The noisy waters of Big Island Creek flow along the foot of a rock bluff deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Hillsville, in Carroll County, Virginia. The sun never seems to shine on the peak of the mountain. Tall pines cast dark shadows over its rocky sides, and their protruding arm-like branches helped give this area the name of Witch Mountain. A hundred years ago, this was supposed to be the abode of many witches who roamed the countryside harassing people with their evil deeds.
Ginny Sayler, who lived near Witch Mountain and was a grand-niece of Jeffry and Nancy Bobbit, had said that Aunt Nancy had no doubt whatever that there were witches. She told how she could recite tale after tale to prove it. This is one of Aunt Nancy’s stories:
Once, Uncle Jeff’s ewes lambed early, and one of ‘em died and left two nursing lambs. We put 'em with other ewes, but, for some reason, one of the ewes wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with the lamb we give to her, so I fetched it to the cabin to try to raise it by hand. Workin’ with that purty little helpless baby, I got to thinkin’ a sight of it.
Well, one mornin’ that lamb wouldn’t touch a bit of its food, so I put it outside, ‘llowin’ that he’d forage for hisself. I’ll swanny, if it didn’t just run ‘round and 'round like a chicken with his head cut off, a-buttin’ into things like it was blind. I brung it inside and drugged it good with yarb tea and simples, but, in spite of all that, that lamb got no better. My spirits was low when Victor Largin come by to borrow Jeff’s adze. Now, Vic was knowed as a good witch doctor, so I asked him if he thought that maybe that lamb was spelled. Well, right off, he ‘llowed it was. Then, he told me how to break the spell, but he warned me it wouldn’t work if I didn’t do 'zactly like he said. I promised him I’d do it just that a-way.
First, I went into the woods and hunted a holler stump and got me a jug-full of stump water. Then, I hunted some henbane leaves and boiled 'em in vinegar and mixed it with the stump water and a few red pepper seeds. I got Jeff to cut some locust logs for my fire and built a big fire in the fireplace. When the fire was a-burnin’ real good, I asked Jeff to fetch me a broke plow point. I put the point in the hot ashes, lit my pipe, and set back in my rocking chair to see if what Vic had told me would happen.
Well, bless my soul, in no time, at all, there was aloud knockin’ and, when I opened the door, there was old Kate Lipps, who lived ‘bout three miles up alongside Witch Mountain.
She said, “Howdy, Nan. I’ve come to get the lend of your wood cards.”
Now, Vic had told me whatever I done not to lend nothin’ to nobody till the spell was broke or the witch’d have the power to witch me, so I says, “Nope, Kate, it’s already lent to Bell Martin.”
Now, I ain’t forgot my manners, even if I’m a messin’ with a witch, so I asked her to come in the house and set by the fire to warm herself.
She come in and set by the fire, and afore long she asked me for a drink of water, as she was feelin’ poorly. I told her I didn’t have a drop in the house, and this made her so mad that she ups and storms out of the house a sight faster’n she’d come in.
After she’d gone, the fire got real hot and I pulled that plow point out of the ashes and poured that stump water and yarb mess onto it. The steam from that mess stunk up the house somethin’ awful.
Well, it’s the truth if I ever told it, that lamb got as pert as anythin’ right away. But, it did make me feel gloomy not long after this when they found Old Kate Lipps all drawn up in a knot a layin’ in the path out of Horse Chestnut Ridge, on Witch Mountain, dead as a doornail. I got to worryin’ that maybe I didn’t take that plow point out of the fire as soon as I ought to, or maybe I boiled them henbane leaves a mite too long.
This story was adapted from a version printed in “The Silver Bullet and Other American Witch Stories” edited by Hubert J. Davis, and published by Johnathan David Publishers Incorporated 68-22 Eliot Avenue Middle Village, NY 11379. It is used here with the publisher’s permission. It was collected by Raymond H. Sloan, Rocky Mount, Virginia, August 3, 1939. This story was told to him by Boyd A. Rhudy, who heard it from Steve Ward of Witch Mountain.
Next week’s issue features a tale from Florida.
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