The Bloody Witch

Way back in the hollows of Bear Wallow (pronounced locally “Waller”) near Caryville, my grandparents had some relatives who tried to farm that rugged mountainous area which was actually known for it’s coal mines. My grandfather was a coal miner and I remember many times hearing him talk about how they would have to lay on their stomachs and hack away at the seams of coal until they could shore it up with timbers. Of course, back then there was no mine safety and if there was, it hadn’t made it’s introduction to Bear Waller at that time. In fact, my grandpa injured/broke his back (by falling slate) during the 30s just before you started paying into the Social Security Pension Plan. He was never able to return to work. So his retirement check was called “Old Age Pension” which I assume was the predecessor for SSI.

There was an old lady they called "old Annie" (they also called her a “hag or witch” ) who lived as far back in Bear Waller as you could go and survived by begging or stealing whatever she could to feed herself and her animals one of which was a cow. During the good times when people had extra, it wasn’t a problem to share whatever they could with her and save her animals their slop since she didn’t have a man to keep her. According to the description of “old Annie”, her clothes were worn and dirty, she had 2 different colored eyes, a beaked nose, with long wiry gray hair and she smelled like bear grease. But among the locals, she was like a doctor or conjurer who could heal or cast magical spells. Her shack was filled with herbs and roots and strange books that no one could read but “old Annie”.

“Old Annie” had healed a lot of people with her herbs and I suppose, cast some witching spells, but nothing that would really hurt anyone. However, during the depression when everyone had to roothog or die, there was nothing left over to give “old Annie”. My grandparents’ relatives had the only other healthy cow in the area and when “old Annie’s” cow’s milk dried up, she went to beg some from my grandparents’ relatives. Of course, they had none to spare and it made “old Annie” mad and she went away cussin’ and screamin’ and said “they’d be sorry”. It wasn’t but a few days later, the relatives’ cow started giving bloody milk. And “old Annie” was going around muttering about what she’d done and how she’d shown them. Word got back that “old Annie’ had put a hex on the cow.

Well, that old cow just kept on giving bloody milk and the kids were beginning to look like little waifs…they were so hungry and skinny. A plan was hatched up. Some one who could read would sneak up to “old Annie’s” shack while she was out begging or stealing to see if they could find something in one of her books to counteract that hex. And find one they did.

They went home and milked that old cow and poured the milk into a pot and put it on the cook stove to boil it. Well, it didn’t take long for that milk to come to a boil. And it wasn’t but a few minutes later that “old Annie” came running down the path with all that wild hair blowing about and was screaming to the top of her voice “ya’ll got to stop; ya’ll got to stop; yer killin’ me!!!

By the time “old Annie” had got to the home, they could see that she was barefooted, no stockings, and her legs were red as a beet. Blisters all the way to the knees and they were beginning to break open. She asked them, “what are ya’ll doing, ya’ll put a hex on me.” The neighbors simply stated they were boiling some milk to give to the children. She begged them to stop and swore she’d never do anything bad like that again.

Has anyone else ever heard a story of “Old Annie”?

Charlene