As we continue our series “Mysteries of the Hollers,” we now travel to Roaring River State Park, where a so-called Mountain Maid once resided in a cabin tucked away in the woods.
When people usually think of clairvoyants, they envision a woman at a carnival wearing a turban, staring ominously into a crystal ball. Jean Wallace, on the other hand was much more down to earth—though just as mysterious.
“The concrete thing about her is that she lived here, and that’s pretty much the main thing we know 100% sure. And then you could also say her clairvoyance was probably a very known factor, considering how many people experienced that with her.”
That’s Kaitlyn McConnell, founder of Ozarks Alive, a website dedicated to the preservation of local history and culture. In 2016, she wrote an extensive article covering what we know about the Mountain Maid. Jean Wallace was rumored to have magical powers to see the unseen.
Wallace and her origins before coming to the Ozarks remain a mystery. We know that she was born around 1851, and that she moved to the Ozarks from the east. Other than that, the stories vary.
“One of them says she came from New York City, that she was born there in the middle of the city and got to the Ozarks somehow. Another one says that she was born in Scotland. I think there was another one that said maybe she was born on an ocean voyage on the way here.”
Other folklore says Wallace came to the Ozarks with friends or perhaps even a fiancée to visit Eureka Springs, which was once considered a natural place for healing. At some point, she moved to the Roaring River area around 1892.
Wallace trained as a nurse in New York, but said she couldn’t stand the knowing whether her patients would live or die. So, she built her own 160 acre homestead in the middle of the woods, seeking solitude.
Initially, the townsfolk of Roaring River weren’t too keen on having Miss Wallace around.
Her gifts, combined with the fact that she was a young, reportedly attractive woman living by herself deep in the woods, made her an oddity in rural southwest Missouri. Again, here’s Kaitlyn McConnell.
“I think for people in generations gone by, especially in our area, they might have thought she was a witch and there was something maybe dark about what she was doing. But as time went one, especially as she aged, people began to see her as a resource.”
She used her gifts to help anyone who came to her, and the town started to look favorably upon her.
Tracie Snodgrass performed as the Mountain Maid for historical tours at Roaring River State park. She says Wallace’s father encouraged his daughter to use her abilities for good.
“Her father told her that she had a special God-given power, and she could never use it to hurt another person. She could only do it for good, and never for pay.”
Wallace helped people find objects they had lost. KSMU contributor Marideth Sisco says her own mother, Marguerite Gentry Sisco, was one of these lucky people. Marideth’s mother encountered the Mountain Maid around 1939.
“It was somewhere right around that time that she lost her wallet, and she went with some friends and they went hiking down around Roaring River, and they met Jean Wallace at her cabin. She didn’t have much patience for people just showing up, but she was kind to them. And she said ‘I hope you’re not here just to bother me.’
My mother said ‘No, actually I wanted to see if you could help me find my wallet because I’ve lost it and I don’t know where it is.’
She said ‘Well it’s in the floorboard of your car.’
My mother said ‘No, no it’s not, I’ve looked there.’
She said “Did you look under the mat?’
My mother said ‘No.’
And she said ‘Well go look!’
And so they all left, went and finished their hike, and she went back and pulled up the floor mat and there was her wallet, tucked down next to the door!”
There were, of course, those who doubted Wallace’s abilities. Traci Snodgrass recalls a local story of a young man who called Wallace an “old fool” whom he would never visit. Then he found himself down on his luck and visited anyway.
“And he got out to her cabin and she opened the door and she just said to him ‘Well the old fool could help you but the old fool’s not going to help you,’ and closed the door on him.”
Tracie Snodgrass ways Wallace wouldn’t help people who didn’t believe in her powers.
“If they thought she was an old witch, if they thought she was a hoax, she wouldn’t tell them anything because she could sense that. So she only told those who believed in her what they needed to know.”
That’s The Old Maid Song, as sung by Ollie Gilbert in Mountain View, Arkansas in 1970 from the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection.
According to locals, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Miss Wallace never married.
She became friends with the townsfolk over time. She worked as a nurse during World War I and interacted with the men of the CCC who worked at Roaring River during the Depression.
When she came back after working as a nurse for the war, she came home to find she didn’t have one anymore, according to Kaitlyn McConnell.
“Unfortunately, when she came back she found that her cabin had burnt to the ground while she was gone. But they were at a point by then that the community was a fan of hers enough that actually they had a bunch of people help her rebuild it. So she was able to have another place to live.”
And McConnell says something odd happened the week before Wallace died.
A photographer from Fields Photography in Cassville was taking photos in that area. Up until that point, Wallace had avoided the camera at all costs.
“For whatever reason, shortly before she died, the photographer came out and she allowed him to take a bunch of photos.”
Those photos have survived, and the original copies can be found in the Barry County Museum’s permanent exhibit on the Mountain Maid.
A week later, her cabin burned down again, and her remains were discovered inside.
Few people alive today can pass along the word-of-mouth stories about the Mountain Maid. But the community is working to preserve her legacy.
In 2006, the Barry County Genealogical and Historical Society worked with Wommack Memorial Company to design a new stone to mark her grave. Now, her gravestone also includes as a brief history of the Mountain Maid legend.
Tracie Snodgrass feels a strong connection with the Mountain Maid.
“I just was so enthralled with her because she was so independent as a woman, and she struck out to do something that not many woman had ever done on their own.”
Writer Kaitlyn McConnell loves the story of the mysterious Jean Wallace, and feels good knowing that her story lives on.
“I think unique stories always grab people’s interest and always make them wonder a little bit. And it’s fascinating to be able to see the unique things like that just live far beyond their own lives.”