Legend of Witch Dance Trail
Located just a few miles North of Houston, Mississippi, on the Natchez Trace Parkway, Witch Dance is one of the most legendary places in the county when it comes to tales about ghosts and paranormal experiences. Southern folklorist, Kathryn Tucker Windham, of Selma Alabama, lists Witch Dance as one of the most haunted places in the state in her book, “13 Mississippi Ghosts and Jeffrey.” According to Windham, Witch Dance got it’s name from old tales about witches holding nighttime ceremonies along the Trace. According to the tales, Windham said that wherever the witches’ feet touched the ground, the grass withered and never grew back again. These bare spots, according to Windham, beguiled and perplexed travelers and others who frequented the Trace, making their way from the East Coast to New Orleans during the 19th Century. “Many of the travelers didn’t have much time to worry about the bare spots they encountered as they traveled down the Trace,” Windham wrote. They were too busy worried about thieves, murderers and Indians to pay much attention to the bare spots of grass. People started to take notice of the bare spots when the story of a brigand named Big Harp circulated back to the area. According to Windham, Big Harp was a bloodthirsty outlaw who preyed on the caravans of settlers moving up and down the Trace. When and Indian guide told Big Harpe about the bare spots and the legend of Witch Dance, Big Harpe leaped from spot to spot, daring the witches to come out and fight him. Eventually, Big Harpe went back to his home in Kentucky, where he was captured by a posse after stabbing a woman and her baby to death in a robbery. Windham said the legend hold that the husband of the woman decapitated Big Harpe with a knife while Harpe remained conscious. After the outlaw’s head was removed, the husband placed it in a tree, where it totted down to a bleached, white scull. A few months later, Windham’s story reads, an old hill woman who had a reputation for being a witch, pulled down the skull and ground it into powder to be used in a potion to cure her nephew’s fit. Windham said travelers who retold the story along the Trace swore they could hear crackling laughter in the bushes after retelling the tale. Another outlaw in Windham’s account of Witch Dance was more respectful of the bare spots. Joseph Thompson Hare, a Philadelphians by birth, came south to pursue a career as a robber along the Trace. According to legend, an Indian by the name of Hayfoot told Hare the story of the Witch Dance and Hare was always mindful of the bare spots and was careful not to step in them. A few years later, Hare robbed a drover on the Trace and as he was making his getaway, he spied a white horse in his path. As he grew near the horse, the animal vanished into thin air, according to Windham’s account. Hare reportedly recounted the tale up until his death in 1818. Many people in Chickasaw County still see Witch Dance and the Indian mounds around it as a place to avoid on dark, dreary nights. Part of the feat people have might be rooted in the history of the place. According to the History of Chickasaw County, the Hopewells, a paleo-Indian group, first inhabited the area around Witch Dance and were responsible for constructing the Bynum Mounds, located between Witch Dance and Houston. The Hopewells were eventually absorbed by the Chickasaw Indians, whose legends and folklore probably put much fear into white settlers in the area. According to legend, the Chickasaws were decedents of the Toltecs of Mexico. The legend holds that they left their homeland to escape oppression. They were guided in their journey by a medicine stick and a white dog. Each night, the Indians would plant the stick in the ground and whichever way it pointed, they followed. The dog would lead then to berries and food along the way. They were accompanied by “bond bearers” who carried the bones of their ancestors from Mexico to be buried in the new homeland. Eventually, the stick pointed straight up and the Indians buried their ancestors bones in Winston County at Nanih Waiya. A split occurred between the two brothers leading the Indians. One group, who followed the leader, Chocta, stayed in and around Winston County and were known as Choctaws. The Chickasaws practiced a religion similar to they practiced by the tribes in Mexico. They worshiped one god, known as Ababinili. They held all their religious services on the tops of mounds at Owl Creek and on the mounds that are common all over the game management area. Eventually, the Chickasaws were driven out of Mississippi by various treaties with the United States Government but, as many a lost coon hunter can tell, their legends and their folklore still remain to give all woodsmen goosebumps on dreary nights in October.
Reprinted from the Times Post, Houston, Mississippi, Page 5A, Wednesday, October 30, 1996