Updated 13 Jul 2023
One of the most spectacular things I’ve experienced occurred on a fall excursion one evening with Daddy when I was about 7. Our adventure took us across the mountains toward Linville Gorge.
I remember the random trip from 30 some odd years ago as the first time I heard the legend of the Brown Mountain Lights – and witnessed their magnificence first hand.
Brown Mountain Lights Facts
The Brown Mountain lights are orbs of light that hover, disappear, and reappear around Brown Mountain in Burke County, North Carolina.
Researchers disagree on the earliest sighting of the ghostly orbs. Some claim Cherokee Indians have tribal myths hundreds of years old about the lights, and others say John William Geraud de Brahm was the first to spot them in 1771.
Either way, by 1913, the lights captured the attention of a US Congressman, who requested a governmental study on the phenomenon.
A US Geological Survey was conducted in 1922, determining the orbs were caused by distant headlights and brush fires. Several similar studies over the last century have concluded with equally unbelievable explanations.
The Legend of the Brown Mountain Lights
Long before the Civil War, Jim and his young bride, Belinda, moved to the mountains surrounding Linville Gorge.
Jim gained the respect of his neighbors with his work ethic. As soon as he arrived, he cleared land and planted crops. His fields were admired by those near and far.
Meanwhile, Belinda, a granny woman, became well-known for her sweet bedside manner. Her patients adored her for curing their warts, stitching up their wounds, and delivering their babies.
Often seen at Sunday service, the young couple quickly became a cherished part of the community.
Less than a year after they arrived, Belinda became pregnant. Everyone in the small community rejoiced in her good fortune. That is everyone, except Jim.
The news of the pregnancy cast a shadow over the young husband. He began to drink heavily and started sneaking off to visit one of the white trash girls who lived across the mountain.
Folks began whispering about the affair and looked on Belinda with pity. Rather than feeling guilty for his indiscretions, Jim became angry. Blaming Belinda for the rumors spreading through the hills, he terrorized her during drunken rages.
Ashamed of the bruises and rumors, Belinda quit making house calls. Eventually, she stopped attending church too.
Concerned for Belinda’s welfare, the neighbors went to check on her. When they arrived, a drunken Jim met them on the porch and announced Belinda had run off back to her family. The neighbors walked home, thankful for her escape.
Later that evening, people saw Jim’s horse pulling a wagon down the mountain. Believing he had come to his senses and gone to beg Belinda’s forgiveness, everyone kept an eye out for his return. But weeks passed with no word of Jim or Belinda.
Eventually, curiosity got the best of the neighbors, who made their way over to Jim and Belinda’s place. When they arrived, they discovered the only thing left behind was bloodstains on the cabin floor.
Sensing something amiss, they searched the hills for clues to explain the disappearance of Jim and Belinda. They found nothing and called the search off as twilight settled over the valley.
Walking back to their homes at dusk, the neighbors first observed the lights over Brown Mountain. Day after day, the glowing orbs appeared. Folks were mystified by the balls of light flittering over the ridges and hollers. Where had they come from?
One night a group of men decided to track down the source of the lights. Every time they closed in on one of the orbs, it disappeared and jutted off in a new direction.
After stumbling around in the dark for hours, the men caught up with the dancing lights in a deep ravine. At the bottom, they found a large pile of fieldstone with orbs flickering above it. Carefully, they heaved rocks off the mound, revealing the bodies of Belinda and her baby.
Old folks in the hills say the lights stay on as a reminder that all of our sins will one day be revealed.
Other Brown Mountain Lights legends cover everything from Indian battles to lost loves. My favorite is an old song about an enslaved man who spent all of his life looking for his lost master: