Headlines – 10/31/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – October 31, 2006

  From the 10/31/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Bell Witch makes for good story, bad history, says family
By Jason C. Mattox

Panola County descendants of a family allegedly haunted by an apparition known as the "Bell Witch"are still uncertain about what took place on the Bell Family farm in Adams, Tennessee nearly two centuries ago.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The Bell Witch has been the subject of a number of books and several movies including "An American Haunting" which was recently released on video.

The legend has also been discussed around Boy Scout campfires for generations, and has been embraced in Panola County as part of the local lore.
And discussion continues among the descendants of the Bell family who moved from Tennessee and settled in Panola County in the mid-1800s.

Billy Wray Fowler, a descendant and Bell family historian, said his obsession with whether or not the family was haunted has led him to split time residing in Texas and Mississippi.

"I started reading about it, and I had a lot of questions, so I began doing my own research," he said. "And it had gotten to the point where it was too hard to look into the family history from Texas."

Allegedly the family of John Bell was troubled between 1817 and 1820 by a series of strange occurrences which resulted from a business dispute/spurned romantic affection/or cruelty to farm workers, depending on whose version of the legend is being told. Someone died and supposedly came back to haunt the family.

Fowler, who replaced the vandalized gravestone of John Bell’s daughter Betsy Bell in the Long Branch Cemetery in Yalobusha County, said while there are possible logical explanations for the events that took place, there is no denying they actually happened.

"The witch, if there was one, should have been called the Batts witch," he said. "Everyone called the witch Kate after Kate Batts."

According to internet sources, Kate Batts was a neighbor to the Bells in Adams, Tenn.

"The two of them had a falling out of some sort over a business dealing involving a slave or some cows," Fowler said. "When all of the strange things started happening, people of the time thought Kate was the one responsible."

During the time the alleged witch took up residence with the family, legend says that several Bells would hear unexplained knocking and hear voices during the night.

"There is a lot about the legend that people can’t explain," Fowler emphasized.

One such unexplainable incident pertained to the death of family patriarch John Bell.

"When John Bell died, nobody knew what killed him," Fowler said. "Most people believe it was the witch, because the legends say people heard singing at his funeral."

According to Fowler, after John Bell’s death, a bottle containing a black liquid was found on the mantle of a fireplace in the home.

"When the family threw it into the fireplace, the flames shot up the chimney like it was an explosion," he said.

Another family member says most of the "haunting" can be explained.

Olive Herring Smith, the great-great-granddaughter of Betsy Bell, said there is a reasonable explanation for the events surrounding the Bell family.

"People thought Granny Betsy was a witch, but that’s not true," Smith said. "Granny Betsy was a good woman."

As for claims that John Bell was possessed or tortured by the spirit in the home, Smith and niece Mary Jo Dorr Cook said there is medical evidence now that would change that opinion.

"The twitching and fits that he used to have are symptoms that could be tied to epilepsy or Bell’s Palsy," Cook said. "There has to be some kind of medical explanation."

And what about the knocking and voices heard in the old family home? Smith said that too can be explained.

"Granny Betsy’s school teacher, Richard Powell, who she later married, is the one some people believe to be responsible for the noises in the house," Smith said. "The knocking could have been Powell using the secret tunnels in the house at night.

"There might have been some things that took place that they couldn’t explain at the time, but I believe they can be today," Cook added.

It was after the death of Richard Powell that Betsy moved to Yalobusha County to live with her daughter. Other members of the family were already living in Panola County. According to Smith, there has been no evidence of a haunting taking place in Mississippi.

Both Smith and Cook acknowledged that it is hard for Bell descendants to discuss the events to this day due to the torment ancestors received over the alleged haunting and people’s fascination with the legend.

"The older generation in our family did not speak about the Bell Witch," Smith recalled. "It was just something they did not do at the time."

Smith said the first time she remembered hearing of the Bell Witch was when she was a young girl in the 1930s.

"I was working at the family store selling candy after school and my uncle walked in and he was through the roof," she said. "He was normally a soft-spoken, really gentle man, but he was very upset with a story that had run in the paper that day."

The Commercial Appeal had published a story about the Bell Witch legend, including Kate’s threat to return for more haunting a century later, which motivated the news story to which Smith’s uncle referred.

The threat was apparently unfulfilled.

As for rumors of the haunting of Long Branch Cemetery, site of Betsy Bell’s grave, Smith said there is no evidence of such.

"All I know is that some teenagers like to go down there and vandalize the cemetery," she said. "I know that some kids are probably responsible for breaking Granny Betsy’s original tombstone."

That original tombstone has since been replaced.

"We just want people to know that not everyone believes there was a haunting," Smith said. "Some strange things did happen, but that does not mean Granny Betsy was a witch or John Bell was tormented."

Cities set curfew for Halloween
By Jason C. Mattox

As ghouls and ghosts roam the streets tonight, local law enforcement wants to be sure there are more treats than tricks.

During recent municipal board meetings Panola’s cities and towns set their curfew for Tuesday, Oct. 31, Halloween.

Sardis Police Chief Mike Davis asked for and received a 9 p.m. curfew. Como also set its curfew at 9 p.m.

In Batesville, the Board of Aldermen agreed to set the curfew at 10 p.m. at the request of Police Chief Gerald Legge.

"In recent years we haven’t received a lot of calls," Legge said. "We are hoping this will continue this Halloween."

Soul searching comes after ‘survival’ speech
     The family of University of Mississippi police officer Robert Langley, including wife Lisa and their children, were honored prior to the Ole-Miss Auburn game Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. The university passed buckets at the game to raise funds for the children. U of M Police Chief Jeffrey Van Slyke (far left) has called on the university to recognize its trouble with under-age drinking.
By Billy Davis

Under the listing for the University of Mississippi on the Internet Web site Wikipedia.com, the on-line encyclopedia, the university’s "accolades" include "its production of Rhodes scholars" and its Honors College, "ranked one of the top three honors colleges in the nation by Reader’s Digest."

Also under "accolades" is its distinction as the "number five party school" by the 2006 Princeton Review.

"We may not win every game, but Ole Miss has never lost a party," proclaimed another party-ranking Web site, summarizing the school’s party-hardy reputation.

But the university has now lost a police officer, Robert Langley, 30, who died during a traffic stop after he was allegedly dragged 200 yards by a vehicle driven by Ole Miss student Daniel Cummings, 20.

An affidavit filed against Cummings by a police lieutenant states that Langley died when he was "thrown to the pavement" from Cummings’ vehicle, striking his head against the pavement.

Langley’s death at the hands of Cummings "evinced a depraved heart, regardless of human life," the affidavit reads, leading to a charge of capital murder against him.

The Miss. Bureau of Investigations, which is leading an investigation of Langley’s death, has not released Cummings’ toxicology report, leaving only speculation about the condition of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity member during the traffic stop.

At the October 25 funeral service for Langley, U of M Police Chief Jeffrey Van Slyke hinted at Cummings’ condition during the traffic stop but did state that alcohol or drugs were involved.

A day after Langley’s service, the Oxford community gathered for a "prayer walk" around the Square to pay tribute to Langley and speak out against the dangers of alcohol abuse.

"Someone who is of their right mind wouldn’t do something like that," Rev. Kevin Crofford told The Panolian Monday morning, citing the common-sense reasoning of many.

Standing in front of 1,000 people last week at the Gertrude C. Ford Center, Crofford railed against the dangers of alcohol abuse, wondering if the campus community will finally confront the problem after Langley’s death.

Crofford, of Batesville, pastors Sardis Lake Baptist Church, where Langley attended services with his wife, Lisa, and their children.

"When is enough gonna be enough?" asked the pastor, whose sermon drew an occasional "amen" and lots of blank looks from a crowd that included many Ole Miss students and faculty.

Crofford’s sermon was preceded by Van Slyke, who cited the Old Testament story of Joseph, whose brothers had betrayed him by selling him into slavery. Years later, they recognized him as their own.

"You planned evil against me, but God planned it for good to bring about the present result; the survival of many people," the police chief said, citing Joseph’s speech to his brothers, which is recorded in Genesis 50.

"The survival of many people depends upon all of us in this room to step to the plate, to take responsibility and ownership of whatever we’re doing in life," Van Slyke told the crowd.

"This is not us against this boy," Crofford said Monday. "It’s about us being against everything this situation represents."

Nov. 7 ballot light on local races
Circuit clerk decries state ballot work
By Billy Davis

Two school board trustees will keep their seats November 7 after running without opposition, leaving a race for chancery judge as the only local contest on a two-sided ballot.

The attempt by Batesville attorney Vicki Cobb to unseat Chancery Judge Melvin McClure is part of an otherwise quiet ballot despite contests for a U.S. Senate seat and the seat for Mississippi’s First Congressional District.

U.S. Senator Trent Lott and Rep. Roger Wicker are running for re-election for their respective seats, and neither is expected to face serious opposition from their challengers.

Lott is facing Democratic state Rep. Eric Fleming, who has made a campaign stop in Batesville, as well as Libertarian Harold M. Taylor.

Wicker is challenged by Democrat James K. Hurt.

The congressional races are located on the front side of a two-sided ballot. On the back, voters will choose between Cobb and McClure.
Not appearing on the ballot are South Panola School District trustee Sarah Dell Gray and North Panola trustee Billy Russell, who did not draw election opponents.

Panola Circuit Clerk Joe Reid said his offices in Batesville and Sardis will remain open until noon on Saturday, November 4 to allow for absentee voting.

Reid had kind words to say for absentee voters who have been patient as the circuit clerk’s office worked through ballot errors caused by the Miss. secretary of state’s office.

Ballots with the correct candidates listed arrived a month late, said Reid, who had unkind words for Secretary of State Eric Clark and his support for the Diebold brand voting machines.

"They’ve completely screwed it up," the circuit clerk said. "I think they subbed the work out to Whitfield."

Tractor Supply will hold grand opening
By Rupert Howell

The new Batesville Tractor Supply company store will hold a grand opening this Saturday, November 4, according to store manager A.R. Robinson.

The local store is Tractor Supply Company’s fourth store in Mississippi. It employs 13 team members at the new 19,097 square foot building, which includes sales floor and support service space.

"Batesville and the Panola County area is an ideal location for us because this growing community includes plenty of small farms and horse owners," said Robinson. "We believe we will draw customers from the entire trade area as well."

Grand opening festivities for the Highway 6 East and I-55 store will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday and include hourly giveaways, "choo-choo train" rides, antique tractor displays, specially priced merchandise and concessions.

Grand prize giveaways include a tiller and a horse saddle. Winners must be present to win hourly prizes.

Robinson said he wanted the opening to center around youth and student groups who will assist with the festivities and whose organizations will receive donations during the day.

Some of the those organizations include Future Farmers of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of North Mississippi and 4-H.

Robinson mentioned that Sonny Simmons and staff members of Panola Partnership, the local economic development organization, had been instrumental in assisting with organization of Saturday’s events.

Tractor Supply Co. operates more than 658 stores in 37 states and one Canadian Province. The company focuses on supplying needs of recreational farmers and ranchers and maintenance needs of those who enjoy the rural lifestyle , as well as tradesmen and small businesses.

The stores are located in outlying towns of major metropolitan markets and rural communities. Their merchandise ranges from products for health, care and growth and containment of horses, livestock and pets, agricultural products, tools and hardware.

The company also sells light truck equipment, work clothing, and lawn and garden power equipment.


Copyright 2005-2006 by The Panolian, Inc..  All rights reserved
Copyright 2001-2004 by Batesville Newspapers, LLC.  All rights reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission  is prohibited.