There is an old song about a contrary gray cat that the owner wants to get rid of. But no matter what he does, “the cat came back, the very next day, the cat came back and he wouldn’t stay away.”
We finish up our tribute to Halloween with a story about a cat that may have returned from the dead, much like the cat in the song.
It all took place at historic Cragfont, located between here and Gallatin.
And we stir in a woman with more than ordinary skill at telling fortunes and making up magic potions.
The huge estate of the Winchester family, who built the large rock home they called Cragfont, covered hundreds of acres. To run the farm the Winchesters had slaves.
One of the older women was known for her ability to mix up a dose of remedy for the other slaves, or even a member of the Winchester family when one of them was sick.
She was also known to do a little fortune telling and could always make a charm to protect you from whatever you were scared of.
If you were frightened of the dark, she might tie up a small bundle of herbs, along with a bone from a dead man’s finger, and then mumble a few words over them. After you gave her a few coins or promised her a piece of cake and a cup of cider, she would hand it over to you.
A woman like that could be expected to have a cat, and this old woman did — an ornery cat at that.
As the story goes, a member of the Satterwhite family was visiting the Winchesters and saw a large cat stalking a turkey right there in the yard of the house. The turkey was a part of a small flock being fed and fattened for the holidays.
One of the Winchester ladies commented on the old cat saying that it had managed to run off with several of the family’s chickens and their flock had suffered as a result.
The visitor offered to “take care” of that cat, but the Winchester lady cautioned against that because, “that cat belongs to Bessie… and Bessie practically runs this place!” Bessie being the name we are giving the old slave woman, as the legend doesn’t offer us a name.
“We can’t afford to make Bessie mad… we all owe so much to her in one way or another.”
The debt to Bessie was enormous. Who would they go to for their upset stomachs, sore tooth or bunion? Not to mention the occasional charm against the evil eye or an imagined ghost.
But the Satterwhite guest wasn’t the least bit impressed with whatever power old Bessie might have and quickly grabbed up a burlap sack from the kitchen.
They just as quickly picked up the old cat and stuffed it inside the sack. They then picked up a few stones to weigh the sack down with and marched to the edge of the yard and heaved the sack (cat and all) over the edge of the rock bluff that gave the house its name, as “crag” is a French word for bluff. Cragfont was a house on the edge or “font” of a rock cliff.
That seemed to take care of the problem, although who was going to tell Bessie what happened to her cat was still to be reckoned with.
Two days later, the Satterwhite visitor returned to the home to chat again. As they sat on the rock front steps of the impressive house and visited with the Winchester ladies, they heard a noise. Looking to the direction of the commotion, they saw the old cat emerge wailing from the tall grass and head towards them.
The Winchester lady who had been a part of the cat’s supposed demise screamed and had a fit!
She was convinced that the cat had returned from the dead. What else would you expect from a cat owned by their Bessie?
The ladies had to take her to the home of her sister, who lived a short distance away, where she was finally calmed down.
So are we to believe that the cat had drowned after being thrown into the creek below the rock bluff and was this just one of the proverbial nine lives that all cats are said to have?
Or did the old cat manage to claw and chew its way out of the burlap bag? Well, we leave that up to you.
But Bessie was happy to have her cat back and life on the estate returned to normal. Which meant the occasional chicken or turkey would continue to become supper for the feisty feline!