Remembering the Mountain Maid of Roaring River

Share Button

 

56672 Jean Wallace Mountain Maid 2-11-40 Z
Jean Wallace hated cameras, but she did pose for this portrait near her cabin in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy of the Barry County Museum)

CASSVILLE – Perhaps it was Jean Wallace’s claim of clairvoyance that drove her into the Ozarks’ wilderness. She came to hide in a cabin tucked among the trees; one faraway from her East Coast origins. But as plans often do, hers didn’t work out.

Because the world found her anyway.

For nearly 50 years, hundreds of locals came to Miss Wallace’s door, their lives dictating their journey more than their feet.

“A seer of vision, friend and counselor to hundreds, finder of lost articles, the woman remained a mystery to her neighbors who loved her, and became a legend from the hills she treasured,” wrote Irene Horner in 1978 for the Barry County Advertiser.

To them, she wasn’t just Miss Wallace: She was the Maid of Roaring River.

In the beginning

The story of Miss Wallace isn’t lost to locals, but time has blurred some of the details. These days, very few people remember Miss Wallace firsthand, and what’s been reported about her — even in accounts from decades ago — presents contradictory pictures. Such factors lend an air of mystery to her life, which began in 1851.

Even where it began is up for debate. Horner penned in the same article that Miss Wallace was born “according to her account, on a ‘pier at the foot of Canal Street in New York City.’”

William Preston of Seligman, however, claimed in a 1968 article for the Springfield Daily News that he’d also spoken to Miss Wallace and she “told my wife and me that her family was from Scotland and she was born at sea during their voyage to America.”

Regardless of where she began her life, it’s recorded that she discovered her gift — or curse, depending on how one looks at it — as a child. In her younger years, she was frustrated by other people who misplaced items that she could see in her mind’s eye.

It was her father who eventually explained to her that she had a special power; that she must be patient with others who didn’t have that “sight.” He also admonished her that such things must only be used for good, and never for financial gain. “As far as known, she always obeyed that injunction,” wrote Horner.

Settling in the Ozarks

But even those with second sight must live in the “real” world, and as an adult, Miss Wallace decided to become a nurse. The profession, however, didn’t turn out to be a wise choice. “The way I present it is that she couldn’t stand the fate of knowing whether her patients would live or die,” says preservationist Tracie Snodgrass, who has spent years portraying Miss Wallace for group events.

Stories abound on what exactly brought Miss Wallace to the Ozarks in the first place. Some reports say she came to southwest Missouri with friends, but that the other ladies eventually moved away.

Snodgrass, however, believes that the story was a little different than that. She thinks that Miss Wallace was bound for Eureka Springs, Ark. with a young man she intended to marry; that the man was seeking medicinal help from the springs, but that he died.

 “Then she discovered Roaring River and decided to stay,” says Snodgrass, noting that she believes Miss Wallace chose to hide in the woods, being so upset about her fiancee’s death. But really, “it’s all storytelling,” Snodgrass says. “(It’s) mouth-to-mouth so nobody knows for sure.”

56672 Jean Wallace Mountain Maid 2-11-40 K

“A tasteful sign, painted in gold letters on a black background, directed visitors down a mile-long wagon road through the woods to her sturdy two-room log house set in a small clearing,” wrote Irene Horner in 1978. (Photo courtesy of Fields’ Photo Archives)


 Regardless of why, Miss Wallace chose the wilderness near Roaring River State Park to be her home around 1892. It’s likely that her move wasn’t easy: Her lifestyle wasn’t a typical one for women in that day and age — and her attractiveness perhaps propelled her notoriety. “She was always neatly dressed and kept her lovely blond hair combed to the style of that day,” said Preston.

Horner agreed, writing that Miss Wallace’s eyes were “the bluest blue that had ever been seen in this part of the Ozarks. She was once a comely blonde, with honey color hair, yet she died an old maid, and she always vowed she knew she would.” After all, according to some accounts, Miss Wallace was said to say, “Who would want a wife who knew everything her husband had every done, thought, or was going to do?”

Such things could feed a gossip mill for a lifetime: Miss Wallace was an unmarried, pretty, young, Easterner who homesteaded a 160-acre claim when it wasn’t the norm for females — not to mention that she claimed to see the future.

Although reports note that Miss Wallace was loved and appreciated by the end of her life, Snodgrass says that locals were suspicious of her to begin with — even though she was a deeply rooted Episcopalian, and often used Bible passages to give advice or console her visitors. “Back then, they associated a sixth-sense with witchcraft,” she says.

But time changed things. “They were curious,” says Snodgrass of Miss Wallace’s neighbors. “So they’d go up and see her. A lot of time they’d go out of need.”

Those needs might involve locating stray animals, or relationship advice. As time passed, her popularity grew — perhaps because her predictions, which were reportedly often correct, helped the locals. “The road to her cabin door was well worn by worried folks who had lost something or were at their wit’s end about some personal problem,” wrote Horner. “She delighted in greeting the stranger with the answer to his problem before he had time to state it — much to his amazement.”

Cabin

Miss Wallace’s cabin, shown here in 1940, also housed her collection of cats: It is difficult to see, but there was a cat “hole” near the door for her furry friends to come and go. (Photo courtesy of Fields’ Photo Archives)


The only time she moved away from her cabin was during World War I, when she temporarily resumed nursing as an “acting mother” of a soldiers’ cottage in Long Island, N.Y. But “immediately after the signing of the armistice, she returned to her cabin home,” said Horner.

 She may have returned to her home, but according to Snodgrass, her cabin wasn’t there. Once again, debate surrounds the cabin’s demise. According to Preston, it was a forest fire that destroyed it; Snodgrass, however, suspects arson.

But regardless of why, “her many old friends decided to have a house raising for her and they did,” says Preston. “Everyone pitched in, the men working and the women keeping them fed. By night fall, we had a log pen built with a roof on it.”

Looking forward

CCC

Miss Wallace was popular with members of the Civilian Conservation Corps who worked at nearby Roaring River State Park. (Photo courtesy of Johnnie Payton)


 That new cabin served as Miss Wallace’s home for the rest of her life. It’s also the spot many members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) visited while working at Roaring River State Park.

“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,” wrote Horner, who also noted that “the boys would have fought for Miss Wallace, and probably she for them, so mutual was the affection.”


While many people believed Miss Wallace’s predictions, there were naysayers here and there — but she didn’t have much patience with such individuals.

One of those doubters was a CCC member, who had lost something but scoffed at the suggestion that “the old fool” could help him find it. Finally, despair drove him to her cabin as a last resort: But Horner reported that he didn’t get what he was looking for, and returned quickly, upset and out of breath.

“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 a hole near the front.

“I didn’t get a chance to ask her anything. They 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.”

As years progressed

56672 Jean Wallace Mountain Maid 2-11-40 A
Miss Wallace, the week before her death. (Photo courtesy of Fields’ Photo Archives)

Time changes life, and Miss Wallace wasn’t an exception to the rule. By the time the late 1930s rolled around, her health and eyesight began to fail. She let her personal appearance go, and carrying water — obtained from 200 yards down a steep path from her cabin — became difficult.

Locals tried to help Miss Wallace, and did to some extent by cutting firewood and bringing food to the cabin. But pride stood in the way of any major assistance, even though “as her health failed, her cabin home was a scene of disorder, filth and squalor,” wrote Horner. Some encouraged her to mortgage her land to provide more financial assistance, but she refused the suggestion.

For much of her life, Miss Wallace also declined being photographed. But in February 1940, she had a sudden change of heart: For the first time in years, she consented to having her picture taken. “Not only was she willing to pose for the many photographs taken by the Fields’ Photo shop on that eventful day, but she kept repeating, ‘Take all you want — all you want,’ which of course, seemed strange after her long-time aversion for the camera,” recorded Horner.

Miss Wallace staunchly maintained that she was unable to see her own future, but perhaps this was an exception. The week after the photos were taken — on Feb. 26, 1940 — her cabin burned to the ground.

The Macon Chronicle-Hearld picked up the story, noting that “the ‘mystery maid’ of Roaring River may have burned to death today.” The article also said that it was two boys who first noticed smoke at the site, and that “there was no trace of the aged woman whose willingness to discuss the troubles of others brought many to her door.”

After some investigation, all that remained of the 88-year-old woman was a handful of bone fragments used to confirm her presence.

Final thoughts

MM2+

Miss Wallace’s cabin has been gone for more than 75 years, but the atmosphere around where it stood remains. Today, the land is part of the Mark Twain National Forest.


What little that remained of Miss Wallace was buried in the Seligman Cemetery, marked by a modest stone that listed her name and dates of birth and death. Her land was sold, and eventually became part of the Mark Twain National Forest.

However, in 2006, the Barry County Genealogical and Historical Society decided that more should be done to recognize this longtime local legend. Representatives from the organization worked with Wommack Memorial Company to design a new stone to mark her grave; it includes her name, dates of birth and death as well as a brief history of the Mountain Maid legend. The new stone was presented to the community in a memorial service for Miss Wallace on Sept. 30, 2006.

Grave

More than 65 years after her death, a new stone was installed at Miss Wallace’s final resting place. The old stone was moved to the foot of her grave.


 It was the hope of the historical society that such action would help visitors understand a little bit more about who Jean Wallace was — a person who influenced history through more than her fortune telling. “I think she was fascinating because she just did that on her own,” says Snodgrass, referencing Miss Wallace’s success at homesteading. “I just think it took a lot of courage and bravery. I just admire her.”

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to research more about Jean Wallace and other parts of the area’s history, make a trip to the Barry County Museum, which features a plethora of information and exhibits on many topics. Tracie Snodgrass also gives first-person presentations for groups of Miss Wallace’s life, and can be reached at 417-229-2809 or flatcreekmtnmaid@gmail.com.

41 thoughts on “Remembering the Mountain Maid of Roaring River

  1. Funny, when I was roaming the Ozarks in the early 1970s, the Park Rangers at Roaring River told me about Miss Wallace but they referred to her as a witch. Probably meaning that she had extra sensory powers, but it was witch nonetheless. Thanks for the story.

    1. My Great Grandmother Susan Haddock Elliott and Miss Wallace were good friends. And Yes, she was thought of as a witch of sorts.

      1. Didn’t she have some kind of pre-cognitive abilities and once gave horse racing numbers to a woman who needed money to open an orphanage back east? Seems to me the late State Senator Emory Melton once told me that story.

        1. The woman who ask Jean for the winning numbers, wanted them for self gradification. People who knew what had taken place were angry because the woman was lying about her intent with the winnings. They ask Jean, why would you tell her the correct numbers? Miss Wallace replied, “I know what will become of the money and it will be of no good”. You couldn’t trick old Miss Wallace.

        2. Kaitlyn, thank you for bringing the story of the Mountain Maid of Roaring River back to life for those who were unaware., Thank you for interviewing me and including me in your story. This cultural history of Roaring River is dear to my heart and I love sharing her story in my interpretations. I would like to encourage everyone to write down the stories that their Grandparents or parents tell. That knowledge is a store house of history that will be lost when they die. We may not think our family history is important, however someone may think so in future times. When we know our roots, I feel that we have a sense of belonging.

  2. Awesome article! I’ve lived in Springfield for most of my life and never heard this story. I would love to find out more about her.

  3. I live in Eureka Springs,Arkansas
    This is the best thing that I’ve read on Facebook so far
    Awesome read

  4. Moved to the Ozarks from the Seattle area in 95. Loved the story and I will be visiting the Barry County Museum in the near future to see more of this story. I wish we could have more of these stories on Facebook.

  5. Loved the story, this would be a great afternoon trip seeing that I live in Crane, Mo. My grandchildren can also learn of some of Missouri’s history. I would of loved to have been able to meet her

  6. What a wonderful story. I love hearing and reading about the Ozarks and surrounding area. My grand dad and grand mother use to take trips from their little farm just out side of Aldrich, Mo. to roaring river so this brings back memories of grannys stories of those trips. Back then it took a while to travel that far, so they really thought they had gone on a little vacation. Thanks for sharing. By the way, my grand parents were Jay and Jessie ( Copeland) Lyman and their use to be a guest book that people signed when they visited there, would like to know if this is true and if they were preserved.

    1. Senator Emory Melton has recorded many of the stories. See his collection of books at the Barry County Museum. Also, my father, Gerald Cope, was the main press operator at Litho Printer’s in the early ’70s. He printed what I remember to be one of the first publications about Jean Wallace. As he knew the book well, we grew up hearing Dad tell stories about Her. We had a copy and I remembering many times flipping through the book to see pictures of ‘The Old Witch of Roaring River’.

  7. Seems the biggest story of my life. Walked into the Cassville Senior Citizens Center and sit next to James Woods. Chatted about work at the park back in ’39. Some months later woke up in hospital, deputy said he was astounded I was alive for many seemingly fatal reasons. While recovering a documentary telling the story of James Woods came on. He said the Mountain Lady told him, then a youngster, when 50 he’d have a calamitous event. In the 60s a woman collided head on and he was cracked up severely. Well when I met James I was 49 and turned 50 days later then had the same head on collision soon afterwards. I’d say more but like the story goes I’m just appreciative of my well water not the depth of its back side.

  8. Love this story!! I live between Shell Knob & Golden, Missouri, and shop in Cassville! ! I will absolutely go to the Barry County Museum and check this out!!! Am SO excited to know this! We drive through Roaring River State Park to & from Cassville & our home!! I knew there was alot more to this region that I am SO comfortable in! Blessed Be! ! )0(

  9. Greatly enjoyed the story. I have spent many hours at Roaring River and never had heard about Miss Wallace. I really enjoyed this story and would like to hear more history of the oza

  10. I so enjoyed this story. We lived in Shell Knob for 15 yrs and had a weekend home there for yrs and never heard this story. What an amazing women. Next time back to Cassville, would like to learn more. Thanks

  11. I am from Shell Knob, MO and I have been on many many a back road all over Barry Co and I do not remember hearing this story. I really enjoyed reading this and can understand how the CCC men would look after her. Great Story!

  12. I grew up in Monett, yet never heard this story. So fascinating! Sorry I could not have met her.

  13. Thank you for this information. I do remember hearing about this but I was born in 1952 so I think it was one of the stories my great grandma told us. I remember sitting on the floor around her rocking chair with all the other grandchildren. It is the only memories of her I have. Thanks again for bring this memory back.

  14. Fabulous story ~ I really enjoyed it. I have some family history there, and one sister still in Aurora. She sent me this, and I’m sure she’ll be visiting the museum. I love the Ozarks and the stories that come from there! Please share more!! ~~~ Displaced in California

  15. My father told the story that he had lost the pocket watch his father had given him. After looking everywhere he had been he resolved to seek assistance from the “Mountain Maid” so he traveled to seek her advice. He explained the loss and she smiled and told him “You were cutting wood and it fell from your pocket. A crow picked it up and then dropped it. You will find it due north of where you were working on the east side of an old stump, and you will find it” He thanked her and after she refused pay he returned to where he was working and started his search. Sure enough he found the watch. I still have his lost & found watch!

  16. My dad’s family was from Cassville and used to tell a story about him being sick in late winter 1925 when he was just a few weeks old. Grandma went ‘over the mountain’ to get help from a ‘witch woman’. There’s no one left alive to ask, but I wonder if that was Miss Wallace.

    1. I have talked to some old timers that told me she used to gathered herbs to sell to people who were sick. The person told me her father was sick with heart trouble and they went to her for help. Although there are many families who knew her, could your family be the one that went for help? Do you know what the sickness was? I’feel a kinship with Jean, I think if the people didn’t have money for the herbs, she would have given them to her.

  17. I remember hearing about the old witch of roaring river when I was little. It’s nice to know she wasn’t a witch at all just a nice lonely lady with and extra special gift from God

  18. Will come to Barry County Museum this summer love to hear and see more about Miss Wallace .Be great to see where her cabin stood and go to the cemetery.Thanks for sharing.

  19. Thank you for this wonderful story. I would love to know more. I live near Mountain View and a few years ago I heard some very colorful stories about a woman named Daisy Dean who lived by herself for many of her later years. I decided she should should not be forgotten so I sought out people who knew her, found out as much as I could and then wrote a song for her. I wish I could have known her myself, and likewise, this lady.

  20. Loved reading this story and wish more people knew about this site. I am sure there would be more stories.. even though at one time lots of people thought this was witch craft, today we know lots of people who have it. Sure it was hard for her, but she made a path for women…Strong women do exist..

  21. Thank you for sharing about this fascinating lady. I love this story and the pictures are awesome. I intend to check out the museum next time I’m up that way. My parents started taking me to Roaring River State Park in 1962 when I was only a year old and we never missed a year after that. Also, I began taking my son every year after he was born and I continue going to this day. We always stayed at Oakhill Court just up the mountain from Roaring River. When we started going it was owned by Leonard and Dorothy Krollman. Lenard is the first person to tell me about this amazing lady.

    1. Greg, my grandparents bought Rock Village Court just across Highway 112 from Oakhill back in the 1960s. They stopped farming in North Central Iowa and moved to Cassville — Marvin and Dorothy Yocum. My grandfather passed away in 1974, and my grandmother soon sold the placed and moved into Cassville, where she lived until her death in 1996. She was the first one I heard about Jean Wallace from, given that we also had Scottish ancestry and “second sight” in the family line.

      1. Todd,
        Thank you for your reply to my comment. I appreciate you sharing about your grandparents. I regret that I’ve not stayed at Rock Village Court…I’ve always wanted to and I love that they still look so much the same as they did in my childhood. I have pictures and old postcards of Rock Village Court…do you? I’d be happy to share mine with you. My email address is gregmoorhead@yahoo.com
        FYI… I’m about 1/2 Scottish myself and there’s definitely “second sight” in my family as well.
        I look forward to hearing from you.
        Greg

  22. I call myself the Posty-Note Paychic, I just emailed my story about my Psychic experiences, just yesterday I was telling my brother about this site I just now viewed about these two rows so trees and the road down thru it. I showed this photo to him and asked if he remembered me telling him about my vision of this and he said he did.

    There is much more to this story and Bless Miss Jean Wallace!!! God bless her, this is real and I’m definately a believer!!!!

    Kimberly A . Sparks

  23. My father, Warren Paul Hoover Jr, was born in Monett in 1920 and grew up in Eureka Springs. He was in the CCC as a young man. I have been to Eureka many times and stay at Roaring River campgrounds often, but I have never heard this story. So wish I could ask Dad about this amazing lady!

Comments are closed.