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THE WITCH of BIG LICK

William Henderson entered the cabin of old Lynn Bird - - and was never seen again

There are mysteries in this world it would be better never to have known. And there are faces it

would be better never to have seen.

The face of old Lynn Bird who lived 75 years ago at Big Lick was just such a face.

It most closely resembled the head of a skeleton over which the skin had been thinly drawn. Her

eyes were pale malevolent green set deep in their bony sockets. Yellowed hair fell in stringy locks

about her shoulders.

If she was not the witch villagers believed her to be, she at least lived close to the devil.

When playing children strayed too near her home she cursed them and pelted them with stones. A

stranger at her gate was more often than not greeted with a handful of rocks in his face. Livestock

which wandered onto her land disappeared. Cattle grazing too close soon sickened and died.

An infant’s crying attracted the curiosity of her neighbors for a time but finally ceased. They said old

Lynn had tortured to death the illegitimate child of one of her daughters.

If ever a human being emanated evil, it was this woman. There is a power for good radiated by the

lives of some men. But strong are the wiles of the devil. And ever at work is his opposing power of evil.

The story of one man’s encounter with the witch of Big Lick begins three quarters of a century ago.

January was a cold month in Big Lick. Hands grew rough from cutting wood and hauling water. The

front of the women’s shins were rosy from sitting close to the fire.

The widow Hartsell glanced at her silent young boarder curiously from time to time while she

prepared supper. The two were alone in her big, warm kitchen.

The elderly woman’s angular frame was capped with gray hair pulled severely back from a plain but

good face. She stood in front of the wood stove alternately feeding it more wood and moving the food

like a musician handling a favorite instrument.

Her boarder was in his early thirties. He sat staring at the blackness beyond the humid mist

which had settled on the small, square window panes. Of medium height and with light blond hair, there

was little about him to draw attention.

Little except for his blue eyes so startlingly bright that one had the sensation of facing the sun

unexpectedly. There was an intensity behind them that only quiet, peaceful men have when aroused.

Betsey Hartsell had begun to feel something of the affection of a mother for William Henderson. He

was thoughtful; it was pleasant to have him about the house. And he stayed usually for a month or two

at a time when he was not working at building a mill somewhere.

“Bill could have been making some woman a good husband if he had not married Hess Bird,”

thought the widow. Did Hess sit shy and attentive to the pastor on Sunday like the other girls of Big

Lick? Not that one. She mocked the preacher behind his back and scoffed at the village belles.

For what was Hess but the daughter of a witch! Even the thought of old Lynn Bird gave this good

woman an uneasy inner twinge. If just half the wickedness she was said to delight in were true ‘twas

no wonder Bill Henderson was uneasy about his son.

“She won’t keep me from him a day longer,” spoke up Henderson as if her thoughts had been his

own.

“I’m going over there now and be sure Hess is taking good care of Bradley.”
“With the ‘tater pudding ready to come out and supper most on the table?” pleaded the widow.

“Hess’ mother said she’d kill you if you came there about that child again. Don’t go now after dark.”

“I’m sorry Mother Hartsell, but they’ll tell me he’s in bed if I don’t go soon. Put my supper in the

warmer for me. I’ll be back.”

Bill Henderson walked quietly along the path which led to the Bird place. Thrusting his right hand in

his pocket for warmth he felt a small, hard box. It was the beautiful black cameo pin he had meant as a

surprise for Mother Hartsell. Well, he would give it to her when she’d finished dishing up his supper.

She’d find no other woman with a pin like it in all of Big Lick.

He could see the outline of old Lynn’s house ahead of him when he almost collided with the short,

rotund figure of his friend Riley Morgan.

“If you’re headed where I think you are, don’t go down there tonight. Wait and we’ll go together

when it’s broad daylight,” begged Riley. But there was no stopping Bill Henderson. He bade goodbye

at his gate and walked stubbornly on. Anxiety for the boy had displaced any sense of fear.

When he reached the house which was set back in a grove of trees he knocked on the door to the

front hall. No sign of light, just blackness showed through the small glass panes around the door. Nor

was there any answer to his knocking. In desperation he began to shake the door when suddenly the

knob turned in his hand and it opened as easily as if it had never been locked at all.

He stepped cautiously over the sill into the engulfing blackness. The quiet was so intense one

would have thought only death could produce such stillness.

He heard a faint sound a little to his left. And then something threw itself upon him out of the

darkness. Coarse hair covered his face and the odor in his nostrils was at once rank and earthy.

Something horrible was smothering him – and then clawing fingers found his throat.

The morning sun streamed through the windows at Mrs. Hartsell’s and she awoke with a start. From

the looks of the sun it was almost eight o’clock. Wrapping her old lavender robe around her, she went

down the hall toward Bill Henderson’s room.

The door was ajar just as she had left it. The white fringed coverlet on his bed was undisturbed.

As soon as she could get dressed she walked down to the store. Mr. Hogan could tell her little to

allay her fears. He had sold Henderson some cloth shortly before seven o’clock the evening before but

had not seen him since. Riley Morgan’s wife came in and overheard her questioning Hogan.

“My husband tried to stop him from going to Lynn Bird’s. Whatever’s happened to him will not be on

Riley’s head,” said the sharp-tongued little woman.

“He’s probably just had to leave sudden-like on one of his trips,” said Hogan.

But Mrs. Hartsell was not to be so easily reassured. There was the supper for which he had

promised to return. And he had not ever gone on one of his trips without telling her.

Several days passed with no sign of Henderson and the little community buzzed with speculation.

“It’s old Lynn Bird what’s done him in. You’ll find him or what’s left in her cellar, we’ll wager.”

Others vowed that she and her daughters had murdered him and sunk his weighted body in the

waters of Bird Lake nearby.

Old Lynn and her two girls were seldom seen about the village. Even the Morgans rarely glimpsed

them except at a distance. One day the girls left Big Lick together and never returned. It was then that

young Bradley Henderson was bonded to another family and brought up as if he were their own son.

Finally on a morning when Mrs. Morgan had not seen smoke rising from the Bird chimney for almost

a week, she went to call. She knocked at the back door calling “Miz Bird. Oh, Miz Bird.” A quavering

voice told her to come in and she found old Lynn in her bed, dying.

Loath to stay with her alone, she went for the Widow Hartsell and the two women cared for her

together. The next evening, as they sat warming themselves at the fire in old Lynn’s room, out of the

shadows there rushed a dark, indescribable thing. It passed them and jumped upon the dying woman’s

bed close to her head.

Both women ran screaming from the room and it was only after several whispered conferences with

each other that they ventured back.

“Don’t be afraid,” said old Lynn weakly. “It was just the devil come to get me.”

And a few minutes later she died.

On the day of her burial one of the most frightening electrical storms in Big Lick’s history occurred.

Thunder boomed, lightening scorched the earth, and the rain fell in torrents, as terrified countryfolks

awaited assurance that Lynn Bird was finally buried.

Mrs. Hartsell and Mrs. Morgan cleaned the house and went through old Lynn’s belongings in the

brightness of a clean fresh day. Eerie indeed were their findings. There were pieces of bone, snake

skins, charms, herbs, and oddly shaped roots.

Among these curious and distasteful articles the Widow Hartsell found and exquisite black cameo

brooch. That and a quilt which Mrs. Morgan eyed acquisitively were the only things worth having. Mrs.

Hartsell kept the brooch and her friend the quilt.

It was strange, thought Betsey Hartsell, how recollections of her young boarder who had

disappeared several years before kept running through her mind. He had lived here. As she pinned the

black cameo to her dress, she knew she would always believe he had died here.

Families who lived in the house in later years told stories of seeing a man walk through the rooms

just at dusk. He would search the bedrooms, bending over to look in each bed.

Was the shadowy figure the ghost of an anxious father seeking his little son?

Big Lick Festival Park @ Oakboro, NC

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