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The Question Remains: Who Was The Wizard of Oto?

He said his name was Omar Palmer, although he answered no questions about his past. It’s been said he arrived by train in Crane Missouri around 1929-1931, then made his way about 10 miles east through Stone County to the very small farm community of Oto, to establish the first of 3 medical clinics in the area. 

Within a few years after his arrival, Omar Palmer was treating 100, 150, and even 200 patients a day at his Oto Clinic, and he was treating them for free. 

“Locals called him the Wizard of Oto”, says Aurora Missouri teacher and historian Kim Mobley. “There’s lots of mystery and secrecy about where he came from, what his real name might have been, and what he might have done before he landed in the Ozarks” 

Credit Kim Mobley
Kim Mobley is a Folklorist and Historian From Aurora Missouri

Mobley, a former newspaper editor, and author of the on-line home publication The Ozarkian Spirit says, “There were people who thought he was some kind of criminal running from the law. He did not like photos, and didn’t even like people to describe what he looked like. When people would ask him about his past, he was extremely evasive and vague.”   

“He really did not want anyone to know who he was, and you can read a lot of different things into that”, says Kaitlyn McConnell, a local historian who has written about The Wizard of Oto in her blog, Ozarks Alive, “Weather he was well known or done something bad and was afraid people would find out, clearly he was afraid people would find out, and we don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

In the early 1930’s, Oto was a farm community on what is now AA Highway, just above the banks of Crane Creek.  It had a post office, a small store, a barber shop and a church house.  Today, the house where Palmer set up his clinic still stands, and is used as a rental home.

Standing on Oto Road near the intersection of AA Highway overlooking the home which was Palmer’s clinic, Kaitlyn McConnell says, “The house to me is the anchor point.  I looked at old photos drive by it today, and it’s just BAM, WOW, this looks exactly the same as when Palmer was here.”

As a farm truck passes by on AA Highway, Kaitlyn McConnell continues, “Yes, very close to Crane Creek.  I look out here and think what it would have been like with all the cars, and people teeming everywhere around. It’s really hard to imagine considering how remote this area is.”

Credit Mike Smith / KSMU-FM
Historian and Blogger Kaitlyn McConnell in Oto where Omar Palmer's Clinic Still Stands

In 1933 on the road in front of Palmer’s clinic, cars and trucks of the day as well as wagons would’ve been lined up in either direction, with drivers and passengers waiting to be seen by The Wizard of Oto, who we should note, never showed proof of holding a medical degree.

In fact, an investigation thought instigated by licensed medical doctors in the area resulted in Palmer’s July 1933 arrest for practicing medicine without the proper paperwork.  Charges were dropped 3 months later when no one came forward or could be found to testify Palmer accepted payment for his services. 

Word of mouth and a number of articles about the clinic in Kansas City, St. Louis, Joplin, Sedalia and Springfield newspapers often portrayed Palmer more of a Healer than a Medical Doctor, and Kaitlyn McConnell says that helped turn Oto into what today we might call a Medical Tourism Destination, “I don’t know if they came for a day or for a week? I read one account where it was described as a festival like atmosphere with campfires, picnics, and all this stuff.”

“Even though he was treating people for free,” McConnell continues, “I really think Palmer was considered a miracle worker.  Why would you go to the expense of travel, which would have been more expensive than a doctor visit at home?  I think people came here because they believed they were going to get something here they couldn’t get somewhere else.”

“I think he believed in that spirituality of the mind and body being connected, and I think he also gave them hope” says Kim Mobley.  “A lot of times that’s what they needed.  If they had hope, they’d get a little bit of energy, they’d take better care of themselves, and they would do what they were supposed to do. But I know he used herbs, charcoal, kerosene and poultices of sugar and turpentine; a lot of really unorthodox things for the time period.”

7 miles away in Hurley, town leaders took notice of all the activity in Oto, and according to Kim Mobley, Hurley lured Palmer there in 1934, promising their support and a new and larger clinic from which to work, “I read in one of the newspaper articles where he saw 3000 people in one year, but those 3000, people had to travel and had to eat somewhere, so I think they realized having him in their community was good for business, and good for the town.” 

Credit Stone County Historical Society
Waiting to See Omar Palmer At His Clinic In Hurley

In Hurley, standing on the banks of Crane Creek near where Palmer’s clinic once stood, Kaitlyn McConnell concurs, “I mean you’ve got this hub of activity (in Oto) just a few miles from Hurley, and now they want to get in on the action, so Bring this guy here, it’s going to be great for the town!”  McConnell adds, “And it was.”

In Oto and Hurley, Omar Palmer hired locals to gather herbs, roots and other naturals, and the Oto Remedy Company became a decent source of income for Palmer and his wife, June. In the fall of 1937 Palmer moved his clinic to Aurora Missouri, but by May of 1938, it too had closed when Omar and June moved to Pineville Mo. 

Omar Palmer passed away in Prairie Grove Arkansas 13 April 1946, and was buried in Aurora’s Maple Park Cemetery, where June had purchased 10 plots, but today Omar Palmer remains the only family member buried there. 

According to Kim Mobley, even Palmer’s headstone gives no clue about The Wizard of Oto’s past, “His tombstone is just O.A. Palmer, and it’s got a birthdate in one corner, and a death date in another.  And that’s it.  No additional information on it whatsoever.”

Credit Kim Mobley
Omar Palmer's Headstone In Aurora Gives No Clue About His Past

Mike Smith's career at KSMU began in 1980 as a student announcer when the former Navy Submariner attended (then) SMSU with help from the GI Bill. In 1982 Smith became a full time member of the KSMU family as "Chief Announcer", responsible for the acquisition, training and scheduling of the student announcing staff. It was also in 1982 when Smith first produced "Seldom Heard Music" a broadcast of Bluegrass which is still heard on KSMU and every Saturday night at 7CT.