Thursday, April 23, 2009


Living just south of Tranquility and near the Silas Wade family was a person of mystery and probably one of the few women in this area to receive a land grant.

It has been passed down that strangers came to her gate and were handed small packages. She had a little bag similar to a doctor's bag and in this bag she kept what was thought by the neighbors to be her magic potions.

Of all the children in the neighborhood she probably made the most lasting impression on little Janira Wattenbarger who, when she was very old, told the following story to her granddaughter.

Janira Wattenbarger Rice (1846-1930)

It was back several years before the Civil War when my father first versed his suspicions of a witch in our neighborhood.

"Nonsense," said my mother and all us children in unison. But soon our opinions changed. I will try to tell you what the "witch" was like - She was a toothless old hag and must have been about 60 years old. She was of small stature and walked with a cane.

I remember well the first time I saw her. My brother and I were raking leaves when she came upon us. I looked quickly at my brother for a minute and then we took to our heels.

Next morn I learned the nature of her visit. She wanted my father to build her a house near us. Where she was originally from we never found out but here is where my story really begins.

Betsy Blessing, for that was her name, seemed to take me as an object for tormenting. She never wanted anyone to run her errands but me. One morning she came to borrow our churn, but I refused to lend it to her, as mother was not home. As she went out the gate she said "never mind Janira, I'll get even."

And she did. That night I suddenly awoke and found some unknown force pulling the covers. I awoke my sister Sarah who was sleeping by my side and the harder we pulled the harder it pulled.

Becoming alarmed we ran out the door to another section of the house. As we did a little light followed us all the way.

My cousin Sam then began to tell of a rabbit that crossed his path to and from work. Several times he had shot the rabbit but to no avail. Some of the neighbors told him to shoot it with a silver bullet. When he did just that the rabbit ran limping off through the bushes. Betsy sent for my mother saying she was ill. My mother found her with a bullet hole in her knee. To this condition Betsy gave no explanation.

One day she gave me a two month old calf. I told her I didn't want it and to give it to someone else but she insisted I take it. It was brought home and put in the pasture and there it stood for two days and nights, not moving out of it's tracks, until it died.

Then our cattle suddenly began dying. Someone told my father to burn the (dead) cattle. This my father did. No sooner had they started than Betsy ran to my mother screaming and wringing her hands begging my mother to put out the fire. Her hands and arms were burned to the elbows. She had bewitched father's cattle.

One evening as she lay asleep, someone said to stick a silver dollar to her feet and if she were a witch it would leave a blister. We finally got up the courage to do so. The old witch jumped up screaming and holding her foot. It was then she said, "Janira you'll never get anything that I have."

All this happened many years ago. Of course you will laugh and say it's an old lady's silly imagination but others than I really know her to be a witch. And to this day no one passes the place where her house stood without having that creepy chilly feeling. It was said that she had buried gold, and despite the fact that I dreamed of several places to find it I was never able to.

Following her death my parents opened her trunk and found faded dresses of fine materials and lace and silk garments. If you doubt her existence check the 1850 McMinn County Census and you will find her listed as Elizabeth Blessing, age 60, living near my father and mother, Michael and Nancy Wattenbarger.

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