I have written extensively about the York County, PA Hex Murder (Rehmeyer Hollow) and some of the history of Pow-wow folk magic, Pennsylvania Dutch hex-meisters and witchcraft...including my personal experiences. Previous to the Rehmeyer murder was the Tumbling Run Valley 'Hex Cat' incident in Schuylkill County, PA. At the time, it was also a national story. I have included several reports of the incident and follow-up information. Enjoy...:
Feline Blamed For Casting Spell Over Family
PEOPLE STIRRED BY STORY
While Hex Tales From Tumbling Run Have Created Derision, the Authorities Are Surprised at Number of Weird Complaints
Pottsville, Pa, Sept. 28.– In the gray of the early morning a score of the more intrepid farmers of Tumbling Run Valley and a few interested ones, on invitations given by Miss Mary Isabella Thomas, who alleges that a “hex” or witch has placed a spell on the family through the machinations of a relative living in Orwigsburg, watched in vain for the appearance at the farm house of the black cat, which the young woman says has assumed gigantic shape, at times reaching the maximum height of four feet. They waited with a gun loaded with a gold bullet, but the feline for the first time in many weeks failed to put in an appearance.
Spirit Frightened Away
Some of her waiting guests believe the evil spirit was frightened away by reason of the fact that they carried Bibles, crucifixes, and talismans to break witches’ spells. Miss Thomas says that the big cat will surely appear some morning, and then either she or her uncle will shoot it with the golden bullet. They have great faith in the precious metal messenger of death, although lead bullets tailed them on other occasions. Miss Thomas has taken up her residence with a neighbor, and the haunted farmhouse has been deserted.
Since she made public her statements that a “hex” is following the family, she has had five offers of marriage. She has decided to accept none of them. Mrs. Sarah Potts has offered to give her sister, Mary, a home with her, despite the fact that she is named by the latter as being the author of the family’s misfortunes. Miss Thomas still possesses charms sent to her by a California witch doctor, and she says that she will guard them closely for future use.
Farmers Wrought Up
The farmers of the Tumbling Run Valley are greatly wrought up over this mysterious “hex” case and want the strange affair thoroughly sifted to the bottom. The Republican, of Pottsville, the largest daily, in an editorial asks for an investigation.
While the “hex” stories from Tumbling Run have created derision and laughter in Pottsville, the authorities were surprised at the number of weird complaints which came in from that vicinity. One farmer, who has brought a large quantity of milk from the Tumbling Run Valley for many years, declares that the fresh fluid was discolored as he brought it to market. There were also three automobile accidents in that vicinity. - Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania - 28 September 1911
Wednesday September 28, 1911
The funeral services over the remains of the late Howell Thomas of Tumbling Run Valley were held this afternoon from the house in which he was born, 301 N.Third St.,and which house is still in possession of a member of the Thomas family. When asked whether death was caused by a stroke, his brother stated that some people claimed it was, but he knew better and believes it was the effect of the spell placed upon him that was a direct cause of death.
Thursday September 29, 1911
A careful estimate of the number of people who have visited the Thomas farm in Tumbling Run Valley within the past several days places the number at about 100. Practically all of these people were bound on the same mission,namely for the purpose of either capturing the hex cat or getting a view of this feline that has caused not only residents of the county and state great anxiety but the residents of other states.
Friday September 30, 1911
Early this morning this office was notified that the "Hex Cat" that caused many a night's loss of sleep and untold anxiety to hundreds of persons has been captured. It sounded rather doubtful, but an investigation partly convinces us that Mgr. Kelliher of the Gatley & Brennan firm had more than the ordinary black cat. That it possessed some evil spirit, there was no disputing.
AFTER A WITCHCAT
FAMILY LIES IN WAIT WITH SOLID GOLD BULLET
'Hex" Hat Caused Various Kind of Woe In Tumbling Run Valley and Can't Be Killed With Ordinary Ammunition
At Tumbling Run valley, near Pottsvllle, Pa., a family is lying in wait for a witchcat with a gun loaded with a solid gold bullet, and has also put a "witchcat-eatlng cat" on the trail of the "hex," or witchcat. This witchcat appeared at the home of Howell Thomas, some weeks ago. It was always seen at four o'clock In the morning prowling around the barnyard, and It Is said to have grown until it was four feet long. It Is averred that the hens began crowing like roosters and the pigs barking like dogs, and this first evidence that something was wrong was followed by horses, cattle, poultry and even people pining away and dying.
The climax came when Howell Thomas himself died. Two daughters were leftone a spinster, the other married. The former charged the latter with having put the "hex witchcat" on the property, and at the funeral the two had a grievous clash, for the unmarried sister tried to expel from the house the married "witch-sender."
The Thomases had been shooting at the "hex" and though their aim ordinarily was good, they seemingly could not hit the strange cat. After her father's death, Miss Thomas held a conference with an unknown witch doctor and announced that it had it had been revealed that the reason the bullets had not been effective was be cause they were lead.
She followed directions and molded a solid gold bullet out of a five-dollar gold piece. But when the magic bullet was in the gun ready for use, the cat failed to reappear. Miss Thomas and the neighbors have lain in wait for the "hex," but all ln vain. Some declare its absence due to the fact that too many people have been wearing crucifixes and talismans to protect themselves. The affair became so mysterious that the Pottsvllle Republican editorially asked a complete investigation.
The latest turn to the mysterious case, however, is the most Interesting of all. A black cat owned by a Schuylkill Haven man has been found by the "hex" doctors to be a "hexahemeron cat." This cat Is said to have been born on the 6th day of the sixth month In 1906, and to have been one of a litter of six kittens. It was blind only six days after being born, whereas all ordinary cats are blind nine days. The word hexahemeron is taken from two Greek words, "hex" and "hemera," and means a completion in six parts. It is usually used in referring to the six days' labor of Creation, as described in the first chapter of Genesis.
While there are only five books in Moses in the authorized Bible, the hex, doctors declare they havo a sixth book of Moses. In this book the witch of Endor describes full power to the hexahemeron cat in warding off evil spells. It was declared that the "hex cat" had beyond doubt an engagement with the evil one, whereby It had imparted to it an imp, or spirit. The Schuylkill Haven cat has never eaten anything but toads, frogs, lizards and serpents, and the hex doctors agreed that its presence will restore the Thomas homestead to a normal condition. - Sausalito News, CA - 24 February 1912
'Hex Cat' Man Frozen to Death
W. S. Thomas of the Tumbling Run valley, widely known throughout the state as the originator of the famous "Hex Cat" episode of several years ago and since that time a self imposed hermit in a little shack in that valley, was found dead from exposure in the building on Saturday evening, by a farmer. He had evidently been dead for some time. Deputy Coroner Dirschel investigated the cases and decided an inquest would not be necessary. Thomas was of a peculiar disposition and he obtained state wide fame following his making of a silver bullet to kill the black "Hex Cat" which he claimed was responsible for his troubles. His place of residence was quickly populated with dogs and cats and his peculiar manner of living brought him before the authorities on several occasions. - Pottsville Republican - August 13, 1920
An excerpt from The Mystery Animals of Pennsylvania
Black felines have a lengthy pedigree in the annals of brauch and hexerei, thanks to an overgrown foundation in the Tumbling Run Valley, near Mount Carbon, again in Schuylkill County. These are the remains of the Thomas Farm, and in September of 1911, with the death of Pottsville native Howell Thomas, another story of witchcraft and hex came to light.
Although Thomas’ death was attributed to a stroke, his daughter, Mary Isabella, attributed it to witchcraft. She had received a warning from an elderly practitioner of powwow that she could expect a visit from a black cat, one sent by “an enemy from Orwigsburg on a mission of evil” and as a result, she had taken to carrying a revolver on her person at all times. When it finally appeared, it hissed at her and Mary Isabella shot it. But the bullet failed to have the expected effect, causing the cat to swell up to five feet long. The witch-cat then did its evil work. The cows sickened and died, followed by the horses, apples, and vegetables, and finally culminating with the death of Howell. At his funeral, Mary Isabella accused one of her sisters of being the Hex Cat (or the witch behind it, this part of the story isn’t clear), and apparently, Howell felt the same during his lifetime. Another powwower told Mary that the Hex Cat could be killed by a golden bullet, but after this was procured the bewitched cat failed to appear.
Seven years later, the Pottsville Republican was to lay the blame for the Hex Cat affair on the shoulders of one W.S. Thomas, a self-imposed hermit found frozen to death in a shack near the former Tumbling Run resort in January of 1918. Who was this W.S.? The answer, of all places, may be found in the Lock Haven Express for June 29, 1916. A William Thomas was sentenced to an unbelievable three months in prison for the crime of attempting to burn down a city block. The punishment surely did not fit the crime in this case! It seems that William was a landlord in Pottsville: he owned an entire block near Third and Race Streets in that city. He also seems to have owned the infamous Tumbling Run farm; Howell was a relative, and since his death in 1911 William felt that the Hex Cat was out to get him. The article mentions the additional detail that at some point, the barn of the farm was burnt. The cat apparently followed William back to Pottsville, and he attempted to burn his property in an effort to dispel the cat. No word on whether it worked, but the town elders of Pottsville apparently felt that this delusion – or was it a delusion? – warranted a lessening of his sentence.
At any rate, Mary and the other hunters managed to kill a black cat, which was nailed to a barn. This was likely the black cat owned by a Schuylkill Haven man which was called by powwowers a ‘hexahemeron cat’. The cat was supposedly born on June 6, 1906 (666) as part of a litter of six kittens. The Thomas Farm was called the Hex Cat Farm in popular lore, and countless trips by locals were taken to the tumbling remains of the farm to see the decomposing remains of the black cat. A rather morbid pastime, to be sure.
Charms and Cures in the tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch PowWow
Hex and Spellwork: The Magical Practices of the Pennsylvania Dutch
Gypsy Witch Book Of Old Pennsylvania Dutch Pow-Wows And Hexes
Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History & Lore