Mountain Maid of Roaring River
Jean Wallace in front of her cabin
|One of the most enchanting realities in this area would be the life story of the "Mountain Maid." This mystery maiden, whose name was Jean Wallace, lived alone for 48 years, high atop a mountain overlooking this beautiful valley. This light haired bright blue-eyed girl was born on a New York City pier at the foot of Canal Street on May 17, 1851. Even during her childhood years, her parents knew she was a peculiar girl. Jean discovered at the age of seven that she had the same "sixth sense" that her great-grandfather had. They called this mysterious power, clairvoyance. Jean's great-grandfather also had bright blue eyes and light hair; they were the only two in the family.
When Jean became a young woman, she found that she would never be able to marry. She had said on one occasion, "What husband would want a wife who knows his every secret and thoughts?" For a short time, Jean was a nurse for a New York hospital. This job ended soon after because she couldn't stand the strain of knowing what was going to happen to her patients.
Finally in 1892, Jean came to Roaring River near Cassville, Missouri, and homesteaded a 160-acre tract of land. Soon after her arrival, curious people came to her home. After having heard of her "sixth sense," some would ask to have their fortunes told. Over time, many thousands came to seek help with lost items or strayed animals. She could see into anyone's past or their future, as told by the old-timers, usually instantaneously and without effort. Whatever prompted this energetic capable woman to retire from society and live in seclusion for the rest of her life will probably always be a mystery, as she remained almost completely reticent about her own life except for frequent mention of her experiences as a nurse. The men at the Roaring River CCC Camp were about her only friends except for her constant companions - black cats.
Miss Wallace's cabin was built mostly by donated labor. She walked 3 1/2 miles to get her mail and 5 1/2 miles to Eagle Rock for many of her supplies, carrying her groceries in a 25 lb. flour sack. Her needs were small for she had a small peach orchard, raised chickens from which she had eggs, and pigs which she butchered for meat.
Her longest period ever being away from her Roaring River home was when World War I broke out. Going to Long Island, New York, she served as a nurse at Camp Upton, acting as "Mother" for a soldier's cottage. Following this five-year span, she returned after the signing of the Armistice, to the little log cabin in the Ozarks.
Jean Wallace with long-time friend Frank Hefley
|It was a favorite outing for the young folks to "go see Miss Wallace." They went on horseback, rode in buggies, or walked up the winding trail to her home. Often, the girls in the group would take food for a picnic under the trees. Often, also, the baskets contained food which was not meant for their own use. The girls would pretend they had it left over and would give it to Miss Wallace, because she would not accept anything that hinted of charity. The young men in the group would usually take turns at cutting firewood which Miss Wallace used in her small King heater when winter came.
Mrs. Grant Aldridge, who was the daughter of Westley Reed whose family lived near Miss Wallace's cabin, recalls spending a night with the Mountain Maid when she was only a girl. Mrs. Aldridge asked to have her fortune told. She was told that Grand Aldridge was working "out west" and that they would be married in the future. As she had not heard from the young man who was supposed to be her future husband for some time, she expressed her concern. Miss Wallace said that she would hear from him in a few days and that she mustn't be worried as it was not possible for him to post a letter but every thirty days. Also she indicated that she saw white things moving about him slowly, and something lying across his lap, none of which made much sense. But it was learned sometime later that Mr. Aldrige was herding sheep in the western mountains and was only able to get to the post office once a month. The slow moving white objects were of course the sheep and he said he always kept a gun lying across his lab to protect his woolly charges. This fortune was told in the fall before the Aldriges were married in February.
Troy Cornell, the rural mail carrier out of Seligman, delivered Miss Wallace's mail. He told of being surprised one morning to find her waiting at the box for him. She said she was awakened at 4:00 that morning and "knew" that Mr. Reed had died at that time. Mr. Cornell said he hadn't heard anything about it and felt that it probably wasn't true. But later in the morning he found that Mr. Reed had indeed died that morning at 4:00.
The stories are legion. Hundreds can relate similar memories.
Miss Wallace had found a firm place in the hearts of her neighbors and friends; not one of those who remembered her spoke unadmiringly.
For a time a CCC Camp was located in the park and all the boys heard of the "old maid of the mountains," whom some called irreverently the "old witch," some believing, some not. One boy, in despair at not finding a lost wallet containing papers which he hoped would get him a good job, went to the aged woman as a last resort.
Miss Wallace was not overly cordial at first because she knew he had been a "Doubting Thomas." She relented however, assuring her young caller that the wallet was in plain view on the trail where it had been lost. "But I have gone over the trail three times and it is not in plain sight," he protested, somewhat disconcerted.
"Thats what you think," she replied. "You should have covered the trail the way you went the first time but you back-tracked. Still you were all right until you came to that high ledge at the creek. From there you could see the spring and a short cut but that was not the way you went the first time."
The boy could not recall any change in route, so she jogged his memory.
"Don't you remember a fallen tree, with branches you had to squeeze through? Well, it is still there and that is where you will find your wallet You also will get your job," she promised him, and he did.
James Woods, an MFA insurance agent in Cassville, was in the Civilian Conservation Corps at Roaring River in 1939 and made several visits to the home of the Mountain Maid. A visit to the mysterious woman was on the "must" list for every boy at the CCC camp, Woods recalls, and her renown spread as they came and went from the camp. The boys more or less adopted the strange old woman, taking food and supplies when they went for counsel, and in general, seeing that she had what she needed. He says he is sure the boys would have fought for Miss Wallace, and probably she for them, so mutual was the affection.
Several people in telling of visits to the Mountain Maid, remembered that she didn't waste time with unbelievers. Mr. Woods recalls a visit made by him and several friends to have their fortunes told. When he went in, she greeted him with, "You don't believe in me, do you?" He honestly replied that he had never believed in this kind of power or sense, and she stated emphatically that no information would he get. However, as he turned to leave she said, "But one thing I will tell you, you will have an automobile accident when you are fifty years old." He said that although he thought of this prediction many times through the years, he had never confided it to anyone. But the automobile accident, a bad one for Woods, did occur and another prediction came true.
The tell of another CCC boy who had also lost something, but scoffingly replied to the suggestion that he ask her to help him. "That old fool can't tell me anything," but finally he was prevailed upon to go to her. He returned quickly, out of breath and so upset he had trouble speaking.
"Oh, Gosh!" he gasped. "It was awful. I approached the hut, thinking up a nice speech to please the old girl, and a whole mob of cats came out of a hole near the front. I didn't get a chance to ask her anything. The minute I knocked on the door, she threw it open and snapped at me, 'This old fool can, but will not tell you anything.' Then she slammed the door in my face before I could say anything, all those cats jumped me, spitting, howling, and biting at my legs. Gee! I didn't know you could sic cats on a man like that, so I ran away as fast as I could!"
The story spread until one of her neighbors asked Miss wallace what had really happened. She said it was true, except that the part about the cats wasn't quite right. Startled at having his mind read and the door slammed, the youth had stepped back and trod a cat's tail. The cat had "sort of exploded" which made him jump and step on another. That was all. But she did have a lot of cats.
Since Miss Wallace considered gambling an evil thing and her clairvoyant powers were to be used only for the best purposes, the following incident believed by all her neighbors, is especially interesting. A woman visiting the park heard of the celebrity on the mountain and, like many others, paid her a call. What she really wanted to know was which horse to bet on at the horse race the next day. Instead of putting the question frankly, the visitor asked which name of the various horses the old one thought prettiest. A strange smile appeared on Miss Wallace's aged face as she replied, "Butterfly, that's the prettiest. And butterfly is the fastest, too."
"Did you know that the woman won $1250 on your tip?" asked an incredulous friend, when the story got around.
"Yes," admitted the recluse, "and if you knew what the woman is going to use the money for, you would understand why I let her think she fooled me."
Boy nature in the Ozarks is no different than elsewhere and though somewhat in terror of her witch-like powers, a pair of youngsters could not resist testing them with a little prank. Removing the saddle from their horses and hiding them some distance from the cabin, they rode up on their horses and asked Jean if she could tell them who had stolen their saddles.
As it happened the joke was on the jokers. But they were good boys, sons of good friends of hers, so she shook her finger and snapped a sharp command, "Yes, you young rascals, you stole them yourselves. Get back as fast as you can to where you hid them because wild pigs are chewing them up." The boys obeyed, but already the pigs had done so much damage that they had to tell their fathers how it happened.
Others who learned to their sorrow of her powers were hunters who invaded her 160 acres. She always knew they were coming and told them that nothing on her land was to be killed, not even a snake. She refused to have any timber cut from her land... her firewood had to be cut from trees already dead or dying.
The "old maid of the mountains" described her faculty as a feeling just like memory, but it applied to anyone and ran into the future as well as the past.
"It is like walking along a road," she explained. "You can see quite a distance behind you and quite a distance ahead, but far away thing begin to get dim, in either direction."
She prophesied almost to a day, when Hitler would invade Poland. But, she also said that in the end, all the plots would come to naught and he would be assassinated.
Many a person was so impressed with her prophetic ability as to ask why she did not go to Washington and guide the Government in avoiding blunders.
"There are two reasons," she would reply. "In the first place nobody would listen to an old witch. But, if by any chance they did start to follow guidance, I am sure my powers would be taken from me because otherwise they would be almost certain to interfere with the course of destiny. It is all very well for me to tell people where to find lost pocketbooks and strayed cows, even to warn a businessman against a bad investment or tell a woman how to escape a love entanglement. Such little things in no way affect the great predestined tide of human events, but if the world knew the big events that are to come and tried to forestall disasters, such as the rise of Hitler and Stalin, it would confuse destiny, and that, of course, will never be permitted."
Ed Banister, a rich lumber executive, who owned a cabin in Roaring River, was not backward in admitting that he got many a valuable business tips from the old lady.
She always insisted that God or perhaps some inhibition blinded her prophetic eye when she sought to see her own coming events. For instance, is she asked herself when and where she was going to die or even where she would be the following noon, the picture in her mind was nothing but a think fog. Yet often she caught a glimpse of her own future by accident or indirection.
Obligingly "gazing up the future" of some friend, she said she was frequently surprised to see the friend talking to her own self at some place she had not thought of visiting.
Though for years her failing eyesight prevented her reading the books that filled her cabin shelves, apparently the sight of her "sixth sense" remained as sharp as ever.
Although those who knew her in the earlier years remember her not only as intelligent and well-read, kind and physically strong, and thinking nothing of walking to visit friends five or ten miles away, they also remember her neatness and cleanliness.
But time takes its toll; her health and her eyesight failed. Water had to be carried from a spring 200 yards down a steep path from her cabin. As she grew older, Miss Wallace became careless about her personal appearance. She had a multitude of cats which shared her home with her and they did not contribute to either the cleanliness or orderliness of the cabin.
Hugh and Norma Brixey, during the 1930's when Mr. Brixey was superintendent of Roaring River State Park, frequently took groceries to her, making sure she had food and wood. Once, when Miss Wallace was quite ill, Mrs. Brixey went to the cabin, stripped her bed, and took the laundry back to the park where she washed it; the washing was long, long overdue to put it nicely.
As her health failed, her cabin home was a scene of disorder, filth and squalor. Her only income in the years before her death had been her old-age pension. The tragic end was near.
Two boys hunting in the woods on Monday morning in February in 1940, saw smoke in the direction of the cabin. On investigation, they found the cabin burned to the ground. The strange and kind little woman had perished in the flames at the age of 88 years.
County Coroner Floyd Callaway and Sheriff Troy Wilson pieced together the story of what had happened. A kerosene can was found near the small stove and it was believed she had poured oil on live coals in trying to kindle a fire. A few fragments of bones found in the ashes established the presence of Miss Wallace in the cabin when it burned.
In the Bank of Seligman was found her safe deposit box containing $226.00, money which was to be used, "to pay for a funeral in keeping with my means and position in life." Her homestead was bequeathed to "my true and long time friend, Rev. Samuel Kent of Clearwater, Florida." Reverend Kent was an Episcopalian minister; she had no known relatives.
Funeral services were held in the Union Church of Seligman, with Reverend Charles Vanzandt officiating. Burial was in the Seligman Cemetery under the direction of the Horine-Culver Funeral Home of Cassville. Her obituary stated that she was a very zealous believer in the Bible and of the Episcopal faith.
Ironically, during the last winter of her life, and during a time she was quite ill, Miss Wallace gave permission to F.O. (Pa) Fields of Fields Photo Shop in Cassville, to take her picture. They, better than any words, tell of Miss Wallace's state of health and living condition near the end of her life.
No longer does a loving public follow the trail to her door, but in the Roaring River area, there will undoubtedly always be tales of Jean Wallace, the mysterious "Mountain Maid" of Roaring River.
Jean Wallace with the CCC men