For those interested in the “Bell Witch” mystery.
The development is not a newly-discovered secret, or missing piece of a puzzle; it is something that was written in 1820, held by the writer’s family until the 1930s, and published to a scholarly audience in the 1950s. We call this a “new development” because its reference to the “Bell Witch,” which is not by name, but through historical context, was noticed in modern times. The actual document and Bell Witch reference have been around for 200 years.
I was not the person who found it, but I have been hearing about it for some time. Recently, I was provided with a link to the actual document for analysis and comment, which you will find, below:
What is the development and why is it important?
The new development is an entry made in a journal kept by Army Captain John R. Bell (no relation to the “Bell Witch” Bells) while working as the official journalist for Stephen H. Long’s expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1820. The journal covers from March 13th to November 20th of that year. In addition to writings about the famed expedition, the journal also contains entries from Captain Bell’s return trip from Cape Girardeau, Missouri, to Washington, D.C. It was during that last leg of his journey when, on October 19, 1820, he passed through the Red River area of northwestern Middle Tennessee.
While spending the day at a plantation, he was told about a young girl surrounded by voices that relentlessly urged her to marry a neighbor. Although Captain Bell did not call the John Bell family by name, the year and location of this telling, along with the mention of the girl living three miles away, leaves no doubt that Betsy Bell was the centerpiece of the story that had been told to Captain Bell. Also, an account published some 30-35 years later told the same story and referred to Betsy Bell name. In his journal, Captain John R. Bell wrote:
“Rather a single circumstance was here related to me. of a young girl of about 15 years of age, residing but 3 miles from Murphey, a voice accompanies her, which says she should marry a man, a neighbor–thousands of persons have visited her to hear this voice, in many instances, it will reply to questions put to it, the visitors have left as little satisfied in their curiosity as before they heard it, many are under the impression, that it is ventriloquism imposed upon the hearers either by the girl or her brother–who it seems is generally in her company, her family is respectable.”
Captain Bell’s use of the phrase, “related to me,” in the introductory sentence, indicates that his account is second-hand (hearsay), meaning he was not an eyewitness. Hearsay accounts indeed make the mystery bigger, and perhaps more entertaining from a storytelling perspective, but they neither solve the mystery nor add substance to the investigation. Every account of the Bell Witch in book, article, documentary, and movie form that discusses the alleged events of 1817-1821 has been second-hand. Every Single One.
I am well-aware of “Our Family Trouble,” the alleged eyewitness account of Richard Williams Bell that is contained in, and serves as the cornerstone of, Martin Ingram’s 1894 work of fiction. No one has come forward with the actual document (although many have claimed to have it), and a professional analysis of the writing style, references to scripture, use of cliche’ words, and Freemasonry references, conducted in 2015, provides strong evidence that Ingram was likely the author of the “eyewitness” account. For those reasons, I do not consider the “Our Family Trouble” eyewitness manuscript as valid evidence in the Bell Witch case (but if you have it, bring it to me and let me have it analyzed–and prove me wrong).
Is there an old, first-person eyewitness account stuffed away in a rotting trunk in someone’s attic or basement that tells the “real truth” of the Bell Witch mystery? Many have claimed to possess such documents, and some have used their alleged existence as the basis for books and movies (perhaps to create an illusion of credibility), but the proverbial bottom line is that those claiming to possess these “holy grail” documents seemingly vanish into thin air when serious researchers ask to examine the documents and have the paper and handwriting professionally analyzed for authenticity. That is a very simple and reasonable request under the circumstances; extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
If most anyone had such an important, game-changing document, they would be eager to have it professionally analyzed so as to garner support among researchers. No theory, Bell Witch or otherwise, will advance very far, much less see the light of day, without acceptance and support from the research community. At the end of the day, they are the people most listened-to, and the ones who will ultimately drive and promote your theory to the masses.
Thankfully, Captain John R. Bell’s journal is accessible, and given its clear, spelled-out chain of transmittal through the years, there is no reason to doubt its authenticity. But, why is this second-hand account so important? Does it add any value? You betcha.
While Captain Bell’s second-hand (hearsay) account does not solve the mystery of the Bell Witch, or propel the investigation along in a more fruitful way, it is significant to Bell Witch researchers because it was written in 1820, 12 years before Martin Ingram was born. It debunks the theory that Ingram made up the entire legend. The old “Ingram Fabrication Theory,” which I feel is no longer viable, stated that Ingram “made up” the legend because nothing had been written about the Bell Witch prior to his 1894 work of fiction–and if anything turns up, it was probably written by Ingram. Captain Bell’s 1820 journal entry occurred before Ingram was born, meaning he [Ingram] could not have written or influenced it.
And now, diehard proponents of the now-defunct Ingram Fabrication Theory will likely argue that Ingram “wrote it from the womb,” but that’s neither my monkey nor my circus.
It is also noteworthy that Captain Bell’s account is, essentially, the same story–a young girl surrounded by voices saying to marry Joshua Gardner–that was published by the Saturday Evening Post 30 to 35 years later, and reprinted by the Green Mountain Freeman (in Vermont) on February 7, 1856. Captain Bell’s journal did not mention the Bell family by name, but the Saturday Evening Post article did, which suggests the two early accounts, written 30 to 35 years apart, came from different sources.
I will also note that the two early accounts make no mention of Betsy going into trances, having her hair pulled, being beaten, or suffering any other misfortunes except, maybe, not getting to marry the love of her life. The early accounts also make no mention of an invisible entity predicting the future, speaking in preachers’ own voices, gnawing on bedposts, or turning farm workers into giant rabbits and mules, and “riding them to hell for breakfast.” More on that in future posts.
To summarize, Captain Bell’s journal debunks the Ingram Fabrication Theory and, when viewed along with the Saturday Evening Post article reprint in the Green Mountain Freeman, shows that the Bell disturbances–how ever benign or severe they might have been–had become known to people outside of the Middle Tennessee region.
Here is Captain Bell’s journal entry as published in the 1950s (copyright 1957, the Arthur H. Clark Company) and used here for the purpose of education under the Fair-Use law:
Captain John R. Bell’s full journal, including catalog and citation information, is available online, here.
The other referenced account, the Green Mountain Freeman’s reprint of the Saturday Evening Post’s “Bell Witch” article, known as “The Tennessee Ghost,” is shown below:
The February 7, 1856 edition of the Green Mountain Freeman can be read online, here. My 2017 write-up about the Green Mountain Freeman article and the now-defunct Ingram Fabrication Theory can be found here.
Thanks for reading. So long for now.
Greetings, Friends and Enemies:
A year ago today, I was relaxing after a busy last few years and contemplating much of the same for 2018. As it turned out, I was right. Although I haven’t “rested up” from the whirlwind called 2018, and probably will not for some time, I must admit that it was a great year on all fronts and I couldn’t be happier.
On the musical end, I did several key projects this past year. And more importantly, I made many new friends and contacts along the way. It is an honor and a privilege to know and work with them.
The paranormal world was busy as well, with investigations, lots of behind-the-scenes research on some alternative and new-to-me areas of the field, several special guest appearances at conventions, a handful of radio interviews, three TV appearances, a musical guest appearance with the OrbTones (a rock band composed of paranormal researchers), and some well-attended lecture and book signing events.
To those who attended any, or some, of the events listed above, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You (fans and friends) are the folks who matter, and are why I’m here and do what I do; you have my full loyalty. The paranormal activities and events are special in the same way that musical activities are special. They afford me the opportunity to meet many exciting people and make strong, lasting friendships, and offer me the privilege of being able to relate to, and learn from, those people.
Having been in the paranormal field since 1978, I have seen the field recycle, reinvent, and redefine itself many times. Interest reaches a peak every five years, and then resets in the sixth year. 2019 will be the fourth year of the current cycle. Look for more great things; not only from me, but from others as well. We are only a year away from the very top of the roller coaster. Enjoy.
Looking to the future, I first think of all the “new me” statements people make, especially on social media. Why? I mean, let’s reason together. How often does a new year—a predetermined date on a calendar—automatically and suddenly alter a person’s life and attitude? It doesn’t, except for rare cases when someone manages to keep their New Year’s resolution.
This brings me to my own New Year’s resolution for 2019, which I should be able to keep because it hasn’t changed in 40 years: “keep on keeping on, stand strong and firm in my convictions, maintain my standards of research, and don’t change a thing.” The “new me” is still the “old me.”
A couple exceptions might come into play, however. I am looking at extending my efforts and research into an area that I feel would greatly benefit from it, but as with everything else, I look before I leap. And, I am still looking. I am also pondering some new and big paranormal opportunities that have recently been offered to me. (Side note: I will not discuss them, so please don’t ask). As good as the opportunities sound, I can’t lose sight of the fact that everything usually looks good on paper, but paper often amounts to nothing more than the proverbial “sheep’s clothing.” I must evaluate the opportunities very carefully, and wisely.
But, most importantly, I would like to wish everyone a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019!
I had a fabulous time at the MID-SOUTH PARANORMAL CONVENTION over the weekend. I performed with the Orb Tones, gave a Bell Witch lecture presentation, and signed books all weekend.
It was also great to catch up with old friends and make lots of new ones. Great convention + great people! And, KUDOS to the LGHS for organizing yet another stellar, first-class convention!
Stay tuned for MORE conventions and excitement later this year!
Also in the works for this year are several new paranormal investigations, writing projects, lecture and signing events at paranormal conferences and bookstores, and several guitar clinics. This year’s demand has been really high, and we are carefully monitoring the “para-scape” and working hard to finalize what’s in store for 2018!
Stay tuned for great things to come!
I am often asked about my views of the paranormal and how I investigate it. Unless we have had the good fortune of meeting and chatting with each other at a signing or lecture event–or a live investigation, the following interview from TNT Paranormal’s Bumps in the Night newsletter is a great place to start. We did the interview last year, and it begins on page 4.
Also, make sure to read the other articles. TNT is a very professional and knowledgeable organization.
I was recently given the honor of co-hosting a special edition of the Gallatin Ghost Walk in Sumner County, Tennessee, a few miles northeast of Nashville. As Donna and Randy Lucas shared the haunted history of Gallatin’s many old buildings, I demonstrated how to use ghost investigation equipment by conducting a mini-investigation of each location we visited. The results were nothing short of amazing.
Is there more information about the Gallatin Ghost Walk? What is the historical significance of Gallatin and Sumner County?
The Gallatin Ghost Walk intertwines Gallatin’s rich and diverse history with spine-tingling tales of haunts and eerie happenings. Its hosts, Donna and Randy, stroll around the Square and surrounding blocks, enlightening and enthralling their guests with spellbinding stories of old Sumner County and her illustrious former residents, many of whom still frequent the old buildings today.
Eighty-six buildings in Gallatin’s Commercial Historic District were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, although some have since been torn down. Construction dates of the buildings range from the late 1790s to 1935, and their diverse architecture includes Art Deco, Classical, Victorian, and some unusual examples of Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Second Empire.
From the man who disappeared before his disbelieving family’s eyes in an open field, never to be seen again, to the 16 Confederate soldier spirits in Andrew Jackson’s old law office on Gallatin’s public square, the paranormal happenings in and around Gallatin are legion–and LEGEND!
Time truly flies when you’re having fun–and when you are busy. I apologize for the long delay between updates; it has been a very busy and productive last few months. I plan to post a lot of pictures, videos, and news in the coming weeks.
As 2017 reaches the halfway point, I am repointing and refocusing my efforts on current research and writing projects, and fewer ghost investigations. Not that there is anything wrong with ghost hunting, but planning the investigations, the travel involved, and spending weeks reviewing evidence takes a LOT of time. And so does writing. Finding the time to investigate hauntings, research cases, and write books, all at once, and hoping for the proverbial “big bang,” is daunting at best. Any more ghost investigations? You betcha–but just not as frequently (for a while). It is now time to catch up on my writing projects.
I have several works in progress, some of which are near completion. In my queue is a new, revised edition of “The Bell Witch: The Full Account,” a sequel to “Ghostly Cries From Dixie,” entitled, “More Ghostly Cries From Dixie,” and two new, first edition books: “The Outlaws and Ghosts of The Natchez Trace” and “From Turkey Creek – A Memoir.” The Natchez Trace book is in its early stages, and Turkey Creek is almost finished.
You will be hearing much more about these titles, as well as release dates and upcoming appearances, through more frequent updates of this web site/blog. I will also be sharing pictures from various ghost investigations and my travels.
In the meantime, I leave you with a video from a ghost investigation near Jackson, Tennessee, conducted on January 21, 2017. Three of us investigated an 1850s-era church building and Masonic hall, and the graveyard behind it, which dates back to the early 1820s. Activity was fast and furious, so much that we brought a much larger group for another investigation on June 24th; we encountered the same results. The area is chock full of history. Watch the video and read the captions for more information!
Thanks for watching. See you soon!