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Josie Forbes: The Witch of Taskee

Josie Forbes, the “Witch of Taskee,” was a popular clairvoyant in Missouri from the end of the 19th century until her death in 1944. She helped over hundreds of people from many states of the Union with everything from lost articles, stolen stock, and murders.

Josephine (“Josie”) Pauline Nelson (1871 – 1944) was born in Tennessee to William Jasper Nelson (1827–1896) and Rebecca McGuffey Nelson (1827–1902.) She moved to Taskee in Wayne County, Missouri, as a child and married William Ezra Forbes on May 4, 1897. William was the owner and manager of the local Forbes Telephone Service with exchanges at Greenville, Williamsville. and Taskee. Josie became a schoolteacher but her skill as a clairvoyant earned her the moniker of the “Witch of Taskee.”

In 1906, the Wayne County Journal reported that “Many physicians, lawyers and clergymen have visited her, and have most gone away convinced and made to be believers.” The newspaper claimed that “There has been more than 8,000 people visit her home for consultation within the last year and the daily average this year is something like forty per day.”

According to the Howell County Gazette (February 11, 1937), “It is while eating that Josie Forbes enters the trance in which she tells things of the past, present, and future.” She assumed the personality of a child called “Little Joe” and played with dolls until she imparted information requested. When she awoke from the trance, Forbes said she could not explain how the prophecies came to her.

As early as 1905, her champions publicly supported her credibility. In a letter to the Editor in the Jackson Herald on September 21, 1905, Dr. J.J. Norwine of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, wrote, “Again I wish to say if any man thinks himself an infidel and will visit this lady and will converse with her in her dual mind they will certainly change their position on that subject. I have visited the lady and given her unusual mental powers careful study from every possible physiological standpoint and find it the wonder of wonders.”

For the price of a dollar per “reading”, Forbes would assist believers from throughout the Midwest. For example, a page-one story in the Greenville Sun on April 28, 1910, relayed how Forbes helped catch a horse thief. The article relates that “On Wednesday of last week Miles Sedberry hired a saddle horse at Louis Burch’s livery stable in Elvins, stating at the time he was going to visit his mother in Esther and that he would be back within a couple of hours. When he failed to show up Wednesday evening, Burch become alarmed and swore out a warrant for his arrest charging him with stealing the horse.” Instead of trusting to the local law enforcers, Burch consulted with Forbes. “She informed him that Sedberry had disposed of the horse at Yount’s store in Perry County, near the Madison county line. It afterwards developed that she was correct.” Apparently, Sudberry sold Burch’s horse and three others. He received a check for $345 in payment and had the check in his possession when he was arrested.

The most controversial instance of her clairvoyance was her involvement in a murder. In 1908, Mrs. Anna Hibbard was arrested for the murder of her husband, Crawford Hibbard, near Mountain View, Missouri. The Howell County authorities had little or no evidence to convict her and so Sheriff Bill Morgan and Deputy Windy Robbins went to Taskee to consult Forbes. According to the Howell County Gazette, Forbes relayed, “Yes, I see a woman going up a path to the orchard. In the house are two men and one more who is laying down. One of the men is light complexioned and he has a gun. Boom! And the man lying down is shot.” This was not the incriminating information that the officers had expected. Mrs. Hibbard was put on trial and she was acquitted by a jury that deliberated only a few minutes after retiring to reach a verdict.

A front-page story of the Journal-Gazette on October 8, 1908, ridiculed the Sheriff and the Deputy, who had acknowledged on the witness stand that he had visited the “Witch of Taskee.” The newspaper printed a cartoon of the event called “witchgraft” and ended its story with “Mr. Voter, do you want to continue in office a public official who believes in witches, who consents to seeking information of this character to convict a woman of murder and contribute money for that purpose!”

Even this controversy did not diminish the credibility of Forbes. Another front-page story of the Greenville Sun (June 2, 1938) reported that 101 friends and family members gathered to honor Mrs. Josie Forbes on the 67th anniversary of her birth. The newspaper reports “The Forbes home has for years been famous for its visitors, people coming from the different states of the union to seek counsel with Mrs. Forbes. Through the years she has been an aid to hundreds of people and has perhaps brought more publicity to Wayne county than any other individual.”

Forbes died on May 22, 1944, at the age of 72. Her front-page obituary in the Greenville Sun (June 1, 1944) noted that “During the years of her residence here she and her husband Mr. W. E. Forbes, who survives, won the admiration and friendship of hundreds of Wayne county people” and that “Her place of residence was the stopping point for thousands of people, her doorsteps having been visited by people from nearly every state in the union.” She is buried in the Cool Springs Cemetery in Wayne County, Missouri, USA.

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