The Hell Cat
as told by Belle Starr
Belle Starr was married to Jim Reed at the time of this story. He was a member of the Younger gang. This is reported to be a recollection of her words 14 years after her death. Happy Halloween!
It was down in Texas. I had been separated from Jim and was making my way home. I was over 100 miles from home, but distance didn't bother us much in those days. When I rode with Jim, we camped wherever night found us, but when we were separated and I became a woman and not a member of the gang. I always liked to put up at night at a house. I had several reasons for this, one being that it was a good idea to have witnesses to my whereabouts, for it was generally supposed that Jim was never far away from me, and by proving where I was, I could make a good alibi for him. Texas and Indian Territory were sparsely settled then and we could frequently ride a whole day along the military road and not pass but three or four houses.
As I said, I was on my way home. Night was coming on and the dark, lowering clouds told that a storm was coming on. I urged my horse forward, hoping to find a house before dark, for the storm would break soon afterward. Had it not been for that I would have feared little whether I found one before midnight.
Just at sunset I came to a large double log house. A nice wide path led up to the house and a plain path led from the house to a splendid spring. The yard was grown up with weeds and portion of the porch and hall were gone, but otherwise the house was in excellent condition. I rode up and called "Hello!" and no one answered, rode in. I rode right in under the porch, where the floor was torn up and dismounted. The house was vacant, but every room was nicely swept and as clean as if it had been tidied up that afternoon. In one of the big rooms was a ladder leading to the loft. I went up it and peered into the garret. It too was empty, save for a small ball over in a far corner, that I thought was a hickory nut or walnut.
|Not knowing how far it was to another house, I decided to remain there all night, for both myself and horse would be protected from the storm. I ate the lunch I carried in my saddle bags, fed my horse, tied him up and made a bed of my saddle blanket and retired. The storm broke early and the room was continually lighted by flashes of electricity while the rain came down in torrents. About midnight I was awakened by my horse snorting as in terror. I had a very strange feeling as if something was about to happen to me, but I couldn't define it any closer. I thought I heard a soft footfall in the room and by one of the flashes of lightning. I thought I saw a cat. I rolled over and was soon asleep again.
About two hours later I was again awakened by the snorting and restlessness of my horse. Usually very quiet, he now was in a frenzy of fear. I raised up and as I did so I heard a noise something like a marble being rolled over the floor. I looked in that direction and beheld a pair of fiery eyes gleaming at me. The storm had passed and though the rain still came down in torrents, the lighning was less frequent and vivid. By the flashes, I made out something cat-shaped, but much larger than an ordinary house cat larger than a wild cat, in fact, sitting just a few feet from me rolling a nut or marble across the floor from one paw to the other.
"Kitty! Kitty!" I called, but the strange object never blinked, or moved, except to keep its ball rolling, back and forth across the floor with that grating noise that was becoming very trying to my nerves.
"Scat!" I cried, with more vehemence, but it never made any move except to slap its plaything form one paw to the other.
"Scat! You devil!" I yelled, throwing my tin cup, which made an awful clatter but I might as well have tried to command the rain to stop for all the good it did.
Then drawing my six shooter, I cocked it and took deliberate aim between the blazing eyes. My pistol almost touched the thing's head and the blaze from the muzzle went clear through its head, but still it sat there rolling that back and forth. The other five bullets went through its body just as fast as I could fire my pistol and when the last bullet had chugged into the heavy oaken logs of the wall, the mysterious animal still sat there staring at me and rolling that plaything back and forth.
I hadn't been scared until my six shooter was empty. Then fear seized me all over. I was trembling like a leaf, but I managed to grab my saddle and get out of my room. I was so weak I could hardly walk. My horse was frantic, pitching and rearing so I could not get near him. I had to lead him out into the road before I could get him calmed down sufficiently to saddle him. I rode some distance and came to a big tree, where I took refuge and was partially protected from the rain. As soon as day began to break, I started on my journey and about daylight, I came to a house. I was wet to the skin and had been for two hours or more. I stopped to get breakfast and after I had changed my clothes, the woman asked me where I had spent the night.
"Not much of anywhere," I replied. "Partly under a tree and part of the time riding about in the rain."
"Couldn't you find a house?" the old woman asked, casting a knowing glance at her grown daughter, who was sitting at the table.
"Oh! I saw one back here about six miles, but it was deserted and I didn't much fancy staying there by myself," I replied, carelessly, wanting to make them do the talking, for their actions convinced me there was a story connected to the house.
"Well, you wouldn't have stayed there had you stopped," spoke up the girl. "That's the haunted house."
"Haunted house? What do you mean?" I asked.
"Why it's haunted. No one can live there. There have been a dozen people there in the last year and none of them have stayed there more than three days. It used to belong to Col. So and So. One night some one hid behind his gate post and shot him as he rode up to his home. He rides the old horse he rode in the army nearly every night. The clatter of the horse's hoofs wake up the people and they move out the day after they see the Colonel and his old horse."
"I wish he had come around last night. I'd got on my horse and ridden around with him. He'd been some company, and anyway he'd not been such a terrifying sight as I did see," said I.
"Oh! You saw the cat!" cried both women, in concert, throwing up their hands, and I am sure my face wasn't any whiter when I left the house than theirs were at the mention of the sight I had seen."
|The preceding story was published on page 9 of the Sunday, Sept. 27, 1903, edition of the Fort Smith News Record. The headline on it in the newspaper was "Only Time Belle Starr Was Overcome By Fear, The Narration of Her Experience in a Haunted House Brought to Light by a Discussion of Cole Younger's Recent Arrest."
The reference Belle makes to how she "became a woman" refers to her practice of wearing men's clothing while riding with her husband on raids or scouting, then changing back into women's clothes after leaving him.
Skeptics will point out its similarity to many other ghost stories and the fact that it is told long after her death. On the other hand, there is no harm done by believing it. Its recollection might even keep you from the folly of bedding down with an infernal feline.