Known to many in Southern Missouri as the "Mountain Maid", Jean Wallace left quite a legacy after her tragic death by fire in 1940. But it wasn't crazed witch hunters who burned her.
Jean was born on a New York City pier at the foot of Canal Street in 1851. She was a lovely fair haired, blue eyed girl who, in early childhood, began showing signs of having inherited her great grandfather's sixth sense - clairvoyance. [Her great-great-? grandfather was William Wallace, the 13th century patriot who led a resistance against the English occuption of Scotland as portrayed in the film "Braveheart."]
Despite her beauty, it was obvious to Miss Wallace that she would never marry; as she noted on numerous occasions, "What husband would want a wife who knows his every secret and thoughts?"
After a brief time of working as a nurse in New York, Jean made her way to Roaring River, near Cassville, Missouri in 1892 and homesteaded on 160 acres of wilderness perched high on a mountain top. Here, a three mile walk to receive mail and five miles for supplies, Jean had a small cabin where she raised chickens and pigs, cultivated a peach orchard, and kept company with several black cats. Word of her unusual talent soon spread and folks began lining up to visit with the 'fortune teller' (although Miss Wallace really didn't like that label). Over time, thousands sought her help in finding lost items and learning about their future. Remembering what her father told her as a child, Jean used her abilities carefully and only for good.
The Mountain Maid was loved and admired by all who knew her. At a nearby CCC camp, the workers had regular visits with Jean and were considered her closest companions. Although she would not accept charity, these men would routinely cut wood to heat the maid's cabin and visiting girls would "accidentally" pack too much food in their picnic baskets and offer it to Miss Wallace. Much charity in disguise was bestowed upon the 'old witch' out of gratitude for the kindness she had shown others. Her services were considered invaluable but she rarely charged for a reading and of the times she received cash payment, her savings was only just enough to cover funeral expenses after her death.
Many skeptics tried to pull the wool over Jean's all-seeing eye, but she didn't waste time with non-believers. In one instance, two sons of a friend visited Jean one day to inquire about their missing saddles, which they had removed and hidden in the woods. Right away she shook her finger and snapped, "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.
In another case, a man joined several friends to visit the Mountain Maid and have their fortunes told. Her first words to him were, "You don't believe in me, do you?" He replied that no, he had never believed in people having any special power such as hers and so she stated that no information would he get. But as Mr. Woods turned to leave, she said, "One thing I will tell you, you will have an automobile accident when you are fifty years old." Yes, the prediction came true - Woods suffered a bad car accident later in life.
Many people were so impressed with her ability and inquired why she did not seek employment assisting the government. "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."
Yes, this sweet prophetic woman predicted, almost to the day, when Hitler would invade Poland.
Wallace's health and eyesight began to fade with time, but her sixth sense remained as strong as ever. Visitors noticed this physical decline as her once tidy home became disorderly and full of filth. Some would clean up while there by stripping the bedclothes and giving them a long overdue washing, and others would drop off groceries when she could no longer make the five mile journey. Many could see, without Jean's special sight, that the poor woman's life was dwindling.
After 48 years of living a quiet life in the rolling Missouri hills, Jean's life ended when her small cabin in the woods caught fire. Her body was cremated by the intense heat and only small bits of bone remained. The community who had loved and sought her guidance for so long, now mourned the tremendous loss. No longer does horse and wagon follow a path to her door, but the legacy of the Mountain Maid lives forever.
Jean Wallace, quoted in Roaring River Heritage by Irene Horner, Litho Printers, 1978 --
"I belong to a race of people that can see... My great-grandfather, a Wallace, was the greatest seer in Scotland. He could describe exactly how a man was dressed, even if he was as far off as India. The gift was handed down to me. All my family was dark, but he was fair. And when I was born they said it was as if it were him born all over again. It is a sixth sense."