80 years later, Mountain Maid impact lives on
McDowell woman, historical re-enactor inspired by Jeanne Wallace’s gumption
As local legends go, not many in Barry County can compare to the folklore surrounding Jeanne Wallace, also known as the “Mountain Maid.”
On Feb. 26, 1940, Barry County lost arguably one of its most interesting residents in a tragic fire, but to this day, her life continues to inspire and entertain local residents.
Wallace was 88 when she died in the fire that destroyed her cabin in the timber one mile south of Roaring River. Called a seer of visions, friend and counselor to hundreds, she hailed from New York and made her home at Roaring River in 1892. The timber paths around her cabin were worn by footsteps as her reputation as a possessor of second sight grew. She lived alone and walked wherever she wanted to go.
Tracie Snodgrass, of McDowell, was a naturalist working at Roaring River State Park in the 1990s when she took an interest in Wallace.
“When I worked at Roaring River, I did a lot of tours and hikes,” she said. “I read stories about the Mountain Maid and read the book, [“Roaring River Heritage” by Irene Horner], and I always thought she was a cool woman. She lived on her own and loved nature, and I thought that would be me if I wasn’t married.”
Snodgrass said she also connected with Wallace on a smaller level when it came to having a sixth sense.
“I get bad feelings when someone I love has died, or I hear or see things in my dreams and know something has happened,” Snodgrass said. “I’ve connected with my children that way sometimes. I could just tell something was wrong, so I would go to them.”
Wondering why there was no homage to Wallace at the park, Snodgrass was hoping to find a way to bring the Mountain Maid back to life, and she did.
“I was at a naturalists meeting and there was a storyteller there, and a light bulb went off,” Snodgrass said. “I knew I should re-enact her and tell people about her.”
With the help of her brother, who had training in acting, she wrote a dramatic interpretation of Wallace and started interviewing people still alive who had met her.
“I performed her at the amphitheater in the park for years, then when I left that job, I did it at my cabin near the park,” Snodgrass said. “That went so well I was accepted into the Humanities Council and paid a stipend and gas mileage to do performances all over Missouri.”
Snodgrass said many small-town organizations cannot afford to pay for such performances, and she was delighted to perform for them.
“I learned a lot about Missouri over that time, and they all learned a lot about us,” she said.
One of the things that really fueled Snodgrass’ fascination with Wallace was her sheer can-do attitude.
“My favorite part about the Mountain Maid is her tenacity,” Snodgrass said. “She lived alone in the woods and walked miles to wherever she needed to go. For a woman to homestead here in 1890 is unbelievable.
“That tenacity and strong will is inspiring. It makes me feel like I can do anything I want to do if she was able to do that in 1890. It inspired me to be an independent woman and persevere through anything. It also taught me to be kind to Mother Nature, and Mother Nature will be kind to you, and to just be kind to people.”
While the physical labor required to live alone in the mountains and walk so far for water and food is inspiring, Snodgrass said she believes the sixth sense of Wallace could be a burden.
“I think her seeing the future probably was not that fun,” she said. “Seers are associated with the devil and witchcraft, and people were not always nice to her, and I’m sure that made it kind of hard. But, she was great in that she only used her gifts for the good of people.
The most told story of Wallace surrounds MFA insurance agent James Woods, who went to visit Wallace with several friends, and she asked him, “You don’t believe in me, do you?”
He honestly replied he had never believed in powers such as hers, and she stated emphatically that he would get no information. However, as he turned to leave, she said, “But one thing I will tell you, you will have an automobile accident when you are about 50 years old.” He said although he thought of the prediction many times through the years, he never confided it to anyone, and the accident, a bad one, was true.
Another time, a young CCC boy who had lost an item was told to go see her. “That old fool can’t tell me anything,” he replied. Finally, he was prevailed upon to go to her, but he returned quickly, out of breath and so upset he had trouble speaking.
“It was awful,” he said. “I approached the hut, thinking up a nice speech to please the old girl, and a whole mob of cats came out of a hole near the front. I didn’t get a chance to ask her anything. The 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 and all those cats jumped me, spitting, howling and biting my legs. I didn’t know you could sic cats on a man like that, so I ran away as fast as I could.”
The story spread until one of Wallace’s neighbors asked if it was true. She said it was, except the part about the cats wasn’t quite right. She said startled at having his mind read and the door slammed, the boy stepped back onto a cat’s tail, and when the cat “sort of exploded” it made him jump back and step on another.
Wallace considered gambling an evil, so she would not use her powers to help people with greed. However, one time, she did help a woman win on a horse.
Instead of putting the question frankly to Wallace, she asked which name of the various horses was the prettiest. A strange smile appeared on Wallace’s face, and she replied, “Butterfly — that’s the prettiest. And, Butterfly is the fastest, too.”
When the story got around, an incredulous friend asked, “Did you know that woman won $1,250 on your tip?”
“Yes,” Wallace replied. “And if you knew what the woman was going to use the money for you would understand why I let her think she fooled me.”
Wallace described her power as a feeling just like memory, but it applied to anyone and in their future or past.
“It’s like walking a long road,” she explained. “You can see quite a distance behind you and quite a distance ahead, but far away things get dim in either direction.”
Wallace also predicted almost to the day when Hitler would invade Poland, and she also said his plots would come to naught and he would be assassinated.
Asked why she never guided government, Wallace said there were two reasons.
“In the first place, nobody would listen to an old witch,” she said. “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 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.”
Snodgrass said of all the people she interviewed that had met Wallace, no one said she was ever wrong about anything when it came to what she told people.
“I talked to the old Eagle Rock postmaster, who was named Jeanne after the Mountain Maid, and she said she went to see the seer at one point to ask if the guy she was interested in would marry her,” Snodgrass said. “[Wallace] said yes, and told her how many kids she would have, and that came true.
“Another man in Seligman said he had gone to her house to help her chop wood, and they struck up conversation. He said she told him things he didn’t even know about himself.”
Interesting things happened on occasion when Snodgrass was doing her performances, as well. During certain times of the year, copperhead snakes come off the hill behind the amphitheater to go down to cool off in the river. For this reason, Snodgrass usually kept snake tongs with her to maneuver snakes into a bin, but one day she did not have them.
“I told people if there was a snake to give me a sign,” she said. “One kid gave me the sign during a performance, and I can’t break character. So, it was under all their feet and came up close to me. I said [in Mountain Maid character], ‘Oh my, here comes one of my critters now!’ Then, I positioned it on my cane and flipped it toward the parking lot. People came up afterward asking if that was part of the show. They thought it was planned, but I was sweating that one out.”
Snodgrass still performs the Mountain Maid on request, and she said the best part is seeing the people’s reactions.
“I enjoy the people because they appreciate history,” she said. “And, I love to do it in schools or for kids. They are so amazed by it.”
To talk to Snodgrass about a possible performance, people may reach her at 417-847-4639