to admit that it’s more exciting to think it’s possible ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Traveling Curiously

    Lovely post! I’m all for spooky outings!

  8. Michele

    I believe there are things we can’t explain and maybe shouldn’t try to. For me I would have moved my family out as soon as it started happening and moved somewhere else, hopefully that would have mover Kate on ๐Ÿ™‚ Good on you for visiting I know I couldn’t

  9. I have to agree with Michele, if this was happening somewhere I lived I would be packing my bags and heading off s soon as possible. I am always intrigued with stories of the supernatural and would never like to say 100% I don’t believe – just incase; I would hate to have the wrath of a spirit come down on me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think that when people know the stories as you have described above they often want something to occur when they visit the sites and that really it is all a trick of the mind when they say they have seen or felt something.

    I didn’t know the history of the Bell family until today so thank you for sharing an interesting story. If nothing else I would probably visit the site to find out more about the history of the Indian burials.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      You can bet I’d be packing my bags too haha

      I think you’re right about if people know about past occurrences, it may happen in your head. It’s hard to explain things like this though.

  10. Erin

    What a fun post! Love it! Creepy & super cool. Love the history behind it too.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      Thanks Erin! The history is great even if you don’t believe in the supernatural.

  11. I was skimming… I was too scared to read anything really scary…. I think I’ll have nightmares tonight now.

  12. Anastasia Sofia

    Interesting to see those films are based on real myths and legends. I can’t say I believe in that stuff, but I’d still probably feel a little spooked by my scumbag brain, if I visited – certainly adds a little spice to the visit!

  13. Syd

    Eek. I think visiting this place would give me nightmares. Then again, I’ve had nightmares about killer peaches trying to kill me with a strand of hair. So it doesn’t take much.

    1. Ashley Hubbard

      hahaha that’s the best nightmare ever. why don’t i have those nightmares?

  14. Interesting story about the family. I never watched the movie, but it does sound like a creepy place to visit.

  15. San

    Wow what an amazing place and story! Gives you goose bumps, right! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I really like such things somehow, though I have never been to such a place…

  16. Yikes – what a scary story. And interesting they teach it in school… that’d probably scare the pants off of me as a kid!

  17. Rachel

    I’m never sure if I believe in the supernatural or not.

    But when I was at college I still lived with my parents. I arrived home one day in winter and started washing up the dishes since no one else was around. Soon after my brother got back from high school, slung his bag on the table and went upstairs. A few minutes later I felt a hard poke to my left shoulder blade and swung around yelling at my brother. Only, he wasn’t there. He shouted down from his room asking what was wrong. I put it down to mind tricks but it happened on two other occasions that winter, once when I was looking out the window at the sunset and once again washing the dishes.

    Dad said he has woken numerous times in the night over the years to see a dark shape in the left corner of the bedroom by the wardrobe – could be a trick of the mind and darkness, but hey! Who knows?!

  18. Jolanta

    Ooh, a time travel vortex! (I’m a big Dr. Who fan ๐Ÿ˜‰ and there’s an episode in which a ghost turns out to be a time traveler from a different dimension, appearing every now and then because her timestream runs at a different speed than ours)

    I’ve never heard of “An American Haunting” or the Bell Witch, but it makes for a great story! Thank you for sharing this. I’m not sure whether I’d dare to go to the cave or not. Maybe… I’ll have to think about it.

  19. Why didn’t that family just pack up and leave? They must have had a lot invested in the property and who would buy it if it was spooked? The whole story is kind of creepy. So, are you glad nothing too freaky happened when you visited? I would be.

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