The Werewolf of Dickson County Nov 23, 2018 21:33:50 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Nov 23, 2018 21:33:50 GMT -5
The Werewolf of Dickson County
Despite it’s proximity to Nashville – a short 35-mile drive – Dickson County has retained its rural character as well as its legends of ghosts and monsters. One such legend is that of Werewolf Springs, located in what is now Montgomery Bell State Park.
Sam Brown, a local schoolteacher, heard the legend as a child. According to the story, in the late 1860s, a train carrying a traveling circus derailed on the southwestern boundary of the present-day park and several animals escaped, including two creatures dubbed “The Wolfmen of Borneo.” All the animals were rounded up with the exception of the wolf men, who disappeared in the forest.
Lifelong Dickson County resident Craig Anderson also grew up hearing tales of the county’s werewolf and noted the story is one of Dickson’s best-known legends. Anderson and Brown collaborated for an episode of The Renaissance Center’s production of Dark Encounters Investigated, during which they retold the legend of Werewolf Springs. The episode aired in 2003.
A couple of years after the train wreck, a local landowner and his hired hand set out from a farm near present-day Burns for the owner’s homestead near the Harpeth River. They were making their way along a country road in the location where Highway 47 runs southwest of the park, when something spooked their horses in the vicinity of Werewolf Springs and they saw a wild creature that walked upright like a man watching them from the woods. The thing seemed to be hunting and the hired man loosened the reins and gave the horses their head. Though the team was at a full gallop, they still couldn’t shake the monster and the men jumped from the wagon and ran into the woods in different directions. The wolf man went after the hired hand and shortly thereafter, the landowner heard bloodcurdling screams. He didn’t stop until he reached the home of a nearby farmer. He and other men on horseback returned to the location, where they found the horses and wagon, but there was no sign of the hired hand. He was never seen or heard from again.
Shortly thereafter, a posse was organized to hunt down and kill the beast – or beasts. The men headed to a clearing near the spring where large bones were often discovered, believing the location was in close proximity to the wolf man’s den. They tethered a goat and divided into pairs to watch. It was dark by the time a hairy monster stealthily entered the clearing and went for the goat. The men commenced firing at the creature, after which they grabbed their lanterns and checked to see if their bullets had found their mark. Not only had the beast and goat vanished, so had two members of the posse.
A big-game hunter was the next to attempt to slay the wolf man. He moved into a cabin near Werewolf Springs and all was quiet the first two nights, but on the third, the hunter heard howls in the distance and took aim from a window at what appeared to be the werewolf. He fired, but the gunshot provoked the creature and the beast broke through the cabin door. By this time, the hunter had climbed into the rafters and began firing at the monster from above. Again, the shots did nothing more than antagonize the brute that growled, swiped and clawed at the hunter. Realizing he had just two shots left, the hunter was certain he was about to meet his maker when the sun rose and the creature fled into the woods.
The area referred to as Werewolf Springs is also known as Hall Springs, presently accessed through Montgomery Bell State Park’s 11-mile overnight hiking trail. Mark Corlew, a longtime resident of Burns and former MBSP naturalist and ranger, explained the Hall family homestead, approximately 150 yards from the spring, was situated between the spring and Hall Cemetery. The Halls were among several families who lived within what is now park boundaries before 1935 when the land was purchased by the state. The overnight trail passes Hall Cemetery and loops around to Hall Springs, where fresh water bubbles to the surface from an underground water table. The spring then flows into present-day Lake Woodhaven.
The beast was rumored to live in a cave in Creech Hollow and other accounts of the werewolf include the mysterious disappearance of a little girl who vanished while fetching water from Hall Springs. She was never found, but several animal and human bones were discovered in a Creech Hollow cave. The caves are now below the surface of the lake. Brown noted several mule and horse bones have been found in the area near Werewolf Springs. This bone site, however, is said to have been a common dumping ground for dead animals by pre-park residents, although even in the distant past, people knew better than to dump dead things near their water supply.
Corlew, who worked for the park for 23 years, actually discovered a cabin near Werewolf Springs, where the big-game hunter allegedly fought off the beast. He had hiked the area as a 12-year-old Boy Scout, following an old trail that began at the fire tower at the southernmost point of the park to a graveyard near the springs and into a valley. Much later, he returned to the former trail and found the abandoned cabin. The structure has since collapsed, but an outhouse still stands. He noted the ground around the cabin appeared to have been cultivated at one time because it showed signs of having been plowed.
Iron ore magnate Montgomery Bell (for whom the park is named) mined the land in the mid-19th century and he, too, plays a role in the werewolf legend. Some claim he was the landowner attacked by the wild man while traveling the country road. However, he couldn’t possibly have been the traveler, because the story originates with the circus train derailment in the late 1860s and Bell died in 1855.
Dickson Model Railroad Club’s Rick Hughes noted the rail line through the park wasn’t completed until what many locals dubbed the War of Northern Aggression, when the Nashville and North-Western (military) Railroad line from Kingston Springs to Dickson at Mile Post 42 and on to (New) Johnsonville, was extended. The tracks, he explained, wouldn’t have been used for anything other than military shipments until after the War. He also indicated there were several wrecks along the line when trains ran from Nashville to Memphis. The old rail line runs its original path through the park, he added. Although the tracks have been modernized and there have been alterations along the route, the basic path is still the same. The precise location of the crash from which the circus animals escaped is unknown, but sightings of the werewolf have been reported along both Trace and Turnbull creeks.
Those interested in hiking to Werewolf Springs should visit the park’s main office for maps and overnight camping information.
Sources: Josh Arntz, The Dickson Herald, October 30, 2018; Lewis O. Powell, IV, "Of Werewolves and White Screamers – Dickson County, Tennessee," Southern Spirit Guide, July 6, 2017; Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State by Alan Brown; and Weird Tennessee by Roger Manley.