In Adams, Tennessee there is a cave with a tale claiming to be America’s greatest ghost story. The Bell Witch Cave is forty five minutes from The City of Music but holds it’s own as a must-see Tennessee attraction. The tale centers around the Bell family who are tortured by a witch. Rumor has it her name was Cate Batts, neighbor and scorned ex lover of John Bell who cursed him on her deathbed. She’s said to be responsible for the death of patriarch John Bell. Some of her most notorious acts are shape shifting into a dog/rabbit like beast, hair pulling, phantom knocks, and disembodied screams. It’s also been said that two children on the Bell property dug up the skull of the Bell Witch and when told to put it back in it’s grave, a tooth fell through the floorboards of the porch unnoticed, making that the source of the Bell’s curse.
The Bell Witch is not the only one supposedly haunting the land surrounding the Bell farm. It is also the grave sites of four to five indigeonus people. Not only have these bones been dug up and moved, perhaps disturbing spirits, but once at their new resting place remains were stolen from the fresh graves! Legend says if you take even a rock from the Caves you are destined to be cursed until you bring whatever you took back to the Caves. Reportedly the owners receive mail with rocks constantly, apologizing and asking for the curse to be lifted.
The site has been the subject of many Paranormal Investigation television shows including Ghost Adventures and Expedition X. It seems that if you go looking for activity at the Bell Witch Cave, you won’t be disappointed. People come from all walks of life to try and interact with the Witch. Supposedly President Andrew Jackson paid a visit to the caves. Though, this hasn’t been confirmed by any official letters or records despite claims. And the Witch in question they all want to see?
So, what’s fact and what is horrifically good fiction? Well The Bell Family was very much real. John and his wife Lucy were the owners of the farm after moving from North Carolina in 1805. They lived there with their children, including one Betsy Bell. Who was engaged to Joshua Gardner but pined for by school teacher Richard Powell. Then there was the supposed Witch’s favorite person and Bell family friend Calvin Johnston. Cate Batts is even a real person! However, John Bell died in 1820 and Cate went on to live a full life beyond that, so the rumor that the Bell Witch died cursing the Bell family isn’t entirely accurate. At least, the witch isn’t Cate Batts.
The Bells ended up sharing their story of a Witch who was tormenting them in 1817 after encouragement from Calvin Johnston and his wife. Calvin had also had personal contact with the Witch. In fact, he is supposedly the only one permitted to touch her as he’d shaken her hand once. She even once reportedly said that “There is no finer man in this country than Calvin Johnston”. High praise from a witch who was apparently afflicting the Bell patriarch with spells of throat swelling and twitching, along with physically abusing Betsy over her choice in suitors. This abuse coupled with her father dying and attributing it to the Witch, Betsy ended up breaking her engagement off with Joshua Gardner. He moved on to have a very successful life while she ended up marrying Richard Powell. Powell was suspected to be a part of the occult and formerly married to a woman 18 years his senior who ended up dying mysteriously and quickly after John Bell’s death.
Even though Powell married Betsy and he taught the children, he never seemed to see the Bell Witch. He never wrote about her in his journals which is peculiar at best and suspicious at worst. Especially since children reported hearing Powell chanting in an unfamiliar language along with Calvin Johnston glancing through a strange book left open on Powell’s desk that Powell claimed was in Latin and Greek, yet Johnston disputed this. Weird coincidences? Or perhaps Richard’s infatuation with Betsey Bell drove him to conjure a little something supernatural to aid him in his courting?
There is a lot of speculation with the Bell Witch. You can listen to all our theories of who the Bell Witch was and if the Cave in particular is haunted in our episode! Whatever you choose to believe we do have to agree on one thing, The Bell Witch cave is one hell of a ghost story.