Mountain maid remembered

Thursday, October 5, 2006

The Barry County Genealogical and Historical Society honored Jean Wallace, the Ozark Mountain Maid, during a special memorial service at the Seligman Cemetery on Sept. 30.

Recently, the Historical Society worked with Wommack Monument Company to design a new monument for Wallace's burial site. The new stone was unveiled on Saturday.

"I had been to the cemetery several times to see Jean Wallace's stone," said Brandon Burns, Historical Society member. "I knew that so many Barry County citizens knew about the Mountain Maid, but visitors are not going to get who the Mountain Maid was from that little stone."

Wallace's previous stone only had her name, the year of her birth and the year of her death. Burns approached the Historical Society and suggested the organization purchase a new stone.

The organization worked with Wommack Monument Company to design the new monument, which lists Wallace's date of birth, date of death and a brief history of the Mountain Maid legend. The old stone was moved to the foot of Wallace's grave.

"Jean Wallace came to Barry County as a young woman," said Burns. "Many people say she was a very attractive woman, but she never married."

Wallace left a career as a nurse and moved from New York City to Barry County in 1892. According to legend, Wallace was born with the same sixth sense abilities that her father, William M. Wallace, had possessed.

From the time she was a child, Wallace's father told her that her abilities were a special God-given power that she should use carefully, only for good and never for money.

Although Wallace didn't want to be called a fortune teller, many people walked the dirt road to her cabin to ask about their futures, where lost articles could be found and what other people were thinking.

"People often asked her why she never married and she said that no one would want a wife who knew everything they had ever done, everything they were going to do and every thought they ever had," said Burns.

Wallace lived near Roaring River State Park in what is now known as the Mark Twain National Forest. She walked over three miles to pick up her mail and traveled over five miles to Eagle Rock to purchase supplies.

"She was very self-sufficient," said Burns. "She had a peach orchard and raised chickens and hogs. Later the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) boys helped her out when she needed it."

Burns told a story about a young woman visiting Wallace to ask who she would marry. Wallace told her that she would marry a man named Grant Aldridge.

The young woman was very concerned because Aldridge had traveled west to work and she had not heard from him in some time, said Burns. Wallace told her that he was only able to post a letter every 30 days. She also told the woman that in her vision she could see small white things moving around Aldridge.

Later the woman learned that Aldridge had taken a job herding sheep and was only able to visit the nearest post office once a month due to his job.

"Jean Wallace predicted, to the day, Hitler's invasion of Poland," said Burns. "She also said that the Nazi party would one day go away and all would be okay."

Wallace died in a fire that destroyed her cabin in 1940, five years before the end of World War II.

"Miss Wallace said her visions were like memories," said Burns. "She would always gaze up when she had a vision, because she felt the Lord had given her the gift in order to help people."

As Wallace grew older, she was unable to maintain her property and her cabin fell into disrepair. She didn't allow people to take her photo very often, but shortly before she died she allowed "Pa" Fields to photograph her in front of her cabin.

James Woods, who had an encounter with Wallace while working at the CCC Camp in Roaring River, spoke about meeting the famous Mountain Maid.

"A friend of mine decided to go see the Mountain Maid one Sunday that we had off from work, so I went with him," said Woods. "On the way there, I told him, 'I don't believe in the ol' gal.' When we got there, I said, 'Well go in and see her' and he said, 'I wanted you to go in.'"

As soon as Woods walked into Wallace's cabin, she turned, pointed her finger at him and said, "Hey, you don't believe in me, do you?"

"I was only 17 or 18 years old and I said, 'No, no, not really,'" said Woods. "She said, 'Well, I'm not going to tell you anything then.'"

Woods turned to leave Wallace's cabin, and just as he reached the door, she called him back.

"I will tell you one thing," Wallace said to Woods. "You're going to have a bad wreck."

Intrigued by her words, Woods asked when he would have the wreck and Wallace told him that he would be around 50 years old.

"I thought, that's a long time away, I'm not going to worry about it," said Woods. "I started to leave again and then I turned back to her and I asked, 'Will I be killed?'"

Wallace told Woods that he would not be killed, but he would be hurt badly. When Woods left Wallace's cabin, his friend went in to talk with the Mountain Maid. The two friends never discussed what Wallace told either of them.

When Woods turned 50 in January of 1969 he had completely forgotten about Wallace's warning. On Sept. 5, 1969, when he was headed back to Cassville from Washburn, a woman crossed the center line on of the highway and struck Woods' vehicle head-on.

"I pulled my car to the right, but I got hit anyway," said Woods. "I had a punctured lung and seven broken ribs. I was unconscious for 11 days.

"I hadn't thought anymore about what she said until I woke up in the hospital after that wreck," said Woods. "I was still 50 years old."

In 1940, when Wallace's cabin burned, only fragments of bones were found in the debris. Those bones were collected and Wallace was buried in the Seligman Cemetery with $227 that was found in a bank safety deposit box. Rev. Charles Vanzandt officiated the service.

"I once heard someone say that the CCC boys set her cabin on fire," said Woods. "That's not true. The CCC boys were her friends."

An oil can was found near the cabin and people assumed that Wallace put kerosene on a fire by mistake causing an explosion that set her cabin on fire, said Woods.

Traci Snodgrass, who portrays the Mountain Maid, also attended the memorial service.

"Jean Wallace was a women who had courage," said Snodgrass. "She came all the way from New York City, by herself and homesteaded by herself.

"I've always thought that she had the life," said Snodgrass. "That's what I would like to do, be up on the mountain in a cabin by myself."

Mountain Maid memorial service programs were provided by Fohn Funeral Home of Cassville.

Contributions can be made to the Jean Wallace memorial stone fund at Fields' Photo Archives or mailed to: The Barry County Historical Society, P.O. Box 291, Cassville, MO, 65625.

For more information, call Fields' Photo Archives at 847-1640.

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