A folk tale of my own based on other Ozark traditional stories.
Once there was a rich city-man who we’ll just call Mr. Johnson, who bought up a bunch of land in the Ozark wilderness for developing. When he went out to the land all there was were big ol’ oak trees as far as the eyes could see. He knew this would be some good land to clear for timber.
A problem presented itself mighty quickly, though, when Mr. Johnson and his clearing crew came across an old shack and some chicken coops down in a dark holler plumb on the boarder of his land and the rest of the forest. Mr. Johnson thought himself a smart man, and knew he could talk anyone out of damn near anything, so he decided he’d buy whatever land this hillbilly had for next to nothin’.
Mr. Johnson and his clearing crew rode their horses down into the holler, tied em up in the trees, then went over to the shack. Mr. Johnson was the first to knock, and pretty soon the door opened and an old woman was standing there looking at them. “What do ya want?” she grumbled.
“A fine day to you ma’am!” Mr. Johnson said with a bow.
“Folks call me Granny Benson.” The old woman grumbled.
“Well Mrs. Benson I have an offer here you can’t refuse. Might I come in and talk to you?”
Granny Benson was hesitant but let Mr. Johnson, and only Mr. Johnson inside the cabin.
The two of them talked and talked, and after a few hours, right before sundown, Mr. Johnson came out of the house with a big stack of papers in his hands. He rounded up the clearing crew and they headed back to their campsite. Mr. Johnson had a big ol’ grin on his face all the way back because he knew he had cheated the old woman out of about 200 acres of prime forest.
In the next few months Mr. Johnson cleared out a patch of land for a house, garden, and barn, and soon was able to move his family to the homestead. They lived it up nice on that plot of land, and his wife and two kids were never in want. They even built a schoolhouse and a little church and in expectation of more families coming to the mountain they named the place Johnsontown. Granny Benson on the other hand was madder than a rat in a sack, and stayed in her little cabin, on the now tiny plot of land that Mr. Johnson had left her, and she schemed and plotted a way to get him back for what he’d done.
Now all the folks in the area knew Granny Benson was a witch, but none of them minded as she took good care of them when they were sick or in need, but Mr. Johnson didn’t know that and did one of the worst things you could possibly do in offending a witch.
All of a sudden strange things started happening Johnsontown. One day while the workers were all out clearing the forest a thunderstorm came up out of nowhere and started throwing hail and lightning on the men below. Entire trees were uprooted by the wind, and Mr. Johnson lost a lot of good workers and good machines.
Then on another day Mr. Johnson and his family were reading the Bible by the fireside and all of a sudden this voice came up out of the fire, “Mr. Johnson you crook, I’ll get you!”
The family all recoiled in fear, but Mr. Johnson managed to convince them all that it must have just been the wind. That is until his two children started getting pinched, poked, and prodded as they slept. They would come to the breakfast table the next morning all bruised up and tired from not getting a lick of sleep. Mrs. Johnson said that was the last straw and if her husband didn’t do something about this they would all go back to the city without him.
So, the next day Mr. Johnson started talking to his workers about what was going on, and they told him there must be a witch somewheres who was throwin’ spells at him. Well Mr. Johnson didn’t believe in any of that nonsense, but figured he was at his wits end with all this trouble he was having, so he took their suggestion and sought out a witch master named Earl Tibbs.
Mr. Tibbs had lived on the land for almost as long as Granny Benson, and hated outsiders almost as much as she did. The only difference was Mr. Tibbs liked taking outsiders’ money too much to run em’ plumb off the land.
One morning as Mr. Tibbs sat smoking a pipe on his front porch Mr. Johnson come walking up the road. “You gotta witch problem.” Mr. Tibbs said, not as a question but a statement of fact.
“I do. What can I do about it?” Mr. Johnson replied as he sat down next to the man.
Mr. Tibbs wasted no time, and gave the man three remedies that were sure to get rid of his witch. After Mr. Johnson wrote down all the remedies he gave Mr. Tibbs the cash he’d required for his services and left a happy man.
The next day, after a long night battling demon voices yelling all manner of obcinities at the family, Mr. Johnson tried the first remedy. He looked at the paper and read off what Mr. Tibbs had told him, “Take a red cloth sack and fill it with a whole cooked chicken. Leave it in an old hollow stump at the edge of your property. That will send the witch away.”
So Mr. Johnson had his wife butcher and cook up a whole chicken that they dropped down into a red cloth bag. Mr. Johnson went to the edge of his land and found an old hollow stump and left the chicken down in the hole.
That night as the family gathered for dinner the cabin began to shake as though the mountain were crashing down around them. The family held each other tight, and Mr. Johnson was sure that this was the end. Through the shaking and the noise of plates and pictures crashing around them a voice shouted, “Thank you for the chicken, Mr. Johnson!” Just as the voice stopped there came a knock at the door and the shaking stopped, almost as quickly as it had started. Mr. Johnson ran to the door. It was one of the workers come over because of all the hollering coming from inside the house. “Did you feel that shaking?” Mr. Johnson yelled to the man. But the man just shook his head. Only the family had felt the earthquake.
The next day Mr. Johnson consulted his remedy list again, and this time read off the second remedy that was for in case the first one didn’t work, “Take an old work shirt and sew it into a bag. Fill the bag with silver coins and hang it at the edge of your land in the branches of an old black-oak tree.”
So Mr. Johnson had his wife sew a bag out of one of his old work shirts and they filled it with silver coins from out of his safe. Then Mr. Johnson took the bag out to the edge of his land and hung it high up in the branches of a big ol’ black-oak tree.
That night Mr. Johnson woke up suddenly to the smell of smoke coming from downstairs. Him and his wife ran down to the kitchen which was burning up with great tongues of fire. As Mrs. Johnson ran for help Mr. Johnson saw through the flames a big mouth laughing at him, “Thank you for the silver, Mr. Johnson!”
The rest of the house was spared the flames, but the kitchen was completely destroyed. Mr. Johnson was a broken man, and his wife gave him one more chance to stop the witch or they were headed right back to the city.
The next day Mr. Johnson consulted his remedy list one last time, “This is the most powerful anti-witch charm you can make. Strip naked at midnight and go stand in the river holding a knife in your right hand and a sickle in the other. Stand there till morning then throw the knife and sickle downriver and head home without looking back.”
Mr. Johnson hoped and prayed this remedy would work; it was his last chance. So that night at midnight, as his wife and children slept, Mr. Johnson went down to the river, stripped naked, and stood just like the recipe had said. When morning came Mrs. Johnson looked over at her husband’s spot on the bed and he was gone. He was nowhere to be found. She asked the children if they’d seen their father but neither of them knew where he was either. Just as she left the house she looked down and found the scrap of paper that had the remedies written down. She read the third one, then ran down to the river.
The morning was cold, but it didn’t bother Mrs. Johnson. She walked up and down the riverbank until she come to Mr. Johnson’s clothes piled up on the rocky beach. Mr. Johnson was nowhere to be found. The workers combed the surrounding woods and even the river but couldn’t find any trace of the man. They told Mrs. Johnson that he must have froze in the river then washed downstream, but the woman suspected something else.
By the next day Mrs. Johnson and her children were halfway back to the city, and shortly thereafter the workers had all packed up and abandoned Johnsontown, giving it back to the forest and the mountain.
As the last worker rode off the land he looked back and saw old Granny Benson and Mr. Tibbs happily rummaging through the Johnson’s deserted house.