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Local History

Haunting of an Ex-Moonshiner, Part 1

 Ex-moonshiner Newt Bruffett and his wife, Alice at a well at one of their haunted homes.Springfield, Mo. News & Leader, August 2, 1959, page 1 & 5 D.

Newt Bruffett is a genuine Ozarks hillbilly.  He has had many thrilling and harrowing adventures through his 70 years as a moonshiner, tie-hacker, square-dance fiddler and farmer.  "But I ain't never went through nothin' so down right awful as the two and a half months me and my wife lived in that haunted house down by Table Rock Dam," he'll tell you.
"We had to move," his wife Alice cuts in.  "We couldn't sleep for them hants.  I know folks say there ain't no such things as ghosts -- but me and Newt knows different.  It was terrible, them lights a-flashin', the grave being dug under the floor, the guns a-shootin'.  And worst of all was the ghost-cats and air-rats -- and them little puppies always a-crying'"..."I've been to France and there and everywhere...fought three battles in Germany during World War I -- and I ain't never seen nothin' like it.  And the worst part was that them ghosts followed us to Gretna [Missouri] when we moved there to a cabin I owned.  There was never no ghosts there before."
When did all this happen?  Less than three years ago in the spring of 1957.  Where?  Just off Highway 76 between Branson and Table Rock Dam.
The wild quietness that the mountaineer loved had been destroyed at Gretna, however, by the time he took his new wife there to live.  Table Rock Dam was building and the contractors were now using the [defunct] Gretna siding to unload countless tons of machinery and materials for construction of the dam.  There was too much noise and lights and confusion going on day and night the Bruffetts explain.  We couldn’t sleep so we decided to move.
That is when they rented the haunted house.  But it didn’t take us long to find out that we’d made a bad mistake, they’ll tell you.  “Them big bulldozers and trucks wasn’t nothin’ compared to them ghosts in the empty house that we rented for $10 a month.  The man that owned it didn’t tell us it was haunted”.
That the Bruffetts have remained steeped in the old ways of the hills is evidenced by their superstitions and beliefs that govern their lives today.  The almanac rates high with the Bible.  They’ll tell you that corn should be planted in the light of the moon when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ears.  Potatoes should be planted when the moon is dark.  Babies, calves and pigs should be weaned when the sign of the Zodiac is in the legs or feet.  To wean them when the sign is near the heart, they will cry, bawl or squeal, and finally waste away and die.  Signs and omens guide many of their actions.
Real hillbillies are always on the lookout for ghosts, witches and devils.  Sassafras wood will not be burned in stove or fireplace, for this will bring the devil to sit on the roof of the house.  To kill a bat will bring the wrath of both devils and witches.  Ghosts may pop up any place.  The mention of ghosts brought the Bruffetts back to the subject of the haunted house.  They told how banging and popping noises could be heard both day and night.  Once a sound like a lard stand blowing up nearly frightened Alice Bruffet out of her wits.  Often shot-like sounds were heard.  At night they could not sleep for the weird scrapings of a ghostly person digging a grave under the open and high backside of the house.  Sounds like crying puppies could be heard all over the place.  Investigations revealed nothing where the sounds came from.  Rainy nights were worse than others.  Balls of fire would shoot about the rooms at night and once a light shown on Newt’s hand and both he and his wife say they could see the bones as if it were before an X-ray.  They talked to the “spirits” trying to find out what they wanted.  They begged them to go away so they would get some rest.  The only way they could get sleep was to eat a great bait of lettuce and onions, which would bring drugged slumber so deep they would not be disturbed by the cavorting spooks.
They prayed to have the ghosts leave and finally after 10 weeks they decided to move back to their home at Gretna.  Here at least they would have nothing but the roar of Table Rock Dam machinery to keep them awake.  The first they knew that the spooks had followed them to Gretna was one night when Newt was awakened by someone pulling at one of his big toes.  He awoke and there was the ghost-light, like a ball of fire, dancing on his foot.  He awakened his wife and when she struck at it, it sailed away to the top of a window, danced about for a few seconds, then disappeared.  The next night they saw a shadowy woman dressed in blue standing at the foot of their bed.  Mrs. Bruffett asked if it was the ghost of Newt’s dead wife, and the thing dissolved before their eyes.  Was the woman a ghost-witch? Was she trying to say something?
By this time they were getting sick and tired of the whole thing.  Newt had always heard that you can shoot a witch with a silver bullet and it will drive her away or kill her.  He had no silver bullets but that night when they lay down to rest he set a loaded .22 rifle by his bedside.  In the night something jerked him awake.  He saw a light dancing about the room.  He prodded his wife to awaken her.  He grimly reached for the rifle.  His finger curled on the trigger.  “That light seemed to grow bigger and bigger, “ Alice Bruffet says. “It looked like a bear standing on its hind legs.  It quivered and moved around the room.”  “It faded back into a round ball of fire, “Newt says, “and thats when I shot at it.  Then is kind of exploded.  A big piece flew off of its side and it started toward the window getting smaller and smaller.  The next minute it went out and was gone.  I didn’t have a silver bullet in  the gun, but a lead one seemed to do as good.”  Alice Bruffett then said with a sigh of relief, “Yes, that’s the last time we ever saw anything that looked like a hant.”
She goes on to explain, 'Folks will laugh when they hear that we believe this.  I know they’ll think it never happened.  But me and Newt have both give ourselves to God, and we wouldn’t lie about it.  There’s no hants in this house we now live in here at Reeds Spring.  It’s a good house. We bought it."

On such things as this are built the legends and lores of romantic land.

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