John Bell moved his family from North Carolina to northern Robertson County Tennessee, now known as Adams, in 1804. Bell purchased some land and a large house for his family. Over the next several years, he acquired more land, increasing his holdings to 328 acres. Over the years the family would become well established in their peaceful community.
One day in 1817, John Bell was inspecting his cornfield when he encountered a strange-looking animal sitting in the middle of a cornrow. Shocked by the appearance of this animal, which had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit, Bell shot several times. The animal vanished.
John's son Drew Bell approached an unknown bird perched on a fence that flew off and was of "extraordinary size." The daughter Betsy observed a girl in a green dress swinging from the limb of an oak tree. Dean, a person enslaved by the Bell family, reported being followed by a large black two-headed dog.
Then late at night, they started hearing knocking sounds on the doors and outer walls of the house. Later sounds were being heard in the house. The children began complaining of sounds of a rat gnawing on the bedpost, chains being drug through the house, stones being dropped on the wooden floors, then gulping and choking sounds.
The family was terrified but without any plausible explanations and fearing social derision, they kept the problem to themselves for over a year. But, when things began to reach a tipping point, perhaps the increasingly violent attacks on his daughter, Betsy, who was slapped, pinched, and stuck with pins, John confided in a neighbor, James Johnson. He invited Mr. Johnson to spend the night. After several nights of witnessing these strange things, Mr. Johnson suggested that they were dealing with an evil spirit, one like those referenced in the bible. He suggested a committee be formed and thus an investigation started.
Word quickly spread around town about the spirit inhabiting the Bell home and it was not long before people were coming from miles around to hear and witness this unseen force. It was perhaps this increase in activity, the extra attention, the presence of so much energy that allowed the spirit to begin to speak. When asked who and what it was, it gave different identities. It once stated that it was the witch of a neighbor woman named Kate Batts. This is what many people believed, and from then on, this unseen force was called "Kate" the "Bell's Witch".
With the emergence of full conversations, the spirit repeated word for word two sermons given 13 miles apart at the same time. The entity was well acquainted with Biblical text and appeared to enjoy religious arguments. As another amusement, the witch shared gossip about activities in other households, and at times appeared to leave for brief moments to visit homes after an inquiry.]
One visitor, devised a test for the witch, something no one outside their family would know, asking the entity what his Dutch step-grandmother in North Carolina would say to the enslaved Black people if she thought they did something wrong. The witch replied with his grandmother's accent, "Hut tut, what has happened now?" In another account, an Englishman stopped to visit and offered to investigate. On remarking on his family overseas, the witch suddenly began to mimic his English parents. Again in the early morning, the witch woke him to the voices of his parents worried as they had heard his voice as well. The Englishman quickly left that morning and later wrote to the Bell family that the entity had visited his family in England. He apologized for his skepticism.
It seemed that Kate had two main reasons for visiting the Bell home. One was to stop John's youngest daughter Elizabeth “Betsy” Bell from marrying a young man named Joshua Gardner.
The second was to kill John Bell.
Betsy Bell had become interested in Joshua Gardner, a young man who lived nearby. With the blessings of their parents, they decided to marry. Everyone was happy about their engagement. Well, almost everyone. The evil, mysterious entity became furious and repeatedly ordered Betsy not to marry Joshua.
Over the next three years "Kate" tormented members of the Bell family almost daily. John and his daughter Betsy were the ones who received the worst of the physical abuse, while Kate seemed to like the other family members, even stating that the matriarch was the greatest woman on the planet. Betsy continued to be harassed with hair pulling, scratching and pinpricks, things even escalated to beatings. While John Bell began suffering from spells of, paralysis of his mouth, swelling of the throat, and often had the feeling of a stick being stuck sideways in his throat. Then came the twitching and jerking of the facial muscles. Kate would blast him with curses and hideous threats during these spells. By the fall of 1820, his declining health had confined him to the house, where the malicious entity continuously removed his shoes when he tried to walk and slapped his face when he recovered from his numerous seizures. Her shrill voice was heard all over the farm, cursing and chastising "Old Jack Bell," the nickname she had given him.
Kate finally accomplished her mission for coming to the Bell farm. On December 20, 1820, John Bell had died. It was believed that he was poisoned by Kate, and Kate took full credit for his death. Immediately after his death, his family found a vial of strange black liquid in the cupboard. John, Jr. sprinkled two drops on the cat's tongue. The cat jumped up into the air, rolled over in mid-air, and was dead when it hit the floor. The entity then exclaimed, "I gave Ol' Jack a big dose of that last night, which fixed him!" John, Jr. tossed the mysterious vial into the fireplace. It burst into a bright blue flame and shot up the chimney.
And then in March of 1821 young Betsy broke off her engagement with Joshua Gardner.
Kate, the “witch” of the Bell home, seemingly satisfied with her work, told the family that she would depart but return in seven years in 1828. The witch returned on time to Lucy and her sons Richard and Joel with similar activities as before, but they chose not to encourage it, and the witch appeared to leave again. It is said however that during this visit, she came to the home of John Bell Jr and had long talks with him about the past, the present, and the future. Even making some predictions for the future, most notably about the civil war. Kate also said there was a reason for John Bells’ death. However, she never said what the reason was. After the second visit, she said her next return would be in One Hundred and Seven years. That would have been in 1935. But some believe that she (Kate) never left the area at all due to the strange things that have occurred in and around the town of Adams and the Bell Witch Cave over these many years.
The faint sounds of people talking and children playing can sometimes be heard in the area, and it's not uncommon to see "candle lights" dance through the dark fields late at night. Photography is especially difficult; some pictures taken in the area show mist, orbs of light, and other phenomena, including human-like figures who were not present when the pictures were taken. Could these phenomena be related to the haunting of John Bell's family?
We will never know the true cause of the Bell family’s torment 200 years ago, nor why certain phenomena persist in the area. However, most researchers agree that "something" had to have caused the incidents at Red River in the early 1800s that gave rise to the Bell Witch legend as we know it today.
In a manuscript attributed to, John Bell’s son, Richard Williams Bell, he wrote:
“Whether it was witchery, such as afflicted people in past centuries and the darker ages, whether some gifted fiend of hellish nature, practicing sorcery for selfish enjoyment, or some more modern science akin to that of mesmerism, or some hobgoblin native to the wilds of the country, or a disembodied soul shut out from heaven, or an evil spirit like those Paul [sic] drove out of the man into the swine, setting them mad; or a demon let loose from hell, I am unable to decide; nor has anyone yet divined its nature or cause for appearing, and I trust this description of the monster in all forms and shapes, and of many tongues, will lead experts who may come with a wiser generation, to a correct conclusion and satisfactory explanation.”